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Stories from the Streets

The trans community has always been and will continue to be resilient. Throughout the COVID-19 Trans Resilience Campaign, APTN will be sharing the stories of Hope, Pain, and Survival of trans communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our second story comes from LakanBini in the Philippines.

Lakanbini, Philippines

My name is Binibining Ruffa Torregoza. I am 34 years old, a Filipina transgender woman activist from Bicol Region. 

I do not have a regular employment. I volunteer in our organization which is Gayon Inc., a region-wide (Bicol) NGO working on LGBTI rights. I serve as the Vice President and the Trans Focal Person. To sustain my daily needs, I do many sideline jobs like hosting gigs, short contractual projects, and online selling of several products and homemade food. I also do sex work, if there is opportunity. 

Before the pandemic, those sidelines jobs were able to sustain my daily needs and also supported my school tuition fees. I strived to get back to university to get a degree, so that it will help me to get more permanent jobs in the future. I was in my final year taking up Nursing course. 

My family is in the rural area. I am staying several hours away from them, for I had to move to the city to be near the university. I am staying at our grandmother’s house, and I am the one paying the monthly bills. In the city, I do have access to public hospitals, although I try to keep myself healthy and safe, for I don’t have saved money to spend for hospital bills. I do not have a health card or insurance. I would have to pay cash if I get hospitalized. 

When the pandemic happened, the government imposed city lockdowns. It was a very stressful situation for me. It was the time when we were completing the final requirements before university graduation. My thesis mates and I couldn’t go back to our hometowns yet.
The next day, public transportation were already suspended. We couldn’t go home to our families anymore – that meant we will be stuck in the city until the lockdown eases. Since we couldn’t do anything for our situation, we just decided to volunteer for the relief operations of my organization. Then the lockdowns got stricter, we literally weren’t allowed to leave the house where we were staying. My hosting gigs and projects got cancelled. I also couldn’t continue selling homemade food products. I was left with few savings.

My housemate and I depended on food that was being sent by friends. We couldn’t stock up for we don’t have a refrigerator, so we were also sharing the resources with the neighbours. After a few weeks, it became harder for support to come. Even the local government support wasn’t able to reach us.

I was beginning to feel more hopeless and helpless – that feeling of giving up. I wanted to post “I need help” in social media. But I couldn’t do it, thinking there are people who are depending on our organization. I don’t want them to read my post, and then lose hope themselves. There were nights when I didn’t have anything to eat. At the same time, there were many friends asking for help, I didn’t tell them that I was in the same helpless situation. 

Another depressing event was my uncle passed away. My organization sent financial support for my transportation to go home. But since the borders required a lot of documents for one to be allowed to cross, I just decided to stay in the city. I just sent the money to my family. 

In terms of physical safety, I believe I am safe. My biggest enemy right now is myself. A painful memory resurfaced. It was a traumatic experience from 15 years ago. This trauma came back whilst I was waiting in queue to get a relief pack, I saw a man wearing a gold crucifix necklace. I got scared and I was shaking. It was impossible for this man to be the same person who kidnapped me 15 years ago. But I couldn’t handle the memory, I left the queue. I thought I was over that memory, but I was wrong. This feeling of helplessness in this pandemic, it was the same feeling when I was kidnapped and tied up and not knowing if I will see another day. It feels like being wrecked again. 

I worry about employment.  Before the pandemic, it was already not easy to get a job, because I am a transgender woman. But I still want to look at things positively, and also to keep myself inspired while preparing for the board exam. I can still survive financially, I believe I can make ways, although it is not clear at the moment. I will take the licensing board exam to hopefully work as a nurse. I am always hopeful for everything to be better.

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