Words hold a lot of power.
A couple of years ago, I was afraid to cut my hair really short because I didn't want to be mistaken for a man. I've always been a tomboy so I knew eventually, someone would call me "sir" the moment I chopped off my locks (which I did). I remember feeling upset when I was first misgendered, bothered the next few times, but I don't really mind anymore since I identify as queer.
That was just a glimpse of what other trans people go through, and this Trans Awareness Week, PhilStar L!fe sat down with members of the trans community to discuss how the power and importance of using their preferred pronouns, honorifics, and lived names.
Using someone's preferred pronouns, names, and honorifics is a way to affirm their gender identity, according to UP Babaylan's non-binary president Venus Aves (she/they) and Transmasculine Philippines founder Matt Reyno (he/him).
"One of the most common triggers of dysphoria for trans people is getting misgendered," shared Reyno. "It validates a lot of people when they’re addressed by their preferred pronouns. It’s just a very simple way to affirm someone’s gender identity."
The trans advocate also knows that some folks won't get his pronouns don't always get his pronouns right but he doesn't hold it against them unless they're being transphobic on purpose. He then started correcting people about using the proper words after doing it over the phone countless times.
"Since I’m not yet on T (testosterone), one of my giveaways that I’m trans is my voice. I’m very masculine-presenting and most people don’t clock me as trans until I start talking. Whenever I have to use the phone, it was very common for people on the phone to call me ma’am and that’s how I would start. Every time that happened, I would quickly go, 'Sir po ako,' and they would usually apologize and start addressing me by sir. That kind of helped me build confidence to start doing it to people face-to-face," he shared.
Meanwhile, Aves faces misgendering with patience and tries to educate people about it.
"I try to normalize asking pronouns, asking their names, and being gender-sensitive," she said. "It’s okay not to get it right the first time. What’s important is that everyone has the willingness to learn, unlearn, and relearn things. Remember that it’s about respect. We just want to be treated like human beings with human rights and dignity."
'Not a big ask'
Some trans people still experience getting misgendered and deadnamed by institutions and people in their daily lives since the Philippines lacks a gender-affirming law. They can't change their gender markers on official documents as RA 9048 prohibits this.
"[My family is] still adjusting to my lived name and lived pronouns. I’ll correct them every now and then even if they don’t feel comfortable but it’s my identity—it’s a discomfort that they can get over. It's not a big ask," Reyno said.
"If someone is very hard-headed about it, use the wrong pronouns with them and see how they feel about it. This helps them understand why it’s bad," he joked.
While Aves hasn't experienced someone refusing to adopt their pronouns, they have experienced getting deadnamed in school. In an honors society induction, their dead name was used even though they filled out a form for the name they wanted to be indicated on the certificate.
"It was humiliating. Instead of being proud, I did not share that accomplishment online," the non-binary student recalled from that experience.
Fortunately, UP Diliman took a step towards being more inclusive towards its transgender and gender non-conforming students (TGNC) by releasing guidelines allowing them to use their lived names, preferred pronouns, and honorifics in classrooms.
"Both deadnaming and misgendering are acts of discrimination and violence against TGNC people, specifically, and LGBTQI people, more generally. Such acts, when committed in an educational setting, have long-term and detrimental effects on the mental health and academic performance of TGNC students," the university's statement on affirming titles read.
"At least may ganun na. Professors and instructors are trying to be more inclusive. They ask us how we want to be referred to before classes begin. They encourage adding pronouns in our Zoom names," the UP Babaylan president said.
The road to trans inclusivity
According to Aves, misgendering and deadnaming trans people is an act of violence. "It contributes to a system of violence that continues to rob trans people of rights in their lives."
They added that aside from the COVID-19 pandemic, we're dealing with an epidemic of trans violence. In the past year, 350 transgender people were killed worldwide.
In the Philippines, trans people and the LGBTQIA+ community are still fighting for their rights against discrimination. The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression or SOGIE bill was first filed in congress 21 years ago but has yet to be passed. In 2019, Senate president Tito Sotto said there was "no chance" the anti-discrimination bill would get passed in the upper house as it gave "special rights" to people in the queer community.
"Persons of diverse SOGIESC can still be discriminated against by institutions because we don’t have a law yet," Aves said. "Thankfully we’re getting there. More and more people are talking about transgender rights, 'di lang LGBTQIA orgs."
"Right now, we’re trying to get the SOGIE equality bill to get passed, but there are also efforts now for legal gender recognition. UP Babaylan is part of a team of advocates drafting a gender recognition law and we will lobby for that," they added.
Aside from that, trans people need access to trans healthcare, said Reyno.
"Trans people have to medically transition under the table and pay for it out of pocket because our healthcare plans don’t provide for transgender healthcare needs. It’s hard to access communities if you’re outside Metro Manila," he said.