Yes, Im a Boy
by Priscella Engall
Fifty kilometers outside the hustle and bustle of Manila sits Naic, a barrio in the Cavite province. In the 60s, the population usually hovered around 1,500, mostly farming folk. Gangsters liked to roam the streets at night home grown smugglers, who didnt take kindly to nosy parkers. If you were smart, you would be home by six oclock. Otherwise you might just trip up on a body- a rather lifeless one before you made it indoors.
Alice grew up in the barrio in the 60s and, though packing nothing more than a toy gun for protection, managed to keep out of trouble. She lived in a happy home, full of love, though short on electricity. There was none until the mid 70s. No fridge, no TV, "just lots of time to make babies." Alice only had one problem. She didnt quite take to the body she was born into.
"My sister says, when I was as young as three years old, I used to ask my mother to buy me a dick at the market. I thought it was something you could buy there," Alice explains. "I remember I never liked the girls dresses. I never liked to wear one. If my mother asked me to wear a dress, I would run away."
Alices parents were not rich people; they didnt have university degrees. Her father worked on the farm, her mother worked as a housekeeper. Like most strict Catholics in the barrio, one thing they did know was family. After all, they did have nine children.
"We were brought up in the 19th century tradition. Very strict. With my parents if youre a girl, youre a girl; if youre a boy, youre a boy. But they understand more now. They were only shocked when they first found out I had a girlfriend. Sex had never been discussed at home, or at school. No one at school would say tomboy to my face, because they knew I would hit them. I said I have my own name, and I dont want to be called that word. If my uncle called me a tomboy or a boy-girl just smiled and said to him, Yes, Im a boy."
Alice had her first serious girlfriend in high school. And like most "boys" growing up, wanted the freedom to bring that special someone home for dinner.
"I wanted to bring a girlfriend home. I didnt want to hide. I didnt want any pretension about who I was. My parents had to love me or hate me for who I was. But eventually my parents accepted it enough that I could bring a girlfriend home when I was 22. My father even said, The only thing I ask of you, is to finish a college degree, and then if you bring home ten girlfriends, then that is okay."
Alice did take up part of this offer. She headed off to the University of the East, in Manila, to undertake a civil engineering degree when she was 16. However while the sexual revolution was taking place throughout the world, Manila universities decided to stay put.
"At the university in the 70s, they had a policy that women were not allowed to wear pants inside the campus. So I had a problem because I couldnt wear a dress," explains Alice." I asked my sister, who was also studying there, to bring me to the Vice President of Student Affairs. I said because of these rules, I risk my future. So they sent me to guidance and counseling. They wanted to find out if I was capable of wearing a dress. The counselor said, Its about time you changed. I said Im here because I want a degree and if you dont allow me to enter the campus wearing pants, I wont stay here. So they eventually gave me certification to wear pants and I was happy."
A few years later, the pants rule at the university was repealed.
On one of Alices visits back home from college, she was forced to confront some devastating facts of life. For a young woman growing up in a strict Catholic village, a family may accept you are gay, that you may never marry, but the thought that you will not bear children can drive a parent to desperate measures.
"My father was so disappointed I was not going to have a child, that he arranged for a man to rape me, so that I would get pregnant," Alice remembers. "It had come to this. The man followed me in the dark one night, home to the farm. My father had told him I would be going there to look after a buffalo I was minding. I fought the man off and thats how I found out what my father had arranged. I just went home afterwards with a black eye and bruises. I was 20 years old."
Alice may have fought off her assailant, but she could not press charges or confront her parents.
"In the Philippines it is not like here. Whatever your parents say, theyre right. They can do whatever they like to their children. Their mentality is that when I grow old, if I dont have children, who will look after me?"
In 1981, after she finished her degree, Alice moved to Greece, where her brothers were working on a cargo ship. She soon secured a job on a luxury yacht in Nice, France, where she looked after guests like Greek billionaires and foreign diplomats.
"I remember I had to tell my big boss there about my personality because a uniform was required on the boat. Women wore dresses. Men wore pants. So I told him, I dont want you to hear this from somebody elses mouth. I like women. I was very straightforward. I said, You may think Im a woman but I cant wear this dress. Emotionally and mentally I am a man. If you want to send me home because of this, Im happy to go."
Needless to say, Alice got her own way. After three years abroad, she returned home to her Filipino girlfriend, leaving behind a heartbroken Greek girl.
"Things were going well. My girlfriends family got on very well with my family. I was very happy. I had worked very hard for this. It had taken her parents three years to accept the relationship because they came from a prominent family. Her father is a relative of our President."
In 1987, the couple migrated to Australia and moved in with Alices sister and brother- in-law. "I had been told Australia was a very nice place. If you worked hard here, you would have a good future. But I heard nothing of the gay community. I ended up running the Hampton Court Hotel in Kings Cross, which my brother-in-law owned. I started as a cleaner, then a housekeeper and eventually moved my way up."
Alice moved on to managing two nightclubs- Ziggurat and Zone. While working in the clubs, she first caught sight of the Filipino gay community usually at four in the morning.
"I never had problems here because of my sexuality. My brother-in-law, who is Hungarian, couldnt understand me for awhile. It caused fights between him and my sister. He was worried that his friends might find out that his wife had a relative who was gay.
He didnt like the thought that I went out with lesbians. So I told him I didnt go out with lesbians, only straight women. My sister used to stand up to him, even in front of other people. In fact all my sisters are very supportive of me. Even my brothers treat me as a man. Sometimes they introduce me to others as their brother."
Alices brother-in-law finally came round, in a big way. He took Alice to her first Mardi Gras and even offered to pay for her to go to America and fulfil her dream of becoming a man.
"My dream is to have the operation but I keep thinking about the pain involved. I am enjoying life as I am but I havent closed the door on that option. I am a Catholic person. I come from a Catholic land, from a Catholic family. I would like to be able to get married in a church, have a family, even adopt a child."
Alice now runs a duty free store, organizes musical events for the Filipino community here and keeps an eye on developments back home in the barrio.
"Things have changed. In the barrio, redevelopment has taken over. The small road which leads to our farm is now a main road, to take people to the tourist spots. The gangsters are still there. But now, so are drugs. In the Philippines, we now have the Miss Gay Philippines contest. And there are clubs just for gay women, like Rumours and On Disco. Even the national papers cover gay stories. But only if youre gay and a celebrity."
Homosexuality- Legal over 18
Slang- lesbian is tibo, which means tomboy
Religion what a surprise Catholicism.
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