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The Femme-Pire Strikes Back: The Filipino Queer Revolution Is Here and It's Louder Than Ever

by Em Enriquez | Jun 9, 2023

Since time immemorial, Filipina transgender women and femme non-binary individuals have been at the forefront of the battle for equal rights. In this perpetual struggle, one thing is clear: The movement did not come this far just to come this far!

The earliest version of the SOGIE Equality Bill can be traced back to the year 2000. The first Senate iteration of the bill, spearheaded by Sen. Risa Hontiveros, was filed in 2016 but has only continued to languish until this very day. 

More than two decades since it was first put in writing, no formal measures have been taken to prohibit discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Conservative parties have been at the helm of halting the bill from coming to fruition, claiming how it can compromise religious beliefs and so-called family values.

The bill seeks to protect all Filipinos of all backgrounds, regardless of how they identify or act, but it’s become painfully apparent how it’s become a matter of survival for the LGBTQIA+ community. For a country where queerness is a pillar of media and culture, the community has been begging for crumbs when it comes to political and legal recognition.


No one understands this agony more than transgender women and femme non-binary individuals. Over the past couple of years, these people have been the constant targets of hate-driven crimes within and beyond the country. From accounts of getting misgendered to reports of gruesome murders, there has been an apparent effort to eradicate them from society.

And yet, these ladies continue to stand tall at the forefront of a fight that’s yet to be won. Now more than ever, Pride Month has signified more than just a celebration of one’s individuality. There’s become a need for it to evolve into a movement, one that takes the community’s experiences of inequality and hatred and transforms them into hope and willpower to keep the revolution alive. In an age where the once-silenced voices have finally been amplified, the resounding sentiment is clear: The trans-Pinay has always been here, and she’s not going anywhere.

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Alexa Dignos, Barbie Q, Cheetah Rivera, Deo Cabrera, EJ Jallorina, EJ Nacion, Fuschia Ravena, Gaiapoly, Iyah Mina, Jade So, Janlee Dungca, Justine Llarena, Kaladkaren, Mav Bernardo, Mela Habijan, Pao Mendoza, Pipay, Rod Singh, and Sassa Gurl for Preview June 2023

The cover stars wear pieces by local designers Marlon Tuazon, Farah Abu, House of Enchante, Piesa, Dennis Lustico, Rags 2 Riches, Happy Andrada, Sebastian and Savannah, Tipay Caintic, Rhett Eala, Manny Halasan, Mjorian, Alchemista, Mirro Beads, Hannah Adrias, Strut, House of Laurel, HA.MU., Glorious Dias, LSW, and Randolf Clothing


Woman of Her Word

Unlike the word “gay, the word “transgender” does not have a widely-known direct translation in Filipino. Many trans kids grow up not knowing their identities simply because they’re unaware of the term itself. They come of age just knowing they’re “different.”

For people like Janlee Dungca, simply learning the word was a crucial step towards acknowledging her true self. Upon taking a gender psychology class in her senior year of college, the CASTRO Communications director realized how she was not just a gay person who was acting “pa-girl.” It’s a similar case for stylist Pao Mendoza, who attributes most of her gender confusion to the lack of trans representation in the media. “I [felt] very weird na, why do I feel different? I [didn’t] feel like [I was just] gay,” she recalls. 

It was thanks to the transwomen who came before them that they got to actualize their girlhood. Pao had openly trans friends who introduced her to hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) pills that made her more comfortable with herself. She says that she felt “really at home in [her] body” after taking her first set of pills. That’s not to say, however, that taking medication or undergoing surgeries is a requirement for any transgender person. “Trans people don’t need to do anything to be trans,” Janlee puts it.


Other people discover their womanhood through the things that interest them. Drag artist Jade So vividly remembers holding up a doll when she was younger and immediately seeing what she wanted to become. Being withheld from those toys only heightened her yearning to become the “baddest esoteric Bratz doll” she is today. “I'm the doll herself. Babae na talaga. I never felt like a man,” declares Jade. 


(From L-R) ON EJ JALLORINA: Republic Halter Top, P750, HELLO HABI,; Skirt, GLORIOUS DIAS

ON GAIAPOLY: Tinagba Dress in Blue, P12,500, TAGPIFlower Necklace, P2500, MIRROBEADS

ON KALADKAREN: Dress, GLORIOUS DIAS; Choker (worn as headband), HELLO HABI,

ON JUSTINE: Dalisay Dress in Red, P9500, TAGPI

ON PIPAY: Dress, STRUT; Rigel Multi-way Corset Top (used as overlay), P1450, HELLO HABI,

ON DEODalisay Dress in Black, P9500, TAGPI

ON CHEETAH: H07 Halter Top in Brown, P5000, SYNOPSIIIS; The Cali Shorts, P850, STRUT; Buslo Micro Checkerboard in Red and Fuschia, P2350, RAGS2RICHES,; Sagala Pump, P17,490, JOS MUNDO,

Queer people in general seek to reclaim the experiences they were once hindered from, and for transwomen, these things can become avenues to discovering their authentic selves. A prime example of this is the fashion scene, which one can argue is dominated by LGBTQIA+ professionals. Designer Cheetah Rivera, for one, started out by playing dress-up with blankets and bed sheets. This pastime eventually led her to the industry, which she says has always been something queer people look at with idealistic eyes. She explains, “It’s part of our culture. We were exposed to barangay contests where you saw girls wearing beautifully crafted dresses. LGBTQIA+ people want anything that’s beautiful and that brings color to our lives."


Clothing has no gender, but its capability to affirm one’s womanhood can’t be denied in a world that still relies on them to connote identity. Pipay knows this well. The social media star attests that the clothes she puts on her back are a direct reflection of who she is and what she feels. “Ang confidence ay nandoon,” she exclaims. “Ang damit, parang may character na [nagpapa-feel sa’yo na] ito talaga yung identity mo. Dito ka sobrang comfortable. Ang laking factor ng damit.”

Back-to-back Preview Pride cover star Sassa Gurl has gained an enlightened perspective on her transness. As one of the main purveyors of “kanal culture” in mainstream media, it’s become some sort of mission for her to spotlight the stories of people who are seen as minorities, trans women like her included. While there was a time that Sassa was ashamed of being “kanal—Who wants to be economically poor their whole lives?—she’s acknowledged how much her upbringing contributed to who she is now. 


Importante na ma-recognize ang laylayan. Kasi may kultura rin doon at ang kultura roon ay sobrang laki, sobrang lawak, sobrang siksik, [pero] hindi yun napapakita sa mainstream media,” she says. “Ako bilang isang baklang kanal, I aspire na maging mayaman. Ayoko maging mahirap forever. Pero gusto ko ipakita sa mga tao na hindi rin masamang maging kanal kasi yun yung kultura na kilalakihan mo at importante na nare-recognize mo yun.”

The Big Bang of TikTokers during the height of the pandemic became Sassa’s gateway to bringing the peripheries she came from to the forefront. We’ve all probably met her and her fictional schoolmates by now thanks to her video skits. She expresses that the prevalence of female characters is actually a representation of her blossoming womanhood. “I see myself as a woman kaya maraming mga babae sa mga TikTok ko,” she says.


(From L-R) ON PIPAYDress, STRUT; Rigel Multi-way Corset Top (used as overlay), P1450, HELLO HABI,

ON JADEBailey Cami and Mini Skirt in Morning Skies, $69, BLACKBOUGH SWIM


ON CHEETAH: Atis Corset, P5150, JOS MUNDO, 

ON FUSCHIA: Superstar Halter, P1150, HELLO HABI,; Navy Linen Pants, HANNAH ADRIAS

Gender, as we’ve come to learn, is nothing but a social construct used to assign cultural contexts based on one’s sex at birth. In other words, it’s a frame of thought we can do without, but we cling onto it for a semblance of order. Sassa defies the need for it, declaring that, for her, at least, “womanhood is spiritual.” She illustrates her point, sharing: “Kapag namatay ako, kapag nawala yung katawan na ‘to, babae pa din ako. Hindi ko na nakikita yung point na mag-transition [physically] kasi, in the end, pag namatay ako, yung silicon hindi ko naman madadala sa langit, diba? Pero babae pa din yung kaluluwa ko.”


What’s been made apparent in these circumstances is how most queer people, kids especially, have to find their own ways to discover themselves, especially in a world that doesn’t fully accept identities outside of the binary. Every human being on the planet has their own individual SOGIE, and learning about them could only bear enlightenment for those still figuring themselves out. Janlee says it perfectly: “That's why education about SOGIE is very important because once you hear a term that resonates with you, it brings you a more solid identity. It brings you closer to who you truly are.”

The Lady in Dignity

However, coming to terms with one’s transness is a different story from living it out for the world to see. The Philippines, as much as it fronts itself as an LGBTQIA+-friendly country, is actually far from being a safe place for transgender women and femme non-binary individuals.


Style TikToker Deo Cabrera recalls instances where insults like “salot,” “kadiri,” or “ang sakit sa mata” were thrown her way when she would simply wear a dress to school. She considers herself lucky that her university never stopped her from dressing the way she wants to, and at this point, she’s grown immune to any bashing done online. But the fear of physical assault still affects her on her daily commutes. “Palaging [may] fear ng physical attacks, na baka masapak ako. Parang existent talaga siya sa society natin na merong mga queer individuals na na-attack physically.”

This fear was something drag queen Barbie Q highlighted on the main stage of Drag Den Philippines. In an episode centered around the advocacies close to the contestants’ hearts, Barbie spoke on the prevalent issue of trans women being killed. “Natatakot ako makipag-kaibigan kapag may nababalitaan akong gano’n. Parang wala na akong tiwala. Nagkakaroon ako ng trust issues. Feeling ko, papapatayin ako,” she candidly opens up to Preview.


It makes you sick in the stomach when you realize how frequently we hear of these crimes. More often than not, these cases are driven by prejudice that’s rooted in the misconception that trans and non-binary people are “tricking” or “fooling” those around them. When in fact, these individuals are simply just living their truth like any other person seeks to do. 

Model Justine Llarena emphasizes this point when it comes to dating. “We’re not here to fool you. We’re just living [as] ourselves,” she states. Alexa Dignos, a resident DJ at queer safe space The Elephant Party, claims that “most Filipinos aren't ready to admit to themselves that they're attracted to trans women. Dating a transwoman [publicly] might [make them feel unsafe or judged]. Femininity here is [viewed as] being weak.”



 ON PAO: Angel String Triangle Top in Surfer Girl ‘94, $60, BLACKBOUGH SWIM; Knit Briefs in Orange, ROD MALANAO; Feather Boa, GLORIOUS DIAS

 ON IYAHKiara Mini Mesh Dress in Young Love, $65, BLACKBOUGH SWIM; Earrings, FARAH ABU; Sunglasses, SUNNIES STUDIOS

 ON ALEXA: Christy Dress in Scuba Blue Jacquard, $55, BLACKBOUGH SWIM; Pearl Necklace, MIRROBEADS

 ON EJ NACION: Muscle Tank in Birthday Cake, $30, BLACKBOUGH SWIM; Flower Necklace, P2500, MIRROBEADS

It’s a mix of terror, sadness, and fury when these ladies hear news of people like them becoming victims of these crimes. “Lahat naman tayo may karapatan sa buhay, no matter what race or what sexuality you have. It's our right to live, ba't kailangan pumatay?” Justine frustratedly asks. 

Film and TV director Rod Singh points out a poignant aspect of media reportage on these scenarios. She explains: “The way [the media] represented trans people as subjects of ridicule [or] as victims of murder [shaped] the way [audiences] perceive them. At one point, it contributed to [the hostility] ng environment for us kasi everybody [started to think that] it's normal.” Ultimately, this creates a chamber of despair for queer individuals, the youth especially, who are made to believe that there’s no happy ending in this world for them. “What happens after [sila mabugbog]? Do they get justice? Or do they just get killed? Walang assertion na mali ito which is very, very important,” she adds.


With this in mind, Direk Rod highlights the importance of telling trans stories from the perspective of someone who’s gone through the experiences themselves. “They say representation matters. But I think, as a filmmaker, [it also applies] behind the camera [with] those na may power to portray [trans people]. Sila yung best people to talk about someone's lived experience,” she shares. One of Rod’s most acclaimed works is Mamu; And a Mother Too, which starred comedienne Iyah Mina. Everything from the script down to the lighting was fine-tuned to authentically highlight the trans-ness encoded in the film. Iyah eventually went on to win Best Actress at the CinemaOne Originals Film Festival for her performance as the namesake character, becoming the first transgender woman to win such an award.

Mamu presents itself as only one example of how trans stories are best told by trans voices. As the entertainment scene strives to be more inclusive, it’s become vital that these narratives are brought to life by actors who can embody the contexts of the characters. “Challenge din yung pagkapanalo ko ng Best Actress,” Iyah shares, pointing out the question of longevity after her victory. “Mahirap kasi siyempre nasimulan mo na pero pinaglaban at pinaglalaban pa rin.”


Having been in the biz since she was in Goin’ Bulilit, Iyah’s co-star EJ Jallorina has portrayed many versions of queer people on-screen. While she recognizes the real-life basis of the “gay best friend” archetype, she’s also grown to be enlightened about what other roles people like her can have. “There's more to queer stories and trans stories than [being] the gay best friend. Bilang galing ako sa comedy, I know that stereotypes exist,” says EJ, “I think [there’s a] the privilege of working with queer people that actually see the bigger potential of queer characters pagdating sa storytelling.”


(From L-R) ON RODTie Top in Orange and Tie Top in Mint, ROD MALANAO; Cut-out Jeans, RANDOLF; Earrings, PIESA; Feather Boa, GLORIOUS DIAS

ON SASSA: Cerise Leotard with Asymmetrical Holes, CHRIS DIAZ; The Lili in Beige, P550, STRUT,

In recent news, Kaladkaren became living proof that no one plays a queer role better than a queer person. After making history as the first trans woman to win Best Actress at the Summer Metro Manila Film Festival, it’s her greatest hope that more people can walk into the door she busted open.

The “One-Woman Wonder” cites how opportunities have slowly come in for her and her fellow trans actors, and even with how difficult it is to penetrate the film industry, it’s not impossible to take part in it. “I hope mas marami pang mga taong katulad ko ang mabigyan ng opportunity to shine, to win in our industry. ‘Pag nangyari yun, ang pagiging transgender person ay hindi na iindahin ng mga tao. [We’ll be seen as] just like them because we are just like them in the first place,” she expresses.


Many things have been attached to the trans narrative over time, but what’s remained constant is the joy that persists amidst the pain. For someone like EJ who grew up not befriending anyone who was like her, just being in the presence of other trans people is already fulfilling. She shares that, “the more you see trans people, the loneliness kind of lessens. I think seeing people that you can relate to, even in the most minute detail, gives you a certain kind of hope that tomorrow that loneliness can be lessened.”

And that, perhaps, is (or, at least, should be) the thesis of any form of queer media. Representation matters not only because it provides a platform for the disenfranchised, but also because it provides a sense of belonging to its audiences. It has the power to change perceptions, or as EJ puts it, “it takes away the idea that I'm just a token queer person. It reinforces the idea that the community can have its own spotlight.”


Girls Aloud

But there are no laurels to be rested on yet. The LGBTQIA+ revolution has come a long way, but there’s still an immense amount of work to be done before we can say that the community is genuinely accepted in this country. Something the Philippines is evidently lacking is a formal law that protects our citizens and their right to express themselves no matter their SOGIE. Queer frustration is real. What’s taking so long? 

Speaking as a content creator who amassed a following mostly of her fellow Gen Z folk, Gaiapoly asks, “Parang napaka-weird [na kwinikwestiyon] yung batas na makakaprotekta sa lahat? Parang hindi siya questionable in the first place.”

Gaiapoly adds that resistance to the idea of SOGIE equality is what hinders the bill from manifesting into lawa point content creator and activist Mela Habijan echoes. “If LGBTQIA+ people are recognized here in the Philippines, there should be a law to protect everyone from discrimination. Why don't we have policies addressing discrimination against any type of person with regard to their gender? If our religious sector values the principle of their faith, which is love, then the mindset will be different,” she explains.


Operating on the principle of love, as subjective as it may be, certainly bears its merits. Queer joy exists just as much as queer people do themselves. Just look at our reigning Miss International Queen Fuschia Ravena, who’s an embodiment of the good things fully embracing your child can lead to. While life at home wasn’t always as rosy, influencer EJ Nacion was also given the chance to bloom thanks to the support system she found in her mom and friends.


(From L-R) ON JUSTINE: H09 Halter in White, P5000, SYNOPSIIIS

 ON EJ JALLORINA: Skirt (worn as dress), HOUSE OF LAUREL 

 ON FUSCHIAEmma Frilled Triangle Top in Darling Pointelle, $60, BLACKBOUGH SWIM; Emma Frilled Modest Bottoms in Darling Pointelle, $50, BLACKBOUGH SWIM


What this exhibits is that the battle for equality can not be won by the community alone. True and genuine allyship is needed in order for it to triumph. “Being an ally is a responsibility. You don't just join a Pride March and call yourself an ally,” Janlee states, “It should be an act. It should be active. It should not be performative. Being a true ally entails doing something to really protect the community.” 

Where this could start, according to Kaladkaren, is properly educating oneself about the struggles of one’s LGBTQIA+ peers. “Bakit ba may discrimination? Why are we crying to have equal rights? The movement itself should be understood by people outside the community,” says the actress. 


Aside from learning about queer struggles, Rod thinks that there are things that need to be unlearned by society. The world we grew up in was made to favor cisgender and heteronormative standards, which discriminates against those who go against the grain. One example she points out is how there’s a preconceived notion as to what a trans woman should look like. 

Kailangan nilang i-unlearn yung idea na merong tunay na babae at merong hindi. I-unlearn nila yun para matutunan nila irespeto yung mga trans. Kasi kaya nila hindi gini-give yung gan’ong respect sa mga trans kasi ang alam nila, hindi kami tunay na babae.

With that said, Rod emphasizes that there is still a long, long way to go. “Kung ang [akala] ng mga [susunod] na henerasyon ay wala ng problema, hindi na tayo magpro-progress. Kailangan maramdaman nila na may problema pa rin tayo, kailangan nilang i-unlearn yung idea na ito na yun. Malayo na pero malayo pa rin.” The movement did not come this far just to come this far, after all.



 ON ALEXACouture Dress, RAJO LAUREL; Earrings, FARAH ABU



 ON MAV: Top and Skirt, CHRIS DIAZ; Earrings, FARAH ABU


The liberation the LGBTQIA+ community yearns for entails a conscious effort to move forward as one. There is strength in numbers. And while the matriarchs of our movement may not see things come to fruition in their lifetime, they put it up to their successors to harvest the fruits of their labor. “I'm more hopeful because the Gen Zs now know what their identities can bring. They're empowered, they discuss things, and they live it,” Mela declares with confidence. 

“I'm not worried because we have taken the steps. Thanks to the people who came before us, and thanks to the younger generations who understand the fight as young as they are. It means a lot to make stuff like this happen.”

In Article III, Section 1 of The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines, it reads:

“No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.”


It’s with a great amount of hope that one day, no transgender woman or femme non-binary individual is deprived of their liberties because of who they authentically are. The fight continues, and each day, more people are joining the ranks. The LGBTQIA+ revolution has gotten bigger, louder, and stronger, so much so that it’s become impossible to ignore. If history has taught us anything, it’s that when one of us is pulled down, the femme-pire will always strike back. 

Produced by The Preview Editors

Photographed by Cenon Norial III and Mav Bernardo

Art Direction by Bacs Arcebal

Styling Team: Marj Ramos-Clemente, Reg Rodriguez, Nicole Cruz, and Isha Fojas

Makeup by Gery Penaso, Lei Ponce, Japeth Mike Purog, Jay Salcedo, Carell Garcia, Janica Cleto, and Bryan Cuizon of MAC Philippines

Hairstyling by Lourd Ramos, MJ Agaton, Donald Lopez, Jeff Valenzuela, Nora Wikas, Melvinn Deinla, and Ken Jayan of TRESemmé Philippines


Nails by Nailandia

Set and Production Design by Rocketsets

Sittings Editor: Marj Ramos-Clemente

Assisted by Katrina Maisie Cabral and Jamie Lou Briones

Videos by Yeyen Espineda and Jana Jodloman

Words by Em Enriquez

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