TV & Radio
Transsexual Pinoys find love, work in Japan
First posted 03:44am (Mla time) Nov 17, 2005
By Tina Arceo-Dumlao
Inquirer News Service
Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the Nov. 17, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
(First of three parts)
SAITAMA, Japan -- On stage, Kei Rodriguez looks and moves like a supermodel.
So it comes as no surprise that at least 10 ¥1,000 notes clipped between chopsticks are waved in her direction by appreciative guests of the Tres Bien Stage Club in this prefecture next to Tokyo.
The mostly middle-aged men and women who frequent the small club in the basement of a three-story building near the train station just love the way Kei moves.
And they don't seem to care that up until five years ago, she was a man.
Kei is one of an estimated 100 transsexual Filipinos who have found acceptance and a decent living as entertainers in Japan.
Speaking with the Inquirer in a series of interviews, she said she was not as sure of feeling the same warmth among fellow Filipinos, many of whom look askance at people like her who believe that God made a mistake when she was born with a penis.
"Whenever I looked in the mirror, I felt that there was something wrong," she recalled.
Kei had to live with the anatomy of a man for most of her life. But she got herself silicone breast implants, thanks to her savings as an entertainer in Japan.
It was only two years ago, when she turned 28, that she decided to go under the knife and chase her dream: to look as female as she feels.
"I finally decided to do it because I felt that it was time I took care of myself," Kei said. "I'm done with my obligations to my family. We already have a car, an apartment, and my siblings are done with school."
But despite her certainty that to look like a woman was what she had always wanted, she was beset by doubt and fear.
"There was fear, of course, because once my penis is removed, I cannot put it back again if I change my mind. I also worried about what will happen when I get older, or if there will be complications," she said.
With encouragement from family and friends, Kei flew to Thailand and spent $6,000 on what is called sex reassignment surgery. She went to a doctor highly recommended by other Filipino transsexuals.
The surgery took four hours. When Kei woke up, she had the sexual apparatus of a woman.
But she had to endure certain post-operative measures in the next two weeks. She also had to take estrogen pills to flush out the male hormone, testosterone, from her body.
Nothing to hide
Six months after the surgery, Kei hurdled the ultimate test: sex.
"My former boyfriend, who was with me throughout the operation, was my first. And it was an experience because I could finally have sex with more confidence," she said, adding:
"I don't have to hide anything anymore."
But according to Kei, the biggest reward is not the sex with heterosexual men, or the bigger pay, but the end of the long wait to become what she has always wanted to be.
"Finally, what I am and how I look are one and the same," she said.
The Japanese easily accept Kei's situation, although there are others who think she was wrong to change what nature gave her.
But she feels the discrimination more in her own country. "People generally look down on people like us," Kei said. "You can see it on television, where gay men are usually the butt of jokes."
It's not the same in Thailand or in Japan, where gay men are mostly treated the same as everybody else, she said.
Love at first sight
Indeed, some gay men even find true love, such as Hilda (not her real name), who works in the upscale Kingyo bar in the Tokyo district of Ropponggi.
Hilda met the love of her life during one of her performances, and he asked her to go out with him at the end of the night.
They have been inseparable since then.
"It was something like love at first sight," she said. "I was lucky, I guess, because I found someone who loves me for what I am."
Hilda and her husband have been together for more than 10 years. Two pet dogs complete their family.
She expressed confidence that other people like herself would also find the love they were looking for -- without changing their sex.
She said it was of extreme importance that gay men be both psychologically and physically prepared for that life-changing operation.
'One and the same'
Hilda had her sex reassignment surgery done in the Philippines for P180,000, but only after three months of counseling.
She said some people had tried to dissuade her but that she was bent on having the operation.
"Every time I went to the bathroom, I would look at my genitals and ask myself what they were doing there. They don't belong there at all," she said.
Thus, as soon as she could afford it, she went through the operation -- and finally felt complete.
"For the first time, what I feel and what I am are one and the same," Hilda said. "I thought to myself, This is it; I am finally a girl."
Her family stayed with her throughout the operation. She even shared a recovery room with her grandmother, who went through another type of surgery.
She was so excited that she had sex with her boyfriend just three months after the operation.
"My doctor was angry. But we could not wait," she said.
But Hilda cautions gay men from simply paying a doctor and getting sex reassignment surgery.
It's not for everybody, she warned.
"I tell them that they should not do it just because they think they need it to work in Japan, or to please a boyfriend. It must be because they really feel that they need it to feel whole," she stressed.
As for herself, Hilda cannot ask for more now that she has realized her dream and is in love.
"I am fulfilled and blessed. I can die now," she declared.
Tomorrow: Making a living in Japan