Transitioning is a sacred process for the transgender community as it marks the time they start coming out of their closet. It is a time for transformation when they can live according to their gender identity rather than the one assumed at birth, so that people will perceive and treat them according to their true identity.
Unfortunately, when transitioning in a conservative, religious country like the Philippines, the defense, advancement, and fulfillment of human rights of transgender individuals are still among the most marginalized. Trans people continue to encounter obstacles when trying to get legal recognition, access to jobs, healthcare, and public accommodations, as well as when trying to get justice as victims of crimes usually motivated by bias. More than that, transgender Filipinos are still at risk of experiencing widespread prejudice due to their gender identity and gender expression, with the numerous anti-trans violence happening lately.
Transgender Europe’s Trans Murder Monitoring Project reports that 80 transgender people were murdered in the Philippines between 2008 and September 2022, making it the highest rate in Southeast Asia. For instance, the famous murder case of Jennifer Laude, a Filipina transwoman killed by U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton after finding out that Laude was transgender on October 11, 2014. Furthermore, homosexual, bisexual, and transgender Filipinos were twice as likely to consider suicide as heterosexual Filipinos, according to a 2014 study published in The Philippine Journal of Psychology.
With these alarming cases, a time for transformation means a time for censorship, which is why most trans individuals would rather conceal themselves and tolerate the stress of hiding than risk opening themselves to mockery and ridicule, or worse, their own life as a shooting target.
An institution of labels
Society attaches labels to us throughout our lives, and sometimes they help people understand how people’s needs, cultures, and personalities differ. These labels reflect and shape how others believe about our identities and how we think about ourselves, and schools are frequently a venue for this.
Though it can reflect desirable attributes, this is not the case for persons who identify as LGBTQIA+, particularly transgender people. For them, labeling can blur the borders between truth and fiction, generating tension between who they think they are supposed to be and who they truthfully are. Since some people do not have extensive knowledge about their existence, their labels are based on wrong assumptions and generalizations, which can damage one’s identity.
As a result, it forms an educational experience marred by bullying, discrimination, misinformation on the LGBTQIA+ community, and, in some instances, physical and sexual abuse.
In August 2022, a transpinoy journalism student named Dylan Tansico Silva became a victim of prejudice and marginalization since the university that Silva attended refused to allow LGBTQIA+ students to dress according to their gender expression during the graduation ceremony. The worst part is that even after a mutual settlement agreement, Silva was deadnamed on stage. It is the act of naming someone, particularly a transgender person, a name they no longer use.
Similar to this, four transpinay senior high school graduates nearly didn’t walk down the aisle for their graduation ceremonies due to rules set by their school. Since the school claimed that it was a “formal function,” they were informed that they couldn’t enter if they wore dresses and were even instructed to get their hair cropped.
But why and how is this still happening?
Indeed, we have laws like the Child Protection Policy and the Anti-Bullying Law of 2013 that implement rules and regulations that specifically list sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited grounds for bullying and harassment. Additionally, a new regional memorandum adopted by the Department of Education National Capital Region permits students to attend any school event, including graduation, in any attire they choose.
However, these policies, while strong on paper, have not been adequately enforced.
Due to insufficient implementation and monitoring, trans students, to this day, continue to face bullying and harassment at school. A deficiency of knowledge and resources about LGBT issues in schools, combined with discriminatory policies, exacerbates the discrimination they face from peers and teachers.
An institution is supposed to be a safe space for everyone, but what actually happens is that if you become different from the rest, you will be deemed abhorrent.
A bleached society
It is without a doubt that being labeled as “trans” immediately subjects you to more attention, whether positive or negative (most of the time, the latter is the case), where every move you make and a word you say is heavily scrutinized.
One trans student (who prefers to remain anonymous) told Atenews about her experiences as a transwoman student. She said that one of the most traumatizing and humiliating incidents she experienced as a transwoman was being shunned while using the restroom.
“There was this one time when I entered the comfort room for women in our school, and you could see in their faces that they didn’t want me to be there and were uncomfortable with me being inside that same room,” she said.
This is just one of the many instances trans students still face today where daily routines become a battleground as they feel tolerated but not accepted.
“You know what, I couldn’t blame them. Maybe it’s because they are not open-minded. Maybe it’s because they’re not yet ready for it. But I think that as a transwoman and as a trans student, I deserve to be there. I had a right to be there because I distinguished myself as a woman,” she added.
For this reason, many of our fellow trans students would want to remain invisible or create a fake persona that people adore to integrate fully into society. But one of the main reasons why transgender people’s issues are not widely discussed or are disregarded simply in favor of more well-known ones is this lack of visibility and representation. Because of the consequences of speaking up, stories like this are kept hidden and will likely remain hidden if there is nothing done about it.
“You know what, from all my experiences, I believe they molded me to be the best version of myself. I have realized that respect begets respect, and as a trans woman or as a trans student, I believe that it is time for us to speak up for ourselves; it is time for us to fight for our rights because trans women’s rights, LGBT rights are human rights,” she said.
Everyone needs to feel comfortable in their surroundings, communicate their thoughts and feelings without worrying about being mocked, and have confidence that their voices will be heard. Hence, safe places are crucial since many members of marginalized groups may not feel that in various contexts. It is why all these trans students are looking for a safe place to let loose and be vulnerable without fear of judgment or harm. In return, they will develop resilience, enabling them to relate with their peers maturely outside these settings and be their strongest, most genuine selves.
“You know, there are still traumas, but day by day, I’m healing by accepting myself, by accepting fully the fact that we cannot please everyone, but we have to love ourselves first. How can we love others if we cannot love ourselves first? That’s one of the greatest gifts I received from that traumatic experience is the ability, the power to accept the fact and the reality that not everyone is going to like us, but we can love ourselves first. The moment that we learn to love ourselves, we start spreading positivity. Through that positivity, we can try to do something to protect humanity and preserve unity, love, and inclusivity,” she added.
Colorizing the status quo
The events of this year and previous years have made it significantly evident that it is dangerous to be transgender or LGBTQIA+ member anywhere in the world. However, as Olympic athlete Tom Daley said: “Visibility equals freedom; when people start to take away our visibility, we start to take away our freedoms.”
To be visible is about more than just existing or doing what is necessary to stay alive, but it is also about living and savoring every moment. That is precisely what these trans students want – for educational institutions and the government to establish a visible pro-LGBTQIA+ stance at the heart of their ethos by turning platitudes into protections that promote safer, more welcoming learning environments for them to blossom.
As for the trans student that Atenews was able to interview, it isn’t sufficient enough to “talk the talk only but also walk the walk” if we want to see actual changes in our respective communities. Action must be done by the authorities to promote a more open-minded society.
“I believe that if we continue talking about gender, sexuality, and gender orientation and provide more information about it, we will slowly change the mentality of other people who think that LGBT people are the jinx of society. We need to change that slowly; we cannot change that in one night, so we have to change it slowly.”
After all, we cannot say that we are progressing as a nation if half of the country is still falling behind with the implementation of stringent gender norms on students, such as gendered uniforms or clothing rules, hair length restrictions, bathrooms with separate genders, and many more. It is time to stop telling transgender individuals what to do and, instead, start urging the offenders to do better and to be better.
Indeed, transitioning to a more inclusive and accepting society does not happen in a day as it is a complicated process. Still, like the transitioning process of the transgender community, it starts with a decision to transition. Moreover, with the recent approval of the SOGIESC Equality Bill by Sen. Risa Hontiveros and 19 others in the Senate Committee to end all forms of discrimination, our nation is slowly steering toward a better direction. However, it is still up to us to decide if we move back to a segregated community or move forward to a diversified one.