Reclaiming the lucidity of our hearts. Sass Rogando-Sasot, Filipina
transpinay (woman of transgender experience)
“Opposing grave human
on the basis of sexual
orientation and gender identity”
speech delivered at the ECOSOC Chamber, United
Nations Headquarters, New York
Thursday, December 10th 2009 at 1.15 p.m. – 2.45 p.m
Let me begin by expressing my warmest
gratitude to the Permanent Missions to the United Nations of Argentina,
Brazil, Croatia, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, and to the
coalition of non-government organizations defending the rights of lesbian,
gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Thank you for making this event
possible and for giving us this opportunity to contribute our voices to this
ongoing conversation for change. Our esteemed participants, beautiful
beings, and profound expressions of this Universe, a warm, vibrant, and
dignified afternoon to each and every one of you!
Burned at stake. Strangled and hanged. Raped and shot and stabbed to death.
Throats slashed. Left to bleed to death. These are just some of the ways
transgender people were killed in different parts of the world, in different
times in the history of humanity. These are just the tip, the violent tip,
of the iceberg of our suffering. I can go on and on, reciting a litany of
indignity upon indignity, but my time is not enough to name all the acts of
atrocious cruelty that transgender people experience. But what is the point
of counting the dead bodies of our fellow human beings, of narrating how we
suffer, and of opposing violence against us if we don’t challenge the root
of our oppression?
The sincerity of our intention to address the human rights violations
against transgender people rests upon the depth of our appreciation of human
diversity and the breadth of our understanding of why transgender people
suffer these indignities.
The root of our oppression is the belief that there is only one and only one
way to be male or female. And this starts from our birth. Upon a quick look
on our genitals, we are assigned into either male or female. This
declaration is more than just a statement of what’s between our legs. It is
a prescription of how we should and must live our lives. It is a dictation
of what we should think about ourselves, the roles we should play, the
clothes we should wear, the way we should move, and the people with whom we
should have romantic or erotic relationships. But the existence of people
whose identities, bodies, and experiences do not conform to gender norms is
a proof that this belief is wrong.
Nonetheless, even though the truth of human diversity is so evident and
clear to us, we choose to hang on to our current beliefs about gender, a
belief that rejects reality and forces people to live a lie. This is the
belief that leads to attacks on our physical and mental integrity, to
different forms of discrimination against us, and to our social
marginalization. This is the belief that led to Joan of Arc to be burned at
stake because she was cross-dressing. This is the belief that motivated the
rape and murder of Brandon Teena on December 31, 1993. This is the belief
that led to the stabbing to death of Ebru Soykan, a prominent transgender
human rights activist in Turkey, on March 10, 2009. This is the belief that
led to the arrest of 67 Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia for cross-dressing
in June this year. This is the belief that keeps the list of transgender
people being harassed, killed, and violated growing year after year. And it
is very unfortunate that our legal systems, religions, and cultures are
being used to justify, glorify, and sanctify the violent expressions of this
So we question: Is human life less precious than this belief? Is our right
to life, to dignified existence, to liberty, and pursuit of happiness
subservient to gender norms? This doesn’t need a complicated answer. You
want to be born, to live, and die with dignity – so do we! You want the
freedom to express the uniqueness of the life force within you – so do we!
You want to live with authenticity – so do we!
Now is the time that we realize that diversity does not diminish our
humanity; that respecting diversity does not make us less human; that
understanding and accepting our differences do not make us cruel. And in
fact, history has shown us that denying and rejecting human variability is
the one that has lead us to inflict indignity upon indignity towards each
We are human beings of transgender experience. We are your children, your
partners, your friends, your siblings, your students, your teachers, your
workers, your citizens.
Let our lives delight in the same freedom of expression that you enjoy as
you manifest to the outside world your unique and graceful selves.
Let us live together in the fertile ground of our common humanity for this
is the ground where religion is not a motivation to hate but a way to
appreciate the profound beauty and mysteries of life;
for this is the ground where laws are not tools to eliminate those who are
different from us but are there to facilitate our harmonious relationship
with each other;
for this is the ground where culture is not a channel to express the
brutality of our limited perception but a means to express the nobility of
for this is the ground where the promise of the universality of human rights
can be fulfilled!
And we will be in this ground if we let the sanity of our desires, the
tenacity of our compassion, and above all, the lucidity of our hearts to
reign in our lives.