Thumbnail by Justin Delas Armas, Andie Moreno, and Glenna Rodriguez

By Gian Angnged and Jaemie Talingdan

May it be within or beyond the walls of the Ateneo, trans individuals face many hurdles blocking them from being able to live out their inner freedom. In this three-part Feature x Probe series, we go from classrooms to graduation ceremonies and even restrooms as we glimpse into the experiences and struggles of trans AHS and ASHS graduates.

On Rights and Rites

In a ceremony commencing the end of one’s high school life, how ironic is it that we can recognize one’s achievements but not their true identity?

Among the many struggles and misrepresentations trans people face in their educational journey is the official recognition of their gender identity—one’s personal sense of their own gender. 

Unlike most cisgender individuals, members of the trans community constantly have to fight for their rights to self-expression as they do not fit the traditionalist expectations of having the same gender identity as their assigned sex at birth. To this day, many trans students are limited to presenting themselves according to their sex assignment, especially in their graduation experiences.

Graduating high school is a feat to be proud of, but with trans students unable to express themselves pursuant to their gender identities that make up a big part of their being in their graduation photos, they feel restricted from being proud of such. Trivial as it may seem to others, but these issues go far beyond the surface and may affect one’s self-perception or even their mental and emotional well-being.

Former Hi-Lites Editor-in-Chief and Batch 2021 graduate Ian Bartolome expressed discontent with how he and his fellow LGBTQ+ peers were unable to openly present their hard-earned attainments through their graduation photos.

Ian Bartolome, Hi-Lites Former Editor-In-Chief

Hindi kami kasi ‘yun eh. Hindi niya na-re-represent ‘yung tunay na kami kasi nga kailangan naming mag-fit dun sa assigned gender at birth namin,” Ian said. 

Whilst others look at their graduation pictures with pride and joy, many trans individuals often set their photos aside in discomfort, as if looking at someone they’re not. 

On a positive note, Batch 2021 graduate Jolly Torres noted that they were given more freedom to express themselves as a non-binary individual in their creative shot, which featured the transgender pride flag.

“I’m really glad I was able to give the shot that I wanted, and when they sent it back to me with the edits, it was very minimal,” they remarked. 

Jolly Torres, ASHS Batch 2021 Graduate

Still, Jolly wished that the yearbook affairs could be more inclusive for a safer and more gender-sensitive environment inside the campus.

And for good reason—policies like these run contrary to the values the Ateneo espouses, particularly cura personalis or care for the entire person. Beyond concern for one’s physicality, cura personalis encompasses human dignity and care for one’s mind and spirit. With policies that may diminish trans students’ self-esteem and emotional wellbeing, we not only overlook these students’ welfare but also hinder their own personal development.

From a darker past

Although the ASHS still has a long way to go, it has nevertheless taken significant steps towards LGBTQ+ inclusion. For former AHS graduates, their graduation and yearbook experiences were much more traditionalist and adherent to the gender binary.

Lui Castañeda, AHS alumna, mentioned that she would have chosen to present herself as a woman in her yearbook photos had she been given the option to do so. 

Lui Castañeda, AHS alumna

Fellow AHS alumna Patch Buenaventura also noted how there were no avenues for trans graduates to sport looks that matched their gender expression.

“During that time, we were required to wear a polo, we were required to have a clean haircut,” AHS alumna Patch Buenaventura said.

Patch Buenaventura, AHS Alumna

“Of course I wanted to have longer hair, I wanted to wear a blouse instead of a polo that time. But we weren’t allowed, so I just went with the rules, because [at] that time I was still so young,” she added. 

Nowadays, Ms. Patch says, young people have Twitter, Instagram, Facebook—platforms on which they can express their real identities and push for more progress. 

“I didn’t know my rights, I didn’t know that I could voice out my thoughts at that time, because there were not many people who were doing so. Unlike now,” she said. “Looking back, and if we had the necessary, if we had the resources that we have right now, before, I think I would have spoken up too.”

The Bill of Rights in the 1987 Constitution guarantees every Filipino the freedom to be their authentic self. To live out one’s truths is to be how God created us, and if authenticity means having a gender identity different from their assigned sex at birth, how is it intrinsically wrong and ungodly?

Although laws and rights exist to protect this freedom, a myriad of policies shaped by conservative influences almost render such laws useless. 

Towards a brighter future

In 2014, AHS alumna and then-ADMU interdisciplinary studies senior Rica Salomon started an online petition to allow transgender students to appear in the gender they identify as in the ADMU yearbook, Aegis.

Salomon’s petition was in response to an Aegis rule that students should appear in the yearbook as their assigned gender at birth instead of the gender they identify as. Although Aegis documents at the time had not stated any rules on transgender representation, a memorandum on the Aegis 2011 website asserted that there should be “absolutely no cross-dressing.”

“The rule is highly discriminating especially to one’s gender identity. Gender identity is one’s internal understanding of one’s self whether they identify themselves as a man or a woman; and transgender individuals are people whose gender identity is incongruent to the sex and physicality that they were born in,” she said in the petition

The Aegis Editorial Board (EB) later granted Salomon’s request after the petition garnered hundreds of signatures.

“For as long as students wear clothes and outfits that rightfully represent who they are while, at the same time, strictly adhering to the Loyola Schools (LS) dress code, then they will be permitted to appear in the yearbook as such,” said Aegis EB Editor-in-Chief Kristine Estioko.

Pursuing the highest standards of education entails creating a safe, non-discriminatory environment, and allowing trans students to dress based on their preferred gender expression is an integral part of such. With gendered dress code policies in place, transgender students—who are typically treated as their sex assigned at birth—are put in a tough spot. 

Unable to present themselves in a manner that is consistent with their gender expression, trans students have reported that restrictive policies as mentioned have caused them discomfort and a drop in confidence.

To say that the ASHS is dedicated to providing the highest caliber of education for its students means that it must also take more steps toward cultivating a safe space and a gender-sensitive environment for everyone in the community. Taking a step forward means leaving conservative mindsets and practices behind to make way for a more inclusive environment.

For the ASHS to be a safer space for all members of the LGBTQ+ community, it must follow in the footsteps of Aegis in giving trans students the liberty and the right to express their true selves through clothing that reflects their gender identity, especially as they mark one of the most important milestones in their lives.

Though little progress is certainly better than none at all, we have to recognize that we still have a lot to improve upon. For as long as there are communities limited by current policies, we must not and will not cease our calls for change.

Read the second release under this series here: