Diary of a Transgender Filipina

Boracay here I come!

Posted by pinaytg on September 19, 2008

I’m off to the beach for now for a long overdue, mini-vacation with girl friends from work. This will be the nth time I’m flying to Boracay, one of my favorite places on Earth. I’m looking forward to a relaxing weekend under the sun and hope you have the same. Be well then and see you all when I get back. *FLYING KISSES FROM PinayTG* :))


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What’s in a Supreme Court decision (Part I)?

Posted by pinaytg on September 18, 2008

           Last night no sooner had I caught my breath after a run at the University of the Philippines (UP) than I got a text message from Malu Marin, a long time advocate of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in the country and now the Executive Director of Action for Health Initiatives (ACHIEVE), an HIV/AIDS NGO for Filipino migrant workers. Apparently word about a Supreme Court (SC) decision allowing someone intersex to have a legal name and gender change in his documents made it to the evening news and Malu was all too happy to break it to me. I wasn’t home last night but excitedly sent out text messages about the SC decision to some of my trans friends. Everyone was hopeful it would open the doors to trans recognition in law in the future.


            This morning when I got to work I accessed the SC decision online. Entitled The Republic of the Philippines vs. Jennifer Cagandahan, the September 12 ruling is nothing short of astounding. I had the same reaction as last night when I first heard about it: “OH MY GOD!” You see, Jennifer Cagandahan, the respondent has congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), an intersex condition where a baby, born with XX (female) chromosomes, masculinizes during puberty. Due to CAH, the respondent has ambiguous genitalia (in this case, a swollen clitoris with a urethral opening at the base which the court describes as appearing more male than female) and internal female reproductive organs. The respondent has a uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. But the respondent also developed male secondary sex characteristics during puberty such as facial hair and deepened voice and did not menstruate. Five years ago, the respondent petitioned a Laguna Regional Trial Court (RTC) seeking a legal change of name and sex. The petition was granted by the RTC but was challenged on a technicality involving the new Civil Registrar Law (Republic Act 9048) by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), which brought it to the SC. Six days ago, the SC ruled in favor of the respondent not only saying that the petition did not violate RA 9048 but also granting the request to change in the respondent’s birth certificate the name Jennifer to Jeff and the gender female to male.


            In the ruling, penned by Associate Justice Leonardo Quisumbing and agreed to by Associate Justices Conchita Carpio Morales, Dante O. Tinga, Presbiterio J. Velasco, Jr., Arturo Brion and signed by Chief Justice Reynato Puno, the SC says:


“Ultimately, we are of the view that where the person is biologically or naturally intersex the determining factor in his gender classification would be what the individual, like respondent, having reached the age of majority, with good reason thinks of his/her sex.  Respondent here thinks of himself as a male and considering that his body produces high levels of male hormones (androgen) there is preponderant biological support for considering him as being male.  Sexual development in cases of intersex persons makes the gender classification at birth inconclusive.  It is at maturity that the gender of such persons, like respondent, is fixed.”


            Furthermore, the court argued that Jeff was competent enough to decide his gender for himself and with Nature on his side, Jeff had already been revealed to be male. Without a law that dealt with intersex conditions, the SC could not tell Jeff what to do. They could not ask him to choose genders nor could they ask him to correct his condition through medical means. According to the ruling “Respondent is the one who has to live with his intersex anatomy. To him belongs the human right to the pursuit of happiness and of health. Thus, to him should belong the primordial choice of what course of action to take along the path of his sexual development and maturation.”


            OH MY GOD! This is almost too good to be true. It is breathtakingly unbelievable. I can hardly believe it. I am so shocked and yet so impressed as well by this. It is such a far cry from the 2007 SC decision on a case involving a trans woman who filed the same petition but was denied by the same court (composed of a different set of people, mind you, save for the Chief Justice). While this one is compassionate, logical, reasonable and scientific that one reeked of ignorance, ill logic, homophobia and transphobia. I will write more about that now infamous ruling in the next post.


For now, I just want to congratulate Jeff and his legal team on their victory which the court interprets as their giving respect to “(1) the diversity of nature; and (2) how an individual deals with what nature has handed out.” Alas, this is the exact same thing all gender advocates have been fighting for all along: for everyone to recognize diversity in gender and an individual’s agency to decide a matter as personal as gender identity! I hope that this ruling spells a brighter legal future for us transsexual Filipinos. Right now I need to catch my breath again. J

Posted in Translaw | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

HK airport detains Filipina trans women

Posted by pinaytg on September 17, 2008

It has recently come to the knowledge of the members of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) that it is now customary for Hong Kong (HK) immigration officials to detain Filipina transgender/transsexual (trans) women at the HK airport. 

We have been receiving anecdotes of various Filipina trans women who were approached by immigration officers while waiting in line to enter HK and asked to follow them to holding rooms. When the women asked why, the officers said it was a standard “security check.”

Once inside these “holding” areas, these trans women’s treatment varies. Some of them are outrightly accused of being prostitutes and more often that not asked how much money they were carrying, as if that would prove that they are not there for sex work. One, in fact, suffered the inhuman experience of being strip searched. Some are held for hours without being informed of the reason for their detention; while some others have been asked to exit HK at once with no official document stating the reason why.

            We are trying to document these cases because we fear that some kind of profiling is happening at the HK airport. These means that ALL Filipina trans women entering HK are immediately suspected of doing illegal activities in this Special Administrative Region (SAR)–a clear case of discrimination. Furthermore, these “security checks” are very arbitrary. There seems to be no standard process being followed in the detention and interview of these women and many of them are disrespected and treated inhumanely. The period of stay they are granted, if they are allowed to enter HK, varies as well from 2 days to 14, the standard maximum for tourists. The waiting time in the holding rooms is also inconsistent. Some are held for an hour or two while others are held for longer. And when let go, all trans women report of not having received documentation of their detention.

In this regard, we would like to ask your help in gathering information. If you know any trans woman who’s been to HK and experienced this indignity, please ask her to detail what happened to her. It will help if we get the following information:


1.  Name

2.  Age

3.  Profession/Student

4.  Date/s of entry to HK when you were asked to  go to the immigration office

5.  Time (if you still remember) of your arrival in HK

6.  Carrier you took to HK (CebuPac, PAL, Cathay, etc.) & Flight Number

7.  Purpose of your trip/s to  HK (tourism, business, conference,  study, etc.)

8.  Number of hours or minutes you were “detained”

9.  Other “complaints”


We are asking our trans women friends to be brave and come forward with their stories of illegal detention at the HK airport as we plan to bring this “unspoken rule” to the attention of the Chinese/HK embassy here in Manila. We are also appealing to our lawyer friends to provide us with legal advice on the matter. Also, if you have the contact details of HK/Chinese LGBT groups, activists, LGBT-friendly media, and anybody who you think can help us shed light on this issue and rectify it, please help us get in touch with them.


We will appreciate any help. Thank you very much. Together, let’s fight LGBT oppression.


In solidarity,


Dee Mendoza

Chair, STRAP


Pau Fontanos

Secretariat, Ang Ladlad


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…and Pride season begins anew in Manila…

Posted by pinaytg on September 17, 2008

          There is a reason why I have not blogged in the past two weeks. I have not only been chasing various deadlines at work but have also been up to my neck with work for Task Force Pride (TFP) Philippines. TFP, as some of you may know, is the network of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organizations and individuals that has been organizing the annual Pride March in Manila since 1999.


            This year TFP marks a milestone by holding its 10th Pride parade. Although the Pride March in Manila used to be held around June in time for the Stonewall commemorations, it was moved to December at some point because of the monsoon season. June is a very wet month in the Philippines and we’ve had Pride Marches that got drenched in rain albeit the celebrations went on. To solve this weather problem, TFP members decided to hold the Pride parade during the first weekend of December instead as part of the World Human Rights Week festivities.


            This year’s Pride March is especially significant for three other reasons: 1) It coincides with the celebration of the 60th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR60), 2) It will serve as the venue for the possible launch of the Yogyakarta Principles in Manila, which is an international declaration that applies international human rights law to matters pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and 3) It will be the first time TFP will be headed by two women of transsexual experience: myself and Sass Sasot of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP).


            When we had our first meeting in early August I was so moved by the turn out. We had around 9 organizations represented and 26 individuals present. We had members of Ang Ladlad, the national organization of LGBT Filipinos of which I am also part,  Boys’ Legion, a gay, bisexual and trans (GBT) youth organization, Circle of Friends (CoF), a socio-civic group of discreet gay and bisexual men, Gay and Lesbian Activist Network for Gender Equality (GALANG), an LGBT group working at the grass roots level, Female Artists and Musicians’ Evolution (FAME), an all women’s art and music group, Lunduyan ng Sining, an artist group for women loving women, Rainbow Rights (R-Rights) Project, Inc., a policy think tank composed of LGBT lawyers, Team Pilipinas, a group of Filipino LGBTs who’ve joined the World Out Games and other international LGBT sports fests, and of course UP Babaylan, the first ever LGBT student group in the University of the Philippines System.


            Everyone is excited to work for TFP because it is aiming high this year. TFP members are raring to celebrate the 10th Pride March in a big way, with more color, festivity, glitz and glamour. There are so many plans and I will tell you more regarding that later on. This year also marks the longest Pride Season, the period of time, set by TFP wherein its member organizations hold various activities leading up to the Pride parade.

Our kick off activity was a forum on trans women’s issues sponsored by R-Rights last August 30 at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. It was followed by a reproductive health community outreach activity by UP Babaylan on September 1. Then R-Rights in cooperation with LNS and Radar Pridewear, the first alternative lifestyle fashion line for women, held the 4th Dyke Dialogues featuring nationally respected women’s leader, Aida Santos last September 13. That was followed on Sunday, September 14, by the 2nd church anniversary of the Metropolitan Community Church in Quezon City (QC) and the ordination of their Pastor, Pastor Ceejay Agbayani. As you know MCC is a global Christian Church that is inclusive towards LGBT people.


            This week the LGBT community is getting ready to attend two other events that are part of Pride Season: the launch of INVOICE, a new LGBT magazine and GALANG. The INVOICE launch will happen this Friday, September 19 at Bed Bar in Malate while GALANG will be launched at Café Rallos, in Tomas Morato in QC on Saturday, September 20. After these two big events, TFP will celebrate the anniversary of LNS when they hold a lesbian love letter reading on the 27th of September. We are all excited about that. Anything about love and I am going. J There are other events lined up for this year’s celebration of LGBT Pride so stay tuned for that.


            The TFP team is also very proud of the theme we came up with this year. The 2008 LGBT Pride March will celebrate A decade of dignity: Our rights, our lives, our loves, our selves. I’ll tell you more about that later. For now, I’m just happy to announce that right now in Manila it is Pride season once again. And I hope you can help us make it a truly momentous and successful occasion.


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“Smart woman”

Posted by pinaytg on September 4, 2008

Although I generally detest spam or forwarded messages in general, I kinda liked this one I got this morning. I opened my email at work, saw the subject line which said Smart woman and was intrigued  enough to read it. I think it’s a bit dated though and feel that I’ve read this before somewhere. Anyway, it made me chuckle at least. I hope it makes you react the same way.


One morning the husband returns after several hours of fishing and decides to take a nap. Although not familiar with the lake, the wife decides to take the boat out. She motors out a short distance, anchors, and reads her book.



Along comes a Game Warden in his boat. He pulls up alongside the woman and says, ‘Good morning, Ma’am. What are you doing?’

‘Reading a book,’ she replies, (thinking, ‘Isn’t that obvious?’)

‘You’re in a Restricted Fishing Area,’ he informs her.

‘I’m sorry, officer, but I’m not fishing. I’m reading.’

‘Yes, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment. I’ll have to take you in and write you up.’

‘For reading a book,’ she replies.

‘You’re in a Restricted Fishing Area,’ he informs her again.

‘I’m sorry, officer, but I’m not fishing. I’m reading.’

‘Yes, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment. I’ll have to take you in and write you up.’

‘If you do that, I’ll have to charge you with sexual assault,’ says the woman.

‘But I haven’t even touched you,’ says the game warden.

‘That’s true, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment.’

‘Have a nice day ma’am,’ and he left.



MORAL: Never argue with a woman who reads. It’s likely she can also think. Send this to women who are thinkers.

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A roadmap to gender freedom

Posted by pinaytg on August 29, 2008

Below is the speech I delivered at the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) forum entitled We Are Not Deviants at the University of the Philippines (UP) Manila sponsored by UP Stonewall, a new LGBT student organization there. Because of the 10-minute limit allotted to each speaker—there were five speakers in all—I decided not to talk about the trans in transgender but instead focused on gender.


           Good morning I am here today because I’d like to talk about gender and how we must freely express it or we must be free of it. Before I do so I would like to thank members of UP Stonewall for the invitation to speak before you today. I must admit that when I first saw the title of today’s forum over an email exchange the first thing that came to my mind was “That title is so 60s!” Frankly, in the past decade of being active in the local LGBT community, I’ve never heard the word deviants mentioned in the same breath with LGBT. Divas yes, deviants, no. In fact, a quick Google search when you key in the word deviants fetches a Wikipedia entry of The Deviants (formerly The Social Deviants), an English rock band made up of manly men I suppose from, you guessed right, the 60s.


            But still, I appreciate the title of today’s forum. We all know that even in this age of slogans like “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” or “One, Two, Three, Four! Open up the closet door! Five, Six, Seven, Eight! Don’t assume your kids are straight!” or the classic “Bakla ako, may angal?” (by the LGBT student org UP Babaylan), many people are still not used to it, assume their kids are straight and have angal against bakla people. And so we hear very real and often times sad stories of oppression and discrimination that are largely fueled by the ignorance, bigotry and hatred of others. We hear of the woman who was not hired for a job  because she told the employer she was lesbian. Or the people who were refused entry to an establishment because they were transgender. Or the teen who was ran out of his home by his own parents because he was gay, bisexual or questioning. Certainly there are more stories than these and they get worse.


One thing is certain though. Those mentioned above have one thing in common: gender and the oppression that comes with it. Before I go on further about this thing we call gender and this road map to gender freedom that I mentioned, let me introduce to you some trivia about it. Did you know that even if gender terms were already in use in language to denote, for example, male, female, and neuter nouns, it was only in 1955 when it officially entered the language of the social sciences? John Money, a psychologist from Johns Hopkins University is credited for making this possible. Money adapted the binary concept of gender from language and decided to apply it to people. The result as we all know now is a disaster. Why? Because Money also theorized that gender identity is simply determined by two things, genitalia and socialization. So if you’re a baby with a vagina and raised as a girl, you will end up female. The same goes for the baby with a penis who is raised as a boy. He should be male. If not, then–this is where Money used psychology to explain away those who did not fit his system–it’s either your parents fault for not bringing you up right or you’re mentally ill.


But life as we know it is not that simple. Case in point: David Reimer. Reimer was one of twin boys whose penis got burned off in an infant circumcision accident. It was Money who advised Reimer’s parents to have him surgically and hormonally changed into a girl and raise him as one. Money extensively talked about Reimer’s case calling it the John/Joan case and used it as evidence that his theory was right. The medical and scientific community later found out that Money deliberately lied about Reimer’s story which is documented in the novel As nature made him: The boy who was raised as a girl by John Colapinto.


It turns out that Reimer, while growing up, showed an innate sense of his correct gender and rejected all efforts to feminize him. Despite having female genitalia, he did not identify as a girl. Nor did he want to live as one. Later on, Reimer would transition back into male. His story, however, would end tragically when he committed suicide in 2004.


What does this story tell us? It confirms that gender is too complex a phenomenon that cannot be explained by simplistic theorizing alone. It is not a matter of just nature or just nurture. It is a matter of both and everything else in between such that a comprehensive theory of gender will have to take cognizance of the fact that we are complicated bio-pyscho-socio-cultural beings who will not always fit into neat categorizations. And yet, a little over half a century later Money’s theory of gender seems to continue to hold sway.


Notice that when we first meet a person our first instinct is to attribute that person either of just two genders. Is he or she a man or woman? Those who are difficult to place, according to transgender philosopher Miqqi Gilbert risk facing “ridicule, ostracism, systemic discrimination, legal and social persecution, medical mutilation, institutional isolation, state supported harassment and even death.” Perhaps this is the more important lesson we need to learn today: that in the past 50 years, the dichotomous gender system has become an oppressive institution.


Thus our job as LGBT activists is to seek to democratize it. We can do that by first rejecting the notion that gender is dual. A more profitable way of looking at gender, according to Dr. Carl Bushong, is to treat it not as bipolar or bimodal but as a matrix, a spectrum. This will make room for people who for various reasons do not identify clearly as male or female and those who identify as somewhere in between, a combination of both or neither. This system will also recognize that women can have breasts and a penis and men can have vaginas with the world not worse off for it.


Second, in a gender democracy, gender is inconsequential, insignificant, and irrelevant. This will wrest away the power to attribute gender to persons from other persons and institutions. This means that we have to consciously stop attributing gender to people and stop caring if the person we meet is a man or woman or both or neither. It should not be important in the same way that in today’s world that person’s sexual orientation, skin color, disability, social status, religious beliefs, political persuasions, etc. are not important. This means that gender should have no place in official documents. Do your documents say if you’re bisexual, black, a double amputee, rich, or Moslem? Lastly, the best way to gender freedom is to let the individual decide his/her gender identity and expression. In this case gender is not a privilege practiced correctly by others based on arbitrary standards but a right that is determined solely by each and every person. Gender ultimately is a matter of self-determination.


If this is not possible then we do the next best thing: we must eradicate it. We must destroy gender. Thank you and once again good morning.



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Two talks featuring PinayTG

Posted by pinaytg on August 27, 2008

             My job requires me to log hours during the weekends particularly on Saturdays. That’s when the rest of the people involved in the project I am working on as well are all free. So we usually devote Saturdays for meetings. This past one, while my boss was wrapping up our project meeting, I had a sense that the new week was going to be busy. I not only had work related deadlines to meet this week but also two talks to prepare for:


28 August  2008

Thursday, 10 am -12 nn

NEDA Conference Room, College of Arts and Letters

Padre Faura, UP Manila

In celebration of Sociology Week, UP Stonewall (Ang Ladlad UP Manila) a new lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) student organization in the University of the Philippines Manila (UPM), invites you to an LGBT forum on Thursday, 28 August 2008 at UP Manila from 10 am – 12 nn.

Speakers include PinayTG (transgender issues), Eva Callueng (lesbian issues), Fire Sia (bisexual issues), Fr. Richard Mickley (LGBT spirituality) and Danton Remoto (keynote speech). For more details please contact UP Stonewall president Reighben Labiles thru mobile 0926-721-5042.

30 August 2008

Saturday, 1:30 pm – 5 pm

Rita Estrada Room (Rm. 201)

College of Social Work and Community Development (CSWCD)

Woman nonetheless: Being a trans female in the Philippines

This forum on transgender issues is sponsored by the Rainbow Rights Project, Inc. (R Rights Inc.), a legal think tank composed of LGBT lawyers, and slated for 30 August 2008, Saturday from 1:30 pm – 4 pm,at the 2nd Floor Conference Room or the Rita Padilla Room (Rm 201) of the College of Social Work and Community Development (CSWCD) at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman.


Speakers include Atty. Germaine Leonin of R Rights Inc., Sass Sasot of Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) and PinayTG of Ang Ladlad, the national organization of LGBT Filipinos.
          These talks are open to all so if you want to know more about transgenderism in general or the issues facing Filipino trans women in particular, please come, tell and bring your friends, family and loved ones. See you there!


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Two fairy tales

Posted by pinaytg on August 21, 2008

I saw these short narratives on a good friend’s blog. I’m reposting them here because I agree that these are the fairy tales we should have been reading as little girls and boys. (Thanks to Atty. Germaine Leonin’s class, WD 227, at the University of the Philippines Diliman for these.)


Once upon a time, a guy asked a girl ‘Will you marry me?’ The girl said: ‘NO!’ And the girl lived happily ever-after and went shopping, dancing, camping, drank martinis, always had a clean house, never had to cook, did whatever the hell she wanted, never argued, didn’t get fat, traveled more, had many lovers, didn’t save money, and had all the hot water to herself. She went to the theater, never watched sports, never wore friggin’ lacy lingerie that went up her ass, had high self esteem, never cried or yelled, felt and looked fabulous in sweat pants and was pleasant all the time.



Once  upon a time, in a land far away, a  beautiful, independent, self-assured  princess happened  upon a frog as she sat, contemplating  ecological issues on the shores of an unpolluted pond in a verdant meadow near her castle. The frog hopped into the princess’ lap and said: Elegant Lady, I was once a handsome prince, until an evil witch cast a spell upon me. One kiss from you, however, and I will turn back into the dapper, young prince that I am and then, my sweet, we can marry and set up housekeeping in your castle with my mother, where you can prepare my meals, clean my clothes, bear my children, and forever feel grateful and happy doing so. That night, as the princess dined sumptuously on lightly sauteed frog legs seasoned in a white wine and onion cream sauce, she chuckled and thought to herself: I don’t f_ _king think so.

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From Transamerica to Top Model: trans people’s increasing visibility on film and television

Posted by pinaytg on August 14, 2008


America's Next Top Model Logo




          In 2005, I could not contain myself when I heard about a movie which was slowly getting Oscar buzz: Transamerica. Transamerica is the road movie starring Felicity Huffman (from Desperate Housewives) who plays a transsexual, Bree Osbourne formerly Stanley Schupack, on her way to genital reconfiguration surgery (GRS). On the eve of her GRS, Bree gets a call from a boy claiming to be Stanley Schupack’s son. What follows is a journey that takes Bree back to her roots and then ultimately to herself. When I saw it and saw Felicity Huffman portray her transgender character with grace and depth, I couldn’t help but cry. I was so moved. I was moved to tears again when she won the Golden Globe best actress the next year and she said the following when she accepted her award: “I know as actors our job is usually to shed our skins, but I think as people our job is to become who we really are, and so I would like to salute the men and women who brave ostracism, alienation and a life lived on the margins to become who they really are.”



              Before Transamerica, trans people were slowly inching their way to mainstream visibility on film and television. There was The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert in 1994, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar in 1995, Different for Girls in 1996, the tragic Boys Don’t Cry in 1999, and Soldier’s Girl in 2003. One of the more memorable trans characters I’ve seen on film so far is the Lady Chablis in Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil (1997). In the book, Lady Chablis was a trans woman with an attitude and I had so much fun reading the sub plot involving her. She was so sexy and sassy.


           After Transamerica I knew it was just a matter of time before trans people became visible on TV as well. And true enough, in 2006 ABC in the US gave the world Ugly Betty where Rebecca Romjin plays transsexual heiress, Alexis Meade. After Alexis came Candis Cayne’s character in Dirty Sexy Money (2007), Carmelita, the transsexual mistress of William Baldwin’s character, Patrick Darling. Let’s also not forget, Max, a trans man who joined The L Word’s stable of character on its 3rd season and the transgender character introduced in 2006 on ABC’s day time soap All My Children.


            On the reality TV front, recently I read on my favorite blog, TransGriot that there will be two exciting trans people to watch out for: La Verne Cox who is competing on a show called I Want To Work For Diddy and Isis who will be on Cycle 11, the latest season of America’s Next Top Model(ANTM) competing with 13 others women. Although the Diddy show sounds obscure, I hope that it will get shown here in the Philippines some time in the future on cable as ANTM is. I know that ANTM has a worldwide following of young people because when I used to do consultancy work for an English language learning institute here, it’s all my 14-15 year old female Korean students could talk about. So Isis, who is 22, has the chance to represent us all in a big way and I can only hope she will do a great job at it. We all know how catty the girls can be on that show but let’s not expect Isis to be a saint. I just want her to stay true to herself.


            In the Philippines, we have our own trans successes on film. There’s The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela (2008), which is being touted as a trans Cinderella story and Thank You Girls (2008), which takes a comedic look at the beauty pageant culture in the Philippines. Although I have not seen Raquela, members of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) have given it their seal of approval after a special screening here with the movie’s director, Olaf De Fleur. Thank You Girls meanwhile will be shown at the University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI) later this month. As I work inside UP, I am sure I won’t miss it. As well, there’s a transgender contestant in Project Runway Philippines. Her name is Jaz Cerezo and she’s done quite well in the first three episodes of the show. She follows in the foot steps of the beautiful Rianne Barrameda, the reigning Miss Amazing Beauty, a prestigious beauty pageant for trans women, who competed in a dancing show called Shall We Dance also this year.  



          I am just glad that more and more trans people are playing trans people or themselves in movies and television. We’ve always been a part of the human story so it’s about time we saw ourselves more both on the big and small screens. Yes, it’s about time indeed!

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Femininity and the Olympics

Posted by pinaytg on August 14, 2008


Olympic logo

Olympic logo

I first saw the following article from the New York Times online Op/Ed section posted on the Ang Ladlad e group by a nationally respected feminist leader, Aida Santos. It’s about the Chinese Olympic committee’s decision to bring back gender testing to the Beijing games. Read it and tell me what you think. I don’t think I could have said it any better.







By Jennifer Finney Boylan


IN the 1936 Olympic Games, the sprinter Stella Walsh — running for Poland and known as the fastest woman in the world — was beaten by Helen Stephens of St. Louis, who set a world record by running 100 meters in 11.4 seconds. After the race, a Polish journalist protested that Stephens must be a man. After all, no woman in the world could run that fast.


Olympic officials performed a “sex test” on Stephens, who was found, in fact, to be female, proving once and for all that a person could be incredibly fast and female at the same time.


Forty-four years later, Walsh, who had become an American citizen, was shot to death in the parking lot of a discount store in Cleveland. Her autopsy revealed a surprise: It was Stella Walsh, and not Helen Stephens, who turned out to have been male all along, at least according to the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s office.



Last week, the organizers of the Beijing Olympics announced that they had set up a “gender determination lab” to test female athletes suspected of being male. “Experts” at the lab will evaluate athletes based on their physical appearance and take blood samples to test hormones, genes and chromosomes.


On the surface, it seems reasonable for there to be some sort of system by which Olympians can be certain that female medalists really are female. The problem is that China’s tests are likely to produce the wrong answers, because they measure maleness and femaleness by the wrong yardsticks, and in the process ruin the lives of the innocent.



It would be nice to live in a world in which maleness and femaleness were firm and unwavering poles. People can be forgiven for wanting to live in a world as simple as this, a place in which something as basic as gender didn’t shift unsettlingly beneath our feet.



But gender is malleable and elusive, and we need to become comfortable with this fact, rather than afraid of it.


At the original Olympic Games, no gender testing was considered necessary. Back in 776 B.C., the Games were for men only, and they were conducted in the nude (with female spectators prohibited).



The modern era of gender testing began in 1968, at the Games in Mexico City, when it was believed that Communist countries in Eastern Europe were using male athletes in women’s competitions. (The truth was that some of the Eastern European athletes had been on a regimen of testosterone and steroids, giving them the physiques of young Arnold Schwarzeneggers.)


The test, which began as a crude physical inspection, has become more sophisticated over the years. In the 1970s and ’80s, the test was performed by a buccal smear — the scraping of cells from the inside of the mouth — and the sample studied for chromosomal material.



Over the past 40 years, dozens of female athletes tested in this manner have tested “positively” for maleness. That’s because these tests don’t measure “maleness” or “femaleness.” They measure — and not always reliably — the presence of a Y chromosome, or Y chromosomal material, which no small number of females have.



The condition, known as androgen insensitivity, occurs in about 1 in 20,000 individuals. Basically, a woman may have a Y chromosome, but her body does not respond to the genetic information that it contains. Some women with androgen insensitivity live their lives unaware that they have it. By any measure, though (except the measure of the Olympic test), they are women.



In 1996, eight female athletes at the Atlanta Games tested positively. Seven of these women were found to have some degree of androgen insensitivity, and one an enzyme defect. All were subsequently allowed to return to competition.



Ten years later, however, Santhi Soundarajan, a runner from India, was stripped of her silver medal in the 800 meters at the Asian Games for “failing” a sex test. An Indian athletics official told The Associated Press that Soundarajan had “abnormal chromosomes.” She was ridiculed in the press, and her career was destroyed. In the wake of her global humiliation, she attempted suicide.



You might think that gender testing at the Olympics is conducted to weed out transsexual women, who might be perceived to have some sort of physical advantage over natal females. Yet this is not the case. Since 2004, the International Olympic Committee has allowed transsexuals to compete as long as they have had sex-reassignment surgery and have gone through a minimum of two years of post-operative hormone replacement therapy. (As for the advantages that people born male supposedly have in competing against people born female, the combination of surgery and hormones appears to eliminate it entirely. Studies show that postoperative transsexual women perform at or near the baseline for female athletes in general.)


In the four years since the ruling, there have been no transsexuals — or at least no athletes who are open about it — in Olympic competition. But this year, Kristen Worley, a Canadian cyclist, came close to qualifying. If transgender athletes are now allowed to compete officially, and if gender testing has been shown frequently to render false results, then what exactly are the Chinese authorities testing for?



The Olympic hosts seem to want to impose a binary order upon the messy continuum of gender. They are searching for concreteness and certainty in a world that contains neither.


Most efforts to rigidly quantify the sexes are bound to fail. For every supposedly unmovable gender marker, there is an exception. There are women with androgen insensitivity, who have Y chromosomes. There are women who have had hysterectomies, women who cannot become pregnant, women who hate makeup, women whose object of affection is other women.



So what makes someone female then? If it’s not chromosomes, or a uterus, or the ability to get pregnant, or femininity, or being attracted to men, then what is it, and how can you possibly test for it?


The only dependable test for gender is the truth of a person’s life, the lives we live each day. Surely the best judge of a person’s gender is not a degrading, questionable examination. The best judge of a person’s gender is what lies within her, or his, heart.



How do we test for the gender of the heart, then? How do we avoid out-and-out frauds, like Hermann Ratjen, who said he was forced by the Nazis to compete as “Dora” in the 1936 high jump? (He lost, finishing fourth.)



A quick look at the reality of an athlete’s life ought to settle the question. Ratjen was male not because of what was in his genes, but because of who he was. He returned to his life as Hermann after the Berlin Games. “For three years I lived the life of a girl,” he said in 1957. “It was most dull.”


It’s hard to imagine a case like Ratjen’s recurring today, but if it did and he slipped through the cracks, then so be it. Surely policy for the Olympics — and civilization — shouldn’t be based on one improbable stunt perpetrated by Nazi Germany.


Which brings us back to Stella Walsh. While the autopsy revealed that she had male sex organs, a chromosome test ordered by the coroner was more ambiguous. She may well have had androgen insensitivity or some other intersex condition. More important, she spent the whole of her life as a woman. She should be celebrated for her accomplishments as an athlete, not turned into an asterisk because of a condition beyond her control.



The triumphant fact of a life lived as a woman made Walsh female, and the inexact measurements performed by strangers cannot render her life untrue.



Maybe this means that Olympic officials have to learn to live with ambiguity, and make peace with a world in which things are not always quantifiable and clear.



That, if you ask me, would be a good thing, not just for Olympians, but for us all.



Jennifer Finney Boylan, a professor of English at Colby College, is the author of “She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders” and “I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted.”


* Retrieved August 14, 2008 from

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