As a series of multi-colored lights lit up a stage, a feminine-looking individual paraded across it like models from Milan’s world-renowned catwalks. All eyes were glued on the woman as purple hair flowed down through her shoulders and her face plastered with detailed makeup. Even her white outfit patterned with intricate designs astounded the audiences. Continuing to strut glamorously through the stage, she was out to captivate the onlookers, but there’s a simple twist to this unique individual: she is not at all a woman.
Joseph Reyes, 20, is an AB Fine Arts Design, Major in Fashion Design student from Philippine Women’s College of Davao. Constantly shifting between masculine and feminine genders over time, Joseph considers himself as “gender fluid” and does not mind being called either “he” or “she”. As an avid fashionista, superb makeup artist, and an impressive drag queen, Joseph would often perform in school events and entertainment bars within and beyond Davao.
“I already knew I was different ever since I was a kid. But at that time, I was still afraid and uncomfortable to talk about my sexuality. Time went on and I got bullied a lot during my elementary days in a school in Gensan simply because of who I really am,” Joseph said.
The reality that Joseph is one of the LGBTQ+ would eventually be accepted by his parents as he progressed to another school during his later junior and senior high years. According to Joseph, the bullying did not stop, however, more people grew to respect and value him just as any other person. Eventually, he would be fully embraced by his close friends and classmates as he had become more confident of his sexuality. He usually conveyed this through his hobbies in fashioning.
Over the course of his journey, Joseph honed his skills in drawing fashion outfits in his personal sketchbook, applying makeup to himself and close friends, as well as mix-and-matching several ladies’ outfits and garments. Since “genderfluidity” allows for Joseph to either shift from a male to female gender and vice versa, there are instances wherein he prefers to appear masculine in public or feminine when applying makeup at home.
“When I finally moved to college, I wanted to participate in this drag pageant. So many of the teachers treated it as a joke. There were a lot of people who viewed cross-dressing and the drag act as nothing more than just an entertaining ‘comedy’, and I wanted to change that,” stated Reyes.
For Joseph, dressing up with extravagant dresses and costumes is not a mere entertainment act. Drag is something for people like him who are not afraid to reveal their inner passions, and he would do so to impart this through his high-quality performances on-stage whether by showing off his tailor-made outfits or wowing viewers with choreographed dances.
The experiences Joseph had shared are just one of many universal issues that members of the LGBTQ+ face in a day-to-day basis. Despite increased tolerance and acceptance from groups outside the Pride’s rainbow flag, members of the LGBTQ+ still face discrimination, harassment, bullying, and homophobia. In a 2018 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, attempted suicide for transgender male teens is at 50.8% while for transgender female teens, a 29.9%, resulting from acts of discrimination and bullying.
Back on the 12th of June 2016 in Florida, the infamous Orlando nightclub shooting shocked the entire world, and especially the LGBTQ+ community, as an ISIS gunman took away 49 lives of the LGBTQ+ in coldblood. It is regarded as the largest and the deadliest attack against the LGBTQ+.
“Terror doesn’t change people from gay to straight. It just hurts innocent people,” said DaShanne Stokes, an American author and sociologist who had reacted to the grim incident.
While most forms of organized religions continue to render disapproving looks at the LGBTQ+, there have been positive statements coming from noteworthy religious figures like Pope Francis. In September 2013, he had publicly revealed his conviction that God would not quickly condemn LGBTQ+ individuals. New developments also marked the United States in 2019 with appointed transgender pastors such as Erica Saunders from a Baptist church in Ohio and Paula Williams from an all-inclusive church in Colorado.
For many unique individuals like Reyes, LGBTQ+ persons continue to stress out the need for society to embrace the equality among all sexes and genders. Not all members of the LGBTQ+ community may outwardly express their freedom like Joseph does in drag pageants. Some may do so quietly through writing, promoting ideals in online videos, and seeking solidarity with other people, fellow LGBTQ+ or not, through peaceful movements, instead of inflicting violence and hatred among other human beings.
“All of us who are openly gay are living and writing the history of our movement. We are no more – and no less – heroic than the suffragists and abolitionists of the 19th century, and the labor organizers, Freedom Riders, Stonewall demonstrators, and environmentalists of the 20th Century. We are ordinary people, living our lives, and trying as civil-rights Dorothy Cotton said, ‘to fix what ain’t right’ in our society,” stated US Senator, Tammy Baldwin, defending the rights of people being gay.
The progresses made
In the modern world, more and more people are becoming open with their true identities. While it is true that not all people would warmly accept the idea of another individual being different, in terms of sexuality, some progress has been made to enable gays, lesbians, transgender people, and so on to be equally treated like other people.
The closest example for Ateneans, in fact, is none other than the Ateneo de Davao University where there is an abundance of warm acceptance towards the LGBTQ+ as the school established all-gender restrooms, allowed LGBTQ+ students to form the Libulan Circle, and fully welcomed Pride celebrations in its campus grounds.
Moreover, the Philippine government is still in the process of getting rid of all forms of discrimination, including prejudice against the LGBTQ+. Leading the nation’s progress towards LGBTQ+ equality is Senator Risa Hontiveros who had authored the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity or Expression Equality (SOGIE) Bill to protect the rights of gays, lesbians, and other LGBTQ+ members.
“The protective mechanism is unique to LGBTs who experience not only discrimination but also stigma. We hope that President Duterte will seriously consider these points,” said Sen. Hontiveros in a report from Philstar Global.
Today, with the stories and experiences that people like Joseph share, the hope remains that the LGBTQ+ will be accepted as ordinary human beings who are deserving of respect as any other individual. All these systems of hate, prejudice, and discrimination must no longer be tolerated.
With a final graceful twirl, Joseph proudly carries with him the rainbow flag. No longer afraid of being looked down upon by the naysayers and mockers, he is proud to be dressing up with his true colors. Once more in the future, he will represent the community that he has for so long wholeheartedly embraced.