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Andrea finds her groove

What is it like to be trans in General Santos City in southern Philippines? Local trans leader Andrea Faith Mahiwaga shares how going mainstream actually helped her push for LGBTQIA human rights.

Even as a kid, Andrea Faith Mahiwaga always knew she was “different”. The 30-year-old trans woman from General Santos City in southern Philippines recalled preferring to dress up using her mother’s bra and “kumot (blanket)” that she turned into a flowing dress. So – in a way – even as early as then, she “sort of” already knew she was a woman even if she was assigned male at birth.

At first, Andrea said she was “gay lang (a gay man).” But “na-feel ko, babae ako (I identified more as a woman).” So when she finished high school, she started identifying as a trans woman.

She was somewhat lucky since most of her family accepted – and even supported – her, including her mother and siblings. When she was “at that stage when I liked joining beauty pageants,” Andrea recalled, “my brother was my loudest cheerleader; and my sisters lent me their clothes.”

It was only her father who had misgivings, even if – in hindsight – Andrea said that it must have been because of his worry for her. And this was somewhat grounded in truth, according to Andrea. One time, for example, while walking in the plaza right in front of the city hall of General Santos, she remembered being verbally harassed. “Young men shouted at me,” she recalled, “saying: ‘Here comes a walking source of money.’”

This mockery is based on the false belief that members of the LGBTQIA community only deserve to be given attention if they “pay” for it – e.g. heterosexual-identifying men will only pay attention/have sex with gay/bi men or trans women if they pay for the “favor”.

Andrea said that – particularly in the past – “we just had to bear the taunting” because of the absence of legal protection for LGBTQIA people.

This is why Andrea believes in the relevance of having a law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQIA people.

Fortunately for LGBTQIA people in General Santos City, there is actually already an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) that mandates their non-discrimination while in the city. So “na-enjoy na namin ngayon ang maging LGBTQIA (we can now enjoy being LGBTQIA),” Andrea said.

May batas para pangalagaan ang environment. May batas para pangalagaan ang hayop (We have laws protecting the environment. We have laws protecting animals),” she said. So “why can’t we have a law to protect the human rights of LGBTQIA people?” For her, having a law gives “essence” to the struggle for human rights; that “LGBTQIA rights are also human rights.”

Andrea now works with the government, as an assistant administrator in Barangay Calumpang and in education monitoring by supervising day care workers in the barangay.

In a way, too, all her life, Andrea has been proving that she is more than a member of the LGBTQIA community, that she isn’t just doing things because she just wants to have sex with men. To her father, for instance, she had to prove that she can be “successful” even as a trans woman. And even now in her work, she continuously has to prove that she’s not there just to “biga-biga (a local term used to refer to people who are only looking for sexual partners, so that even if they do tasks, it is only to allow them to get sexual favors from doing these tasks – Ed).” Andrea, therefore, has to always police her own actions, so that “wala naman aka bastos na pinapakita (I don’t show them anything that isn’t socially acceptable).”

For Andrea, though, “kung pursigido ka sa life, yun ang nag-ma-matter (if you work hard in life, that’s what matters).”

She also tries to inject some LGBTQIA-related teaching in her job – e.g. when asked to speak to schools, she would tell people about her struggles as a trans woman; and how others can help make sure that other LGBTQIA people do not experience the same because of discrimination.

Andrea also handles Trans GenSan Organization, a community-based organization advocating for trans rights in General Santos City.

In the end, “huwag tayong matakot ipakita kung ano tayo (we shouldn’t be afraid to show who we really are),” Andrea said. “Just be who you are.”

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