Sunday, June 11, 2017

Love in the Digital Age, Part I

by Arlo Gallemit Yamo

I have some experience in the area of love in the digital age.

I have been chatting with a man online for more or less four years now. He is from the other side of the world. He is an American living with his mother. He is much older than I am – he just turned 46 years old last May.

Let me call him Harold (not his real name). I met him through a job I had before, working on a popular gaming website. Harold was not only a member of that website, but his company advertised there (he is a businessman). He sells different products online. One day, while I was on duty working, I received a private message from him.

He privately messaged me a couple of times, but at first I was ignoring all of his messages. It took several days before he caught my attention. I was not really interested in him at first, because when I looked at his profile there was no picture! However, he was writing to me almost every day, saying hi's and hello's and inspiring messages so that he would catch my interest.

He asked if I had a Skype account so we could talk face-to-face. That is when I finally replied – I told him to stop bothering me because I was busy during my work time, and aside from that, I found him fake because he had no profile picture! I was so rude to him that time because I didn't know him. I was so annoyed that I replied with a joke, that if he could send me a birthday gift (since my birthday was nearly approaching), and just to test him to see if he would still reply and if he was really interested in me even if I was so bad to him.

When he replied, I was so shocked! He asked me to send my mailing address so he could send me a birthday gift. He even asked me what kind of gift I'd like to receive. I suggested that it would be easier for him if he just sent money, but I gave him  my full details – I was excited. I did not expect that he would really do it for me. I was still doubting until I received another message from him the next morning. He gave me the full information on how and where to get what he sent for my birthday. I was so happy and very impressed! At last, I could really celebrate my birthday for the first time in my whole entire life.

A few days passed. I finally felt interested to write him back. I thanked him for the presents. I gave him my Skype ID. I was so curious to see what he looked like.

Skyping with Harold

So finally we saw each other on cam through a videocall. I was like "OMG that's him!" as I whispered silently. I found him so different because of his looks. But when we started chatting, I felt that there was something in him that made me want to chat with him forever. We asked each other questions. There wasn't a romantic feeling, but I definitely felt a connection!

We kept in touch, and I was always wondering what the next move would be. Harold was so nice, and I loved the way he talked. I could not give him all my time to chat on Skype, because I was busy with my online work. Even so, he kept on sending me private messages which made me appreciate him more and more.

Finally, I felt it was time to share to him everything in my life. I don't know why, something just felt right about sharing my life to him, especially my problems. I felt a deep connection to him as we exchanged messages. We were on separate sides of the world, but I tried my best to answer him whenever I had extra time.

I could tell that he was genuine and a very good person. Maybe I was just being paranoid or having some trust issues, because I didn't want to fall prey to scams, especially with the history I had with other foreigners, with lies and deceit and tricks just to get me to show myself naked on cam. Should I continue talking to him or just stay away?

To Be Continued...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Happy Graduate

by Anne Olea

Every now and then, I think back and remember fondly my life in high school. It was not easy for me at school when I first started, probably because I'm a transperson, or ladyboy if you prefer. I felt bullied by some of the people in my class and it made me so irritated at the time. Because of that, I started to cut class and went to hang around at the mall all the time with some friends that accepted me. I enjoyed being with them and I had finally found some people that could just accept me for myself, no matter who I am. That meant so much to me, and it made me realize that you can find good people everywhere.

I always enjoyed any time spent with my friends because I felt comfortable with them, or we could jive together, as we say around here. I guess it was just fun because they could teach me to do things like how to put on makeup. I used to like to put makeup on in the morning before school, and then I'd take a look in the mirror and say to myself I was looking pretty so I could face another day.

One day when I was in school, the teacher called my mother and told her that she needed to come to the school to talk to them about how I was doing. After that, my mom told me that she knew about what had happened in school, and she gave me some advice about how I could deal with bullies. I decided I needed to get away from that place, so I dropped out of school, because there was no way I wanted to deal with the bullies there any more.

I continued going to the mall to meet my friends, but I did start to feel bored with that after a while. My friends started going to the mall less often, and after a while they stopped wanting to hang out there. I was just at home and feeling a bit sorry for myself and wondering what to do. It didn't help that some neighbors were gossiping about me, saying that I was a 'stupid ladyboy'. That just made me want to prove them wrong, so maybe, in a way, that helped me to turn my life around for the better.

About a year later, I made a promise to my mother and to myself that I was going to go back to school again. But it was still difficult for me, based on how it went last time. But even having to go back a year is not the end of the world, and I just had to make the best of things. I saw some of my former classmates there, and they were happy being in their second year of high school. And here I was, having to start all over again! Maybe it was a good thing, though, to be in a different class with new people. I was a bit worried that I might fail again, but I always knew my family was behind me, especially my mom. She helped to keep me motivated. Even those neighbourhood gossips with nothing better to do spurred me on. Making my mom proud was the thing that kept me going.

School turned out to be fun, and this time I met some true friends that I could treasure. They were very supportive to me, as real friends should be, and that was the best feeling to have that support there with me. I realised that without all the distraction of bullies, the schoolwork was actually easy for me. I did well until into the last year at that school... and then we had some problems...

Our whole family was relocated because the building where we lived was going to be demolished! This was a really difficult time, and when we found a new place, it meant I had to change to a different school. But I realized I just had to accept this, and there wasn't anything I could do, so maybe it would be a good change for my life. I thought it might be easy for me to adapt, but in reality it was pretty tough. It was a whole new environment for me: new teachers, new classmates, and I felt so lonely with the situation of leaving my old friends behind. I knew I could still graduate, though, and make my family proud of me.

The day of the graduation was an amazing day, and it really meant so much to me when I heard the sound of the marching band as I walked onto the stage. The principal of the school handed me my diploma, and my mom was out there watching me with her heart full of pride. It was a great feeling to overcome everything that seemed to be against me, and just to see my mom happy made it all worthwhile.

When I look back at that time, I realize how happy I was, despite all of the obstacles I faced along the way. I think we just have to follow our dreams. Every journey has to start with small steps. No matter if you are trans, gay or straight, it really should not make any difference, and you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. If you believe in yourself, then I believe you can achieve success in whatever you choose to do. For all the people who are trans like me, or those who find themselves in a similar situation, I would say to just ignore the people that say you can't do it, and keep believing in yourself. Once you get your school diploma, or whatever it is in life you are trying to achieve, you will realise that all the work was worthwhile, and you can look back with pride and satisfaction.

As I enter another chapter of my life, I am ready to embrace whatever life brings. I am very grateful to my mother, father, grandmother, and to my grandfather. They all believed in me and kept me going when things were tough. I hope this example from my life can inspire others to overcome personal difficulties and keep on trying until you get to where you want to be in life.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

It’s Never Too Late

by Audrey Luna

Change is a process, not an event.”

That’s what I learned from the drug rehabilitation center that I was admitted to. Yes, I have been rehabilitated. That means that I have been addicted to drugs. It was methamphetamine or shabu. Being in that institution has changed me in a lot of ways – my beliefs, my behavior, and even my thoughts; and most of all, it has taught me that it’s never too late to change.
It was on May 3, 2016, that I was admitted to a drug rehabilitation center. It was against my will, but I could not do anything about it since my parents tricked me into going there. Once I was there, they put me in a detention cell for three days and told me about everything I was about to go through. In those three days, I pondered my situation and realized that if I wanted to get out of that mess, I needed to do what was required. Therefore, I decided to submit to the will and the conditions of the rehabilitation center.
Living there was hell for a transwoman like me.
First, they shaved my head. So, I was bald. Wouldn’t it be frustrating for a transwoman who took a long time to grow and take care of her hair, and just have people cut it off?
Next, the rehabilitation center had a military system. I was forced to wake up at 5:00AM to exercise until 6:00AM. It was so exhausting for a transwoman. Plus, drug addicts are used to sleeping whenever they want, so it really made me struggle.
Moreover, after every meal, I, along with the other patients, was tasked to mop the floor and clean the whole building in the morning and afternoon, and only got to rest during snack time and lunch. It was really tiresome. (Though there was a recreational time from 3:00PM to 5:00PM.)
Furthermore, I only got to receive visitors on weekends. That is, if I wasn't being sanctioned with severe punishments, since the rehabilitation center had a punishment system to discipline the drug addicts.
You can imagine how depressing it would be to live and suffer in some far away and isolated place, away from one’s family; when before you could just sit, relax, and enjoy at home. Worst, I had to live like that kind of a controlled robot for six months or more!
However, if one takes it positively, ignoring the hardships, the stay in the rehabilitation center can be meaningful. For my part, I did my best to live there one day at a time, and enjoy every moment at the time. It did made my life fruitful. First and the most important thing of all, I realized that drugs, especially shabu, were bad. It not just destroyed me mentally and physically, it also devastated my life, and I no longer want to live a life full of regrets and full of messes anymore. Then, I found new friends that shared the same sentiments as I – people who could relate to and understand me. Living there taught me patience, since waiting for six months can be so stressful. It also taught me endurance, especially in every struggle and punishment that I experienced. It taught me determination, hard work, and perseverance, for I chose to become a Coordinator (CO), the highest rank a patient can achieve; and thank God, I made it! It taught me how to value my family, the people who supported me during my darkest times. There, I learned about my faults and regretted them.
I know I can't go back to change what's behind me - that I can no longer do anything about it. Instead, I must accept what has happened, forgive myself, let go of the negativities, and do my best to change into a better person. At the rehab center, I built my new dreams in life. There, I got the courage to go back to school and determine to graduate. And there, I found God, who became my refuge, my protector, my provider, and my guide.
Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13, “The one thing I do is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead.” Just like him, I had an awful past. But I am still thankful to God for all the possibilities in my life. I learned a lot and became stronger. Despite all the pain I have felt and the wounds I have acquired, still, I found the courage to stand up again and move on with life.

I can never forget what I have done, but I have accepted my fate. I know God will completely heal me someday. I know that the journey has just begun, and I will face a lot of hurdles in the near future. But, as long as I believe in myself and trust God to always be there in all circumstances with me, then I can keep moving forward and continue the change in my life.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

I Am Very Proud To Be Me

By Gabrielle Diolata Payla

My name is Gabriel. I am Gabby to my family, relatives and friends, especially in the wonderful world of transgender. Actually, I could not distinguish from among my friends whether transgender or not, if they are genuine or fake. My detractors and critics (who are known for being hypocrites but are trying to be saints) call me Gabriela with a Cebuano accent. So they say, I am amiable, cute, sweet and talented. And being a normal person,I do also dream, aspire and have ambitions – one is to join a beauty pageant for transgenders in several cities, municipalities and secluded barangays, aspiring to bag all the prizes and awards. Who says that I don't have the 3Bs – body, beauty and brains?

Joining a particular pageant for transgender is not an easy task. Of course, a transgender must have a beautiful body for the swimsuit and evening gown competition. Aside from being witty and being tactful, she must have brains for the question-and-answer portion of the pageant. Aside from her charm, winsome smile and exceptional talent, she must have beauty or a beautiful face as her ace card to win the several special awards of the contest, like Miss Photogenic, Miss Congeniality, and Miss Talent. Just like anybody else, however, I sometimes win and sometimes lose. But then, quitters never win and winners never quit!

I remember when I joined a beauty pageant for transgenders in a remote area of Barangay Matabang in Talisay City. A week before the pageant, the organizer of the event introduced us to the Screening Committee for auditions. Being one of the aspiring candidates, I was enveloped with mixed emotions. I was very happy to find out that some of the candidates were my friends. I was quite nervous, because some candidates were tall and beautiful, and could be mistaken as real ladies.

We were interviewed by the Committee. We showed a little portion of our talent. After a couple of days,the head of the Screening Committee announced the ten lucky candidates for the pageant. Fortunately, I was chosen to be one of the aspirants.

During our rehearsals, I came to know better the other nine candidates of the beauty pageant. My mind at first was filled with bad impressions about my rivals. However, these were replaced by a happy disposition because of the goodness they showed toward me. They were kind-hearted, friendly, and very accommodating. I couldn't help but laugh when they came out from their shell. They even gave me some useful tips for the beauty pageant.

Then the night came if the much-awaited beauty pageant. Backstage, my makeup artist did a lot of retouch on my makeup, unmindful of the national anthem and the invocation.

We were first presented to the audience with our festival costumes, made of recyclable materials. The crowd was very refined and civilized.

When we conquered the stage wearing two-piece swimsuits, however, the once-quiet audience became so unruly. The unwanted noise of shouts and laughter created by the crowd filled the covered court. Our focus was not to entertain the audience, but to win the hearts of the judges by showing our curves. The unruly crowd was not content just to laugh and shout. They even whistled with gusto, especially when their favorite candidate occupied the stage during the talent portion. Most candidates did a modern or pop dance. To break the monotony, I did a lip sync which, to my surprise,  wowed the crowd!

There was a deep silence when the candidates invaded the stage with our evening gowns, beautifully created by our loyal designers. All the candidates were elegant and sophisticated, and can be likened to actresses at the awards night. Clad in a rented blue gown, I walked down the aisle like Tyra Banks.

And then we were down to the Magic 5.

My heart beat so fast during the question-and-answer portion! I was asked, "What would I do as a transgender to help protect our environment or Mother Earth?" After a few seconds, I answered the question with a smile. I replied: "I will clean my surroundings to be an example to my neighbors. I will not burn trash to protect the ozone layer, but bury trash instead. As much as possible, I will plant ornamental and flowering plants to beautify my environment and trees, because our country is suffering from climate change."

Because of my exotic beauty and my extraordinary talent, plus my brain, I won the hearts of the judges. And presto, I got the crown.

I have learned so many values and ideals while joining beauty pageants. Some transgenders are selfish and jealous with their fellow transgenders, particularly in the world of beauty pageants. Instead, we must all unify and support one another, so we can fight against discrimination in our society.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

I Am Lucky

by Khane Taylor

Hi! My name is Khane, but my friends and the people who know me call me Kenneth, because that's my real name. I want to share with you the story of my life, which I don't usually do, because I believe that if I will share it, it will make me feel better.

My dad is Australian, and my mom Filipino. They were still together when I was young, but after a while they lived in separate houses. I lived with my mom, with her new husband that my dad didn't know about. She had a child with her new husband, who was also with us.

Even though we were living in a separate house, my dad was still supporting us. (He didn't know that he was also supporting my mom's new guy.) He was always a good father to me, even if we were not together. He always made sure that we always had the things that we needed.

I can say that my stepfather was so lucky, because he didn't need to work hard to provide our needs, because my father was doing it already. If he was lucky, I was not. My stepfather hurt me physically, whenever he was drunk and sometimes even if not.

My stepfather was always drinking. Sometimes he was also playing cards or gambling. My mom tolerated him, even though she could see that my stepfather was hurting me. He used different things to hurt me – he used sticks, wood, belts, sometimes the metal of his belt, and other things. One time he hurt me so bad that it made a lot of marks all over my body, and the neighbors were the ones who took care of me, because they saw the marks on my body. Also, one thing that he did to me that I can't forget, was, one time when he was so mad at me, he lifted me on the top of the bed and threw me to the floor. I was so shocked that time, I couldn't cry, I couldn't speak, and I couldn't even move. It was really hard for me to breath, until mom arrived; when she opened the door, she saw me on the floor, and she was shocked and she grabbed me right away, she cried and she was shouting at my stepfather, until I could breathe finally. I was crying while my mom was hugging me.

Every time I remember those things, I cry, even up to this moment (I'm really crying now). I was just around five or six years old at the time that I experienced all of those things. My dad didn't have any idea of those things that were happening to me. What could I do? I was just too young, I couldn't even talk to my dad about it because I couldn't speak English well yet.

There's still a lot of things that I experienced from my mom and my stepfather that I can't remember anymore.

Finally, my grandmother found out about it. She came all the way from Samar (our province) to Manila. She brought me and my two siblings back to Samar.

My grandmother has taken care of me since then until now. She supports me, loves me, and accepts me, even though she found out that I'm a transgender. She never lets me feel that I am different. Instead, she always makes me feel that I am special.

Despite what I have experienced in my past, I can still say that I am lucky, because I have wonderful people around me, especially my family, who are always there for me, to support, respect, accept, and love me for who and what I am.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

God Never Makes It Easy

by Rhea Abao Galicano

My name is Rhea... son of a policeman.

I grew up in a family where I felt so scared all my childhood days, because of my father was so strict. We all know that a policeman is a manly person! Who would think that one of his sons felt like a girl as he grew up... it was not easy for my father to accept that, and I was also scared that he might be treated badly by other people because of me.

High school days came, and I wanted to join the extra-curricular activities at school, such as the drum and bugle corps. I wanted to be the flag carrier wearing a semi-lady costume and full make-up... but fright first came to mind, and it's because of my family.

Two years after graduating from high school, I finally felt that it was time that I should come out of my shell and bloom the way I wanted to be. I made a decision to leave behind the fright towards my family (especially to my father). I let my hair grow long and trimmed my eyebrows. My family noticed my transformation, and they were angry and said some harsh things, but I never stopped myself from transitioning because I wanted something to change in myself at the age of 17!

But my father really was angry at me and wanted me out of his house. He said I was bringing dishonor and disgrace to the family. I felt so sad and depressed while I was packing my things and thinking of where to go...

Then one person came to mind: my grandmother!

I am grateful that she has let me live here now for almost seven years. Unfortunately, my uncle also lives here, and he is not really good to me, but my grandmom told me that it was OK and that I shouldn't worry about whatever he says. Grandmom told me that I was welcome here!

To prove that I can be happy in the life that I pursue, I work in a beauty salon where trans and beauty enthusiasts often work. Through this, I can contribute to my grandmom's house bills.

One day, I received a text from my sister, and it was Christmas season. She told me that our parents wanted to see me on Christmas Day, and invited me to spend it with them. I was so surprised and I cried thinking about it, because I really missed them a lot.

Then Christmas Eve came. As I walked toward our home, I really felt so scared, yet excited to see my family again after so long. And then my sister saw me and hugged me, and called everybody... and I saw mom and I was teary-eyed and gave her a hug... then my father looked at me for a few moments... I was so scared, thinking that he might be angry again, but I went to him, took his hand, and made a blessing on my forehead. After that, he tapped my shoulder and told everybody, "Let's eat! It's already dinner time!"

I know that moment that he forgave me. Deep in his heart, I know that he missed me too... he was just not showing it, but deep inside him I felt that he was happy to see me again. I have never felt happiness like that moment in my life, the forgiveness that made me whole again as a person... the family that I belong with is whole again by heart.

For now, I'm still living here in my grandmother's place, and still dealing with the hardships in life. After all, life is about fighting and working things out. God never makes it easy in our lives, because he wants us to learn because He loves us...

Monday, January 23, 2017

"Thank You!"

by Mikaella Nacario

My name is Mikaellah Nacario. I'm 17 years of age, and single. My parents are far away from me, because they are working overseas for our family's future.

My brothers are not good to me, because I'm different from them. Because I'm beautiful and they are ugly, so they are insecure around me. Sometime they do not give me food, and sometimes I'm hungry because of them.

I grew up with my grandmother. She was the one who always took care of me. She was always by my side. She taught me to be a good person and God fearing. From the day my mother left us to work abroad, my grandmother took care of us, from waking up in the morning and going to school... I always accompanied my grandmother. Until my teenage years, I was always with her.

I promised myself that someday, I would be the one to take care of her. I planned to work hard for my grandmother, because I loved her so much. However, the day came when she got sick... I prayed, "Not my grandmother, God! Not now!" It hurt so much when I saw her in pain. Until the day she died, I asked "why?" That really hurt and I still miss her.

I stopped going to school because I needed to work, to lessen the burden on the family. But I pray I will go back to school someday. I believe education is the key to surviving poverty and having a better future, and so that my family (especially my grandmother) will be proud of me. My ambition is to travel all over the world, to see the beauty of every country, and become an inspiration to everybody.

I want to share to you that no matter how tough it is, we still need to be happy. And be thankful that we are still alive, and to continue to dream about our goal in life.

I'm a simple human being. Happy to see my God-fearing family. I'm scared to be alone... I pray that my family will be together as long as I live, but I know this life is only temporary.

I'm sorry for those people I've hurt, and I have already forgiven those persons who have hurt me, and I am thankful because I have become a stronger person.

I believe that forgiveness means we must forget.

I hope that someday I can reach my dreams, not just in my dreams! I want to help my mother, so I'm looking for a better work. I want my mother back, so that she will never need to go abroad again to work for us. Indeed, I want to work for her now. I know she needs to rest, and I am mature enough to support her.

I'm so thankful for my friends, who educate me even though I am not in school, because if not for them I would not know much. My brothers won't teach me because they say I'm not their true brother, because I have a different father. I'm so blessed because I have my mother and my friends.

Why is it that my brothers cannot accept me as their youngest brother? They don't even know that I accept them. I always ask myself, "What's wrong with me?" I asked my mother about that once. She told me, "Be patient, son. You don't have to be with them or to like them. Just know that I'm here for you always. Wherever you go, I'll be your guardian."

All I can say is, "Thank you!" Thanks to all the people who have been at my side, through hot and cold.  Thank you! Thank you!