When I was in high school, I identified as a gay boy or a homosexual boy. At that time, I didn't have prior knowledge about what a transgender is.
It was only during my senior year in college that I heard about it when my professor had this special session on gender psychology. That was when he mentioned how gender and sexuality are fluid, it's a spectrum, it's not just black or white. It resonated so much with me and I felt like I related to that gender experience better compared to being a homosexual or a gay man.
And so, I started identifying as a trans woman when I was already graduating college. And then I only started transitioning three years after I was already working because I needed the resources, the financial stability, also, I had to prepare myself mentally and emotionally.
Wednesday, March 7, 2013, I was on my way to the beach and I couldn't see myself wearing board shorts anymore and being topless because I know I'm a woman and it doesn't fit with my self-image of being a woman. That was my first time wearing a bikini on the beach and also the first day I took my first set of hormone pills and started with my gender affirming hormone therapy.
Challenges we trans women go through
But being a trans woman comes with challenges as well.
Back in 2012 or 2013, I applied for a job in the academe—which I really wanted. I felt like I was really suited for it and I really did my best during the application. During the last round, it was me against a cisgender woman, meaning a woman born female. I didn't get the job.
I was hurt because I felt like I would get it because I had the proper background and training. I learned from my friend who works in the HR department of that school, that one of the considerations was my gender identity. It was because I am a trans woman. (I identified myself as trans, but I haven’t started my gender affirming hormone therapy yet). And back then they were open about employing or hiring a trans woman in the academe.
It really impacted me and made me feel like I wasn't worthy because I am a trans woman.
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Another would be from very mundane experiences that we have to deal with like being misgendered, being referred to as “sir” or as a “he" or "him.” Sometimes we get called just for using the female restroom. Or when we would go through immigration in the airport, we would be questioned because in our passports, we're still male, but then we present ourselves, like me, I present myself or express myself in a feminine manner.
And then there are the backhanded compliments toward trans women. For example, “Muntik mo na ko maloko, akala ko babae ka” or “Sayang, hindi ka pinanganak na babae,” or “Sana wala kang Adam’s apple, maganda ka sana.”
These comments are very common among Filipinos. They may seem funny or trivial, but actually, they are harmful because they contribute to the pressure that's being put upon trans women.
Let transgender people be themselves
Working in the PR industry, I would say the biggest issue transgenders are facing today is the societal pressure to present ourselves in a certain way.
Beauty standards are already very damaging to all kinds of women. But for trans women, we are pressured to look feminine. There is a concept called “passability,” wherein a transgender woman or a transgender man is considered beautiful only if he or she passes as the gender he or she identifies with. So a transgender woman who doesn't look feminine is looked down on.
And that's very harmful because it only gives focus on the outside appearance of people when in fact, being a trans woman is not limited to how we look on the outside.
Being a transgender woman is just one aspect of who we are. We have careers, we have families and friends, and we have an advocacy that we fight for. It’s just so sad that we, trans women, are subjected to these social norms that limit our capacities.
Being a transgender woman is just one aspect of who we are. We have careers, we have families and friends, and we have advocacy that we fight for.
Voicing my beliefs
I started #PoseWithJanlee during the pandemic because, I guess, I had so much time. During the lockdown, one of my coping mechanisms was online shopping. And during that time, too, I felt inspired with the Black Lives Matter movement and all the advocates pushing for awareness about it. And at the same time, as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community who experiences discrimination, I was able to relate to that.
I mixed my love for finding shopping for clothes and also my advocacy. So I felt like I could have better use of the clothes that I bought by posting my OOTDs online, but at the same time delivering very important messages about my advocacy.
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My inspiration actually is Schuyler Bailar, a Korean-American trans man based in the US. He raises awareness on LGBTQIA advocacies by posting about different issues and educating people about them with his blackboard. I contacted him and asked him if I could do the same, and he agreed.
Me and my high school friends Lui Castañeda and Miss Patch also started vlogging. #Transistars was born out of the lockdown. We just wanted to entertain ourselves and at the same time, we thought of using it as a platform to help raise awareness on trans and LGBTQIA causes.
Women for women
Us women are faced with so many difficulties living in a patriarchal society. And so, we only have each other to depend on, and of course, our allies who are with us.
So, if within our community we are not able to help each other, then how can we be lifted as a community all together? It all starts from within us.
What's important is we understand where these struggles are coming from. And we try as much as we can to empathize with one another. Because if we have empathy, we're able to understand the plight that we all go through. And that's when we start to accept one another and lift each other up.