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Ladyboys in The Philippines: Isabelle’s story

Over the last year, I’ve been doing some research about Ladyboys in Asia for a thesis on gender for my University. I’ve spent quite some time looking through some of the famous T-girl dating sites such as MyLadyboyCupid, as well as other Transgender sites on the internet, plus in magazines and at other news clippings.

A month or so back, I was in a famous chain of branded coffee shops in Makati, a well-known business district of Manila. I was about to enjoy my regular hot chocolate and over-indulge in a banana cream pie. The very pretty waitress who served me, gave me a lovely smile. She politely asked, “Where do you come from?”—a standard opening line in The Philippines when ladies usually wish to practice their English.

You can imagine my surprise a few minutes into our conversation when the lady in question (called Isabelle, as I had found out) said, quite unexpectedly, “Actually I’m not a real girl, you know….”

Trans-Pinay woman from the Philippines

Over the next few weeks I got to know Isabelle better and learn more about her life as a Ladyboy or Trans-pinay from the northern Philippines. She kindly agreed to record some of our conversations, and here is part of her (very typical) story:

Me: Please tell me where you were born and something about your early life.

Isabelle:  I was born in January 1994 in a small, rural, quite poor district, around 3 hours north of Manila. My parents separated when I was young and my sister and I lived with my mother. After some time, my mother remarried and had another son.

Me: Do you remember much about those times?

Isabelle: Not too much, although I knew something was not quite right with me. I felt something was very different. In fact, I think I was aware that I was a female from the ages of 4-5. I remember one time when I was about 6 that I’d secretly been dressing up in girl’s clothes and using my mother’s lipstick—and when she found out she hit me.

Me: What about when you were in your teens?

Isabelle: Hmm…, a difficult time. Once I reached my teens, I knew that I wanted to dress up and live as a female but, honestly, I was embarrassed to do so. However, I had friends at school who were just like me, and they encouraged me to dress up and be effeminate. I was also aware that I didn’t like girls sexually.

Coming out as Trans-Pinay

Unfortunately, my mother noticed the changes in me and insisted I not behave like that. She said that if I was a Trans-pinay she would throw me out of the house […big sigh]. She said this to me every day. Even though I was about 14, I was very scared and did as she said. I lived at home and tried to behave like a normal boy but, when I was at school, I could be what I wanted. All of my friends and the teachers understood what I was: a Trans-pinay!

Me: Oh dear, it must have been hard. And then, what happened?

Isabelle: After I graduated from high school, my mother told me that she had no money to send me to study any longer. So, I didn’t go to college and had to find work near my home in order to support my mother and sister and brother.

But every day there was pressure from my mother wanting me to be a man, so finally I left my home village to find work in Manila. The first job I got was in a bar. I did everything: opening up, cleaning, serving, customer billing, clearing glasses etc. I sent all of my salary to my mother every month and used the tips I got for personal expenses. At the same time, I studied more about the service industry.  More importantly, I started to focus on being myself and began living as a Ladyboy.

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Me: Oh…, what do you mean?

Isabelle: Well, I started to dress in female clothes very day, learned how to use make-up properly, and also started using female hormones. After a while, I could see changes in my body, such as the redistribution of fat to my hips, some breast growth and my skin became softer like a woman’s. 

Me: Were you in touch with your family?

Isabelle: Not so much but, when I was 19, I decided to go back home. I went to visit my mother and sister. It was a 3-hour bus ride; three hours of nerves mixed with excitement. When the bus arrived home, I stepped out of the vehicle in a new dress I had bought for the journey, and my heart was trembling. I was fearful that my mother would not accept the “new” me.

When I saw my mother she hugged me and said, “You are very beautiful” and told me I could be anything I wanted to be, but that I had to be a good person. She said she had come to accept me being a Ladyboy, what was meant to be was meant to be! At this time, I was very happy but couldn’t stop crying; tears of happiness flowed from my eyes.

Me: Wow, I’m sure that was very emotional.

Trans-Pinay dating on MyLadyboyCupid

Isabelle: Yes, but soon I returned to work in Manila and got a better job. Because I do not drink nor like working at night, I took this new job in this coffee shop as Assistant Manager. I get on well with the business people who come here and foreign customers and my boss is very happy with me. I have now good experience working in the service industry.

Me: What about the future, do you think about it?

Isabelle: Yes, of course. I’m saving for my dream… [smiles] my dream is to have the necessary operations to become a “complete” woman. And as soon as I can! Then find a genuine sincere man on MyLadyboyCupid, who can accept me for the Ladyboy or Trans-pinay that I am! I’ll make him very happy!