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LGBTQ and gender identification – Manila Bulletin


THE RIGHT MOVE

RIKKI MATHAY

I have men and women friends who are gay. Growing up, I saw them as only either gay or lesbian. But with the LGBTQ movement making its way into mainstream media in the past decades, many were introduced to the complexity of gender identification.

LGBTQ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning — terms which are used to describe a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Despite the strides taken by various LGBTQ advocacy groups, many – as I did – still regard an LGBTQ member as either lesbian or gay pertaining to a woman or a man whose gender orientation diverts from the “norm.”

As society continues to evolve, the colors in the LGBT rainbow spectrum have likewise diversified as its members simultaneously evolve with the changing times. Now, it’s not as simple as being a gay man or lesbian.

Mel Defensor is one of the few transgender people (trans) I know. I was only able to address her as “trans” after I asked her what gender she identifies with.

Mel says: “I actually thought I was gay. Now, I identify as transgender. At first, I didn’t think I identified as such because I have not taken hormone replacement therapy nor have I undergone any cosmetic/medical surgery. However, my gender modules at the university helped me realize that “transness” is more than just pills or surgeries. While ‘gay’ refers to men who are attracted to men, ‘trans’ refers to those born as male who now to identify as female.”

Many “trans” are prescribed hormones by their doctors to get their bodies in sync with their gender identity while some undergo surgery. But not all trans will take those steps, and a transgender identity is not dependent upon physical appearance or medical procedures. As we have become more familiar with the struggles of gay men and lesbians over the years, majority of us remain oblivious to the reality that “trans” suffer more.

“Statistics show that “trans” are more likely to be victims of hate crimes including murder. Also, since our gender identities deviate from the norm, we often have issues with systems that do not account us in their design. In my own experience, I often struggle with proving my identity at banks and airports because my identification documents don’t match the gender they’re seeing when they look at me,” Mel said.

Despite having been raised in a loving and supportive family, and now living in the United Kingdom which supposedly belongs to the more liberal part of the world, Mel admits the struggles are still the same whichever continent one may be in.

“I think the biggest challenge remains to be that we exist in realities that often do not cater to us or allow us to take space. Our identities aren’t the norm so we often struggle with things that seem natural to other people. This ranges from everyday activities such as using public toilets to more significant occasions, such as getting married. I believe that Philippine laws help perpetrate these inequalities,” Mel muses.

Back in 2019, her father, Congressman Mike Defensor became a victim of online bashing when he openly threw a traditional birthday party for Mel befitting a beloved daughter making her “debut” in society. Despite all the criticisms then hurled at the Defensor family stemming from their unequivocal acceptance of Mel’s preference, she assures the LGBT community that her father would fight for their rights should he win as Quezon City’s mayor in 2022.

“Who else can understand LGBT if not someone with a child who is part of the LGBT? My father and his team have been fighting for the rights of the LGBT community not only during election period,” Mel said.
Over a chat, Mike shared how Mel came out.

“When Mel finally came out to me and my wife about her preference, my initial reaction was to hug her and tell her that I love her, and nothing will change that. Character and not sexual preference defines a person,” Mike said.

As trans people are seeking this kind of acceptance, Mel has this advise for those who are burdened coming out.

“Every time I feel anxious about being LGBT in this often unaccepting world, I think about how other people’s opinion of me won’t matter in my deathbed. In those moments, people often think about the things they regret not doing, and I would be crushed if I didn’t live my one life the way I wanted to. While it’s difficult to come out, I believe that it is far more difficult to secretly carry all that weight your whole life.”

If you are a family member of an LGBT and are still perplexed on how to face the situation, Mike’s and Mel’s advise both boil down to love.

“Obstacles could easily be resolved as long as there is mutual love and respect on all sides,” said Mel.

As a parent, Mike offers this counsel: “Love your kids as parents should. We are blessed to have them. Be a part of their lives. They have the potential to become as any of your non-LGBT children.”


 

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