A magazine in the Philippines will include me in a feature of Filipina trans women achievers. One of the questions asked of me was what advice I can give to young girls like me. Here’s an excerpt of my answer:
“Girl, don’t believe the crap that it will get better. It will not. There will always be people who would ruin your day and bring you down. Cruelty is part of this world, and nothing can change that, even your tears. What’s going to happen is more beautiful, visceral, and fabulous: You will become a bitch. As you live each day, you’ll become better at handling every BS that comes your way.”
I’ve received both hostility and praise since the time my name appeared on people’s timelines because of my contrarian take on the arbitration case against China filed by the previous administration. A fellow crusader advised me to be careful about criticising Philippine media, as they might destroy me by using my being transgender against me. This is nothing new to me. I’ve been called a traitor or someone the Chinese government paid in order to discredit former secretary of foreign affairs Albert del Rosario and the people behind the arbitration case. That comes with the territory.
People mock Mocha for speaking up and for sharing her opinions. Does she have a PhD?, some even asked. If you read through the comments about Mocha’s guts to join in the national conversation, you’ll see despicable comments like: she should just take off her clothes and she should just gyrate and sway her hips and make men horny. For them, Mocha shouldn’t be heard, only seen. I don’t agree with a lot of what Mocha is saying. Frankly, I find it disturbing that she posts a lot of dodgy information on her page with a huge following. And she should be called out for that. But that a lot of people are telling her, directly or indirectly, that women like her are better off seen naked than talking, reflects the kind of democracy we have. And the palpable silence, certainly accompanied by malicious Hyena-laughter in private, of those who called out Duterte for recalling a gallows joke he uttered 27 years ago, is as disturbing as that scene in Malena: the village women dragged Malena, the village whore, to the town square, shaved her hair, stripped her off her clothes, and beat her relentlessly while the men who fantasised about having sex with Malena watched the object of their fantasy get destroyed by their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters.
Educated people aren’t spared from this public humiliation. A lot of Filipinos regard educated people with contempt. Even educated Filipinos look down on educated Filipinos — that’s how sick our society is. My being a “student” was used against me, either directly, e.g. “you’re just a student in The Hague,” or through passive-aggressive statements like “I humbly submit to your knowledge,” “I appreciate it when students apply what they learned in school..,” “You are using grandiose theories…” — or they just call me a “wannabe expert,” as if the well-established experts didn’t start from being a wannabe. When I explain my background, so they’ll know where I’m coming from — which is just a normal gesture in any professional setting — they interpret it as being an airhead and shamed me for letting them know the building blocks of my perspectives. Some just devalue my education or the fact that I’m still working to finish my master’s. This condescension is nothing new to me: when I was invited to speak in the United Nations in 2009, some people, educated in one of the best universities in the Philippines, reportedly asked: Why did the UN invite me, eh, I was just a high school graduate. Reminiscent of that is what someone quipped after reading the South China Sea easy-to-understand FAQ I wrote : Why would you believe the writer, eh she looked as if she didn’t graduate high school.
“Nagmamarunong” – that’s the label these folks have been using. I don’t know if this is an exclusive Filipino trait, but I have never ever experienced it here in the Netherlands. I haven’t even experienced it with my Chinese thesis supervisor who doesn’t call me a mere student but his fellow scholar, despite the fact that I told him that his country, China, is anachronistically applying the notion of territorial sovereignty.
Besides studying, I work as teaching/research assistant to a Dutch senator, who used to be an ambassador. One of his classes is an undergraduate-level course attended by students who have just started their twenties. One of the students was very active in class discussions. He even boldly expressed positions contrary to that of my boss. He was assertive, blunt, full of sass, and unafraid to call out baloneys and poppycocks. And he was just a student, an undergraduate student. Yet despite this, even in our private conversation, I haven’t heard my boss, who had sat in the same table as world leaders who made decisions that shaped international relations, tell this student that he was “nagmamarunong.”
In one of our private conversations, my boss told me that this student seemed like the professor of the class. I thought that was his way of talking down to the student. I thought that was my boss’ way of saying that the student was “nagmamarunong.” What followed shocked me. My boss asked me what I thought of his idea of offering that student an internship at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, perhaps an internship in either New York or Geneva. “He would do good there,” my boss told me. After the course was over, my boss approached him and told him that if he wanted to have an internship in the Permanent Mission of the Netherlands to the United Nations in New York, he would be happy to write his recommendation.
Maybe this student wouldn’t be appreciated in the Philippines and would be shamed by his professors and practitioners in his field for sassing back. After all, he was just a student. But can you imagine if that student were a trans woman, a trans woman who asserts that she knows her turf because she actually spent years of her life deeply engaging with it, who is blunt, full of sass, and unafraid to call out baloneys and poppycocks? What kind of hell do you think that student would have to go through just to be given the right to open her mouth? When my boss made that offer to that student, I was both happy and sad. I was happy for the student because I know how hardworking he was. And I was sad because that moment reminded me that I might have been born in the wrong country: this might not happen in my country, and that I would need to work twice or even thrice as hard as this hardworking student, just to pick up breadcrumbs that fall from the table where decisions that matter are crafted. But that’s the challenge before me, and I’ll not bitch down.
To close, I want to dedicate this to another woman who has been called an “arrogant bitch” for asserting herself. Her ambition has been used against her, as if having a dream and working hard to achieve it is a crime. I know that when she becomes president, I would criticise a lot of her foreign policies, specially her propensity to do something like Libya. Nonetheless, despite our differences in policies, I would look up to her, just as much as I look up to a lot of women who weren’t afraid to sass back, who stood their ground, and called out the baloneys, poppycocks, and clear cases of shameless policies wrought by the obvious conflict of interests of their authors. And I would be forever thankful to her people for inviting me to be one of the witnesses of one of the most historic speeches in world politics: The 2012 LGBT Speech Hillary Clinton delivered in Geneva. I look forward to calling you Madame President and to calling out your foreign policies that needed to be called out.