an open letter to the transphobe down the hall

Manila, 8 September—This week has been heavy on the heart for anyone who has a stake in the SOGIE Equality Bill that is currently being discussed in the Senate. On Wednesday, at the 2nd Public Hearing, both pro and anti-SOGIE Equality Bill groups got the chance to speak for their side.

As expected, anti-SOGIE Equality Bill speakers stuck to the Bible and religion. Having to read through their speeches was painful and infuriating, but not unexpected. They even brought in self-described “ex-gays” to denounce the SOGIE Equality Bill as a law that will “encourage a culture of lies and deceit.” They warned of “gender ideology” that would be harmful for children. They claimed that LGBTQI lives are not part of Filipino culture, simply because they were ignorant of Filipino terms for them.

Fortunately, the pro-SOGIE Equality Bill side had their own share of brave speakers to vouch for the bill, including Sr Mary John Mananzan, and leaders of other religious denominations. Their testimonials were a breath of fresh air from all that hate. They gave me hope that maybe not everybody hates us, after all.

But then the conversation elsewhere is different. In the interest of self-care, I have cleaned up my social feeds to exclude homophobic and transphobic acquaintances and casual contacts. However, I have friends—friends who are braver than me—who are still trying to engage people on this issue on social media, in hopes of breaking their toxic echo chambers and offering better, more informed takes.

Ridding my social media feeds of homophobic and transphobic contacts also does not mean I won’t have to share spaces with them in real life, which is perhaps the harder thing to process. It breaks my heart whenever I find out that a co-worker or family member has homophobic or transphobic sentiments, despite knowing full well that they have a co-worker or loved one (namely, me) who is living unabashedly as an LGBTQ person.

At the heart of the most painful takes is the “right to be comfortable inside a restroom.” Paraphrasing what one of the posts said: “Your rights end where mine begin.” In so many words, they revealed what they truly think: That their rights are above mine, and are above our community’s rights to safety and humanity.

I wonder, as a masculine-presenting lesbian, when the time of reckoning will come for me. Do they also think that my decision to use the ladies’ room is based on ‘feelings’ and is an encroachment of their rights as cisgender females? Do they understand that there is nuance between lesbians, butch lesbians, and transgender men? Worse, do they care at all to educate themselves or is their echo chamber doing the research and validation for them?

Without the protection of an anti-discrimination bill, it will not be illegal to force me to present as feminine at work at the strength of complaints from some persons being uncomfortable with my short hair and button-downs at meetings.

So, dear transphobic person at the end of the hall, this is personal for me. We share a building, a floor, a wing, a meeting room, a pantry, a restroom. And believe it or not, you have SOGIE, too. This anti-discrimination bill protects everyone with SOGIE, and that means you and me, and trans women, who by the way are women—not gay men, not men pretending to be women, not your imagined abusers.

Again, nuance is important! It really helps. If we can tell the difference between bigas, kanin, sinangag and bahaw, we are capable enough to distinguish people’s SOGIE.

P.S. When the time comes when I will be fortunate enough to stand up for a transgender woman in our area, I proudly will. She deserves to use that restroom, too.

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