By Ms. Bemz Benedito
These past months have been a hectic one for me at work and my advocacy; I reasonably lost in touch with my sister who also happens to have a demanding work as a pharmacist in a public hospital. And so last night, when at last, our energies and time met and we planned to have some indulging and pampering and consequently, we headed at WENSHA SPA CENTER last March 16 at 12 midnight. We went to the WENSHA SPA CENTER located at Timog Ave. corner Panay Ave, Quezon City.
We merrily entered the spa because of its good ambiance and it was our first time to experience some indulging and pampering at midnight. Actions and occurrences were initially without abrupt turns when we availed for their full packages promo – facial and body massage or foot massage or foot spa. We were given bracelet keys for our lockers and colored rubber slippers. There was no sign that a deplorable situation will happen later.
They were still gracious to ask us to proceed at the second floor. We then proceeded at the locker room to change. At this point we noticed the lady guard at the door, because she was looking at me nastily and maliciously and as if it wasn’t enough she also gawkily watched me change my clothes all throughout. I just ignored it and let it pass even if I knew I was the only one receiving her odd and awkward stares.
I then proceeded to the facial room and while my sister went on to have her body massage. An hour later, I was soothed after my facial treatment which was excellently done by my kind facial therapist, Angel. My sister also arrived at the facial room to have hers. I told Angel and my sister that I needed to go first to my locker before proceeding to my body massage. I had to get some money for tip. Suddenly, my dear sister followed me and she seemed agitated. I asked her what’s wrong. She swiftly whispered that Angel had told her that there’s a problem because the lady guard and another staff informed her that I cannot have my body massage in the female section but instead I will be transferred to the male section. I felt so hurt and turned dazed and disoriented for a moment. My dear sister held my hands and only then that I regained my focus. I quickly went back to the facial room and conversed to Angel to get the whole story. The apologetic, accommodating and kind Angel told me that the lady guard had informed her that I cannot be provided service in the female section because I will be sharing a room with other biological women and they might feel uncomfortable. I also found out that some staff didn’t want me to be there, but rather at the male section. Embarrassed, capsized and distressed, I held back my tears and didn’t want to show any weakness. I remained gallant and unaffected and said my piece: “This is discrimination. I am a transsexual woman and I deserve to avail of the services that I paid in this area. It will be very unpleasant for me and the men if you will insist for me to transfer. Besides you cannot assume anything unless one of the clients has already complained. “
The poor Angel was constantly apologetic and tried to pacify me by saying, “Ewan ko sa kanila ma’am, sorry po talaga. Retokada or naopera na daw po ba kayo? But if my vagina na po kayo ay sige po. Okay lang po ba kasi magtatanggal kayo lahat.” (I don’t know what’s wrong with them ma’am. I am really sorry. They were asking if you have undergone any operation, but if you have vagina then it will be fine. Would it just be okay for you to take off everything?) The entire course of the conversation and questions was so humiliating and degrading so I told Angel that I will not push through with the body massage anymore and I will just settle for the foot massage. I was still hurting and starting to feel so depressed even if Angel accompanied me to the common foot massage section and got an equally kind massage therapist for me. Her name is Monet and I told her what happened. “Kaya pala ako pinaki-usapan ni Angel. Grabe naman sila ma’am”, she said. (That’s probably why Angel talked to me, they are so inconsiderate). I retorted back by saying that I felt bad and that they cannot do this to me. I’m an officer of Ladlad Partylist and this will definitely cause you in trouble. In my thoughts, I didn’t want to create a commotion because it might work against my part, so I remained composed, calm and collected. However, while having my foot massage, I couldn’t any longer take pleasure into it and I wanted to finish it. The violation already sank in my mind and heart. The feeling of unwanted and disrespect pervaded my system.
After that incident, I asked the receptionist, She Viray if I can talk to the manager. She asked if there was a problem. I narrated to her what happened upstairs. Little did I know that she is aware of what’s happening. She even rudely told me that she didn’t know I was a transsexual woman and have she known she will not allow me. She then continued by saying that the manager is not around. Nonetheless, she called the supervisor on duty, Mr. Elmer Belarmino, who is also a gay man. I was hoping that he will understand me better but I was mistaken. He told me that when they called his attention about my situation, he allowed it anyway for the reason that I was already there at the female section. I calmly told him that the lady guard and some staff have already offended me by their attempt to refuse me in the female area and as well to their insensitive questions.
However, Mr. Belarmino’s concept of transsexualism is someone whose organ is “cut-off” or “naopera” na, in which I informed him that he is using wrong, selective definitions and terms. In Filipino, I lectured him, “transsexual women are those who identify themselves as women and they may choose to express it in different nuances. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to undergo surgery. That is our right or your right Mr. Belarmino – to determine your own gender and live by it. I am the chairperson of Ladlad Partylist and we are looking after the welfare of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. If you can do this to me then how about those who cannot fight and assert for their rights? Bawal po ang pagtrato ninyo sa amin. Ito po ay diskriminasyon. (You don’t treat us well. This is simply discrimination.)” To my surprise, his response was way out of context. “Nakita ko nga sa TV yung sa UP, ano yun talagang naopera na?” (Yes, I’ve watched the UP issue in the television, but what it is? Has the person really undergone operation?). I already felt frustrated and notified him that the UP student he saw is an ally and a sister. I related to him that the UP incident is the same to what happened to me in their spa center.
I dig deeper and asked him if they have a policy against transsexual women. He said there was none, only that they have a list of 10 policies of those that they will prohibit inside the spa center and maybe we are like number 11 but there is no written rule. It stunned me when he compared me to a drunkard being allowed to the spa center and then the other clients might complain. I told him that it is improper to compare me to a drunkard because I am not one. It is also more unacceptable to compare transsexual women to a drunkard.
He further said that he cannot beat the lady guard but can only report the incident. I told him that I don’t wish to harm anyone. All I wanted is that for them especially the lady guard and staff to be more sensitive and aware of people like us rather than offending us or refusing us of services. I also held him and said: “transsexual women like me are here not to steal a look to other women or with a malevolent purpose, but to simply relax and pamper ourselves just like any human being does. Please trust me on this one, Elmer. We are transsexual women living like any biological women. We live, behave, think and feel like a woman. ” I felt so exasperated and annoyed that our discussion is going nowhere. I then bid goodbye, gave my calling card and thank him for his time and that I will take some actions to this one.
I felt relieved somehow that I was able to gather my temerity and affirm my rights. I tried to be calm and unruffled because I wanted to deliver my message well. I always believe that disagreements can always be discussed by not exchanging in a heated and angrily manner. I don’t also want to berate other people just to declare my rights.
I have been exposed to discrimination in the past and no one will ever get used to it. Every time I encounter discrimination, harassment or prejudice it weakens my dignity and sense of self-worth. I am glad that my dear sister was there to help me appease myself despite of the bigotry. She even intimated to me that she already saw and felt the agony and damage one has to experience when discriminated. She even passionately shared this sad episode to my nieces. My parents and family continue to accept, respect, recognize, and love me as their daughter and sister and I will not allow anybody to overthrow it all.
The assailment of transsexual women in our community is an indication that discrimination is still very rampant. It is also a clear indication that in the LGBT community -- the transgender community is by far the most assaulted and challenged. Our hands are tied because of the absence of an anti-discrimination law and gender recognition law as well.