Navigating Uncertainties: A trans woman’s quest for survival

June 23, 2023

by Jaeann Marañon

For *Leona (not her real name), 24, living as a trans woman is hard. Working as a graphic designer in a  government institution composed largely of people her senior, Leona struggles with coming out while still being compelled to go to work every day for her livelihood. Leona hasn’t come out yet. She shares that this is because of her fear as a trans woman, a government worker, and as Filipina.

“It feels like I’m in a cage from which I don’t know when or where to come out,” Leona says. She describes the process as frustrating, difficult, and even worthy of breakdowns. She also discusses how for Filipina trans women, fear is part of every single day. Leona says that she does have the luxury to survive, but as a trans woman she has been trying her hardest to do so and not die.

 “We are vulnerable to violence, especially imperialist violence,” she said.  Leona keeps her composure but woefully shares how she still feels impending violence not just at work and home, but even from our own government and the foreign states it accommodates. “I couldn’t come out at this rate because we’re under this culture of exacting violence against our own compatriots. Hindi tayo nakakagalaw dito at pinapatay pa tayo – lalo na sa mga trans people like me (We are not able to move here and we are even murdered – especially trans people like me).

Leona expresses empathy with other Filipina trans women Jennifer Laude and Madonna Nerias who were slain by US soldiers: “At that time na napanood ko yung balita (When I saw the news), it was really shocking. And really heartbreaking. Sobrang makikita mo yung (You can really see the) actuality of violence towards the marginalized – queer people and trans people alike. It’s really alarming.”

Further on, Leona discusses how the struggles she experienced are very much existing because the country’s place in the world is still unresolved. In this society she describes as  semi feudal and semi colonial, the people, and more so the LGBTQ community, are in constant peril and insecurity. This is because it’s hard to know when these hurdles will stop, especially with how we are still under the dictation and siege of imperialist warfare and violence. Leona adds that with the worsening economic, political and cultural  crisis, along with rising militarism, violence and human rights violations are bound to happen. And this instills more fear in herself.

When asked whether or not she thinks US military troops should maintain their presence in the country, Leona says that they are of no help to the Filipino people at all – whether political or economic. Moreover, she says that even though the US  poses as a vanguard of human rights, the neocolonies bear the brunt of such pretense. The US has always instilled the status quo in culture, economy, and other aspects resulting in human rights violations and other heinous crimes.

“Sobrang laganap ang hate crimes and violence dahil yun yung pinopostura nila sa status quo dito (Hate crimes and violence are too rampant because that is what they are ingraining into the status quo here). Lalo na yung (Especially) such violence that is made possible by fascism, both by the Philippine government and the US government,” Leona adds.

These are especially grave times for Leona and other trans women. With the current system, Leona has only felt victimized – especially in relation to US presence in the country. Despite the fear and struggles of her gender, she continues to go to work feeling how confining the spaces are. She feels that as a worker, and as a trans woman, she’s on the frontlines of facing society and taxing labor, for instance receiving measly salary from her previous job while her bosses from the US and Australia hoard almost all of the company’s profits. “It is really connected  to my struggle as someone marginalized in terms of SOGIE (sexual orientation and gender identity and expression) – kasi di ako nakakacome-out dahil sobrang harassed sa workplace yung people like me (I am not able to come out because people like me are overly harassed at the workplace).”

Leona feels enveloped by trepidation every day.  Nevertheless she says that even though she and the rest of the Filipino community might feel desensitized and fazed, there is a need to collectively resist and fight against all that we are facing now. “Nahihirapan din ako mag come forward kasi everyday ang violence from the state and imperialist forces at mahirap siya pigilan (I have difficulty in coming forward because violence from the state and imperialist forces is hard to block and it happens every day). But the point is, in the middle of it all – I guess Jennifer Laude and the slain trans women and queer people were slain under imperialist and cultural violence facilitated by the state, they should remind us that the fight for us to liberate ourselves is definitely not yet done.”

“There is no pride for some of us if there is no liberation for all of us,” Leona quotes renowned trans woman activist Marsha P. Johnson. Leona continues and says that, as a worker and as a transwoman, our struggles are all interwoven and connected by the fight against imperialism, bureaucrat capitalism, and feudalism. We all have to fight together and seek justice towards our liberation.

As we end the conversation, Leona, with as much conviction, shares the message that it is very important to find your community or collective support. “Your community will be able to help you find strength and alleviate the pain – especially with people like me who aren’t out yet and especially here in the country, na hindi ko naman space ito dahil andiyan ang hegemonya tsaka yung violence na galing sa imperyalista (since this is not my space because imperialist hegemony and violence are here).” Leona adds that once we find these communities and/or collectives, we must transform these spaces as safe spaces. “At hindi lang siya safe space pero kailangan natin tayuan ng barikada ang safe spaces na iyon (And it should not be just a safe space but we also have to secure those safe spaces with barricades).”

Leona is only one of the many trans women in the country who are facing these struggles every day in these perilous times. With her story, the voices of trans women and other queer people can be heard, calling on us to actively battle to propagate these spaces, especially this Pride Month.

Along with Leona, the LGBTQ community, and in memory of the slain trans women – Jennifer Laude, Madonna Nieras, and the many others – we continue to struggle through and persist despite all the attacks, especially from US imperialism. In the spirit of Pride Month and our call against US military presence, aggression and intervention in the country – we dare stand up for pride and liberation!