By Danton Remoto | Remote Control | 03/24/2009 12:03 AM
Views and analysis
My transgender friends in Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) met with me for coffee one night in Makati and told me they want to write a rejoinder to my column about our common friend, BB Gandanghari. I was glad to listen to them and learn more about the transgender experience.
I attended a four-hour-long session with them two years ago about the transgender experience, but I guess I still have a lot to learn. I also admitted that, like many others, I was confused with the beautiful and effervescent BB Gandanghari. In “Pinoy Big Brother” two years and in some of her magazine interviews in the past two months, she confessed to being “a gay man” and not once did she use the word “transgender” to identify herself.
Be that as it may, I now give the floor to Dee Mendoza, Chairwoman of STRAP, who wrote a reaction letter to “articles written about and comments given to BB Gandanghari and to all women of transgender experience.” We learn something new and something true every day. My warmest thanks to my friends in STRAP, who by the way are also active members of Ang Ladlad, for setting things right.
As the country's limelight shines ever so brightly on BB, the issue of transgender has come to the surface. A lot of incorrect information has been expressed about her and, therefore, about others like her.
To err is human. But ignorance? Not bliss for all. Willful ignorance, or judgment in ignorance, should not be treated so lightly or be easily dismissed because of the harm it can cause.
A number of misunderstandings about transgenderism have recently been displayed in print and on the television by both the unlearned and the experts alike. Sadly, even some of those in the LGBT community have contributed to this confusion. Well-intentioned articles that result in harm simply because of the clear lack of knowledge must be rewritten to reflect only the facts and the truth.
Here is a fact and the truth: Transgenders are not gay men who think and feel they are women born in the wrong body. They are not, as stated by one so-called expert, merely people who suppress their sexuality for a very long time.
“Transgender” is a term that has emerged fairly recently and is used to describe anybody who feels their gender identity and expression is different to that which was assigned to them at birth (based only on the viewing of their genitalia). A transgender may be a woman or a man, and like any woman or man, they can be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. Therefore, their sexuality is not their gender.
To clarify and emphasize this point, gender is who we are – it is ourselves, our person. Gender is not our body, not our genitals, not our clothes, not even our names, not our hormones and not our sexual preference.
A newborn who is pronounced male by the doctor or midwife may not necessarily identify as male when that child grows up. This person must have every right to choose to live his/her life the way s/he needs it to be lived. This person who was born male may live her life as a woman. Because she expresses and identifies as a woman, then she is a woman.
One’s gender has nothing to do with the absence or presence of a specific genitalia. Gender must not be imposed on us. Who, then, has the right to determine the gender of a person? Is it the church? Is it the doctor who inspects the baby's genitalia upon birth? Is it the psychiatrist? Surely, it is only that person because only s/he alone possesses and has innate knowledge of his/her self.
Furthermore, a person need not make any change in order to be the gender they are. Feeling is being. No genital or cosmetic surgery, hormone replacement therapy, nor any other intervention is a prerequisite to being oneself. A man is a man and a woman is a woman not because of their genitals. We are not walking penises and vaginas. We are living beings who happen to have a certain kind of genitalia. Surely, we do not want to reduce ourselves to mere organs. Our being is a determinant of who we are, not what’s between our legs.
Man or woman. Hetero-, homo-, bi- or pansexual. These are only words, and words are only inventions. Sometimes, words are ambiguous. Sometimes, their meanings change over time. Sometimes, new words are invented as our knowledge and understanding evolves over time. It is not surprising then when sometimes, writers publish a piece that contains inaccurate and misunderstood use of certain words. Words, which in this case, are crucial to the understanding and description of other people. Words that can confuse, harass, demean and disrespect people. Hence, a writer must take it upon themselves to be vigilant in ensuring their thorough understanding of all words before going to print.
As for BB, let us respect her freedom of expression. Let us graciously accept what she tells us because only she has the right and ability to assert her own identity. Only she can truly know herself. If you don't understand, ask her. If you can't ask her, then it is best not to comment with so much certainty. Opinions are one thing, statements are another.
STRAP (Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines) is the first and only support, contact and information group for girls and women of transsexual experience in the Philippines. For more information, visit www.tsphilippines.com.