MANILA, Philippines – Kaye Candoza-Poels already knew she was female at the age of 6.
Now 27, she looked every bit a woman as she walked down the UP main road in 5-inch heels. A member of the Society of Transsexual Women Philippines, Kaye led the march on Thursday, May 17, to the Commission on Human Rights central office in celebration of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (Idaho).
Kaye’s grandmother became her permanent caretaker at 7 when Kaye’s father started abusing her for being a transgender. At 13 years old, she started hormone replacement therapy with the help of her aunt. She is currently engaged to a Dutch from the Netherlands whose family has already welcomed and accepted her warmly.
When asked how differently she thinks things would have turned out without the hormone replacement therapy, she simply said “Babae pa rin ako. Pagkababae ko ay buong buo.” (I’m still a woman. My being a woman remains whole.)
Getting it right
The burden and challenge of acceptance in a predominantly Catholic country is one that transgenders face every day. Acceptance and understanding – both of the self and from others – is all the more difficult without easy access to information.
This is especially true in the cases of Ira Nunez, 26, and Deiniel Cayosa, 22, who have both undergone hormone replacement therapy. Before undergoing the change, they both resented being called lesbians which labeled them as being different from how they saw themselves. Ira and Deiniel knew from a very young age that they were male.
Five months into his hormone replacement therapy, it was no longer immediately possible to see Ira as female. With hair cropped short, bristles on his chin and his loose dark polo shirt, he looked masculine enough.
It was difficult to get the therapy at first due to lack of information on sex changes. Neither were there communities which provided support for transgenders. He did not even know that the word “transgender” existed.
It was only in 2007 that he saw the possibility of hormone replacement therapy through the support of STRAP (Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines). Before undergoing hormone replacement therapy in Philadelphia in the US, he said, “Nakikita ko sarili ko sa salamin at parang di ako.” (I’m not the person I see in the mirror.)
Deiniel Cayosa, on the other hand, did not have the same opportunity as Ira here in the Philippines. While Ira lived for a good part in the US, Deiniel only had the Internet as a way to explore these options. He did not consult with doctors before he started taking the medicines 8 months ago. He was afraid doctors would find a way to stop or delay his transformation.
Fair with a softer curve to his face, hair cropped to almost a Mohawk, and of a thinner frame, he is often mistaken for a teenager, if not being effeminate. This is still better though. “Masarap sa pakiramdan na ma-recognize kami as male sa public.” (It feels good to be recognized as male in public.) The difference between appearance and formal documentation, however, nullifies some of the gains.
Deiniel faced discrimination in his workplace as most people insisted on identifying him as female, from washroom queues to office room jokes. He quit his job and now works as an online teaching instructor where his gender is a non-issue.
The fear and lack of accessible knowledge for transgenders makes acceptance difficult on several levels. When asked how different their lives were before and after the therapy, there was only awkward silence.
Challenge of a fuller life
Giney Villar, 47, used to work for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual) advocacy groups full-time. Currently, she is the executive chef of Adarna Food and Culture Restaurant. It is still an important issue, one that is louder now more than ever, and she emphasizes that LGBTs should not be boxed in by their own gender. “Our sexuality should not be our sole career.”
For Giney, LGBT rights have been hard-won not just through active involvement in LGBT groups but also through the personal successes of LGBTs themselves. They are people who have transcended the limitations of gender insensitivity to achieve their dreams.
“Some people, because of their experiences…they feel na it’s really because of their homosexuality that they cannot achieve what they are supposed to achieve.” While discrimination is definitely a reality, it is possible, to some extent, to discriminate or reinforce stereotypes upon ones’ self.
This is what Giney cautions against doing. An LGBT person should be given the chance – and should give themselves the chance – to grow holistically. “They have to find it within themselves to fight on a day-to-day basis,” she said, and treat gender discrimination as a political war that must be won. It is a difficult task, especially without help.
Kaye Candoza-Poels used to be a nursing student until the rigidity of the school’s clothing standards forced her to stop. She was not allowed to express herself in the gender she preferred. She admits there is some regret about failing to finish her degree, but she would not trade it for the life she can and chose to live right now.
Giney Villar puts responsibility too on the government, saying that “it is the government’s obligation to be able to ensure that LGBTs are not discriminated against in the law.” Discrimination against LGBTs is a fight that is, for the community, both personal and political.
Raffy Antonio, a member of the partylist Ang Ladlad and the host of the May 17 pride march at UP, summarized the current struggle with the government well when he said, “Hindi special yung hinihinging treatment. Just equal rights. Equality lang ang hinihingi.” (We’re not asking for special treatment. Just equal rights. Equality is the only thing we’re asking for.” – Rapppler.com