SPECIAL NOTE: I have no feelings for people who cannot decide to be fully male or female…or still undecided whether to be fully male or female. We have plenty of that in Thailand, land of my mother. For many of them, especially the males, because they could not afford the surgery to remove their penises. So many continue to have female top, and male bottom…This story about a man from the Philippines…half female (the top), half male (the bottom)…still undecided whether to remove his penis…why is “he” expecting mercy or sympathy from people around “him” or “her”…do not blame the society against someone living with half male and half female body? Blame it on yourself…and you should avoid saying anything until you are sure who you want to be: male or female. You decided to be female on top, but at the moment a little unsure of the surgery to remove your penis..you should keep quiet until all is complete…that is my feeling. I have gay friends…I love all of them. But they have chosen their sexual preference…make sense to you? Enjoy the story of this transgender teacher in Hong Kong, from the Philippines. Peace love passion power, Steve USA Jan 22, 2018
Transgender lecturer in Hong Kong on her fight to be accepted by a conservative society, and her fear of the police
As the city’s High Court debates the rights of three transgender men, HKU lecturer Brenda Alegre opens up about growing up trans – and Catholic – in the Philippines, and why she always feels like an outsider in Hong Kong
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 January, 2018, 5:18pm SCMP
“When I was a five-year-old growing up in the Philippines, I wanted to be Lynda Carter from the American TV show Wonder Woman. She made me realise my gender. But Christopher Reeve as Superman, well he was my first crush,” says Alegre, as she settles onto a bench at the Hong Kong University (HKU) campus in Pok Fu Lam.
Three transgender men challenge Hong Kong policy requiring full sex change before they are legally considered male
Alegre is a trans woman who was born and raised in Manila. She moved to Hong Kong in 2011 to teach the popular and groundbreaking course Sexuality and Gender: Diversity and Society that was introduced to the HKU curriculum that same year.
Trans refers to someone whose gender differs from the one they were born with, identifying as male or female or finding that neither label fits. Born male, Alegre has identified as a female for as long as she can remember.
“I never questioned gender growing up. I just thought I was like other girls. Kids would ask why I sat when I peed when I had a ‘bird’ – we called male genitalia bird. I’d say it’s for peeing only – I’m a girl. Kids didn’t question that.”
Sadly, she says, adults aren’t so accepting. Nor is the church.
“The Philippines is very religious, about 90 per cent Christian. I was raised a Catholic but the Catholic Church has never been accepting of trans people – it sees LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer] as a form of immorality, a direct violation of the teachings of the Bible. It holds the same view now about trans people as it always has … it’s just less persecutory in public.”
As for her parents, Alegre believes they didn’t have a clear idea of how her gender was unfolding.
“My other relatives, neighbours and schoolteachers had a better idea but my parents were maybe a bit naive … they had me quite old, they are 40 years older [that me]. Once my dad whacked me with a bamboo stick because I didn’t want my hair cut short like a male – it was required for military training college.” Military conscription in the Philippines was mandatory until 2016, when military service became voluntary.
“I cried so hard and didn’t talk for several days. That was the last time he hit me,” says Alegre.
“Luckily I didn’t get a lot of bullying – I was an honours student and that was more important than anything so I was looked up to by some students. What I did endure was a lot of catcalling and heckling … people would call me bakla, a derogatory word. Being trans in the Philippines is tough – people get killed for being trans.”
One of the most high-profile transgender cases was the murder in 2014 of 26-year-old trans woman Jennifer Laude who was found dead in a motel in the city of Olongapo, north of Manila, her neck blackened with strangulation marks and her head rammed into a toilet. Her killer, 19-year-old US marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, was sentenced to 12 years for the murder, the case straining ties between the two countries.
But a major victory for the LTBTQ community came in 2016 when Geraldine Roman was voted into congress, making her the first openly transgender woman in the Philippine government.
US Marine jailed in Philippines for killing transgender woman
As well as dealing with prejudice, transgender people must also deal with the many physical and psychological issues. The process of changing from identifying as a boy to a girl, or vice versa, is called transitioning but Alegre says this does not always mean undergoing sex reassignment surgery (SRS) or taking hormones. It could involve more subtle and personal changes such as changing a name, the way one dresses or the way one speaks.
Others might alter their gender on identity documents, a legal hot potato in Hong Kong which only issues new identity cards to transgender people if they have received surgery to remove their genitals and construct organs according to their new gender.
Hong Kong’s High Court is currently hearing the case of three transgender men challenging the government’s requirement to undergo a full sex change before their Hong Kong identity cards are amended to state they are male.
The applicants say a refusal is a violation of the Sex Discrimination Ordinance. Alegre agrees. She says the law discriminates, as not all transgender people undergo gender reassignment surgery. Some, like herself, are fearful about the risks, she says; others may not be able to afford the surgery.
“I had breast [augmentation] surgery in the Philippines but I’m afraid of doing anything further,” she says.
By that she means genital surgery, involving the removal of the testicles and the inversion of the skin of foreskin and penis to form a fully sensitive vagina (vaginoplasty). A clitoris with nerve endings can be shaped from part of the glans of the penis.
As with any surgery, it comes with risks (female-to-male surgery is considered more risky as it may require multiple procedures).
“Any surgery is scary. I had the courage to have my breast surgery in 2016, when I turned 40. But I’m not ready for bottom [genital] surgery,” says Alegre. Trans women may also consider facial feminisation procedures that change the structure of bone and cartilage in their jaw, brow, forehead, nose and cheek, or undergo tracheal surgery. “That is when they shave the Adam’s apple so it protrudes less. Some people ask if I’ve had my Adam’s apple removed but of course that is not possible.”