Manila girl

The third in Becky Shorts, a series of skimpy essays about being transgender.

In 1997, I left the South for Manila to take up college, but also to clear my mind. Doreen Fernandez’s essay, “The Gay” in the anthology Being Filipino, from the extensive Filipiniana collection of Ateneo’s Rizal Library which helped me get through university life, set many of my beliefs about homosexuality straight.

There’s a paragraph in her essay which talks about how the Judeo-Christian preoccupation to preserve their race in a time of great upheaval caused them to insist on procreation as a pillar of marriage. This historical decision has survived to this day as dogma, which is also why pre-marital sex is frowned upon by the Church. All sexual acts must lead to offspring within the sanctity of marriage.

This tidbit of information was my personal light-bulb moment following years of dark confusion in high school. I also got my hands on the gorgeous Letters from the Closet, Ladlad, and Danton Remoto’s and Neil Garcia’s books. I found out that gender was a social construct, and it was not a sin to be gay.

In what could only be providential I lived in the same dormitory with gays who were proud of their sexuality and liked to dress up as women. By second semester, I had started to wear girls’ clothes and come out to the world, including my unprepared parents.

The shift felt natural. I had finally matched who I was inside with how I presented myself outside. I was not gay.

I was a girl!

But I didn’t know that then.

Although I grew my hair long and wore baby tees and platform shoes, I didn’t put two and two together just yet, and still wrote “I’m gay” in my journal. It would take a few more years afterwards, before I myself would find a precise terminology to describe an aspect of myself which continued to exist nevertheless. Instead of reading more about being transgender and LGBTI issues, in general, which would’ve cleared up a lot of things, I read other books. I was especially drawn to the fire of feminism.

There is a school of feminism which is separatist, believing that men are the root of all evil and therefore women stay away from them (an oversimplification, but hopefully a close enough description, of radical feminism), and this was a seductive idea to me back then.

If you knew me from before, you’d wished you hadn’t, especially if you were a guy. I wasn’t exactly storming into rooms at university and telling people patriarchy subjugated women and transformed them into servants and chattel, but I wasn’t offering two thumbs-ups to men either. Men invented war, they always had the last word on everything, they believed women’s place is in the home, and so on. As a result, I had an ambivalent relationship with men, training a critical gaze at their behaviour while not exactly looking away from their developed arms.

And while these criticisms are still true, especially in places where fundamentalisms continue to gather pace because of Western aggression, I was, in the words of somebody that I used to know, antipatika. My close friends thought I was a bitch.

Strong women tend to be shushed by calling them antipatika or bitches, and the angry feminist is a stereotype which many people use as an excuse not to understand the legitimate demands of feminism (equal pay, day care, reproductive health, for example). But I was not angry because I was a feminist. I was just angry.

In hindsight, it must have been my maladaptation in high school (what else can you call being gay but not being happy in an exclusive boys’ school?) which made radical feminism and anger appeal to me in college, and especially afterwards when I came to grips with the fact that I wasn’t gay, but transgender, a woman who is expected to fill the shoes of a man.

Next: Lalaki po kayo, Ma’am?

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