Reniel “Rein” Botnande likes pink.
A professional events host, she likes to dress up in gowns with slits that show off a pair of incredibly long legs that seem to go on forever. Statuesque at 5’10”, incredibly beautiful with soft curves and a shock of long, dark blond hair, Rein easily turns heads.
She is, for the lack of better words, ultra-feminine, and simply oozing with sex appeal.
But it has not always been that way.
Rein was born a boy.
But, she knew at six years old that she was “different”.
“I was born a man, but grew up liking dolls and heels. I never told my mom about it, she just knew and she was happy for me,” Rein tells DNX.
Rein is what is known as a transgender, or more specifically, a trans woman, a condition that she discovered during college when she realized she was “more than gay”.
TRAPPED IN THE WRONG BODY
Rein is describing what could be the condition undergone by people who feel that they have been trapped in the wrong body.
Just recently, non-binary celebrities have been coming out, with varying degrees of acceptance.
Dennis Padilla’s daughter, for instance, also a non-binary, was in the news after she engaged in same-sex marriage. The actor formerly known as Ellen Page, famous in his roles in Juno and Umbrella Academy, recently came out as transgender non-binary and has since called himself Elliot Page.
Though Elliot’s coming out hugged headlines, and Dennis Padilla’s message of support to his daughter has been met with applause and acceptance, the road to transitioning, has been especially rough especially in a conservative predominantly-Christian country like the Philippines where no less than public officials treat homosexuals as “worse than animals”.
This was what Kaey Soluta, another transgender woman, experienced growing up with a very conservative family.
Kaey, like Rein, discovered that something was different with her at age four.
She knew, she relates, she was different. Nay, not different. UNUSUAL. Her aunt was the first to notice something different, and had even told Kaey’s parents that she is unique.
But, time went on, and whatever eagerness she had then to come out was stomped out because, as she shares, her family was – is – very religious, with an uncle who is a pastor of “a huge famous Born Again Christian church here in Negros”.
She was 16, she says, when she knew she was not gay.
“I was more than that,” she declares, adding, “I am a real woman.”
For Grey Suelo, thankfully, her coming out story is bereft of any major dramas.
Grey is one of the most comfortable people about her sexuality and gender. Her poses speak of a confidence that just POPS out of the picture, making one wonder how such a (relatively) small frame could pack so much sexual energy.
Born to an all-female brood, she quickly picked up on the female culture, with cousins and playmates predominantly from the so-called fairer sex.
“It came as no surprise that I grew up feminine. During elementary and high school days though, my classmates saw me as effeminate but it was only college when I came into full bloom,” she shares. “Full bloom” means wearing makeup and dressing up like a girl, back at the time when her school, the University of St. La Salle, was a bit lenient about the dress code.
The transitioning years for Grey is also relatively painless. Bereft of any emotional luggage that usually goes with an unaccepting and intolerable community, Grey’s coming out was “positively and pretty easy”. It made it easier for her to do things that express her sexuality and gender identity better: she started growing her hair, dressed in long gowns.
Rein also emphasizes the importance of acceptance especially within your close family circles.
“I am blessed to have such supportive parents,” she shares, “Their love for me is bigger than my sexuality. My mom taught me to go beyond my fears. She always tells me to not let anyone think so little of me and not be that someone whose not worthy of respect. I kept all those words from her and became an achiever. Now I am woman with big dreams, and all thanks to her.”
TRANSWOMEN ARE WOMEN
The Stone Wall Riots in 1969 was bomb waiting to happen. Back in those days, homosexuals were not allowed to drink in public places, and gays were not allowed to wear feminine clothes.
They were beaten up by police, arrested for soliciting sex, or for some minor infractions as cross-dressing. Push came to shove when the gays were arrested – and they fought back, stilettoes versus truncheons. That wave of gender activism paved the way for the first ever Gay Pride parade in the 1970s, and has also opened floodgates for discussion in gender and equality, as well as pathway for post-structuralist thinkers like Michel Foucault to discuss the fluidity of genders.
It is no surprise then than, with conservative’s resistance to accept non-binary gender (there are only two, according to them), plus the religious’ claim that homosexuality is a sin, there is a polarized discussion on what is and what is not, what is queer vs pansexual vs bisexual.
This is something that even trans people are facing.
Kaey admits there are misconceptions about transgenderism.
“The biggest among them is that people would often say especially the cisgenders that we transgender and homosexual people are the same,” Rein says.
Kaey explains that they are NOT homosexuals, trans people want to make that distinction.
“We are totally different from them. Homosexual people are people who are attracted towards same sex. They don’t see anything wrong with their physicality; they are just attracted to their same sex… Transgender like me however is someone whose assigned sex at birth doesn’t coincide with what or how he or she feels and thinks. [We] are also not happy with the body [we] are in. That’s why we live [contrary] to the gender that was assigned to us at birth. Thus the term transgender was created.”
Rein, on the other hand, says the biggest misconception for her is the presumption that trans women are all about sex.
“[People] think that with transwomen, it’s all about sexual pleasure, that we are transitioning for men we are attracted to,” she says, clarifying further, “It’s all about being true to yourself. I am transwoman because I feel and think like a woman. I am just trapped in a man’s body but our heart and soul is a woman.”
Grey also debunks one the biggest myths about gender and transgenderism: that it is a lifestyle choice.
“We are born this way, and if we ever transition, that is because we are embracing our true identity,” she says. She also abhors stereotypes about transwomen, that they are all about beauty pageants and saloons.
Which is why she took the time to organize Villamonte Pride, with members within the LGBTQ+ community organizing feeding programs to shatter misconceptions about what the gay and trans people can do.
INCLUSIVITY VS EXCLUSIVITY
The road to gender equality is not without its twists, turns, and stumbling blocks. While advocates generally call for equal treatment, there is also the danger of going to the extreme side, where the advocacy for gender identity becomes ironically exclusive towards one gender, giving rise to the phenomenon of misandrists.
But Rein, Grey, and Kaey believes it is unfair to fight for gender equality without pushing for the fight FOR all.
“I am against that extremist view,” Kaey clarifies, “For me if the advocacy is to raise awareness, equality and unity amongst all types of gender so why exclude heterosexuals and others? By excluding them we are creating [division]. And often times the reason why there is discrimination and misunderstanding among heterosexuals towards LGBTQA++ community and even within the rainbow community because of lack of knowledge. Education is powerful and will always be,” she says.
Grey concurs, although she clarifies that misandry and misogyny could have deeper roots. “
“I respect someone’s point view as long as it does not violate another person’s rights. You are entitled to your opinion but that right ends when the rights of others begin,” she says.
Rein, meanwhile, sums it up well.
“Equality is for all,” she says, “We need to value and respect each other’s differences. After all, we are fighting for one thing and that is to live in a safe and accepting society.”