To pee or not to pee, that is the question

Dear Bladder, Better luck next time.
Dear Bladder, Better luck next time.

I’ve used men’s restrooms before, and more than my welfare, it’s the men I worry about.

A few men have backtracked and rechecked the sign on the door after seeing me washing up at the sink. If I took a photo every time that happened, I’d have an exhibit by now.

I once stopped a group of burly men in the middle of conversation when I entered a locker-type toilet during a fashion show. Inside the cubicle, I heard one of them make a catcall or crack a joke.

In the college boy’s dorm’s shared bathroom, I and my friends wrapped towels around our bodies like we’d already gone under the knife and were only being prim and proper. What a sight we must have been to our dormmates!

But for many years now, I’ve only been using the female bathroom. As long as I don’t talk (my voice is like Mariah Carey’s – when she goes for the low notes in ‘Someday’), I can pass off as a woman. Unlike when I use a male bathroom, I don’t get funny looks inside the women’s loo.

At my old office, one of the female bosses complained about my using their restroom. At my new work now, we share the female bathroom with another company in the same building. Some of the women from this company have now talked to our administration staff about a ‘bakla using their restroom.’

There are men who feel uncomfortable when transwomen (and gays) use their bathroom. These are the sort of men who feel we are out to get them, that they are difficult to resist.

There are women who feel transwomen have no right to women’s restrooms, that we are still male and are therefore intruding on their appointed sanctuary.

In the world of these types of men and women, we better start saving up for the treatment of our future sakit sa bato, from holding it in for their peace of mind. *


Dear Cinemalaya, Mimi Juareza is an actress

Mimi Juareza. Photo from Cinemalaya
Luminous. Mimi Juareza in Eduardo Roy Jr’s Quick Change. Photo from Cinemalaya website.

“Like other transgenders, Mimi’s is a story of gay struggle against the backdrop of discrimination in a religious country like the Philippines,” writes Luigene Yanoria of Yahoo Philippines. (Italics mine.)

Mimi Juareza was pitch-perfect in Quick Change, one of the well-made films in this year’s Cinemalaya. Mimi played the character of Dorina, a transgender (trans) woman who makes a living injecting collagen into other transwomen to enhance their physique and ‘pass’ as women. Mimi’s portrayal  was unaffected, delivered with a quiet and luminous intensity.

She deserved to win this year’s Cinemalaya’s Best Actress award. Alas, she’s been named Best Actor, which Juareza herself doesn’t seem to mind.

“Asked if he had wanted to win best actress instead, Juareza told the Inquirer: ‘Best actor, best actress … whatever, for as long as they show their appreciation for my work, I don’t mind.”

A tacit consensus seems to have been reached about Mimi: she is not (yet) a woman to deserve the pronoun “she”. In these parts, a transgender is still a man.

It is possible for a person who dresses up in a fashion typical of women to consider himself a man. This would be a cross-dresser who gets a kick out of occasionally raiding his girlfriend’s closet. Dennis Rodman is the most famous example. But that is not who Mimi is.

Transgender is “an umbrella term that refers to people who live differently than the gender presentation and roles expected of them by society.” While transsexual is “a term for people who seek to live in a gender different from the one assigned at birth and who may seek or want medical intervention (through hormones and/or surgery) for them to live comfortably in that gender.”*

Mimi Juareza, if she isn’t transsexual, would likely identify as a transgender woman, if the fabulous blue gown she wore on awards night is any (superficial) indication.

A transwoman shaves her facial hair, pops hormones, and straps on a bra in an attempt to match her body and appearance to her mind – to the gender with which she identifies. Should not the basic courtesy be to call her a woman?

How hard is it to add one letter to the pronoun ‘he’ to recognize someone for what they truly are? Why can ‘t we err – just in case Mimi self-identifies as a gay man – on the side of generosity?

Perhaps, Mimi thinks of herself as bakla,  a local blanket term that rather conveniently means one or the combination of the following: effeminate, ‘cross-dressing’, attracted to men, or cowardly. One of our terms now for transgender is pa-girl (behaving like a girl)a telling description because it implies that womanhood is being attempted at but not yet achieved.

But our beliefs are born of the social imagination. Perhaps, precisely because many of us have yet to warm up to the idea that womanhood is not predicated solely on genitalia, we will continue to define others and ourselves using a limited and limiting vocabulary. We had words once for transgender – asog, bayougin, bayok etc but they seem to have all but disappeared along with the esteem we held for transgenders who were often also babaylan or catalonan or priestesses, during Spanish rule. It seems the process of colonization licked our language clean of diversity.  

Giving the best actor award to Mimi Juareza keeps this colonized language alive which has no words for and thus invinsibilizes transgenders, lumping them together with all other deviations (such as bisexuals) under the name of bakla. Mimi is still a man.

Quick Change director Eduardo Roy Jr apparently feels this way, calling Mimi ‘he’ after spending time with her and researching for the film, I assume. In fact, the film, which I thought was the best-written of Cinemalaya entries, disappointed ultimately by forcing Dorina to act out of character.

Dorina, who is propped up as a nurturing presence in both her immediate and extended community, who is  a Marian devotee, and who refuses to cave in to her boyfriend’s unsaid desire for her to undergo bottom sex reassignment surgery – which is revealed in a powerful scene as the reason he cheats on her – , commits a crime in the end.

Realizing the collagen supplied to her by an older transwoman is, in fact, lethal tire black, Dorina decides to stop plying her trade. Shortly after, her live-in partner leaves her for good for a younger transsexual, and Dorina, in a seeming trance, goes back to work and accidentally kills a client.

Heartbreak as a destructive force in LGBT lives is a familiar if stereotypical motif in film. In Quick Change, a transwoman, who seems to flourish in her milieu in spite of obvious obstacles, herself becomes, after getting dumped, the sole author of her tragedy. Society must take some credit as co-author for a public health care system that does not include sex reassignment therapy.

But even outside of this, the film’s crime is forcing Dorina’s hand to commit an immoral act.

Quick Change could be based on a real story, or it could only be bringing the storyline to its logical end. I might, in fact, be succumbing to a bout of exceptionalism, wishing for the portrayal of a transwoman in film to be edifying for once. But when Dorina loses her way, we also lose the one single trans character in the film who is not antagonistic or is not co-opted by the fatal tire black cottage industry.

I cannot help but feel frustrated that, out of all the possibilities, the ending had to paint all the transwomen in the film, and especially Dorina in a corner of sin and doom. I mean, we are talking of homicide here!

Transwomen are understandably a revolutionary idea for many of us who have been reared in sex-negative and heteronormative narratives. I thought Cinemalaya, packaged as a bulwark for independent and critical thinking, and the otherwise nuanced Quick Change, would have fared better than the rest of us. A fresh page in the story of transwomen could have been written, seeing us in a new light which we have been waiting for.

*From Teaching Transgender, National Center for Transgender Equality.