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: 40 y.o.
Height: 171 cms / Weight: 63kgs.
Family ordinal position: 3rd of 4
Education: Graduate; Fine Arts major in Interior Design
Work: Business woman
Sexual orientation: Heterosexual
Wanda recalled that her earliest memories date back to when she was four years old. She is the third of four children and the others are boys. Her earliest recollection was of those with her brothers playing in Luneta Park and Manila zoo. She was the most active of them as she was fond of screaming and jumping. Wanda also noticed that she seemed to be closer more to her father ever since and that this persisted until now. She comes from a devout Catholic family who would go to Sunday mass and other church days like “Baclaran Wednesday” and “Quiapo Friday”. She strongly remembers that at this early, she must have already felt that she was more of a girl than a boy and this is reflected in all her daily routines. She played with any kinds of toys but she only took care of the “girl toys” like dolls and cookware set. She was fond of assuming female characters as well like Wonder Woman, Marvel Girl, Storm, Emma Frost, Darna and Dyesebel when playing make believe games.
Wanda recalled that she does not like wearing sandos and caps because she found them to be inappropriate. She felt that these were masculine. Her early concepts of masculinity came from her grandfather, uncles and father as well as her godfathers and neighbors. Masculine for her was being physically strong and brave, being fond of undressing in public, having a deep and strong voice and body hairs. She learned early on that policemen, firemen, construction workers and drivers were among the most masculine or “macho” men and she does not want to be like them. She likes to be like her mother and aunt Perllina, soft, feminine and curvy (her early concept of being sexy). Among her playmates, she distinguishes a masculine boy by the strong leadership that they assume when they play games. When they lead and dictate or when they assume the part of Superman, Batman or Captain America in heroes’ games, they are masculine or macho.
Wanda recalled that her first ambition was to become a nurse just like her aunt Perllina and work in the U.S. in order to earn dollars. She said she also dreamt of wearing a nurse’s cap, this was when she was about age 8. She studied hard and was a very diligent student. At around this age (8-10 years old), she was fascinated with actors like Brooke Shields, Phoebe Cates, Lynda Carter, Kate Jackson, Loni Anderson, Farrah Fawcett and Jane Fonda. She hoped to be as feminine and beautiful as those actors and that she usually copied the mannerisms of those actors. She also started to love singing and lip synching at this age, mimicking female singers like Barbra Streisand, Angela Bofill, Dionne Warwick, Olivia Newton John and Madonna. She forced her mother to buy her various cookware sets and dolls. Looking back, she now wonders why her mother even had the interest to comply with her request. In school, her favorite subjects were English, Home Economics and Science. Her favorite saint was Saint Agnes, because she was a martyr yet her hair was so long.
At age 11, Wanda wished that her hair is very long and beautiful. Wanda recounted that she did not have any difficulty expressing herself naturally as feminine even to her father. “He is very understanding and genuinely loving,” says Wanda. It was natural for any families and siblings in particular to have fights, but none of those bothered her growing up. She also realized that unlike the fathers of most of her “gay” friends, hers must be among the nicest. She also had her first crush at this age; his name is Arthur- a classmate. She found Arthur handsome and easy to get along with. She developed a fantasy of Arthur as liking her in return and wanting to kiss her. In spite of her biding affections and desire though, she felt that just like other girls, she should be conservative and simple. She never told Arthur of her affections, but she would talk to him when there were opportunities. A thought teased her that she should study in a private school for girls since she is a girl even if her body was that of a boy. Eventually, she studied in a Catholic exclusive school for boys. She did not like this.
Wanda’s friends are usually girls and effeminate boys. She earned her female name at age 11 after her female friends started bestowing upon them female names. She felt that hers was feminine and sexy sounding. In high school, Wanda had more female friends and this time she identified her effeminate friends as gay boys who see themselves as females too, just like her. She started making her actions more feminine and sophisticated. She dictated to her uniform maker that she want extra pleats in her pants and that she wanted them to look more fitted. Her bags are usually colored pink, violet, lemon yellow or apple green. Some of her bags are laced and her white towel sacks too were laced. She had a new role model around this time, Melanie Marquez, who won the Miss International beauty pageant. She started gaining interest in beauty pageants and modeling. She was led to watch beauty pageants staged in malls and barangay halls until she accidentally chanced upon a beauty pageant wherein the contestants were all biologically males. She was in shock because she never expected them to be so beautiful and feminine. She asked some of them what they have been doing why they turned out to be feminine and beautiful, and she learned that there is a medicine that allows a man to soften his masculine features and become womanly. The contestants (who we now know as transgenders or transsexuals) simply call these medicines as pills and injectibles and that the popular brands that Wanda can choose from would depend on her budget. The cheapest were Micropil and Trust as well as Depo- Provera while the most expensive is Diane-35. At age 15, Wanda started taking female hormones (HRT) to be specific her first brand was Micropil which she bought after saving up her “baon” or lunch money. Just 4 years earlier,
Wanda also started dressing like a female after her classes or on weekends. She has pink shirts with Hello Kitty designs. She would wear women’s swimsuits and gowns with her friends (in her friends’ house or in hers when her parents are away). She started buying T-shirts which are padded and stretched fitted jeans. She also would put on baby powder, lipstick and eyeliner almost everyday usually at the end of her classes. After completing her first cycle of female hormones, Wanda started to take Diane-35 which was more expensive yet is reputedly more effective in emasculating. She managed to buy this because she asked her aunt Perllina and a cousin to give her money when they took a vacation in the country. She just realized at this point that as far as her family is concerned, there is no feeling of discrimination or prejudice to her being “girly” a concept she feels is separate from being gay. Wanda would also pluck her eyebrows and avoid obtaining a short haircut. This is why her hair is slightly longer than any of her male classmates. She also started wearing panties and though she would not wear brassieres everyday, she would make sure she keeps her first two pairs which she bought as she would wear them when given the chance. Wanda once more had a big crush on a male schoolmate and this time she knew that she fell in love. Eventually, this crush became her first boyfriend and this lasted for nearly seven months. Wanda said that in this relationship, Wanda was treated like a real female. She was cared for and seen as a girl are except that she has no vagina. At 16, Wanda placed third in a beauty contest for transgenders and won P1,000 and trophies. While waiting for her turn, Wanda asked the other contestants and the “Japayuki” transsexuals how to become a woman aside from taking hormones. She learned about the surgery called SRS. She also learned that this would be very painful and expensive, she had her reservations but the thought kept coming in. Wanda failed to accomplish her initial ambition to become a nurse because instead she took Fine Arts majored in interior design. She learned that in the university she wished to study, only fine arts students are allowed to grow their hair long (for the males) and that most of the students here are females and gays.
In college, Wanda joined the university dance troupe and cheerleading squad and stayed active in extra curricular activities particularly volleyball. She started to research about homosexuality because she felt that she might be a specific variant of a homosexual, one who is more “girly” or feminine. At 18, Wanda discovered through a TV movie entitled “Second Serve” that she might be a transsexual, a transgender or a transvestite. Though she was confused at first, she was happy for even if these new concepts are still vague at least she confirmed that she is not a homosexual. The first few things she learned about these concepts is that a person’s body is not exactly one’s sex and so one maybe exhibiting the gender of the opposite sex. She felt affirmed; she always knew at this point that she is a woman in a man’s body. She has continued emasculating by increasing her hormone intake. She now started considering the possibility of undergoing SRS and she went on to understand it until she asked a university surgeon about the procedure. After learning that since she will be placed in anesthesia she will not feel the pain, only one obstacle remains – the expenses of the surgery. Wanda was now more driven to fulfill her new ambition which is to fully transition to be a woman. At this point, she started feeling the discrimination and the prejudice from society and wondered that she must have been sheltered for quite some time. Church homilies would sometimes imply or express the vulgarity or the unacceptability of homosexuality and transsexuality. She learned that in the other colleges, male students should have a short hair and that the “gay” students should never wear make-up or women’s clothes. She also learned that there have been so many jokes about being a homosexual or that among homosexuals, there are the acceptable and ideal types whereas there are the not so “acceptable types.” Among these are those whose appearance are feminine and try to look like women. Wanda was only sentient or aware of these observations but was not discouraged or confused. She knew that even if she looks and acts femininely, she knew that she is actually a woman and that her physical body may not have harmonized with her gender but she is still a woman. She continued to research about transsexualism, transvestism and transgenderism and she continued joining beauty pageants. She won most, if not she would be a runner up or a semifinalist. She estimated that she must have joined at least 120 beauty pageants. In the pageants, she learned more about the routines and the procedures that most transsexuals undergo in order to feminize. She continued HRT, and started taking “glamour pills” like glutathione (which has whitening properties) and supplements. Her hair is very long and she would wear only women’s clothes and accessories.
By the age of 25, Wanda started working in Japan as an entertainer (singer, dancer, and impersonator). She started to survey and gather information about SRS. She also started to undergo the psychiatric evaluations which will be her passport to surgery. She went to the Philippines for further evaluations and went to Thailand for the series of FFS (facial feminization surgery). She loved her new nose, chin and cheek. She also had implants and orchiectomy. Wanda was 28 when she completed her SRS and FFS. Now, she is hardly recognizable. She truly looks like a woman and very beautiful. She realized that after the surgery, she has had more customers and admirers in her line of work. She even won one of the biggest beauty pageants for post operated transsexuals in Japan. Wanda also met her long term boyfriend whom she now refers to as her husband. She met him in 1995, shortly after her SRS. He is a Japanese businessman. They have been living together and are still together for more than ten years now. They have had several attempts to get married but it has been quite impossible because of non-existence of marriage laws for transsexuals. Wanda filed for legal name change in 1997 and it is still pending. She wanted to make all her legal documents reflect her female name. Since 1998, Wanda has been managing a small business in Japan and owns a beauty parlor in the Philippines managed by her sister-in-law and mother. In between, she would still perform as an entertainer. She maintains her new body by following all of the regimens set for post-operated transwomen and according to her, this includes “healthy sex.” In 1998 also, Wanda rediscovered her faith. She felt that Catholicism does not answer all of her faith related questions and issues and that the church has been materialistic and inconsistent. Wanda pointed out that, all her life, her family has been accepting and loving and understanding.
She found love at least thrice in her lifetime and she has found true friends. But in spite all of these, her faith has not answered all of her questions and has somehow depicted “people like her” as sinners. Wanda accidentally discovered Buddhism in her search and felt interested with the new and progressive concepts. Wanda became a full time Buddhist in 2000. She says though that she still believes in God, a God who is just, forgiving and loving. She also looks back and is grateful to her recently deceased father who has accepted her for what she is from the very beginning. “Growing up female in a boy’s body was never difficult at home,” according to Wanda. She continued, “However it was quite difficult outside the house as others do not understand what a simple situation this is.” But she looked back and found herself consistent. She never doubted her gender from the very beginning. “I was destined to be a woman; I don’t know what went wrong but what is important is that I am now truly a woman.” Wanda is very happy with how she turned out to be. She hopes that her legal petition will be granted and that society will learn more about transsexualism. She is happy that at 40 years old, she is wiser and stronger and most of all beautiful. She looks forward to be successful in her business endeavors and that this relationship will last forever (with or without a wedding). She is now more focused on maintaining a healthy body by taking supplements and doing exercises and having a healthy lifestyle. She goes to women’s comfort rooms without reservation and falls in line to where women would. She would also collect undergarments and make-up even though she has already minimized her usage of make up. “Natural is better,” Wanda laughingly expressed. She also hopes that the field of Psychology and medicine would be more positive in order to effectively help all other transsexuals in this world.