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Free to Be Proud

Let these stories empower you to find love, understanding, and acceptance for yourself and others.

by Fritzie Rodriguez | Jun 30, 2018

The profiles of each of the individuals whose photos appear in this essay are a glimpse of the diversity, beauty, and power of SOGIE.

The Philippines is an inquisitive land, where many of its people feel an absolute need to dip their noses into the affairs of others.

In application forms, for example, it’s rudimentary for government offices, schools, and companies to ask about our gender. Our options are generally limited to female or male—mistaking gender for sex.

Who can blame us for not knowing the difference? Most Filipinos were raised with textbooks quizzing us on how different girls are from boys; and we only ever saw Barbie flirting with Ken and not with other Barbies.


People often label Trisha O'Bannon as bisexual but she prefers the term queer, because it encompasses other aspects of her nature. “I wanted to be more inclusive with my label,” she explains. Click here to read Trisha O'Bannon's story.

Beyond this female/male dichotomy, what else is out there? Growing up in a sleepy town three hours north of Manila, I had no other basis for my identity other than my anatomy. It took me several years to finally live my truth as a lesbian woman.

Today we’re on the verge of a revolution where Filipinos can be proud to be free, and free to be proud.

My generation has been reaping the fruits of gender equality activism from years past. And now it’s our turn at the revolution’s frontlines.

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During her fourth year as a Psychology major, Janlee Dungca took a special one-session class on gender psychology, “that was the first time I learned about being transgender. It was my eureka moment,” said Janlee. “I’m not gay. All this time, I’m a transgender woman, I just didn’t have the knowledge of what being transgender is.” Click here to read about Janlee Dungca's story.


I was 18 the first time I came across the terms sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE). I was a junior in UP Diliman, shy, and deeply confused about my attraction towards certain female friends. In secret, I enrolled in a class called LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) Psychology under Professor Eric Manalastas.

Only then did I understand sex as our assigned sex at birth—whether we’re born with a penis or a vagina, and the chromosomes and hormones that go with it. Some are intersex, they’re born with sex characteristics that aren’t strictly female or male.


Sexual orientation is about who we’re attracted to. Some are attracted to the same sex; some to the opposite; some to both or neither; and for others, it doesn’t really matter.

Gender identity is how we feel or identify ourselves. Someone whose assigned sex at birth is male may identify as a woman (transgender woman). And someone whose assigned sex at birth is female may identify as a man (transgender man).


“If you can’t even see positive representations of the LGBT community onscreen, how do you expect [SOGIE equality] laws to be passed?” says filmmaker Sam Lee. “Given the chance to make something totally of my own, I would obviously veer towards LGBTQ+ subject matters, because that’s the content we lack.” Click here to read about Sam Lee's story.

Meanwhile, a cisgender person is someone whose assigned sex at birth matches their gender identity.

Being transgender doesn’t limit one’s sexual orientation. For example, a transgender woman can still be attracted to women—such as in the case of Angelina Mead King who’s happily in love with wife Joey Mead King.

We express ourselves in numerous ways, through mannerisms, way of dressing, talking, etc.—these behavioral and physical manifestations of our identity is known as gender expression. There are no right or wrong answers, expression varies per individual.


Lastly, the term gender is merely a social construct. These are “socially constructed characteristics or norms of women and men, varying from society to society,” the World Health Organization explains.

As I learned from Eric’s class and in the real world, sexuality can be fluid and the spectrum is wide.

Some people find comfort in labels, especially in knowing that they’re not alone; others prefer not to be confined within categories. We need to respect both.


“I was very reserved before. I was afraid of being called out,” photographer BJ Pascual says about his early days as a young gay man. “At the time, being [masculine] was more acceptable, at least in my mind.” Click here to read about BJ Pascual's story.

The bottom line: Our SOGIE doesn’t solely define us.

We’re so much more than how society views us; we’re capable of many things; we each have our own stories, dreams, and strengths. We are our own person, deserving a life of dignity, openness, and love.

In the Philippines, however, heteronormative views on SOGIE continue to dominate—pushing the LGBTQ+ community into the margins. But together, we’re pushing back and we’re loudly and proudly claiming our SOGIE and our rights.


“On social media, 60 to 70% of the questions I get are from curious young people," shared Jesi Corcuera, a transgender man. "Some are asking the wrong questions, they focus on paano (how). What I want them to understand is that each letter in LGBT, ‘di namin ‘yun pinili, kusa namin ‘yun naramdaman (it’s not a choice, we felt it naturally),” he explained. Click here to read about Jesi Corcuera's story.

Embrace, Empower

Thinking about your SOGIE might feel awkward, weird, or confusing. Fear not; these thoughts are only normal.

At six, I was crushing on my best friend, who happened to be a girl. The girl crushes continued as the boy crushes lessened and lessened, until there was none. At 19, I knew I like girls, only girls. At 25, my journey is far from over; I’m still learning from and fighting for my community.

Cliché as it may sound, embracing my SOGIE has changed my life. It helped me find my voice as a writer, my flame as an advocate, and more importantly, love for myself.


Fifth Solomon was the second housemate to reveal themselves as LGBTQ on the reality television show Pinoy Big Brother; the first being BB Gandanghari, who is now a transwoman. Fifth, who had girlfriends in high school but at the time was dating a guy, disclosed on national TV that he was bisexual. Click here to read about Fifth Solomon's story.


Self-acceptance and coming out are two different things. The earlier you do the first one, the easier everything will be. The latter, however, is completely up to you. Nobody should force anybody to come out.

The Philippine LGBTQ+ community has come a long way, from holding Asia’s first ever Pride March in 1994 to influencing public policy and nearing a national SOGIE Equality law in 2018.

Filipinos of diverse SOGIE have been making waves in various fields, while also placing inclusion and equality at the core of whatever they do: Advocacy groups such as LoveYourself are lifting the veil of stigma over HIV and AIDS; Bernadette Villanueva Neri opened the doors for many LGBT writers after publishing Ang Ikaklit sa Aming Hardin, the first Filipino children’s book featuring same-sex parents; the LGBT+ in Tech network is fighting stereotypes as they push for workplace diversity; local poets, artists, and musicians are teaming up to educate the masses on SOGIE; some schools are now offering classes similar to Eric’s; and groups like Rainbow Rights and Galang are supporting LGBT families and individuals in legal battles, as well as in ensuring that discussions on gender include a class lens; this list is long and ever-growing.


Beauty vlogger Min Ortiz considers himself gender non-binary, but is more comfortable using masculine pronouns. “I was thinking about where I fell under the LGBTQ umbrella,” he says. “I don’t want to be a woman—I just want to look like one.” Click here to read about Min Ortiz's story.


Of course, we still have several battles to be won—in the government, at workplaces, at school, in the media, in public spaces, at home—and together, we’ll conquer them all, but first we start with ourselves.

The profiles of each of the individuals whose photos appear in this essay are a glimpse of the diversity, beauty, and power of SOGIE. Let these stories empower you to find love, understanding, and acceptance for yourself and others.

To learn more about SOGIE, visit the UP Diliman Gender Office. Or contact them at 981-85-00 loc. 2465, 926-9053, or

Photographed by Patrick Diokno and Charisma Lico

Art directed by Vince Uy

Styled by Loris Peña

Assisted by Ning Nuñez

Makeup by Don De Jesus

Hair by Mong Amado

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