Growing up, trans woman Ali Macalintal never wanted to do what boys her age did. “Nasa puso ko na talaga na ako ay isang nagbababae (In my heart, I always identified with being a girl),” she said. And then she started having boy crushes, and it made her further realize that, yes, she is part of the LGBTQIA community.
The big “challenge” for Ali even then was her belonging to the Maguindanao ethnic group of people in southern Philippines, which is part of the wider Moro ethnic group. And being LGBTQIA is – generally speaking – still condemned in Islam (a “great sin”).
The now 32-year-old Ali remembered one time, during Ramadan (a holy month of fasting, introspection and prayer for Muslims), when she was asked by her father what she wanted to be. “I sort of knew what he was asking; but I wasn’t ready to give him an answer,” she recalled.
Knowing she couldn’t lie, she said: “I want to be a lawyer.”
But her father was adamant, asking her directly if “gusto mo magka-GF o BF (if I wanted to have a girlfriend or a boyfriend)?”
With tears in her eyes, Ali told her father that she wanted to have a BF. Her father embraced her, to her surprise, and he told her: “Alam mo na kung and ang gusto mo at sino ka. Dahil kung hindi mo matanggap kung sino ka, mahihirapan ka (Now you know who and what you are. Because if you can’t accept yourself, you will have a hard time).”
But not everyone is as lucky as Ali, and she recognizes this. In fact, she knows the “double discrimination” encountered by Muslims who are also LGBTQIA – i.e. you get discriminated for being a Muslim, and then you get discriminated as LGBTQIA. This does not include (even) further discrimination from within the minority communities one belongs to – e.g. Muslims can discriminate LGBTQIA people; just as LGBTQIA people can also discriminate Muslims.
This recognition of the harshness of life for people like her pushed Ali to become a human rights defender, working for a non-government organization in General Santos City, south of the Philippines.
Ali believes in a holistic approach to the struggle for human rights.
“Mahirap sa LGBTQIA community na kumilos na sila lang (It’s hard for the LGBTQIA community to fight on its own),” she said. “Naniniwala aka sa sama-sama nating pagkilos (I believe in unified struggle).”
This is because, she said, the struggle for social justice of the LGBTQIA community is no different from the struggle of other minority sectors – e.g. Indigenous Peoples, women, youth, persons with disability, seniors, Muslims, et cetera.
“We will succeed only if the effort is multi-sectoral,” she said. Particularly addressing other transgender Muslims (and Lumads/Indigenous People), Ali said that – to begin – one needs to find oneself and then find pride in that.
“Remember that whatever we are, whatever our gender identity may be, we need to be open to accept ourselves,” she said. With self-acceptance, she said, it is easier to push others to accept “our identity also as children of God, of Allah.”