Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Closet Chronicles: Benjamin

(photo credits:
Everyone has a story to tell and everyone has a road to take. No two stories are the same. Some of them might be similar but they are different from one another. In our life, we all go through adversity but these experiences help build who we are. As members of the LGBT community, more often than not, we get the hard end of the stick. Others might not agree with this but there is some truth to it. We experience discrimination, prejudice, even hate and the worst part is sometimes, we experience this from the people who are close to us. This isn’t a generalization but merely an observation.

This column will showcase the story of a member from our community, a John Doe or Jane Doe. A stranger who you’ve never met but he or she has a story to tell and experiences to share. His or her story might be similar to yours or someone you know. So let’s take a glimpse at their life here in the Closet Chronicles.

Benjamin Garcia  or ‘Benja’, as his friends call him, is a 3rd year Community Development student from one of the country’s leading universities. He is 20-years old and a member of the LGBT community. He serves at their local parish as a member of the choir and when I asked him to describe himself, he answered me with one word, ‘simple’.

“I’m just a simple person. I am what I am. How people see me is who I am.”

I asked him the most important question, to get it out of the way.

“When did you know that you were different?”

“Matagal na. Bata palang ako. (I’ve known for a long time. I was still a child, I already knew) Growing up, I never thought that I should be this way or that way or that I should act a certain way. In my mind, I already knew what I was. A woman trapped in a man’s body,” he answered. “It’s not even because I grew up with friends who were girls. Even though my playmates were girls, I always knew that I was one of them. That I was a girl.”

Seeing as how he was comfortable enough talking about it, I asked him a very personal question.

“How would you associate yourself gender-wise? Are you gay or are you trans?”

“Trans,” he answered without thinking twice. “I believe na babae talaga ako at naligaw lang ako sa katawang lalaki. Pero pag sinabi kasi ni nila na ‘trans’, automatic nagcro-crossdress pero para sa akin hindi nagma-matter ang ganun. Hindi yung ang magdedefine kung ano ka. Hindi dahil trans ang isang tao, ibig sabihin kailangan na niyang magcross-dress. Yun yung nafee-feel ko.” ( I believe that I’m a girl and I am trapped inside a man’s body. When they say the word ‘trans’, they automatically associate it with cross-dressing but for me, things like that don’t matter. Your clothes don’t define who you are. Just because someone is trans, it doesn’t mean that they have to cross-dress. That’s what I feel).

At this point, I will start referring to Benja as 'she' since she acknowledges that she is transgendered.

“How did you come out? How did your family treat you?”

“At first, they were not that supportive. I experienced discrimination even within my family. But it was fine with me since they’re my family.  Growing up I told myself that someday they’ll accept me so I never had to tell them what I was. I didn’t think it was necessary. They just knew,” she answered.

“You said that your family discriminated against you. Could you give me an example?”

“Actually, when they make comments or say things, it’s always about how I act, yung kilos ko. For them, men should act a certain way but for me, this is how I am. This is what’s normal for me. But because of that I feel restricted, like I have no freedom which is why I feel discriminated against.”

I asked her when she felt that being who she was was finally okay with her family.

“When I was in college. Though my family accepts me, it’s still different when it comes to my parents. Their beliefs are still based on the bible and they have a dogmatic approach when it comes to gender. But if that’s what they think or feel, it’s fine with me. I know that the time will come when they will fully accept me. If they need me to explain, I’m willing to explain who I am and what I am.”

“How about your friends?”

“I have no problems with my friends although the one thing they don’t like is for me to change.”

“What do you mean by change?” I asked.

“Since I’m transgendered, there are times when I want to dress up like a woman and they don’t like that. I want to be a full-fledged woman but they don’t want it. I take their advice about it sometimes.”

“So the restricting factor for you when it comes to cross-dressing, aside from your family, are your friends?”

“Yes. Growing up, I didn’t know what gay or transgendered was. Ang alam ko lang, babae ako (The only thing I knew was that I was a girl). As a child I was okay with whatever clothes I had on but as I got older, of course I wanted to experiment. I want to wear clothes that I would feel comfortable in and that my friends and family would be fine with.”

As the conversation kept on going, I decided to ask a very personal question. Was she willing to, one day, undergo gender-reassignment surgery?

“Of course, I’ve considered it,” she answered with a chuckle. “Of course I want it, but I believe there’s a time for that. Actually, if I can be a woman even for just one day, I’d be very happy.”

Benja, serves at their local church so I had to ask, since the church is not very accepting of the LGBT community, how do the people at church treat her?

“When I started serving, I was afraid that people would discriminate against me. But I have made a lot of friends and in general, people are nice to me. Although there are some, especially those who don’t know me, they don’t understand why I am this way. But I pay no attention to them because I know that there will always be people like them and I respect that,” he answered. “I also stay alert especially when it comes to talks about gender like during the priest’s homily.”

She feels that she is tolerated and accepted by a lot but not by everyone and she is fine with that because she understands that that’s how the world works.

To end the interview, as a member of the LGBT community and as a self-identified Transgendered, I asked her what her advice is for other people in her situation. The kids who get bullied for being different, the closeted man who is confused about what he is, etc.

“Be more educated. That will be your best weapon against people who discriminate against you. Be knowledgeable about the community and about gender. It is hard when you are LGBT but you do not know about gender, sex, same sex marriage, etc. Like me for example, I used to question the importance of same sex marriage, why don’t they just live together? But when I was educated about it, I realized that it was more than a piece of paper or contract. It’s about their rights, their security because we are all equal and we deserve the same rights given to straight people.”

With that, we ended the interview.

We all have different experiences and stories, and the Closet Chronicles aims to share one person’s story. Whether they are out of the closet or hiding inside, it’s a story worth telling, it’s a story worth listening to because whether it’s one person or a dozen, someone would be able to relate to your story and maybe, just maybe, they’d learn a thing or two.