I just realized, based on my experience last month, that I am an overly-scheduled person. On top of work, I am also working on my Master's thesis at the University of the Philippines, attending Spanish classes every Saturday, running three times a week and going to the gym for the same number of days. Add to these doing advocacy work for the LGBT community. My life will probably look more hectic compared to the average person. No matter, I like it this way. I enjoy being busy and I hate being idle although I do feel sometimes that there are just too many things to do in so little time.
Last month alone I was in several activities involving the LGBT community. First I was a speaker at the Alternative Classroom Learning Experience (ACLE) forum on coming out (see pic above) of the University of the Philippines (UP) Babaylan, an LGBT students rights advocacy group in the UP system. I shared my coming out experience with the mainly student audience. I told them that in the past because I did not know any better and nobody told me otherwise, I identified and came out as gay to my family first. Later on as I tried to make sense of my experience however, I realized that even if I had a sexual preference for men, I saw myself largely as a woman. That's when I realized that I was not a gay man but a transsexual woman. Clarifying the difference required me to separate sexual orientation from gender identity and researching transgenderism and its attendant issues. At any rate, the experience required me to come out once again. This time, I proudly declared myself a Filipina of transgender experience.
Next I was invited to a meeting with the publisher and writers of Ketchup, the only remaining LGBT-oriented magazine on print in the Philippines. The people behind Ketchup wanted to meet with LGBT leaders to explore possible tie-ups in the future. They asked various organizations to attend a lunch at Dencio's Restaurant, located near the compound of a major TV network here, ABS-CBN to ask for support and any other kind of help we could extend them given the financial crisis and Ketchup's relative unfamiliarity in the community. I told them that I was willing to do my part and asked them to a meet-and-greet meeting with members of STRAP so that they could learn more about the experiences of trans-identified Filipino women. At the meeting was Hender Gercio, also a member of STRAP and the current chair of UP Babaylan (see pic below).
Last weekend, I flew to Cagayan De Oro (CDO) City which is also known as the City of Golden Friendship. To the younger set though it is just CDO. I was there to meet with an exclusively lesbian organization called People Like Us (PLUS) CDO (see pic below). Members of PLUS CDO met me at the airport where I gave them a tarp for Ang Ladlad, the national organization of LGBT Filipinos. PLUS CDO individual members have signed up to become members of Ang Ladlad and they assured me that they would do their best to spread the word about Ang Ladlad in their city. Already they have reached out to gay and transgender residents of CDO to talk about Ang Ladlad. Before I left back for Manila, they proposed a possible joint project between Ang Ladlad and PLUS CDO involving the gay and transgender communities there which so far have no organized groups yet. I am very excited about this future prospect.
That same day, members of the Gays, Bisexuals & Transgenders United for Peace & Solidarity (GUPS), an organized group in Iligan City, which is two hours away from CDO, picked me up to bring me to Iligan that night. GUPS founder, Bong Enriquez, a long-time member of Ang Ladlad, has been inviting Ang Ladlad officers to visit GUPS in Lanao Del Norte. GUPS members number close to a hundred and many of them are trans and so Bong was happy to have me in Iligan for the weekend. I went there to orient GUPS members on Ang Ladlad, give a Trans 101 lecture and talk about the Yogyakarta Principles (YyP). Before the day ended, all of the almost 20 members of GUPS who were there signed up to be part of Ang Ladlad (see pic below).
On Sunday, Bong and his partner JayR brought me back to CDO where they were having a staff training for their office. Members of PLUS CDO then fetched me at a mall to bring me to the house of their president, Norma Adecer, for lunch. It was a hearty meal of sweet and sour fish and shrimp. Over lunch the PLUS CDO members told me about their lives in CDO, their experience organizing in their city and their plans for the future. Like the people in Iligan, they touched my heart with their sincerity and their genuine desire for things to change for the better for them and for the generations to come. I hope that we will have a working relationship that will last a long time. After lunch, they graciously offered to take me back to the airport (see pic below) using Norma's amazing yellow jeep and I found it really sweet and touching. I will never forget the kindness, generosity and hospitality of the people in Iligan and CDO. They are truly a class of their own and I cannot wait to work with them and see them again soon.