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Jennifer Laude, the 26-year-old Filipino trans woman who was brutally murdered by US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton in 2014, is back in the headlines after President Duterte granted her killer absolute pardon.

The news was met with outrage, with the hashtag #TransLivesMatter going viral on social media.

“Murder is murder! Regardless of disclosure issue, it still does not make murder acceptable in any way,” said Lui Castañeda, 32, a PR practitioner. “It’s disgusting how Pemberton never really showed any true remorse for his actions. He insisted on addressing Jennifer as ‘it,’ further degrading and invalidating her value as a human being. He never acknowledged her as a person!”

The issue has brought the ongoing fight for trans rights to the forefront, sparking conversations about equality—or the lack thereof.

“It only proves that trans women are even more marginalized than I initially thought,” said Castañeda. ”At face value, this resolution implies that we are only third-class citizens in our own country—as if it’s not enough that we have to deal with so much inequality and injustice on a daily basis. As it is, trans women always have to work harder compared to our cis counterparts to prove that we deserve our place in society. This recent development only amplifies the fact that our own government doesn’t care for us, both as trans women and Filipinos.”

Nothing is easy for the transgender community—even looking for love.

Here, three trans women tell us about the challenges of dating in the Philippines.

‘Religion is a barrier’

Lui Castañeda, 32
PR practitioner; vlogger on Transistar PH

Lui Castañeda

Can you talk about your experience in the dating scene as a trans woman? Have there been changes in the past years?

There is still a very strong stigma about relationships with trans women. Religion remains a major barrier to why trans aren’t considered potential partners; it argues that we go against God’s creation, among other things. Trans women are also overly sexualized. Many Filipinos see trans women as a fulfillment of their sexual fantasies. Trans are treated as a mere fetish. There has been little to no change in the dating scene. If anything changed after all these years living as a trans woman in Manila, it would be my attitude toward the situation. I have learned to be uncompromising and authentic in my values, without sacrificing my worth. This is probably the reason I’m single, because I haven’t met someone who is aligned with my beliefs.

How do you protect yourself from the risks of meeting bigots?

I’ve learned that there are usually two types of people a trans woman can meet: people who are genuinely misinformed, and people who have rigid biases and convictions. More often than not, uninformed people show willingness to be educated so that they can reassess their stand on specific issues. These are the types of people I choose to exert energy on, because I know that there is a fighting chance for me to change their views.

People with rigid biases have closed their minds to any reasoning or new information. When I sense that a person refuses to acknowledge or process any new facts they’re presented with, I walk away, because I know there is really no point in arguing with them. I don’t want to feel angry. I’d rather expend that energy on people who show genuine interest to learn.

My friends Janlee Dungca and Patch Buenaventura and I started a vlog called Transistar PH to talk about our experiences, while highlighting important transgender issues and educating viewers.

‘Am I a fetish or are his feelings real?’

Rica Salomon, 28
Makeup artist

Rica Salomon and her boyfriend Paolo

What is dating like in the Philippines for trans women?

It’s complicated. There are so many things you have to consider before choosing to go on a date with a person, like safety. It’s sadly a harsh reality for us trans women—we have to consider the possibility of being murdered because of who we are whenever we go out in public, especially when we go on a date. Second, we have to consider the intentions of the person: Is he dating me because he sees me as a fetish, or are his feelings genuine? Third, we also have to deal with societal pressure and judgments, where oftentimes people think the relationship exists only because of money. Other than that, dating is somewhat taboo. A lot of Filipinos are not that open about dating a trans woman—and if they do, the relationship has to be kept a secret.

What challenges have you faced in the dating scene?

Looking for a man to date is hard. We have to rely on apps like Tinder and Bumble to find someone who is willing and open enough to date us. It’s very rare and not in our culture or nature as Filipinos to approach a trans woman and ask her out on a date. Then there’s judgment from people. If I’m dating a Filipino, people think the man is with me because of money. When I’m dating a foreigner, they think I’m with them either for the money or the green card. There’s no winning!

What would you change about dating as a trans woman?

I wish people were just more open-minded and more liberated to date who they want and not be judged because of it—or rather, I hope people would just mind their own business.

How long have you been in a relationship?

My boyfriend and I have been together for a year. We met on the dating app Bumble and we hit it off right away. He’s very sweet and thoughtful and just like the song of Aretha Franklin, he makes me feel like a natural woman!

You’ve been open about relationships and dating in your vlogs, why is that?

I’m open about everything in my vlogs so it’s not surprising that I would also post about my love life. But after receiving messages from trans women being inspired by my vlogs and experiences, I’ve come to realize that my vlogs give people “hope,” that we are women who are worthy of love.

What’s something you wish you could tell everyone about dating trans women?

Trans women are women—all we want is for someone to see and treat us as one.

What tips would you give trans women who are just starting to date?

Just like in any relationship, get to know the person first before you commit and invest feelings. Ask about his experiences in dating trans women, his knowledge, expectations and intentions. I know it seems very nitpicky but for it to work, you need to make sure he is ready to commit and face all the challenges that come with dating trans women.

‘I can love you but in secret’

Nyko Rodriguez, 31
PR account director

Nyko Rodriguez

What is dating like in the Philippines for trans women?

As a transgender woman, sometimes I feel hopeless when it comes to finding love in my own country. It’s like searching for a needle in a haystack. There are a lot of men around, but I don’t know who is really “brave” enough to date someone like me. Not a lot of Filipinos are “ready” or open to date transgender women. We are still living in a time when transgender women are rejected in bars and clubs, and even some institutions like the military or other workplace. It’s extra difficult to even have a fighting chance in love because it requires more than our presence. In love, people need to meet us, get to know us, get personal with us. For many in the Philippines, our presence alone threatens them. I hope I am wrong, but sometimes that’s how I feel when it comes to dating here. I feel hopeless.

Can you tell us about your own dating experiences?

I have been on some dates, but all failed. I’m still single. I usually meet potential dates on Bumble and Tinder, most of them foreigners. They seem to be more open about dating me. And even in these platforms, men would tell me that I should put on my bio that I am transgender because I am somehow catfishing them by not disclosing my gender orientation. I meet some during nights out but it seems that the men I meet are the ones who aren’t “ready” for a relationship.

What challenges do you face?

There are a lot of challenges. With Filipinos and foreigners alike, a lot of them fetishize being with a transgender woman. Some like to “experiment” and try a “new” experience. We are, most of the time, reduced to a kink. Maybe this is also why we are generalized into being sex workers. I totally respect sex workers, I believe it should be a legitimate job, but we are not here to do sex work.

Some are ashamed to be seen with a transgender woman in public. This is especially true when a trans woman, like me, is not at par with a cisgender woman’s standard of beauty or if we don’t look feminine enough. It’s like, “I can love you but in secret,” which is not ideal for me.

There are also external factors—what would your family say, what would your friends say, what would others say? And some boys, and I say boys because they’re not men, would rather not deal with this.

We’re so scrutinized and pressured to look hyperfeminine. Some guys go, “Oh, you have some baby facial hair,” “Your shoulders are too broad in person,” “Your voice is not yet feminine enough,” “You need boobs and hips.”

When going on dates, some clubs will literally not allow trans women to enter because we are considered cross-dressers.

What would you change about the dating scene?

Oh, that’s a difficult one. I would like to change a lot. For one, I hope people would be just more open and accepting. Let’s normalize dating transgender women. It is no different from dating a cisgender woman.

In the Philippines, it’s always shocking when a straight man is dating or is in love with a transgender woman. People call them bakla or say that they are using the transgender woman for money. Dating without the layer of being trans is already challenging. What more if there are these people who make it extra hard?

I would also like to see the trans community celebrate love more versus acting like we are all fighting over a small pool of men. I don’t know if this is just me or if this is common even in the cisgender dating scene, but because we have such a small pool of men, people can get very feisty.

Lastly, we really need to pass the Sogie (sexual orientation and gender identity expression) bill. This can open up discussions on transgender issues and education. This may literally protect us and save our lives. Transgender women are some of the most vulnerable people in the world—we get beaten up, we get discriminated against, we get killed (and people can get away with it). We need to feel equal, we need to empower one of the most discriminated sectors in society. We need to love and be loved.

How do you deal with bigots?

First, I try to make them get to know me. Usually when you get to know someone, you see that we have more similarities than differences. If they are open, I try to educate them on our challenges, our fears, our dreams. However, some are just really close-minded, so blocking them and taking them out my life is the last option.

The art of kebs sometimes works. Balakajan. Die a sad person and I will live my life surrounded by the people who fully accept me and love me. I know this can be ineffective, we need to continuously fight for our voices to be heard, but sometimes as human beings, we also get tired. So girl, think of yourself, too.

There’s this idea that Filipinos aren’t as ready to date trans women as foreigners are—is there truth to this, or is this a misconception?

Somehow true. Based on my personal experience, they are the ones who are ashamed to go public in dating transgender women. Maybe because they fear being called bakla (eh ano naman, di ba?) or what their family will say.

I think the misconception is that trans women prefer foreigners or afam over Filipinos. I do not think this is the case. It is just that foreigners tend to like us more than Filipinos. If a decent Filipino guy wants to date me, why not, poknat? I am super game.

Has the Philippines improved in its treatment of trans women?

I believe yes, compared to decades ago. Our transgender brothers and sisters back then really had to fight hard just to be recognized as transgender people versus gay or lesbian. At least now, we can truly claim who we are. We are more visible now. More and more people are getting the courage to come out as transgender. However, by saying this, I am also acknowledging the fact that we have a long way to go when it comes to equal rights. We still have issues when it comes to restrooms, getting hired in the workforce, being given equal opportunities, etc.

What can we do to be better?

I think as a people we really need to learn to listen more. Hear our stories, challenges, struggles. By doing so, you will see that we are just like any other human being. Listen to what we have to say, recognize that this world wasn’t created exclusively for cisgender people. On a more active note, be a true ally. Walk with us when we fight for our rights. Shout with us for equal opportunities. Be by our side when we are discriminated against and mistreated. Lastly, pass the Sogie bill. This bill will not hinder any of your rights, but it will save a lot of lives for the transgender community.

What’s something you wish you could tell everyone about dating trans women?

For the men who are thinking of dating transgender women, be ready. Be ready to date one of the strongest persons you will ever date. The trans woman you will be getting to know has faced a lot of challenges, and yet, she is still able to give so much love. What you will have is something very special and real. However, just like any other relationship, you will have problems. People might judge you, people may not accept your relationship, but hold on to it. Fight for it. In the end, if what you are feeling is real love, there is nothing people can say, do or think that should hinder your love for another person regardless of gender, race, status. Love is love.

What tips would you give trans women who are just starting to date?

Heya, sissy! Please know that you are capable of love and being loved. Also, and this is super important, please do not measure your worth based on a man. Your worth as a woman does not go up or down just because you have or don’t have a boyfriend. You are special, you are loved, you are worth it.

Lastly, some tips to remember:

You do not owe anyone disclosure. Tell them when you are comfortable, when you are ready.

Know your worth. Do not just jump on the opportunity of having a date for the sake of it. I know, it’s quite difficult especially here in the Philippines, but you will find the right person at the right time.

Be proud of who you are. Never settle for a secret relationship. We didn’t fight to be seen just to be someone’s hidden love affair.

Be careful. The sad truth is, as trans women, we still get a lot of hate. Just take care of yourself. However, do not blame yourself if things don’t go right. Most of the time, it is not our fault, it’s the assh–e who made fun of us, fooled us, took advantage of us.

Just have fun and be yourself! Dating shouldn’t be so stressful. Aim high, trans Pinay!

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