When does your strength become your weakest point?

For LoveYourself Volunteer Nicole Silvestre, her confident response to this question sealed her fate on the 29th of May, 2018. Having already bested 22 other candidates vying to be the very first BPO Queen, Nicole took no time in drawing a heartfelt answer not only based from experience, but inspired by her volunteer organization, no less.

My biggest strength will never be my weakest point because this is something I can always hold on to. I believe that loving yourself will always be your biggest strength and it will never be a weakness.

Nicole Silvestre, volunteer, BPO Queen 2018 First Runner-Up

Nicole bagged First Runner-Up at the end of the night —  a feat Nicole herself considers a satisfying end to the journey of a 26-year old BPO employee who, only months ago, had one previous office pageant and a noontime show transgender queen search on her kontesera (pageant veteran) résumé.

“This entire experience has been a test of character,” relayed Nicole. “Through it all, my takeaway has been about pushing myself. It was a battle between myself and my limitations.”

While the pageant scene comes as a new ground for Nicole to test her limits, she’s never one to shy away from previous battles, and her only desire is to educate and inspire others with her experiences. She’s aware of the responsibilities a beauty queen entails, and equipped with her passion to the advocacy, she’s eager and excited to do more.

Pageant Push

Nicole’s recent attempt at pageant success, prior to her BPO Queen stint, is on the stage of Eat Bulaga’s Super Sireyna, appearing with two other contestants on March 16th. “I just wanted to see how far I can go,” she recalls. While she didn’t win that day, her goal to find to test her limits paid off: she realized she can actually do it.

Just a couple of months fresh from an exhilarating experience on national TV, the opportunity to join BPO Queen came knocking her door. The way it promoted diversity, equality, and inclusion in the BPO industry, and how it’s finally happening for the first time this year, enticed Nicole to participate.
Not going to battle empty-handed this time, Nicole trained under Raymond Zoleta, Michael John Destar, and the team of Faces (Home of Beauty Queens). She was amazed and challenged at what she learned on how a queen walks, talks, and carries herself on-stage.

She realized the work was cut out for her the moment she qualified for BPO Queens. “I remember right after the first press conference,” she said, “when all candidates were introduced, is when I got the chance to size up the competition. I immediately told my handler: I have to train harder.” She took it upon herself to refine her opportunities and master her strengths.

She kept her eye on the prize while never forgetting that this experience offers her a chance to learn from others like her. “I’m proud of the other girls,” shared Nicole, who admits she misses the other candidates now that the pageant is over, particularly the ones she became friends with. “It’s not everyday that you get to be around people who share the same experience, industry, and passion with. It was a battle on-stage, but off-stage, it’s pretty much like hanging around with sisters.”

Nicole grabbed the chance to have a moment with Catriona Gray,
Binibining Pilipinas-Universe 2018,  at “This is Me: Brave and Free”.

On top of her preparations, Nicole felt excited when she found time to spend with Binibining Pilipinas Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, who graced the Anglo site during the recently-concluded This Is Me: Brave and Free HIV-screening event. “Her presence is refreshing. She’s down to earth and comfortable to be with.” Asked about one unforgettable tip Catriona gave her before her pageant, Nicole said “Eat chocolates right after the swimsuit round. You need the sugar rush for the Q&A.”

Rediscovering Roots

When faced with life-altering decisions, Nicole responds best with perfect timing. When she started joining pageants, she had the desire, so she got the needed nudge from her friends who support her. The same is true when, at the age of 20, Nicole decided to begin her biomedical transition to as a transgender woman.

When a dear friend died at a young age, Nicole realized that, indeed, life is too short to not take your happiness upon yourself. “Do what makes you happy.” It’s a cliché for most people, until a situation makes it a reality. It’s a reality Nicole decided she wanted for herself, so when she got a slot for an internship at a hotel in Marco Island in Florida, USA, she used it to gradually perform the changes she wanted done. The circumstances seemed to align, somehow. “It helped that I was away,” explains Nicole, “because I got a chance to complete my transition without gaining a lot of outside reaction. I’m away from family and friends, even in Florida, I didn’t attract attention.”

The challenge arose when she flew back to Manila. While Nicole’s relationship with her mom remained seamless despite the change, she can’t say the same yet when it comes to her dad. Nicole’s never closing doors, though: “I believe it will happen in time.”

Her optimism extends from the confines of her family, and out to her friends, colleagues, and anyone who’s yet to understand the difference between tolerance and acceptance. “People can easily say they’re OK with it. In fact, they do, all the time. But when it happens in front of their own eyes, to someone close to them, it’s different.” Nicole is aware how this remains to be a challenge, one that lingers on even after the process of biomedical transitioning is done. Not only is she hopeful that true acceptance overcomes tolerance, she has learned to take it upon herself to do something to make it happen as well.

Instrument and Inspiration

Nicole saw an opportunity to scale up this personal challenge into an advocacy. Instead of limiting her goal of genuine acceptance to just friends and families, she recognized how transgender women like her share the same struggle around people who probably lack knowledge and sensitivity regarding Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE), react differently towards the concept, or are simply unwelcoming or closed-minded. She began engaging into conversations surrounding this topic whenever she can, making sure to do whatever she can for the cause.

Her role of championing advocacies in the community take a different turn when she decided to take a friend for HIV screening at LoveYourself Anglo in July 2017. “This friend engages in risky activity, so when I finally convinced her to get tested, I wanted to be there,” recalls Nicole. She lets out a chuckle when she remembers how, because of the wait time for the results, she decided to get herself tested as well. “I’m already there, anyway, so might as well.”

The accommodating aura and the welcoming warmth made her think of signing up as a volunteer. It also made her realize how the HIV advocacy is strongly related and equally crucial to the transgender cause she firmly believes in. The idea of being able to advocate for both causes as a way to give back to the community excited and challenged her. Nicole found herself staring at a chance to do something concrete, as a volunteer, and she grabbed it. She joined LoveYourself as a member of Batch Duque in September of that year.

Nicole shares how the organization has done more for her.“It allowed me to push for greater things, even those I never thought I could do. It gave me a better sense of understanding of the community I belong to. It led me to find the sisters I treasure dearly. It feels great to be around people who share your  wavelength, your passion, your heart.” LoveYourself served as an instrument for Nicole to take her advocacy further, not only educating about SOGIE and transgender rights, but also incorporating self-love in the context of HIV testing and treatment. Nicole finds inspiration in the co-volunteers she has fondly treasured as family; the leaders she look up to as role models, even the clients she takes care of during counseling.

“I’m very happy I have found sisters.” Nicole poses with her co-volunteers after a dutiful day at Victoria by LoveYourself.

Dedicated to Educate

“I still get frustrated,” admits Nicole, when asked how it feels whenever there are insensitive or hateful comments against the transgender community, or ignorant assumptions on any LGBTQIA topic.

I remember reaching out to someone I didn’t know through social media because she made comments that are selective and insensitive. I explained and communicated in a way that’s informative and not condescending. This person reasoned out to me how it’s only a matter of preference, but in the end, she apologized.

When the situation calls for it, Nicole is not one to back down easily, and can go on and on to make sure she gets her point across. “I believe they speak or act a certain way based on what the know. It’s how important education is.”

It can get tough for Nicole if it happens in the workplace. “You may sometimes hear people murmur remarks that are uncalled for. Some people would still joke about it, until now.” This admission comes at a time when the BPO industry has always shown support towards diversity and inclusivity, ahead of other industries in the country. “I have talked to friends or colleagues about it. Some have been receptive, others weren’t as open-minded.”

Nicole is aware this challenge is far from over, and she believes being a BPO Queen runner-up and LoveYourself counselor will enable her to achieve more. She plans to stick to what she does best—educating and inspiring from experience—to break the barriers of ignorance and hate and bridge it with understanding and compassion. She also aspires to influence more people who feel a strong passion for advocacy to follow her example and do something about it, the way she did by joining LoveYourself. Like a true queen with a purpose, there’s no stopping her, and she’s calling out for support and action.

Text and featured image by Ulysses Konstantin Largado
Photos courtesy of Nicole Silvestre