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How will you spend your summer?

A Matter of Course

by Richie Villarin
They are very close friends that cannot be any more different from each other: she is a businesswoman while she is an activist. She has an eye for great designs while she is studying to become a lawyer. And in case you’re wondering, no, I don’t have my pronouns wrong.

Sass, the activist, had a lot to say about that. “My assigned sex is male but I identify as a woman. Please use she and her. I am a woman.”

Her passion for transgender issues started as most stories do, with love. “I had my first boyfriend during senior year in high school. We were very demonstrative with our feelings ­ gave gifts, flowers, hold hands in public - which made a lot of the teachers angry!” Being in an exclusive all-boys catholic school, their relationship went under a lot of disapproval. “We didn’t see anything wrong with our relationship. As far as we were concerned, we were just two individuals who were in love. And that’s all that mattered.” Sass explains that they had a “heteroerotic” relationship not a homosexual one. “I identify as a woman and my boyfriend identifies as a man. That makes it a heteroerotic relationship. I don’t understand what the big deal is?” This inspired her to research and learn everything she could about gender issues and transgenderism. “People have to understand that gays and transgenders have separate but intersecting issues. So I felt someone should really focus on transgenderism because there’s really none at that time.” She went on to co-found STRAP, the Society for Transgender Advocates of the Philippines.

“My pursuit to understand myself and my situation fueled my idealism to co-found STRAP.” Like all people, transgenders also need to feel that they belong. STRAP gave that sense of security to them. The realization that “I am not alone. There are people just like me” gives them a sense of security and is indeed very liberating.

Sass continued her advocacy when she volunteered for Amnesty International. “When I became part of the group, they weren’t aware of transgender issues. They trusted me, and my knowledge about the subject, so I started talking at various forums, symposia, and lectures sponsored by the group. It was a learning experience for both me and the organizers.”

It was around the same time that she also became a vital resource person for Professor Sam Winter of the Transgender Community Studies at Hong Kong University. “I didn’t know there was such a thing? I was surfing the net while doing my research and stumbled upon Prof. Winter’s work.” They began corresponding and started working together on a project initiated by the University. “I assisted Prof. Winter in collecting data ranging from definitions to self-identity and self-image of Filipino transgenders. I was even invited to go to Hong Kong to present my paper.”

Sass’s journey doesn’t end. Her love for knowledge and her mission to bring the transgender agenda into the forefront continues. “That is why I’m taking up B.A. Legal Studies, I want to be a lawyer. I want to be able to defend our issues and advocate change in our legal institutions.”

Veronica, on the other hand, believes that part of advocacy is making good with your own life.

Aside from co-founding STRAP, Veronica prides herself with building her own business. “Being transgender in this country, that could mean either of the two stereotypes, Japan or Salon. I couldn’t accept that. I realized that I could be successful without going through that route.” She is the Managing Director of Gap 1, a media production company that offers creative solutions to all kinds of media needs. “My boyfriend and I own it. We met at a personals site and our relationship grew from there.” Veronica’s boyfriend is a foreigner and they have no problems with the long-distance set-up. “He knows I’m very independent and I love my life here. He understands that I can’t just leave my career and family easily. We’ve been a couple for a year and a half now.”

She sometimes get very frustrated by how some people look at transgenders like her ­ and even how some transgenders look at themselves. “I am not looking for a savior. I can earn my own money. Yung iba dyan naghahanap na lang ng magaahon sa kanila…I’m not like that.” She admits that she may not be an expert at one thing but she is confident about her talents and she knows enough to succeed in life.

Veronica is one of the very few Filipinos who have undergone SRS (sex reassignment surgery). She felt that it was important to undergo surgery so she can finally become what she “was intended to be”. “Love is not based on what is between your thighs. I did this for me. My relationship now is so great because we share the same philosophies, we communicate well, we love the same things and we love each other! And that’s what’s really important”

Veronica and Sass are just two of the many faces of transgenders in our country ­ leading different lives but one in spirit - both wishing and striving for a society that is not based on gender but character and the will to make a difference.

contact STRAP sass82ph@yahoo.com / 0927.625.7010

Copyright 2004 Iconpress Publishing. All Rights Reserved.