The high cost of dying

When news of Jennifer Laude’s murder in the hands of an American marine broke out, I knew it wasn’t going to be a simple matter. After all, Jennifer was a transgender woman and her alleged murderer Joseph Scott Pemberton was in the country as part of the VFA-EDCA contingent. The news coverage of ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol was particularly cringe-worthy. For days, the reporters and newscasters kept on using Jennifer’s birth name and insisted on referring to her as a man. The same was true for print media. To compound the matter, the police’s speculation that Jennifer was a prostitute (their words, not mine) who might have attempted to rob the American, hence that gruesome death. And in the age of social media. when everyone’s opinion (mo matter how idiotic and ignorant) can be broadcast in the internet, many people soon joined in the discussion and threw in their two-cents’ worth into the matter.


Browsing through the thread of comments on websites like Rappler will give you a glimpse of how far we have really gone as a society when it comes to diversity. My Facebook news feed alone gave me an insightful, yet sometimes un-welcome look into the attitudes of my Facebook friends to non-straight people. I saw new aspects of my Facebook friends’ attitudes in their comments on the case. And I didn’t like what I saw in some. So much so that I asked myself, “Why am I friends with this person?” In fact, because of these status updates and comments, I have un-friended and blocked 2 of my Facebook friends.

Jennifer Laude’s murder has become the Litmus Paper Test for our attitude towards sexual diversity. And the result is alarming. Personally, my biggest realization is that transphobia is distinct from homophobia. They are cut from the same cloth, but they are different. I had always thought that these things either went hand-in-hand or were one and the same. But this changed after I read some comments from friends, who are also gay, which dismayed me. I was also disheartened by the comments of some members of my family. I had thought that by coming out to them, that they have gained at least some form of sensitivity to gender and sexual identity.

I remember growing up, many Filipino movies I’ve seen (both comedy or drama) often featured a scene or a situation where the male character falls for an amazonian woman whose beauty is exaggerated–a wink to the audience that something is afoot, and when they go somewhere private, it is revealed that the woman was, in fact, a man. The situation is then played for laughs, even if the “woman” is subjected to verbal and physical abuse from the “deceived” man, nobody objected because everyone knew and believed he or she had it coming.

Many people seem to think that Jennifer somehow deserved to be murdered because (a) she could be prostitute who probably attempted to rob her “client”; (b) she was unfaithful to her German fiance; (c) she deceived Pemberton into believing she was a “real” woman; and so on. First of all, since when is it permissible to murder sex workers? Second, who are we to judge Jennifer’s fidelity? We are not privy to the intricacies of Jennifer’s relationship with her fiancee. It is possible that theirs is an open relationship. Third, how sure are we that there was deception? The used condoms prove that sex occurred. We’re not even sure who was the active and passive partner between Jennifer and Pemberton.

There is no justification to murder someone that will fully satisfy my conscience. It’s just very strange for a society like ours, who purportedly defends the right of the unborn child to live, to harbor this way of thinking towards someone like Jennifer

Is the life of a transgender person of less value?

To add insult to the injury, our government leaders’ reaction to the case has been consistently late and inappropriate. To have the highest official of the country saying he doesn’t go to funeral wakes of people he doesn’t know is a very obvious manifestation of his arrogance or the severe ineptitude of his public relations team. Neither of which is acceptable. Why waste time and effort on deporting Jennifer’s fiancee for a minor infraction when they should be focusing on building the case against the accused?

This posthumous bashing escalated as new things about Jennifer came to light. Even the left (the source of the edited image in this post) has joined the fray by using Jennifer’s murder as the latest rallying point in calling for the scrapping of the VFA-EDCA–an agreement between the Philippines and the US. This makes me uncomfortable because. while it seems that the LGBT advocacy has found an ally in the left to get justice for Jennifer, the case is also being used to bolster their political agenda. There are many cases of violence against LGBT people, but the left has kept quiet about it until this happened. So what gives?

I hope that, in the coming months, people will not lose sight of the basic and most important aspect of this case: that Jennifer was murdered. Crime of passion or hate crime, the distinction is probably less important than uncovering the truth as to what happened that fateful night and then punishing the guilty, regardless of the perpetrator’s nationality and the political context surrounding the case.

And for the advocates, Jennifer Laude’s murder shows us that the long road to gender and sexual identity equality is before us, and getting there will require so much more from all of us. It’s true that we have made great strides but the fact is there’s also much more to be done.


About the pensive poet

development worker. kasuyo. bugtong na anak. retired drag queen. kalaguyo. kaibigan. future carpenter, bread-maker, or bar-tender. feeling manunulat at makata. borderline obsessive-compulsive. control freak. book worm. isnabero. mahiyain. astang cineaste. aspiring photographer.

Posted on October 26, 2014, in events, journal and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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