Monday, July 30, 2018

LGBT… QRSTUVWXYZ: I’m Confused with My Identity

By Mark de Castro

SOGIE and LGBT are language tools that may still continue to evolve, used to better capture the experience of human diversity. Due to its complexity, confusion in understanding sexuality is inevitable.

The term “Third Gender” was the closest common, non-derogatory vocabulary for non-heterosexuality before the sexual revolution in the 1960s. Today, the term LGBT has been adopted by a majority of sexuality and gender identity-based communities in the United States from about 1988.[1] In the Philippines, the initialisms used are LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQIA, and a few others. These variations may be caused by groups giving emphasis on what the group’s main objective is and on the diversity of their members which may include queers, allies, and others that are not found in the initialism LGBT.

The initialism LGBT, the list of initials have sometimes gotten as long as LGBTTQQIAAP: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, pansexual[1], with the possibility to continuously evolve through time. And even if there are already a lot of different identities defined, there are still those who cannot find their place within these groups.

Due to the stereotypes that exist people are implicitly limited by how they may express themselves to fit a certain criteria. Can a gay man still be gay and be attracted to a lesbian? Can a transgender man wear a dress, a blouse, or a skirt on a daily basis, and still identify as a transgender? Or can a straight person have sex with the same sex and still be called straight? The answer for all of these questions is yes. These are only some of the possible scenarios that might be confusing for some, but are true for those who experience them first hand.

In the Philippines, there exist labels within the LGBT community which may be derogatory, depending on how they are used like Pamin and Effem. Pamin (pa-men) from the word “Paminta” (Pepper) which means “like a man”, referring to masculine gay men. Effem from the word effeminate which means acting or showing characteristics of a woman. However, when used against a person, pamin is being used to address gay men who are trying to act manly are more feminine in the perception of those who see them. As for Effem, this is commonly used by people who doesn’t prefer being associated with feminine gay men usually seen on dating apps with tags like “no to effem” or “effems back off”. The terms Bakla and Tomboy are the Filipino terms for gay and lesbian respectively. Despite being accepted and used by the community, they can be derogatory depending on the manner they are used.[2]

These remarks are associated with a person’s characteristics, appearance, and preferences, creating dangerous stereotypes. And because a person’s behavior, perception, and judgement towards themselves and others are determined by the concepts they get from their culture[3]; understanding one’s Sexual Orientation Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) will show that these stereotypes are not enough to label the unique individualities that exist. To further simplify this concept, the illustration below provides a graphic representation of SOGIE.

The illustration shows separate categories which are independent of each other: Identity, Orientation, Sex, and Expression. This means that each person is different in where they stand in the SOGIE Spectrum.
  • Sex refers to a person’s sex assigned at birth as it is expressed physiologically: defined by the X and Y chromosomes (chromosomal sex), bone structure evident in the hips and shoulders (skeletal sex), secondary characteristics like facial hair and the mammary glands, and the genitalia they are born with, which may be Male, Female, or Intersex. If a person’s Gender Identity and Sex are the same (e.g. Assigned Male at birth and identifies as a man), they are considered Cisgender, if the person’s gender identity does not match with their sex at birth, they are Transgender
  • Gender Identity refers to a person’s perception and deeply felt internal and individual experience of their own gender as a Man, Woman, or Others which may not necessarily correspond to their sex assigned at birth.[4]
  • Sexual Orientation (Attraction) refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions to men, women or both sexes according to the American Psychological Association.[5]
  • Gender Expression refers to the characteristics shown by the person whether they are Masculine, Feminine, or Androgynous. 
One thing to remember when learning about SOGIE is that it was not designed for us to be able to define someone else’s SOGIE which oftentimes lead to bias or judgement; rather, this is a concept for individuals to be more aware of themselves and understand their own sexuality.

Mister, Miss, Mx

We no longer live in a heteronormative world; the number of unique SOGIE identification can go on and on. There is even an English language neologistic honorific title “Mx” using the letter x as a wildcard if one does not wish to refer a person by their gender which is widely accepted by the Government of the United Kingdom.[6]

Despite “Mx” having been introduced in the 1980’s, social media platforms have only started adapting more open gender/identity profile options.

Screenshots from Grindr Account Settings

Grindr, one of the first and most popular Gay Male Dating Applications in the country offers options for sexual identity which is categorized into three options: Man, Woman, and Non-Binary. The App also has an option for setting one’s own preferred Pronouns with an open “Custom Pronouns” option as well.

Screenshot of Scruff Account Settings
Another popular App that has been available for download along with Grindr is Scruff which also has its own way of categorizing sexuality and sexual practices in its personal account settings, placing “Bisexual” and “Transgender” along with “Leather”, “Military”, and “Discreet”

Caption: (left) Screenshot of Facebook sign up homepage. (right) Screenshot of Gender setting in Facebook account settings.

Facebook has also added a way to customize one’s own Gender in its account settings, despite not being available upon signing up from their homepage, there is a “Custom” setting which can be adjusted after creating a profile.

Not all social media platforms however are open to this. It may be because it is not an essential part of its usage like Twitter which is originally meant for quick and short updates that only has few profile information like website and birthday, or Instagram which offers “Male”, “Female” and “Not Specified” in its gender setting, which does not hinder anyone from sharing their pictures online.

Screenshot of Facebook Sign Up (left), Screenshot of Gender Setting in Account Settings (right)
Now that more people are being vocal about gender inclusivity, where there is still a thin line differentiating acceptance from tolerance, and preference from discrimination, there has already been many changes favoring equality and acceptance. One example of this is the much awaited passing of the SOGIE Equality Bill which will prevent acts of discrimination against people based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression; it was first filed in the Philippine Congress back in the year 2000 which has already passed its 3rd reading in the Philippine Congress in 2017, and is still fighting its way through the Philippine Senate.[7]

As more people start to understand their own sexuality through the concept of SOGIE, the initialism LGBTTQQIAAP will keep on growing. It is not only the term “Third Gender” that changed through time, many battles for equality and acceptance has already been won; however, there are still some that are yet to be concluded. And as this concept continues on getting popularized, each individual’s understanding of their own sexuality may lead to the dissolution of discrimination and exclusion, towards inclusion and acceptance.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Victoria Court: Being Victorious Advocates of HIV in the Philippines

By: Karlie
It’s amazing knowing how HIV awareness has been receiving so much love from the community’s numerous allies - from popular celebrities such as former Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach and the current Miss Universe-Philippines Catriona Gray , to different companies who celebrate diversity and advocate socially relevant causes  as part of their company’s corporate goals.
One remarkable company who has been doing this for so many years now is Victoria Court. Founded by Angelo King in 1970, the motorist hotel company has grown from its humble beginning from the simple Anito Lodge in Pasay City into a dynamic group of 10 amazing locations throughout the country. From its 24-hour service to its uniquely themed rooms, Victoria Court has definitely gone a long way. They don’t just provide quality service, they have amazing programs that has been paramount in the HIV advocacy.
Screenshots from the Stop HIV website
Becoming an Advocacy Corporation

Victoria Court started to make strides in the advocacy in 2006 with the release of their Stop HIV campaign. It was launched alongside an all-star
video directed by renowned photographer Marc Nicdao. Several models and celebrities from media and fashion highlighted not just the prevalence of HIV infection, but also explained how  of HIV transmission  has contributed to the increasing number of cases in the country, especially among the youth. It ended with a strong call to action, encouraging people to start talking about it by spreading the love, and not the virus. With online forums being popular at the time, the website became a portal for people to start openly discussing the issues surrounding HIV infection and prevention, and  access correct information about HIV. Their Stop HIV website was recognized in the 9th Philippine Web Awards when it became a finalist for Best Website under the non-profit category. The campaign evolved in 2007 through a video making contest, encouraging people to become HIV advocates as well. The winning entry’s simplistic yet powerful imagery of using a condom as the passenger’s fare showed how easy it is to raise information to stop the spread of the virus.
LoveYourself Volunteers at Victoria Court for HIV Screening Event
The journey continued  in 2011 for their 25th Anniversary celebration. Hosted by the Boys Night Out radio jocks Sam YG, Tony Toni and Slick Rick at Club Manor, Eastwood, the celebration released a new video featuring advocates and people living with HIV (PLHIV) speaking their minds based on their experience fighting HIV or taking care of someone infected with the virus. On the same year, Victoria Court has partnered with Red Whistle as they became the venue for Red Whistle’s HIV Headshots photoshoot campaign. The shoot was a fundraiser to support Red Whistle’s projects. Starting 2012, Victoria Court has been opening its doors to organizations such as LoveYourself and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) for their community based HIV screening events. With their locations being easy landmarks in the city, HIV testing got easier for people to access. This partnership has since helped the organization increase its reach to hundreds of people who want to know to know their HIV status.
As HIV cases continues to rise in 2017, Victoria Court also stepped up its HIV program with the launch of Project Rainbow which provides special discounts to people who identified as LGBT when they avail of Victoria Court’s services and facilities. It was released alongside a video featuring actual LGBT talents. Part of this initiative involved having focus group discussions with the LGBT community, conducting gender sensitivity training and learning sessions about the basics of HIV to their frontliners, a feat that only a few of hospitality brands have taken into consideration. This helped pave the way not only in revolutionizing their HIV advocacy.
Gender Sensitivity and HIV training session for Victoria Court's frontliners
The Secret to Success
With the industry’s sexually-skewed connotations, Victoria Court bravely used this thinking and turned it around to develop an advocacy their organization can rally with. Angelina Mead King’s courage to advocate, and her strong social influence to empower not only the LGBT community but also her employees was a huge factor as to the success of Victoria Court’s HIV programs.
Their efforts have not gone to waste. Victoria Court’s online videos became a source of information in a then limited pool of resources that touched  understanding HIV. Their latest video for Project Rainbow has now generated more than 873,000 views, 19,000 social reactions, and 5,100 shares. They also currently provide free condoms in all their rooms, and continues to be a partner of non-profit organizations such as LoveYourself and the HIV & AIDS Support House (HASH). Clearly, #EveryonesWelcomeHere
Karlie is currently a Client Service Manager in a global media agency based in Australia. He is a fan of musical theatre, anime and pop culture. Despite the distance, he continues to volunteer in LoveYourself by writing articles for the organization during his spare time.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Connecting People to Information with Blued

By Carlos Diego A. Rozul

Today, we make connections with each other in so many different ways. May it be through our workplace, common interests, or chance encounters, we could all learn something new about ourselves when we meet the right people. Blued is a gay social app that creates a space where people can build relationships. More than a social app, they take responsibility in looking out for their users' wellness.

LoveYourself and Blued

Blued has been a proactive supporter of LoveYourself's campaigns in their efforts to raise awareness about HIV among their users.

"Blued takes into heart our responsibility to help gay men understand HIV and get tested regularly." - Evan Tan, Blued Country Marketing Manager
Image result for blued
From HIV screening events to fundraising campaigns, they have built a relationship with LoveYourself that has enriched the community's understanding of HIV through strategic and memorable campaigns.

"HIV is not a death sentence. Take the first step, and get tested regularly. You can live your life to the fullest. With proper treatment and self-care, you can reach your full potential and live your best life." Tan shared.

Currently, they continue to rally to end the myths surrounding HIV especially when it comes to living with the virus. For Evan, taking one test can set you on your journey towards self-care.

Blued's Role in the HIV Advocacy

"We try to make conversations surrounding the HIV issue as normal as possible. Outside the Philippines, we are even helping people locate HIV testing facilities closest to them. Blued hopes to build a community of gay men who are educated about HIV and are not afraid to access testing and treatment." Tan said.

Evan shares how social apps such as Blued play a significant role in promoting self-care. By connecting the correct information and services to the right people, they can bridge the knowledge gap that is present in the community.

As the leading gay social app in the world, Blued has helped This is Me: Brave and Free to reach a total of 1,145 sign-ups - one of the highest in the history of LoveYourself's HIV screening events.

Beyond HIV

Blued has been empowering Filipino gay men when it comes to sex and sexuality. Recently, the launched a series called BluedTube that has touched on relevant topics such as coming out, bottom-shaming, and harmful gay myths. This year, they will launch the second season of their original web series Ur_Tadhana that aims to dismantle toxic masculinity and homonormativity that still lurks in the gay community.

The evolution of how people connect nowadays has affected how the message of love and self-care is delivered. With plenty of resources brought to an online platform, Blued does its part to link these opportunities to people in search. You can become part of the growing community that Blued has shaped by downloading their app on the Google Play Store and on iTunes.
Carlos Diego is an HIV counselor and the Head of Editorial for LoveYourself. Outside of volunteering, he is a clinical audiology student and a registered psychometrician. He aims to facilitate a deeper meaning to health by discussing the importance of aural, sexual, and mental health.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Volunteer Spotlight: Robin Marero on Living with Compassion, Finding Purpose, and Forming a Family in the Advocacy

By Jean Natividad

After such great loss, Robin is determined to give back great love to the community that saw him through.

It was the year 2016, and it had been a few months since Robin's mother, Violy, passed away. She had breast cancer, but it wasn't the cancer that killed her. She was, in fact, responding well to treatment and had lived longer than the doctor's prognosis. No, she didn't die of cancer. It was a fire that, although she survived, caused her health to falter and took her away from her only son. It was also the same fire that burnt down the home they had lovingly built together over the years.

It had been a few months since Robin's mother passed away, and her son, in his prime, did not know where to begin. Robin thought to himself, "There's no purpose. Why would I build this? For whom?" But he did rebuild that house and so much more. Surely, he's done his mother proud.

Fast forward to two years later, inside his office on a rainy June day, with only the pristine walls as witness, Robin, holding back tears and dressed in his crisp deep blue shirt, told me how he did it. It wasn't easy, but he did it.

When It Rains, It Pours

To say it has been a rough few years for Robin Marero is a gross understatement. The 29-year-old community manager and LoveYourself volunteer had to say goodbye to a parent and to a home a couple years ago, and although he's smiling today, the devastating loss has left an unfillable gap in his life. Nothing, after all, can replace a mother's love.

Months after his mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2015, Robin and his family faced yet another untellable tragedy. Their home caught fire and overnight turned to ashes. Violy, who then had been responding well to chemotherapy, had another battle to conquer.

"The reason my mom died was not because of cancer. It was because our house burned down. She was undergoing treatment. The doctor said she would have a maximum of four months to live, but as we went through treatment, her life prolonged. Four months became one year. After one year, our house burned down. That was the reason my mom got very sick," Robin shared.  

Despite the snowball of misfortunes, Robin held on to hope and showed nothing but strength to his ailing mother. With a younger sister who died at age 4 (Robin was 7 then) and a mostly absent father, it was Robin and his mom against the world. "Day 1, when I found out my mom was sick, immediately it was stage 4. There was no support group. I was the only one. I was the only son, and I didn't have my father with me. So whenever I looked at my mom, I needed to be strong," he confessed.

The months that followed saw the inseparable mother and son battle cancer and start over together, until one day when Robin was left to pick up the pieces on his own. In September 2016, Violy passed on.

Onwards and Upwards

During those times of adversity, Robin also looked inward and evaluated his life. Perhaps the imminence of death, yours or a loved one's, can do that. "The main reason I joined LoveYourself was because of my mom. When my mom got sick, I just felt like I had to do something more than what I was doing."

Robin's mother passed away shortly after he joined LoveYourself in June 2016. And while his rock and number one supporter was no longer with him, Robin found a new family that made the rough roads a little easier to navigate.

"LoveYourself became my support group. I never really thought joining LoveYourself would help me go through the things I've been through... I cannot express how the organization has helped me. Even Vinn and Chris (LoveYourself founding members), everyone, they went to the wake. I was very new to the organization. I didn't really know anyone, just my batch mates. I was overwhelmed by the support. I never thought they'll be my family."

He added, "During those two years of my mom's illness and medication, there was no chance for me to cry in front of my mom. The only time I cried was when I had a support group, which was LoveYourself."

It wasn't just a community that Robin found in LoveYourself. Through the organization, he also met his partner, Francis. "Before my mom died, Francis and I became a couple, so my mom met Francis," he shared. Since then, Robin and Francis have become partners in life as well as in the advocacy.

All that support and love helped Robin start not just healing his wounds but also rebuilding the house he and his mother lost. After toiling away for two years, the house is now finished and waiting to become a home. He said, “My mom was there when we were rebuilding it. But when my mom died, I stopped for three to four months because I didn't know how to start. I thought, ‘There’s no purpose. Why will I build this? For whom?’ But being with my partner now makes it a lot easier because it has a purpose. Joining LoveYourself also gave me purpose in living."   

Life at LoveYourself

Robin serves as the Head of Program in LoveYourself's Events Committee. "LoveYourself is my avenue. Doing events makes me happy because it makes me more productive. It makes me more significant."

An experienced choreographer, Robin used his keen attention to detail and knack for planning when he started out as a coordinator. Soon enough, he learned the ins and outs of events management. He remarked, "Doing events is really hard. The expectation of the organization is high, but I don't look at it as a challenge because it makes me happy when I do those things."

His readiness to take on bigger responsibilities was tested as he spearheaded LoveYourself's 2018 Summer Camp, an out-of-town gathering of volunteers to foster camaraderie and increase volunteer engagement, last April. Robin had to jump through hoops and hurdles to make the logistically demanding event happen. He recounted, "Two weeks before the event, I was still thinking if we should push through because there were only 20 people who signed up. We were targeting 70, and that's a lot.”

But Robin pushed on and arranged, along with his team, the transportation, accommodation, food, and materials needed for the event. He tapped volunteers to spread the word despite several challenges, like people’s conflicting schedules and budget constraints. With much hard work, however, his team pushed the numbers up to 65 attendees. “It was fun. I can say it was successful because of the number of people who joined. I think I accomplished all I had to accomplish."

Needless to say, the event turned out to be a huge success, and once again, Robin was reminded of why Events is a critical arm in any organization. "As Events, I think the main purpose of this committee is to develop camaraderie and volunteer engagement because, just like Vinn said, every volunteer is the heart of the organization."

Robin is also an HIV counselor and aspires to be a life coach in the future. "When I joined LoveYourself, I didn't take any trainings because my mom died, so I thought I wasn't mentally and emotionally prepared for handling clients. It took one year for me to decide to take the training for counselors.”

His very first client turned out to be reactive for HIV, and Robin used the strength and compassion he learned from his experiences to handle the situation. He continued, "I was already emotionally ready for that because I already had my past behind me, but it brought back some emotions. It was really hard, but you need to be strong for them. I think I already had that because my mom taught me to be strong, so I already had this kind of attitude: 'Let's face the reality. Let's move on. Let's have treatment.'"

Life's Takeaways, So Far

It has been a rough few years for Robin, yes, but they are not without their victories and life lessons. Fresh from celebrating two years in the HIV advocacy, he has a few thoughts to share with current and future volunteers.

"I think, when joining an organization, you should already have certain qualities, like being friendly. I think one of the things that makes me who I am now is because of the things that happened to me in the past. It's really easy for me to connect with other people's lives. If you have this growing up, it will be easy for your to join an organization because a simple smile can brighten up a day." He added, "You need to be sensitive if a person has been going through a lot of things. I think you need to be sensitive for you to be able to become an efficient volunteer."

Another thing he stresses is staying true to your reason for joining the advocacy. He explained, "Always look back at the reason why you joined. Eventually, time will pass and you may forget the organization because you have a lot of things to do. Then one day, someone will go to you and tell you they are HIV-positive or they're going through this kind of illness, and then you go back to your organization and think of  the main reason you joined. I think it will bring back the fire. So just always look back on the first day, the reason why you joined."

Above all else, Robin lives every day following his mom's advice: "Always be strong, not for yourself but for the people around you." His strength, resilience, and compassion has brought him this far and will surely bring him further.

He concluded by sharing, "I'm still not completely over my mom's passing. I still have this thinking: 'What is all this for?' But whenever I go back to everything we shared--because it was always just me and her--I believe she already planned all the things that will happen to my life so that when a difficult time comes, I'll be ready to face anything. I'm ready to face anyone and anything, not only for myself but also for all the people who surround me and need my help.

"I feel like I was born not for my mom but for all the people who need my help because I can say that I'm really strong - in terms of pain, in terms of rejection, in terms of anything."
Jean is an experienced digital content creator and marketer with special interest in lifestyle and technology. She volunteers for local nonprofits during her free time.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Safe, Satisfying, and Longer Lasting Sex

By Ronald Bugarin
Everyone longs for something that lasts.  May it be for our own personal career growth, romantic relationships or even sex, we always yearn for longevity that can stand the test of time.  At the same time, we want to experience also that feeling of elation which pushes us to the point of no return.

Sex should always be a healthy outlet for our deepest longings and desires for another person, especially for a male-to male interaction. It can come in different forms or methods, depending on your preference, taste and more importantly, sense of safety. For sex with relatively low risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission, frottage (dry humping) or mutual masturbation is an option to satisfy each other's need for release. You can also use sex toys which are safe and offers a different modality of sensation. But for those who desire to fully share each other’s heat through penetrative sex, it is best to follow this age old adage: “Wrap it before you tap it!”

Condoms provide effective first line of defense for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) including HIV.  When used correctly and consistently along with water based lubricants, condoms don't only ensure safety, they also prolong your connection during play time. Despite that, the 2015 Integrated HIV Behavorial and Serologic Surveillance of the Department of Health - Epidemiology Bureau, 21% of the respondents say they do not like condoms and 10% deems it not necessary. The challenge for us is to provide innovative options that would encourage everyone to use condoms with water-based lubricants.

Why Stop at 3?

Since condoms need to be changed every 15 to 20 minutes, it is essential to have enough supply on hand for uninterrupted sex. Conventional packaging of condoms currently in the market are in packs of three which may not be enough for pounding all night. Nothing takes the momentum out of sex than having to stop mid-thrust to get another pack of condoms. So don’t settle for just three!

Currently, the only brand in the market that offers four premium condoms in one pack is Bliss Four. Even with more it serves almost the same price as a three-piece box of condoms. It comes in two variants: Extra Thin for that barely there feeling, and Ribbed and Dotted to drive your partners to new heights during each thrust.

Intense Pleasures

Lubricants are used to lessen harmful friction that may damage the condom as well as to keep the anal wall lubricated for intense pleasure during hard pounding for that extra layer of protection. With BLISS Pleasure Enhancing Lubricants, more intense sensations are delivered for explosive sex that would make you oblivious to everything else.  BLISS is water-based, condom friendly and its handy packaging in sachets makes it convenient and discreet to use.

BLISS Pleasure Enhancing Lubricants comes in four different variants to suit your every sexual need:

  • Classic for that no-fuss water-based lube;
  • Ice, menthol flavored with a cool and tingling sensation upon contact;
  • Fire, cinnamon flavored to bring intense heat in every pump;
  • Glide Premium, pleasure in a bottle. it’s water-based lube designed to feel slicker, and to last longer than ordinary water-based lubricants.

All variants are water-based, edible and pH-balanced to prevent bacterial or fungal growth on your tender parts.

So what are you waiting for? Join the Revolution to a safe, satisfying and longer lasting sex!  #WhyStopAt3!

Condom Use 101

It is important to note some tips on the correct use of condom to ensure the blissful sexual revolution:

Check the labels.  Always check the labels for the expiry date, similar to food and medicine labeling..

Remove Tiny bubbles in the condom.  Air bubbles in the condom tend to tear the condom during intense sexual action.  To prevent this, squeeze the tip of the condom to release air bubbles.

Slippery when wet.  Since condoms are made of latex, it is essential to use water-based or silicone-based lubricants to avoid friction during those blissful moments which can easily tear the condom.

Change it up.  Although condoms are durable enough to withstand long hours of thrusting, it is best to change it every 15 to 20 minutes to avoid tearing or damage.

Bliss Four and Bliss Pleasure Enhancing Lubricants are available at all branches of 7-Eleven, Circle K, Lawson, Watsons, PCX, Family Mart and All Day Convenience Store.  You may also order online at Shopee Philippines and Lazada.

Illustrations by TJ Gellada Monzon
Images by Bliss
Ron is a true blooded Banker who does events and hosting on the side. He has volunteered at LoveYourself because of his former partner was diagnosed as PLHIV