Wednesday, March 29, 2017

JOB OPENING: Treatment Hub Physician

LoveYourself Inc. is looking to hire (1) Treatment Hub Physician for its HIV treatment facility.


As a Treatment Hub Physician, you will be expected to perform the following functions:
1. Manage medical conditions of adult HIV patients enrolled at the treatment hub.
2. Referral of complicated cases to the appropriate specialists/centers.
3. Provision of documents like clinical abstracts and medical certificates to patients, as well as forms required by relevant institutions like DOH and Philhealth.
4. Perform other duties and responsibilities assigned by the treatment hub and LoveYourself admin.
5. Undergo training required by the treatment hub to further your knowledge and skills regarding HIV management.
6. Report for duty on your assigned clinic schedule and provide advance notice of your inability to do so.


LoveYourself Inc. is an equal opportunity employer and highly encourages applicants from the gay, bisexual, and transgender community who have experience in non-profit and community development work.


Interested applicants should submit an expression of interest (EOI) letter for the position they desired together with the applicant’s CV/resume, via e-mail to and cc: on or before April 15, 2017 (Saturday), 5:00 pm (PH time), addressed to Mr. Ronivin G. Pagtakhan, Executive Director of LoveYourself Inc. Technical review of documents will be done and the most qualified applicant will be contracted by LoveYourself Inc.

Volunteer Spotlight: Danvic, Ruben, Leo, and Aaron | Bright Minds, Big Hearts

By Jean Natividad

Ask anyone what the noblest profession is, and there's a good chance they'll say "educator." It should come as no surprise. Educators, after all, are assigned the Herculean task of shaping people's minds. While not all bearing the title are able to live up to the high standards of their calling, there are those who go above and beyond to fulfill their duties.

In LoveYourself, educators exist, too. Counselors, for example, put hours into training, so they can educate their families, friends, and clients about HIV. What most people outside the organization may not be as familiar with, however, is Love U: The Corporate University of LoveYourself, which serves as the learning hub for all of the organization's stakeholders.

Ruben, Aaron, Danvic, and Leo of Love U: The Corporate University of LoveYourself

Through Love U, individuals inside and outside the organization can expand their knowledge about HIV and matters like SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression) and self-worth. Aside from providing learning and training opportunities, Love U also conducts volunteer engagement and community engagement activities to ensure a holistic learning experience for all.

Sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? Well, it is. Fortunately, four people with bright minds and big hearts have taken on the tall order of leading Love U.

John Danvic Rosadiño​, Chancellor
Danvic believes the best way to educate yourself about HIV is to get tested. "They can share their personal experiences to their friends, especially to those they know are at risk of contracting HIV."

Before climbing the ranks and becoming Love U's Chancellor, Danvic started out as a volunteer counselor. His entry to the organization in 2014 was inspired by his own experience with LoveYourself. "I had my first HIV testing at LoveYourself, at a Mass Testing event. Ever since, I have admired how these people work, especially when I found out they were all volunteers," he shares. From counselor, Danvic became the Dean of Learning and eventually took on the role of Chancellor. He is also currently the ​Data Manager for Project PrEPPY (PrEP Pilipinas​). He tells us, "I could say I got there because of my passion for the advocacy and my dedication to help others, because that was my aim from the start - helping others."

As Chancellor, Danvic oversees the entire university, a task he describes as both exciting and challenging. "Running a mini-university is challenging as you need to develop activities, learning sessions, and other materials that will cater to everyone. The fact that we are running a 'university' is exciting, too! Hey, we don't have a PhD in Education, but we are doing our best to serve our students!"

Danvic's dream was to become a university professor, and he considers his role in Love U as something similar. He says, "Basically, I'm teaching, and I am living my dream. It has super changed me. It's like I have proved to myself that I don't have to be phenomenal in order to do phenomenal things. Whatever I achieve while doing this advocacy work, I will be very much grateful for it. Whatever I do for myself stays within me, and whatever I do for others remains and will be eternal."

For those wanting to join the advocacy, Danvic believes in these three necessary Cs: competence, compassion, and commitment. With these three things, it won't be impossible for volunteers to live their dreams, just like what Danvic’s doing.

Ruben Jay Alvarez Jr., Dean of Learning
Ruben says you can best educate yourself about HIV by being open to discussing it, not judging and discriminating others, and continually learning through seminars, trainings, and reliable articles.  

Ruben had an unlikely motivation when he joined the organization in 2012. While getting tested at LoveYourself, he became interested in acquiring a volunteer shirt, which he described as “simple yet classy.” After being told it was only available then to volunteers, he decided to join the group. "Am I weird? But that’s the truth. But when I started the training and counseling, my motivation changed," he confesses.

From that simple beginning, Ruben grew to be an active volunteer. He currently serves as Love U's Dean of Learning, responsible for trainings and knowledge transfers. He is also a member of the Communications Committee where he contributes articles, and HIV Operations where he is an HIV counselor, life coach, and the head of Project Purple (HIV testing and counseling for couples).

Out of all his tasks, he finds being a trainer as the most fulfilling. "I aspired to be one of the trainers of the organization, and here I am fulfilling my aspirations." And the most challenging? Counseling and coaching. "If your client turns out to be reactive, you serve as the conduit of information and all things necessary from testing to treatment, and that’s why I always tell myself that volunteering as a counselor is more than a privilege. It is a responsibility, a responsibility in which you offer your commitment to prioritize your client more than anything else," Ruben shares.

Ruben has great dreams for the organization that may seem bittersweet: "To be honest, I would like the day to come that LoveYourself is no longer needed in the country. Don’t get me wrong here. I would love to see the organization disappear with grace because people are well-informed about HIV and AIDS, there are no more new infections, no more discrimination and prejudice towards PLHIV, no more PLHIV who are lost in treatment, and no more HIV." But until then, Ruben continues his advocacy work. And for those who are interested in volunteering, he has this to say: "I hope you join LoveYourself, or any other HIV advocacy, not just because of T-shirts but because of the cause. And when you are inside the advocacy, give your heart to it."

Leo Ricafort Pura, Dean of Development
Leo says one should "read discerningly, get tested, and protect oneself" to be best educated about HIV.

In 2014, Leo was a client for LoveYourself's mass testing event in Victoria Court. Seeing the work of volunteers during the event inspired him to join the organization, so he can give back to the community that has nurtured him.

Since 2015, Leo has been serving as a counselor and life coach. He has been working closely with HIV-positive clients, "assisting them to accept their status and to be treated." He considers being a life coach both fulfilling and challenging as he is usually helping out his clients even outside his volunteer duty hours. Leo is also the Dean of Development for Love U, through which he gets involved with communities outside the organization, and a member of the Events and Recruitment Committees.

Leo's LoveYourself journey so far has changed him for the better. He says, "I have become more outgoing and at the same time focused on this advocacy. I am grateful I am able to help the community in any way that I can." And he has high hopes for the organization, too. "I wish volunteers stay longer with the organization, that we are able to champion sex positivity and inclusivity even more, and that more people would get tested and treated at LoveYourself."

For Leo, it's important for volunteers to know why they do what they do. "What we do is honest to goodness hard work and dedication." He adds, "It does not matter what your status is, how mature or young you are, how beautiful you are outside and inside, how wealthy you are, or what you are struggling with. LoveYourself is an organization that will help you grow further as a person, as a Filipino, and as a citizen of the world."

Aaron Paul Dacanay, Executive Administration
To get the right information about HIV, Aaron advises: "Visit, that's it. All information can be found in their website."

Aaron was also once a client of LoveYourself, and his experience encouraged him to join the group in 2014. He shares, "I got inspired by what the counselors were doing for their fellow LGBT friends, volunteering their time for the community. Also, four of my close friends are PLHIV, so I wanted to be a volunteer because of them. I told myself, 'I want to do the same. I want to help and to put my efforts and spare time to good use.'"

Today, Aaron serves as Love U's head of Executive Administration, taking care of matters like coordination, documentation, and logistics for the university’s initiatives. He is also an HIV counselor and the representative of his volunteer batch. "I usually do counseling during my days off from work. The most memorable day for me as a counselor was February 8, 2015 (First General Assembly for 2015) because on this date, I was awarded as the very first Top 1 Counselor of LoveYourself Anglo during its first year running as a testing facility," he tells us.

Aaron finds being a counselor the most fulfilling and the most challenging role. "In a way, I feel that I'm helping change their lives. I also believe in the saying, 'Do something today that your future self will be proud of.'" He adds, "Eighty-two of my clients turned out to be HIV reactive, and I'm happy to say that 90% of them are undergoing treatment."

Volunteering has done much for Aaron as it has for the community he serves. "It boosted my self-worth as a human being, and I'm fulfilling my dream of doing something worthwhile, not just for myself but for my community as well." Right now, he feels content with his achievements in the organization and describes the volunteer experience as something "truly wonderful." He concludes, "Yes, it can get tiring, but when you're with your fellow volunteers, it feels good because they're like your family. Yes, I see LoveYourself as my second family, my second home away from home." 

There's still a lot of work to be done for the advocacy, but it goes without saying that Danvic, Ruben, Aaron, and Leo, along with their fellow volunteers, have done much for the cause. Despite the common misconceptions about HIV (like HIV being a death sentence or being a gay disease) and the challenges in educating the community (like the stigma, discrimination and conservative culture) that they pointed out in our interview, they continue to tirelessly serve with their bright minds and big hearts. Truly, they are noble educators in their own right.

Photos courtesy of interviewees

LoveYourself Volunteer Spotlight is a monthly feature on the cause- and service-oriented members of LoveYourself. We will be chatting with volunteers from all walks of life – all united in one cause. Keep checking every month to meet the different faces of LoveYourself.

Have you been inspired by the courage and commitment of our volunteers? Like us on Facebook and help share our message of positivity and self-worth in your own communities to help fight the spread of HIV.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


LoveYourself, Inc. is looking to hire (2) nurses for its clinics.

  • Provide initial assessment to clients (e.g. vital signs and history taking)
  • Assist physicians with clinic procedures and treatments
  • Deal with the management of sexually transmitted infections and administer prescribed medication and treatments
  • Provide Pre and Post counseling to clients
  • Perform other related functions as may be assigned by the nurse supervisor from time to time
  • Work for 5 days a week (Wednesdays to Saturdays 11:00AM to 8:00PM, Sundays 8:00AM to 3:00PM with 2 days off on Mondays and Tuesdays)

LoveYourself Inc. is an equal opportunity employer and highly encourages applicants from the gay, bisexual, and transgender community who have experience in non-profit and community development work.

Interested applicants should submit an expression of interest (EOI) letter for the position they desired together with the applicant’s CV/resume, via e-mail to and cc: on or before April 15, 2017 (Saturday), 5:00 pm (PH time), addressed to Mr. Ronivin G. Pagtakhan, Executive Director of LoveYourself Inc. Technical review of documents will be done and the most qualified applicant will be contracted by LoveYourself Inc.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

STATUS -- Women and HIV: 4 Reasons We Should Pay Attention to the Numbers

By Reiner “Meow” Grospe

Photo taken at Bale Angeleño, Balibago, Angeles City, a government center that offers reproductive health care, STI screening, and treatment, run by the local government of Angeles City

In December 2016, the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) reported there was an average of 26 new cases each day in the same year. But out of this number, how many represent the occurrence of HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) infection among females? 

Out of the 750 newly reported cases in December 2016, 29 (3.87%) were female, while the cumulative cases from 1984 to December 2016 had a total of 39,622 reported cases where 2,810 (7.09%) were female. Compared to the number of men diagnosed with HIV, the report shows a small number. Does this permit us to pay lesser attention to women affected by this particular health and social issue? “The fact that there are women being infected with the virus, no matter what the number is, they should not be taken for granted,” said Mary Ann Cortez, Nurse and Focal Person for HIV in the Provincial Health Office of Pampanga. Here are 4 reasons we should listen to her:

1. Sexual Transmission is Easier 
One may be infected with HIV through blood transfusion, sharing of needles, mother-to-child transmission, or unprotected penetrative sex (sex without the use of condoms) with a person living with HIV (PLHIV). And the most common way to transmit HIV according to various studies[1, 2, 3] is unprotected penetrative sex. While men and women do not differ in this category, it is a fact that during vaginal sex, HIV is easier transmitted from male to female than from female to male, which puts women at a higher risk.

2. Women-related Complications
Women face unique circumstances when dealing with HIV infection, including repeated vaginal yeast infections, severe pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and a higher risk of cervical cancer. Furthermore, women may also experience problems related to their reproductive health, like changes in their menstrual cycle or even absence of periods (amenorrhea). Also, women living with HIV are more prone to osteoporosis.

3. Mother-to-child Transmission
HIV transmission is possible for a woman in her prenatal condition. This may be prevented but only with the help of regular intake of antiretroviral drugs – but aren’t those teratogenic (harmful) to the baby, you ask? AIDSinfo recommends[4, 5] that all women in their childbearing years should be well educated about this maternal issue. They should identify their childbearing intentions and make this their driving force throughout their treatment. Also, they must have a plasma viral load (concentration of HIV in blood plasma) below the limit of detection before conception. On the contrary, if a woman living with HIV does not want to get pregnant, she should know that all types of contraceptives can still be effective in her condition. These contraceptives prevent conception only and not the transmission of HIV, and that is why using condoms is still necessary.

With regard to ART (antiretroviral therapy), the effectiveness of the treatment regimen should be considered as well as the drug-to-drug interactions between the hormonal contraceptives and ART. Furthermore, AIDSinfo says the Hepatitis B status of the mother, the teratogenic effect of the regimen, and other adverse effects to the mother and fetus should be evaluated.

4. Other Social Issues Affecting Women
According to Mary Ann Cortez, there is a cause for concern that the number of newly diagnosed HIV cases among the youth is  increasing. She connects this with the existing issue of teenage pregnancy. “Teenage pregnancy is there. This means that some young women are engaging in unprotected sexual activities, and the fact that they do means they are also at high risk of getting HIV,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Verona Guevarra, the Reproductive Health and Wellness Chief of Bale Angeleno (Angeles City’s Social Hygiene Treatment Hub located in the red light district of the city) shared to us that before they ignited much effort in HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention, the trend in the number of HIV transmission based on sex in their city was different from the nationwide trend where more males get infected. This is because the said community is known to be a hub of transactional sex or sexual activity that involves paying or accepting money or both. “Before, we diagnosed more females because of the red light district here, where customers are both Filipinos and foreigners. But it is different now,” she said. 

Since 2010, they have been implementing mandatory HIV counseling for all their registered sex workers, but HIV testing remains voluntary. Since then, the numbers in their scale slowly tuned in with the nationwide trend. To date, the HARP reported 66 (9%) of the total captured positive cases in December 2016 (750) engaged in transactional sex where 5 were females. Poverty remains the number one reason people in this industry do transactional sex. Poverty is everywhere, and so is transactional sex. All of these women [and men] should be reached.

Like social inclusion, economic progress, and gender equality, women also have an uphill battle against HIV and AIDS. Equality will also be our answer here – equality in the access of awareness regarding this matter. The number of women visiting the LoveYourself clinics are increasing in number. This is something good because HIV and AIDS is not a gay disease nor an LGBT issue alone; it requires everybody’s involvement. As Alicia Keys said, “Together, we want to change how you think about HIV. You might know women like them in your own life – they’re mothers, wives, daughters, students, caregivers, business owners. They’re just like you, and they’re just like me.”

Photo: Reiner “Meow” Grospe

LoveYourself conducts free HIV testing and counseling. For more information, click here.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Triangle of Self-Care: Understanding the Window Period

By Mark Angelo de Castro

A common question regarding HIV testing is: “When should I go for one?” Some say HIV testing should be done regularly, at least once a year. Others say it has to be twice a year, and there are those who say it should be done quarterly. None of them are wrong, but none of the statements are entirely correct either. This is because the correct time a person has to undergo HIV testing depends on his/her actions and behaviors. But for us to understand the relevant factors to determine the correct timing, we have to learn and understand the concept of the window period.

The Window Metaphor

The “window period[1]” is the time between a potential exposure to HIV infection and when an HIV test will give an accurate result with the appearance of detectable antibodies[2].

The same as how “the birds and bees” metaphor is used to explain sexual intercourse to children, we could use an actual window to explain how the window period works. The image below shows four boxes with the same scenario with one month progression. The first box shows the condition of the plants in the pots numbered 1, 2, and 3 at the end of 1 month, box two for the end of the second month, and boxes three and four for the end of the third and fourth months, respectively.

window 3 months 4 box with month.jpg

The plants shown were planted at the same time. Depending on the condition of the soil in the pot, the amount of water, the amount of sunlight, and several other factors (even the kind of seed planted), the rate of growth of each plant would differ. Plant number two reached the “window” first. This could be interpreted as early detection of HIV even before getting past the window period. Plant number one reached the “window” on the fourth month, which could be compared to detection after the window period of three months, while plant number three never reached the window, which shows a negative result despite having exhausted the minimum number of days.

Many advancements in HIV testing have already been developed with high probability of showing positive results when the person is infected (sensitivity), and high probability of showing negative results when there is no infection (specificity). Generally, we have two types of HIV testing methods: rapid tests and RNA tests. A rapid test is an immunoassay, which detects the presence of antibodies or antigens[2] in blood or oral fluids. This kind of test produces results in 30 minutes or less which makes it ideal for screening purposes. RNA tests detect the presence of the virus itself. However, this kind of testing is not recommended for HIV screening because it is more expensive, it requires more apparatus to conduct, and it takes more time to generate results.

Proteins and Antibodies

Our body has a natural response to unidentified substance entering our bodies, like bacteria, viruses, toxins, etc. This is called our immune response. Often, when we search online for information regarding HIV testing, the words antigens and antibodies appear, or they are normally mentioned in discussions regarding HIV in general. Just to have enough information to understand the window period more: An antigen is usually a type of protein on the surface of cells, fungi, bacteria, or viruses, which causes the body to produce antibodies against the unrecognized substance in our body; an antibody is also a protein produced by our body’s immune system when it detects unknown harmful substances (antigens).

The image above shows an example of an HIV testing kit that can detect both HIV antigens and HIV antibodies. 

During the duration of the window period, antigens are the ones being detected by the tests in the first few days or weeks after a potential exposure. In the early stages of infection, there is a rapid multiplication of antigens in the body, which also means that infected people in the window period are highly infectious. After some time, seroconversion[3] will occur. This is when the body generates antibodies as an immune response to the HIV antigen present in the body. This is also when HIV tests may give false negative[4] results. 

Antibodies attach to antigens, and the only time when either of the two will be detectable by tests is when one of them is more than the other. During seroconversion, the number of antibodies will be close to the number of antigens, and not having enough “free” or “unbound” antigens and antibodies in the body will cause both to be undetectable. Only after the window period will the amount of antibodies surpass that of the antigens, and from this point on, only antibodies will be detectable during tests.

MESSEd Up Information

As with a separate article that talks about practical ways on how to determine whether a person is at risk of HIV transmission, digging further into antigens and antibodies might lead to more confusing information than answers to questions. Basically, being aware of one’s own sexual activities, or other activities that could expose himself to the virus, is the first step in observing Timely Testing. 

By using ESSE (Exit, Sufficient, Survive, Entry) as a reference to know what the basic criteria for HIV transmission is, it is best to undergo testing after the window period of three months has passed. However, if a person is constantly within the boundaries of the window period, he may opt to have himself tested in regular intervals of three months. For a person who is sexually active yet always observes Safe and Satisfying Sex, he/she could have himself/herself tested after a minimum of three months from his/her last sexual encounter to six months or one year depending on his/her frequency of encounters, sexual activities, and sexual behaviour (includes having a monogamous or polygamous sexual relationship), while considering his/her mental state (anxiety and fear of infection).

Understanding how to correctly schedule one’s HIV testing is important. With Timely Testing in mind, coupled with Safe and Satisfying Sex and the Correct and Consistent use of Condoms, we can prevent further infections and help control the spread of the virus.

Images: Mark Angelo de Castro and Jan Raymond Bulanadi

Monday, March 06, 2017

Volunteer Spotlight: Yanyan Araña and Bubbles Rosos, “I Am A Woman”

By Ruben Jay C. Alvarez Jr.

If you happen to be part of the LGBT community and an advocate of diversity and inclusion, you definitely have an idea of one of the spectrums of the rainbow, the transgender people.

With all the heat that is going on inside the senate regarding the passing of the Anti-Discrimination Bill and the hatred and bigotry flowing on social media, it is good to have a glimpse on some of the things we need to understand about our friends from the transgender community.

We may not have experienced their struggles, but that doesn’t mean we need not be empathetic; that is humanity.

I talked to Yanyan and Bubbles, both LoveYourself volunteers, and asked them to share a part of their life with us, plus tell us why the new Victoria Health and Wellness Center that focuses on transgender persons is such a groundbreaking project.

When did you realize that you are a transgender woman?

Yanyan: I was a late bloomer. Years ago, I experienced depression, which I believed was due to identity crisis.  [I was] questioning myself. Then I realized that I wasn’t gay. I wasn’t fit to be gay. I started researching and learning things about transgender people. And by October 2015, I believed in myself that I am a woman. I felt I am a woman. Then I started taking Hormonal Replacement Therapy (HRT) as part of the transition process.

Bubbles: When I was in high school, I believed that transgender women were more accepted than crossdressers, so I decided to undergo HRT. But my HRT was interrupted because my parents and relatives found out about it. When I finished college, I restarted undergoing HRT, and eventually, they just accepted me because the physical changes were becoming visible.

How did your family take it?

Bubbles: Slowly. The changes in my body did not immediately become visible. And I was not even wearing women’s clothes. But when I was reviewing for my board exams, I tried wearing women’s clothes. And I was surprised that my mother was the one buying my clothes. I felt happy because she was very supportive.

Until now, they accept me for who I am. But there are times they become concerned about my future – family, relationships, and all those typical things that an LGBT member is concerned about.

Yanyan: When I was in high school and I thought I was gay, it was a struggle with my family since my father was strict. But they just kept on telling me to finish my studies and find a stable job before anything else.

The process [of acceptance] was gradual. Remember how mothers love to purchase underwear from Avon? I tried to wear those panties and brassieres, and my mother was wondering why her undergarments went missing. When she found out, she asked me, “Bakit mo ginagamit ang mga iyan?” Then I told her that I felt differently. Then eventually, she was the one buying me women’s underwear and even dresses.

I was accepted very well. But my father became stricter. He doesn’t want me wearing shorts and short skirts. He scolds me.

Since you identify as women, what are your regimens or “rituals” to maintain your womanhood? And how important are these for you?

Yanyan: For me, well, since I was younger, I was already vain. I always apply lotion and moisturizer. The only difference is I am using products for females and, of course, the addition of hormones. I take hormones twice a day before I go to sleep. Every time I take hormone, I feel that I am really a woman. The physical changes I see add to my “completeness.” It’s like a road to womanhood.

Bubbles: I suggested to Yanyan to double her dose to increase the estrogen level of her body and, of course, to “block” the androgen. I also take my pills every day before going to sleep. I suggest to take your pills the same time every day. But there were instances that I failed to take them due to my busy work schedule. Hormones, for me, are very important because I think I am more accepted by the society [when I take them]. But that doesn’t mean that all transgender people should take HRT or need to cross-dress. No. Transitioning is not that.

What do other people need to know about transgender women?

Yanyan: We are women. We are not gay men. Women!

Bubbles: We deserve the same respect people give to women because we are women. We are not some flesh that you run to when you are in need of sex. We also have dignity.

How do you handle your love life?

Yanyan: It is a challenge. You need to explain everything to them. You need to educate them with SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression). And it also hurts that some men agree and pretend they understand and accept you, but at the end of the day, all they want from you is your body.

What I also notice is that more TGs are into relationships with foreign men because they are more open[-minded] than Filipinos.

Bubbles: I prefer hetero cisgender men, though it is a challenge nowadays, especially if the guy is family-oriented with very conservative roots. Another challenge is how society sees it [the relationship]. It is still taboo in the eyes of the majority, and therefore, it is difficult for some men to enter into a relationship with us.

How did you get involved in the HIV advocacy?

Yanyan: It started when my friend turned out to be HIV reactive. We were used to drinking alcohol  in a shared glass, and we thought we had contracted the virus through that. So what I did was I researched about HIV and testing centers, and I saw LoveYourself online. I found it cool because of the campaigns and the message it sends across.

Bubbles: I discovered LoveYourself in an app. There was a pop-up message about an upcoming HIV mass testing, so I was encouraged [to go]. I got myself tested and a volunteer told me about how someone can volunteer. Coincidentally, I saw Kenneth Dacion, who was my batchmate in college. He encouraged me to join the organization. More than the encouragement I got from Ken, the way volunteers treated their clients gave me that desire to help my community.

What do you do in LoveYourself?

Yanyan: I do counseling. I am a trained counselor for both individual and couple clients. I also help in events when it comes to video editing.

Bubbles: I want to be a counselor, but my work schedule prevents me from attending the training. So what I do is during my rest days, I go to Uni to do the decking. It’s like a receptionist job. I am the frontline volunteer for the center.

What is the relationship of HIV and the transgender community?

Yanyan: I have to share this: I believe there is a disconnect with the IHBSS (Integrated HIV Behavioral and Serologic Surveillance) data because TGs are still classified as MSM (men who have sex with men). From that, it is difficult to gather data exclusively for the transgender people. We can’t identify if the community is really at risk, though we all know that transgender women are really at risk because some of them are engaged in sex work. When it comes to transmission, some self-medicate and use IV drugs (e.g. glutathione).

What does LoveYourself need to do to reach a larger TG audience?

Yanyan: Well, LoveYourself started to cater to MSM, and I am glad that they opened their doors to the transgender community. There is a high risk of HIV infection among the transgender people. Therefore, more campaigns should be done to address their needs - more campaigns that are TG-centric and more TG volunteers.

Bubbles: More information dissemination. We need to find that market. There is a market out there.

How was the Victoria Health and Wellness Clinic born?

Yanyan: It started when Vinn Pagtakhan and Dr. Loyd Brendan Norella of ISEAN HIVOS were in Jakarta. While they were inside a cab, they thought of having a TG center similar to Tangerine, a TG clinic based in Bangkok and the first in Southeast Asia. Vinn and Doc Lloyd applied for funding and was approved. Then it materialized into this [Victoria Clinic].

LoveYourself had its soft launch of the center last December 2016, and primarily, we offer three levels of services. Level 1 is HIV counseling and testing on transgender concerns and basic baseline laboratory procedures and screenings for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Level 2 includes hormone management, advanced laboratory, and pre-SRS (sex reassignment surgery). Level 3 consists of more advanced medical procedures.

What are the things you need to do for the community to understand you better?

Bubbles: I always believe in continuous education. I believe that proper information dissemination is very important. We need to educate people with the differences between a transgender woman and a transsexual. The community also needs to understand our needs as women. And I think on our part, I believe in taking that bold step to reveal yourself to the people around you, especially to your family and relatives, because acceptance starts from being authentic.

What is your message of empowerment and encouragement to your fellow transgender women?

Yanyan: Laban lang, Bes! It is very challenging. Change is challenging - emotionally, physically, and even financially. When you transition, you have to make sure, deep within yourself, that you are a woman. You really need to take time for yourself to dig into your core. You will experience different forms of harassment from the outside world, and all you have to do is to ignore them. And one more thing: Do not ever settle for anything less. Do not lower your standards when it comes to relationships just because you are having a hard time finding a partner. You should not do that to yourself. You have to be true to yourself.

Bubbles: Transitioning is not like a U-Turn slot where you can turn back from where you were before. For those undergoing HRT, there is a chance you will become sterile, and therefore, your chance of having a biological family lowers. This is why you really need time to know yourself, to know more about your deeper understanding of your identity. Discrimination will always be there, but the judgment of other people is the last thing you want to think of. They don’t matter. As long as you are becoming true to yourself and not hurting anyone, do you.

We came to the end of the interview and how I wish I had more time with these beautiful ladies. Their stories opened my mind to a wider horizon about the truths that hide behind the fragile faces of transgender women (and men).

I encourage you to go out there and talk to a transgender man or woman, and let their stories inspire you and change your perspective towards them. Believe me, once you understand and accept their truth, you are helping the world a better place to live.

Photos and videos: Kevin Tuazon
Photo editing: Mark Long
Video editing: Yanyan Araña

LoveYourself Volunteer Spotlight is a monthly feature on the cause- and service-oriented members of LoveYourself. We will be chatting with volunteers from all walks of life – all united in one cause. Keep checking every month to meet the different faces of LoveYourself.

Have you been inspired by the courage and commitment of our volunteers? Like us on Facebook and help share our message of positivity and self-worth in your own communities to help fight the spread of HIV.