Life histories of transpeople in Asia
As told by Brenda Alegre, and excerpted from her thesis 'Psychological Perspectives and development of the transsexual woman: a phenomenological case study on male-to-female Filipino transsexuals'. Masters of Arts thesis, Clinical Psychology Major, Graduate School of the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines.
uploaded 7th September 2006.
Age 29 Leyte
Height : 175 cms weight: 62 kgs.
Ordinal Family Position: middle child (elder female, younger is male)
Education: Graduate; Mass Communication
Work: writer and marketing assistant
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Religion: Catholic/ Christian
Freda grew up in the province and is what one may call a “promdi” (from the province). She has initially struggled with speaking in Tagalog because she was used to speaking in Visaya and her Tagalog and English usually showed signs of the traditional accent. People sometimes laugh at her when she speaks in Tagalog because of her broken accent. Freda studied in the province until high school and she moved to Manila to study for college. She was a very diligent and intelligent student. She was very active in extra curricular activities and has won several awards in quiz bee competitions, oratorical and declamation contests and essay writing contests. She is also a devout Catholic although at this point she has started experimenting with different Christian groups by means of attending and joining masses in Jehovah’s Witness, Adventist, Protestant and Born Again. Her mother died when she was in high school and her father died when she was in college. She however was also raised along with her many cousins and distant relatives. She lived in a very big compound with almost all of her relatives that is why she is very close to them. Freda’s elder sister has always been responsible and close to her. She has always been a role model for Freda and her younger brother. Her sister is almost ten years older than her and she has always been like her second mother. Her younger brother on the other hand has always been her playmate. She used to bully him around as a child but this has been reversed when they grew older because her brother is even taller and bigger than her. She and her brother however are protective of each other up until now. Both her sister and brother are in the U.S. working and they have their own families. Freda’s cousins have always been close to her as well. They were her playmates, confidants and constant companions. They were also her role models for behaviors. She would imitate and follow her older cousins as she would set the trends and pattern for behavior for her younger cousins. She went to the same school with her cousins and siblings because there was only one very school in Leyte.
Freda described that they were in the lower class of society, but her family was able to afford a good education for her because of their hard work and the availability of scholarships as well. She was a full scholar until college and Freda is very proud of this achievement. Freda recalled that growing up she is like a girl and a boy at the same time. As early as when she was five years old, Freda would emulate her cousins and sister in their feminine behaviors. She would also emulate her mother and aunts as well as their neighbors. However Freda sometimes emulated her brother and male cousins and father and uncles at the same time. She partly thought of herself as a female and a male at the same time. She felt that there are two types of persons inside of her. She loved playing with both dolls and toy guns. She loved being Wonder Woman and Superman. She however knew that in spite of her boy’s body and her male interests, she has stronger feminine qualities and interests. She knew that a greater part of her is female. Freda did not grow up with the television but she learned about many television characters and actors every time she goes to Manila for vacation. Almost every year, Freda and her siblings would go to Manila for vacation along with a few cousins. They also have some relatives in Manila and her Mother works in Manila as a college professor. She spent all of her time watching television whenever she is in Manila and when she is in Leyte, she spent a lot of time reading comics and books as well as watching movies in the cinema. These hobbies made her discover Wonder Woman, Superman, the Superfriends, Voltes five, Voltron, Transformers, Maricel Soriano and many others. She loved playing active games and getting dirty as much as cleaning up after every game. She also loved studying and reading. When she was twelve years old, shortly before transitioning to high school, Freda realized that she is indeed a girl by heart and she decided to adopt a female name as well as do what all girls do.
Shortly, Freda would only go to the girls’ washroom since their high school was not very strict. She would now avoid active and brute activities. She would become more refined and mild mannered in her actuations. She would always carry a fan and umbrella. She would ask her sister for suggestions on how to behave like a woman. She even uses and wears all of her things. She loved wearing all of her clothes and shoes and accessories. She would even wear her classmates’ uniform after classes. This time her friends are composed mostly of girls and gays. She loved to giggle whenever they talk about boys and crushes. She also giggles in an unusual way in that she makes her voice shrill and thin. She has been studying ways to sound like a girl. She would always talk and sing on top of her voice. Sometimes she feels tired and her voice breaks out easily because of her top note talking. Freda does not like to dance or sing unlike her other friends, but she likes to play the guitar and the piano. She learned to play the piano and the guitar from her father who was a musician in his younger days but was working as a construction worker. Freda described her parents to be very tolerant of her and accepting although she would sometimes get sermons from them that she should be more masculine. She further noted that because of her mother’s work in Manila and her father’s hectic and sometimes twenty hour work as a construction worker, they may have not anymore noticed how feminine she was. She was also lucky that because she had many cousins and her classmates are mostly nice, she does not get teased or taunted. She is instead admired and emulated because she is an honor student who at the same time was very active with extra curricular activities. She was very conservative also in high school, she recalled that in spite of being in a boy’s uniform, her male schoolmates mostly regard her as female. Several of her male classmates even courted her but she rejected them because she was afraid that it would make her appear as an easy girl. Freda always had a mental talk in high school; this means that she always had a conviction that she will become a beautiful woman someday. She loved being in high school because she felt she was protected from a harsh society that would not be very nice to her. She has heard of stories of discrimination and rejection towards gays and effeminate men. Many of these stories scared her and sometimes she felt discouraged. She almost did not want to go to college. But because Freda is generally an optimist, she would dismiss these thoughts and would eventually regain her confidence. She also loved hanging in beauty parlors where the beauticians would teach her how to put on make up and how to walk.
Freda graduated with honors and a scholarship to go to Manila. Unfortunately before Freda embarked on her transfer to Manila, her mother passed away. This was one of the most challenging stage of her young life. Freda felt depressed and weakened by this event. Her mother though not always physically present was an inspiration because she worked hard. She was also one of her role models in life. This drew her closer to her father who also moved to Manila with her. Her elder sister was then working already and helping provide for them. Her father was also working in a hardware supply. In college, Freda was able to transition as she desired. She was allowed to grow her hair long and to wear feminine styled clothes. She plucked her eyebrows and wore make up almost everyday. Her top was always her sister’s old tops if not, those that she bought from the women’s section. She has a particular attention to details when it comes to her nails. She loved to put on nail polish and change her nail polish almost every month. This time, Freda would watch television everyday and was stunned with all the fashion trends for women. One of her other favorite past times aside from watching television is to walk on high heels just like the fashion models.
Freda stayed within a circle of girls and effeminate gays for friends. They always stayed together and shared stories. Her friends had a habit of correcting her mispronunciation because of her provincial accent. At first she was offended by this but later, she came to terms with this. But this university is known for strong tolerance and acceptance for gays and lesbians and so she had the confidence to do this all of the time without being reprimanded. Freda would only wear women’s underwear everyday and she would wear a duster as she goes to sleep. She also started beautification rituals like whitening and moisturizing. She learned to become vain in college. She also had many crushes but she fell in love with one of her classmates who is not good looking but was extra kind to her and was fond of talking to her. She secretly assumed that he was also in love with her. Freda learned about HRT from the gay friends she met in this university. Without hesitation, she started HRT because she learned that this was the fastest way for her to become a woman. She was very excited. She did not even spend time to understand the effects of these medicines; all she knew was that she can now become more feminine. She also had frequent trips to the nurse in order to have intramuscular administration of Depo Provera. Freda also started to use whitening capsules as well as vitamin A,C and E. She was determined to become beautiful.
She has maintained her interests in her studies and she even became part of the dean’s list almost every semester. After college, she graduated with honors, Freda started to look for work but was disheartened to learn that after almost a year, no company has hired her yet. She was beginning to assume that this was because she is a transgender. She was even told by a recruitment officer that the only way for her to be hired is if she can cut her hair, dress like a man and act less feminine. She was almost tempted to do this in preference of the job opportunity until she realized that she should not stoop down to that level because it is unfair. She is a woman deep inside and she will not compromise this for anything. This feeling was made worse when her father died because of heart attack. She had comforting words from him when he was still alive, telling her that: “if you don’t want to change because you know deep inside it is cheating yourself then don’t. It is better to be true to others and be disliked than be untrue to yourself for their acceptance. Someday good things will happen too.” This made his death even more painful because when most transgenders and gays complained about their distant relationship of their rejecting fathers, Freda’s father was among the most accepting.
Freda chose not to look for work for a year and she learned about the beauty pageants for transgenders and gays. Because she is very feminine and beautiful, Freda became among the most successful and popular winners in beauty pageants and she amassed close to two hundred trophies for winning in beauty pageants for almost four years. She met all her past boyfriends in these beauty pageants. All of these relationships were short lived and she heard explanation from other people that this was so because heterosexual men are never capable of falling in love with transgenders. Freda did not listen to what others have to say, she went in from one relationship to another often finding herself broken hearted and disappointed for the ended relationships. Freda was able to survive financial crises because of these beauty pageants and also because of the generosity of her sister who always made her strong.
Her sister eventually went to the U.S. to work as a nurse and she would support her financially. Freda’s knowledge about her gender was mostly taken from group talks and theories of other transsexuals, gays and women. She also managed to conduct studies about HRT, FFS and SRS. She had FFS (cheek and forehead augmentation) as well as breast augmentation two years ago. She plans to undergo complete SRS next year because her current boyfriend is willing to help her finance the surgery. Her boyfriend is an American businessman whom she met in one of her outings in Boracay. Freda knows that SRS is the ultimate solution to her desire to complete her female transition because she knew that from the beginning she was really meant to become a woman. When the researcher met with the subject last year for this study, Freda was surprised to learn more about transsexualism. Freda has always been prayerful, and although she has missed many Sunday masses growing up, she managed to pray to God everyday and ask for forgiveness if she is planning to alter her body. She even joked at God one time by blaming God for the inaccuracy of his creation. Although she was brought up to be a Catholic, she has also been enticed by other Christian groups a few years ago because she felt that the Catholic church was not completely accepting of her situation. She believes that God created men and women of different kinds and this includes transgenders and homosexuals. Last year, Freda was fortunate to have found a job finally, as a marketing assistant and writer in an IT firm. She happens to have a friend and a schoolmate in Leyte who recommended her and she now feels secure that her plans will happen.