In the last few years, significant strides have been made toward inclusivity and diversity such that the LGBTQ representation is now ubiquitous, with mainstream media and retail brands helping break down the misconceptions about sexuality and gender identity.
Haircare brand Pantene Philippines recently expressed its solidarity with the LGBTQ audience through an ad that sends off a heart-stirring message of inclusivity, acceptance, compassion, and empowerment. Starring Kevin Balot, Miss International Queen 2012 and one of the Philippines’ most visible transgender women, the ad is part of the brand’s #StrongerNow campaign, a movement that celebrates the strength and resilience of women from all walks of life, each bearing a story of transformation and triumph. The tear-jerking video was released in time for Transgender Awareness Week and has since gone viral, with netizens—gay and non-gay alike—praising its sensitive approach in shedding light on the struggles and challenges the LGBTQ face.
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We asked Balot, who calls herself “The Girl Named Kevin,” to shed light on her coming-of-age story—battling with self-doubt, dealing with criticism, and struggling for acceptance—which resonates with many LGBTQ individuals out there.
A child that was different
Childhood was a confusing time for the iconic transgender figure. She loved playing with her dolls, was obsessed with beauty pageants, and would rather dance on stage than play sports with boys her age. Balot was in fourth grade when she first perceived that she was different. “Our teacher asked us to do some projects regarding our favorite icons. Tapos inilagay ko si Miriam Quiambao.” She would also identify more with women on TV. “Ginagaya ko yung mga girls na sumasayaw ng Tahitian dance. And I would always volunteer to join school programs. Tuwang tuwa lang ako pag sumasayaw ako.” Eventually, acting and performing became a form of escapism as Balot struggled to find her identity.
It only became harder as she approached adolescence. She would come home crying to her mother and her elder sister, who suspected early on that Balot associated with a gender not in line with his birth assignation. “But wala sila maibigay na advice because they had no idea what it's like being a man trapped in the wrong body.” Her father’s disapproval was another obstacle to endure. Balot was the only male in a brood of three children and her father had wanted to mold the young transgender girl into the traditionally masculine son he wanted. “Imagine mo nag-iisang lalaki ako na anak tapos gusto ko pa maging babae. So ang hirap sa part ko kung alin pipiliin ko: to make my dad happy or to make myself happy.”
An individual with a purpose
In due course, Balot found empathy and support in the local gay beauty pageant circuit. After graduating from high school, she supported herself by joining these competitions (in addition to working multiple jobs) where she built up her confidence and slowly transformed into the woman she was meant to be. The training and exposure led to Balot joining the Miss International Queen 2012, the world’s most renowned pageant for transgender beauty queens that’s held every year in Pattaya, Thailand. The then 22-year-old Balot would go on to win the crown—the achievement that she is most known for—as well as the chance for a gender reassignment surgery that would allow her to fully transition into a woman.
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Just as important, the crown led Balot's family to finally be proud of her. "Lalo na dad ko. Lagi na nga niya ako ikinukuwento sa mga officemates niya after I won." With everything in place, Kevin says she "became more empowered to encourage other people, especially those in the LGBTQ community, to not be afraid to show what they have and to be proud of who they are."
A woman of strength
The girl named Kevin works tirelessly to bring visibility to the transgender community. Balot looks back on her own experiences to break through stereotypes, criticism, and hate, and to foster empathy for the LGBTQ community as well as all human beings. As Balot points out in the Pantene ad, negative experiences don’t define a person. It’s confidence, determination, and compassion that truly characterize a beautiful soul. “Be good. Be grateful. Be happy,” she says in the video. “Talent, personality, kindness, wit, style—everything beautiful about you has nothing to do with your gender.”
Through Pantene’s #StrongerNow campaign and this momentous ad, which also features 11-year-old Adrian Canlas, 16-year-old Janro Martinez, and 17-year-old Kylie Celebre to represent the possible phases in the coming-of-age journey of a transgender girl, Balot is sparking meaningful conversations and encouraging LGBTQ individuals to unapologetically own every single inch of who they are. “Remember, you are beautiful and unique. You deserve to be heard. Accepted. Loved.” She tells us, “You can’t live your life hiding something, parang patay ka habang buhay ka. When you don’t accept yourself, it affects how you interact with people and your relationships so it’s really important to mind your own happiness and stay true to yourself.”
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Hi loves! I hope you already watched the #StrongerNow Pantene video. . I'm very happy that Pantene is promoting inclusivity and empowering everyone to embrace who they truly are. . If you guys haven't seen it yet, check out the link in my Bio and I want you guys to celebrate your struggles and share your #StrongerNow stories online too! ?“¨ @pantenephilippines