|Receiving the 2014 Global Citizenship Award from|
Leiden University College.
Some may advice for me to do this master’s somewhere else, but I would prefer to do it here in The Hague, where this master’s programme is going to be mostly taught. There are three major centres of global diplomacy: New York, Geneva, and The Hague. Just like New York and Geneva, studying in The Hague means that you are exposed to how diplomacy work in practice. Among these three cities, it is cheaper to live and study in The Hague.
To those who would like to read more about my campaign, my story, motivation, and achievements, they can visit www.gofundme.com/tsdiplomat.
Monika: You were one of the co-founders of the pioneer transgender support and advocacy group in the Philippines – the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP). What is the present situation of transgender women in the Filipino society?
Sass: There are different ways to approach this question.
From a legal angle, transpinays (trans women of Philippine descent) - whether they have or have not gone through SRS - have no recognised right to change their legal sex. The 2007 Supreme Court decision on Mely Silverio’s case is to be blame for this state of affairs. Prior to this decision, post-op transpinays have had successfully changed their legal sex through court decisions. If my memory serves me right, there were five transpinays who were able to do so. Four of these women have the same lawyer. I was able to talk to this lawyer sometime in 2004 or 2006 because a friend of mine sought his service. One of these women, Esperanza even married in a civil ceremony in the Philippines. Her case even became controversial in the US during an immigration proceeding in Nebraska in 2004.
Besides the absence of a gender recognition law, there is also no national anti-discrimination law in the Philippines that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. There are several local and city-level anti-discrimination laws but whether or not they are effective is another matter. I still have to hear a case testing the teeth of these laws.
|During the 2007 Manila Pride March.|
So how then should we interpret the social visibility of transpinays in the Philippines? I proposed this. What is revealed by this social visibility is not social equality per se. What is present and visible is the courage of transpinays to disclose and expose who they are to the eyes of the public. You see a lot of us because a lot of us are courageous. It is not very rare to see a transpinay who does not possess the spirit of a fighter and the delicate strength of a butterfly’s wings. After all, our ancestors, the asog and bayoguin, were warriors, healers, spiritual leaders, teachers, visionaries!
This courage runs through our blood until now and is now being exuded by transpinays whose political subjectivity has awakened. This is the courage being radiated by amazing transpinay advocates such as Dindi Tan, Kate Montecarlo Cordova, Rica Paras, Mikee Inton, Brenda Alegre, Magdalena Robinson, Disney Aguila, Bemz Benedito, Santy Layno, Shane Marie Madrigal, Hender Gercio, Brigitte Salvatore, Dawn Madrona, Charlese Saballe, and a lot more whose names have escaped my fragile memory. These women are taking Philippine trans activism into an entirely different level. Transpinays who are working hard to forge a brighter and much inspiring future for our younger transpinay sisters.
Yet this courage is now being undermined by reports of brutal murder stories of transpinays in my country. We are only hearing about the reported cases, they may just be the tip of the iceberg. Earlier, we seemed to have lived in the Philippines under the veil of ignorance about the violence committed against us. These violent stories seemed to occur more in the West. But now, because of social media, we hear more often about these incidents within our own context. I have a friend who was murdered last year in her own home in the Philippines. She was stabbed several times, until now her case wasn’t resolved. High profile cases like the Jennifer Laude case put a spotlight on the violence against transpinays. All of a sudden, the fear becomes palpable.
The physical changes that I’ve gone through is, to use Dr Brenda Alegre’s words, “part of my normal sexual development.” However, unlike other people, I have to seek help from the medical establishment. This process was difficult because not a lot of people understand it. So from time to time, I have encountered people in my life who have considered this experience as something bad, as a pathology, as some form of sin.
|With Georgina Beyer at the 2009 Outgames International|
Conference on LGBT Human Rights.
The hardest thing I’ve experienced is being able to convince my mother that my life wouldn’t waste away by living as a woman. My mother, just like every person in the position of responsibility, is prone to fear. The highly-publicised murder of Jennifer Laude reinforced her fear. If she could have her way, she would have wanted me to live like a gay guy - like Boy Abunda, a famous TV personality in the Philippines. This is because the images of gay guys she is exposed to are more positive and empowering.
|During a talk with the students of University of the Philippines.|
Trans women can make a difference in politics if they are competent and passionate in politics. I won’t vote for someone because they happen to have the same identity as me. You see, when you assume these positions of influence and responsibility, the decisions that you are going to make will affect everyone regardless of who they are. Thus, trans women, just like anybody else, can make a difference in politics if they have an insightful mind, a visionary outlook, and a strong sense of duty.
|During a poetry reading session in the Philippines.|
Trans people should start being aware of how they have internalised the prejudice and bigotry against them. When one becomes aware, one can be able to arrest the damaging effects of internalised transprejudice. We trans people cannot stand up and claim our rights, or even love wholeheartedly, without first reclaiming ourselves from prejudice and bigotry. This is a difficult and long process, but it needs to be done so one can fully live.
All the photos: Courtesy of Sass Rogando Sasot.