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A Transgender Paradox, and Platform, in the Philippines

A Transgender Paradox, and Platform, in the Philippines


At church, “we are allowed to wear girls’ clothes,” Ms. Cabaluna said. She has heard priests preach the same thing her mother told her: Regardless of your gender, what matters is being a good person before God and family.

Still, the widespread tolerance hides deep veins of disapproval.

The Rev. Renante Rabanes, who offered the Mass at the festivities for St. Vincent, the hamlet’s patron saint, said: “Transgenders are against the church. They are destroying what God gave them.”

That night, Ms. Cabaluna was crowned queen of Maria Respondo, in a pageant far better attended than the Mass.

Jan Gabriel Melendrez Castañeda, an advocate on behalf of gay and transgender people in Southeast Asia as part of several organizations, said, “Filipinos are used to contradictions.”

Mr. Castañeda says that unlike other countries in the region, such advocacy groups can operate legally and relatively safely here.

Still, 41 transgender people were killed in the Philippines between 2008 and 2016, the highest rate in Southeast Asia, according to the Trans Murder Monitoring Project of the organization Transgender Europe. A study published in The Philippine Journal of Psychology in 2014 found that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Filipinos were twice as likely to contemplate suicide as their heterosexual peers.

President Rodrigo Duterte said while campaigning in 2016 that he supported same-sex marriage, and he says he has relatives who are gay.

“Definitely, the gays were created by God,” Mr. Duterte said on the campaign trail.

As a teenager he examined his own sexuality, he said: “When I was in high school, I did not know if I wanted to be a girl or a boy.”



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