“This is the classic story of so many trans people: You don’t get a job, then you can’t afford healthcare, you’re unable to pay rent,” Fontanos told VICE World News. “So many trans people end up homeless in the streets, they get into trouble, they end up doing illegal activities because larger society just won’t include us.”By saying transgender women could join the pageant but then making them “jump through hoops” to do so, the organizers merely paid “lip service” to inclusivity, said Marie Aubrey Villaceran, deputy director for research and publication at the University of the Philippines Center for Women’s and Gender Studies.“If you bar transgender women from joining Miss Universe Philippines or from participating even in the application, it means that you don’t see them as women,” Villaceran told VICE World News.
“Why did they say they were accepting transgender women? I felt that I was cheated.”
Fontanos’ group sent Miss Universe Philippines an email to follow up on La Torre’s application. The organization didn’t reply to that email either, but soon after, La Torre got a response, and she was given an audition slot on the last screening day.
“I never expected that such a minor thing would give me one of the greatest pains that I would have to carry in my life.”
La Torre said no question over legality arose when she used her lived name in court pleadings when she filed a lawsuit against security guards who prevented her from using a women’s restroom in 2014. But regardless of the validity of her documents, these nebulous legal wrangles simply underscore the great lengths trans people in the Philippines must go just to live a normal life.“Part of the torment of being a transgender individual in the Philippines and in other parts of the world is the fact that you’re always misgendered,” said Villaceran, the gender studies expert. “If you’re constantly moving about in a world that tells you, you are not who you believe you are, it has great impact on you.”
“You have, then, a significant segment of our population living in a sort of legal limbo. That’s really a problem.”
Because of the prejudice they endure in absence of protective legislation, the Filipino transgender community is yearning to be “represented in a way that elevates our lives,” La Torre said, adding that the Miss Universe pageant would be a powerful way to achieve that.But instead of empowering her, the experience left La Torre feeling duped and humiliated.“Do they know how dehumanizing it is to strip naked and lie down to be inspected just for a medical certificate? I feel like I ruined my own dignity by letting someone touch me,” she said.For Fontanos, it’s a matter of recognizing that trans women are women.“If a trans woman has not undergone surgery and has a penis but wants to compete in Miss Universe, she should still be allowed to do so because her penis doesn’t define her womanhood,” the LGBTQ rights advocate said. “It’s not just about me,” La Torre said. “When transgender women see me [in the pageant], it will empower them, and [they will] regain the dignity that’s been lost because of the treatment society gives us.”Follow JC Gotinga on Twitter.
“Do they know how dehumanizing it is to strip naked and lie down to be inspected just for a medical certificate? I feel like I ruined my own dignity by letting someone touch me.”