Women’s month is not only a celebration, but it’s also a time to augment the empowerment of all women. Intersectional feminism reminds us to be cognizant of the different factors that affect gender equality. These factors include ethnicity, age, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, and physical/mental ability among others. As we recognize the essential part of women in building today’s society, let us take a look at how femininity has been a part of select women’s lives.

Eda Catabas and Jesse Castelo are some of the newest Trans Health Officers of LoveYourself Inc. As trans women themselves, they feel right at home in their new role. Together with their teammates, they are partnering up with Decent Image of South Signal Association (DIOSSA) for an event to celebrate Women’s Month.

Femininity is very important for me because I grew up with the thought in mind that I wanted to transition. I wanted feminine features…. It is part of my humanity.

Eda Catabas, Trans Health Office, LoveYourself

For Eda, femininity is a societal expectation that people conform to in order to be acknowledged as a woman. She holds femininity dear to her heart as it has been a part  of her thought process ever since she was little. But it was a challenging journey for her growing up. She was named after her father, who is a former police officer. With strong Filipino tradition and belief, Eda’s family expected her to follow in her father’s footsteps. 

Growing up, she felt a lot of pressure to conform to the masculine expectations of her environment being born male. This pressure has been aggravated by the bullying she experienced from her schoolmates, peers and neighbors. But somewhere down the road, she made the conscious decision to fight for her true identity.

At 13 Eda started expressing her femininity through her eyebrows, but she did not fully realize her true expression until she met her mentors. They guided her through hormone replacement therapy, make up, and flattering clothing. Through her mentors, Eda met other trans women who have different backgrounds, but have similar experiences as her growing up. It was a joy to find support and understanding from other trans women despite their differences.

To be female is to be human. She is strong, she is powerful, and more than anything she is capable.

Jesse Castelo, Trans Health Office, LoveYourself

Jesse shared that during her early phases in transition, her concept of femininity was unclear and loose. She thought that in order to be feminine, she has to look and behave in a certain way lest she will be disrespected. She was afraid that she would not be taken seriously.

But as time went on Jesse discovered that femininity is not a defining factor of women. She felt restricted to become her authentic self, giving control of herself to men. For her, she truly became a woman when she was able to let go of the weight of gender expectations.

Eda shared, “I remember in the early stages of my transition when you’re trying to conform to a certain standard physically first I felt awkward, others got humiliated, and some even experienced gender-based violence.”

The expectations of femininity drove Eda to conform to societal standards of beauty. She admitted that she experienced depressing moments during her journey, but with the support of her newfound community, she was able to go on with her transition. With gender affirming operations – not all of which were readily available in the Philippines – Eda grew closer to having the body she feels correct with how she sees herself. 

Traditional femininity affected Jesse’s early relationships, where she let men control the way she dressed and acted in public. She relished in the feeling of validation whenever she would submit herself to a man she was committed to. However, as she grew more independent, she realized that the feeling of freedom was more powerful than feeling validated.

Eda firmly expresses her femininity to affirm her chosen identity, and she emphasized that the way women present themselves is their own rightful decision. Jesse on the other hand utilizes her feminine energy by using her voice, not only for herself but others as well. Women can express whatever identity they subscribe to. As it shouldn’t be the society that dictates who we are. It is us who tell the society who we are. The power of femininity is to create affirming choices for ourselves.

Victoria by LoveYourself is an affirming place for trans women to express themselves as they are. As the first community-led transgender health center in the country, the center aims to provide a safe space where people who identify as trans can transition safely.

Text by Carlos Diego A. Rozul