I am often asked if I already felt I was different—had I felt feminine from childhood? Initially, I did not feel different, did not see anything wrong with me. But ever since I could remember, it was the people around me—my family, my relatives, and my friends—who insisted that I was different, maybe because of my effeminate gestures. “Bakla ka kasi, eh (You’re gay, that’s why)!” They would tease me. I would often look at myself in the mirror, wondering what made them say such things when I looked essentially the same as everybody else—two eyes, two ears, a nose, a mouth, two hands, two feet.
Whatever resistance I had against such harsh conditioning was destroyed when I was sexually molested by our houseboy when I was five. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I was molested again by a 19-year-old male cousin, took me to bed with him when I was 9. This made me feel good because someone gave me loving attention. As the wrong relationship progressed, this cousin treated me with contempt just like everybody else. Yet, I could not hate him for it because he was the only one to whom I seemed to matter, even perversely. I could not stand being alone again.
To withstand the confusion brought about by my life-situations, which I could not explain, at that point, I believed God made a mistake. I had to be a girl. March 11, 1986, at twenty-four years old, I underwent a sex change operation. As I was one of the first Filipino male to undergo such a highly controversial procedure here in the Philippines, it naturally merited much media attention My story and my pictures were all over the newspapers and magazines. My operation gave way to the birth of the new me, the woman named Vinna. I got what I wanted, had a husband named Steve, and lived abroad.
One sleepless night, I turned on the television and tuned in to the program that was being aired. It was “The 700 Club.” Part of the show featured people who went through dramatic changes in their lives after a spiritual awakening. If only for that, I became a faithful follower of the program. Somehow, watching the show became a coping mechanism for me, because for the first time, after feeling so alone and so singular, I could identify with others who, like me, had undergone major changes in life. My six-years living with Steve did not work out either so it came to an end as I returned to the Philippines.
I consulted people and priest, attending one bible study after another. At the same time, being successful in my career, I was determined for society to change its perception of my kind, that we had the right to exist just as we were. In November 1996, together with some friends from church, I attended Don Moen’s Praise and Worship concert. At one point during the singing, I felt very strongly the presence of the Holy Spirit. Everybody in the congregation was singing the chorus of a song when suddenly I heard a loud sound of a trumpet. I knew that it did not come from the band playing on stage. The sound was of a different tone, so different that it rose above the music being played. I asked my friends if they heard something different with the music but they said no. I cried out to the Lord for I knew it was Him talking to me, commanding me to let go of something I had been holding on tightly in my hands up to that time.
After months of continuous bible studies, I learned about how God was pleased with Abraham’s faith in giving up Isaac, his son, who was most precious to him. As I read verse by verse, there was so much pain in my heart as if I was Abraham giving away what was also precious to me – the sham of my womanhood. I was willing to sacrifice anything to God, but how? It was time for the change that had transpired inside me to manifest on the outside. What took place after that was in total obedience to the Lord and as a response to His great love for me. I went to a salon and had a man’s haircut. I stopped putting on make-up and I started wearing men’s apparel. I stopped taking hormone pills and I even went to the extent of having my hourglass-shaped body undergo surgery to try to remedy its feminine shape. In other words, I started looking, living and behaving the way I was originally created to be. Sad to say, some of the alterations I had made to my body were irreversible and complete restoration to normalcy was impossible. Moreover, my decision to stop taking hormone pills has meant enduring the effects of hormonal imbalance. There have been major consequences to face but they do not stop me from actively pursuing God’s will and purpose for me.
But, I often wonder why all these things in my life had to happen. As I continue to face realities from my childhood traumas, I begin to understand that the true essence of Christ ministry is in forgiveness. Pain confronts pain. Who says forgiving is easy? But if I do not start now, I would never find out how it gets better as I master the craft.
Facing and accepting the facets of my hurts brought by people and situations in my life, I have learned to consciously let go and forgive each detail of all my grief to get to the root and be healed by the loving grace of Jesus Christ. Learning to identify the pain sets a target to change it to good. Most of the time the process is unbearable but what I look forward after an episode, is the victory I receive after the trial. I believe there is no complete healing until the end of our lives. Struggles will pop-up and a lot of times it will be unexpected. Though it is messy and unpredictable at times, the assurance that I have victoriously passed my greatest struggle of all, my “Identity Crisis”, gives me a head start to fulfill the core of relationships and that is love. Love is unconditional. It is almost impossible to truly love with bitterness in my heart.
Everyday is a battle, but everyday I come home to the loving arms of my God to experience His abounding love, grace, strength, peace, and joy. Jesus is all I need. I cannot and will not trade that for anything else in this world.