Women’s Month Series: Josie Cuanan on Rejecting the Binary
Who decides your gender? Read how modern woman, Josie Cuanan shares her journey and struggles in rejecting the binary.
Do you recall the day when you came out? Can you take me to that moment?
Josie: Yeah, I think I remember it very vividly, back then I was running a YouTube channel. And then one day, I was in my room. I was making a video and I was planning to make a coming-out video. I had shoot it many times. I didn’t want the people in the house to hear what I was recording, but eventually, I basically just came out via YouTube. I uploaded the video, posted it, and even reposted it on my Facebook.
And then basically that’s how I came out to the world but with regards to how I came out to my family, I only ever came up to my mom. She was in New Zealand back then. I just chatted with her messenger, told her everything from start to finish. I even posted our conversations in one of my blogs, I was also writing back then. I was initially very sad about how she responded, but I think she has now come to terms with it slowly and on her own.
[Aside from your mom] Were there any challenges when you came out?
Josie: I think my biggest challenge was I didn’t really feel like I would be totally accepted, especially by my family here because they’re Catholic, they follow the Bible but after I posted that video, one of my aunts was really supportive. She started using my pronouns and called me by my preferred name. In school, one of my biggest challenges was my name. It’s long and very masculine there were a lot of challenges but then I came to know Lee, a law student who was also trans. And then I think seeing her being her true self and being in law school, it’s what really pushed me to transition while I was still in college and not have the push that back. That was one of my biggest fears, month, like being alone and then going through everything, like not knowing what to do, but then after I graduated college, I fought, I found a close group of friends at Work. Able to do where they guided me and mentored me a lot to do, especially since hormone replacement therapy in the Philippines, isn’t really that common in terms of getting doctors. So they really get it in what and what not to do.
How will you explain to someone who doesn’t understand what trans women are?
Josie: I definitely see that a lot online, maybe even in person and even in my family now. There’s one person, aside from my sisters and my parents and my family that against all of it, they’ve really been accepting and not just tolerating, because what I see here is they’re much more tolerant than accepting and those are two very different things. What I can say to, or how I stayed being trans to these people is that “it’s a different generation, we’re in a different era”. We’re not redefining what womanhood is. We’re just defining it in our own terms. Our womanhood has also been challenged day in, day out, sexually, psychologically, and even socially.
So it’s not about what’s in between our legs. It’s what’s in our hearts. What’s in our hearts is what makes sense of who we are. We don’t have to identify into a certain binary. There are no binaries out there and they’re just as valid.
What do you think is one current issue that the queer identities are currently facing that you personally experienced?
Josie: First is that until now, we still don’t have laws that protect us; the discrimination bill hasn’t been passed. And second is not being able to change your name and your gender in legal documents. That’s such a hassle when you go through everyday tasks processing a few documents seeing your dead name, wrong gender on your documents. And it’s disheartening getting weird looks from people cause I look so feminine but my name’s so masculine and it does not reflect who you are.
I’m not ashamed of being trans. I just don’t want to make it a habit to be outed because I have to. And that just makes me overall uneasy, uncomfortable, but as time passes and as a trans woman here in this country, or maybe even as a queer person and any other spectrum of the LGBTQ, you kind of just brushed it off and say it is what it is.
How did you gain that confidence to step up and speak up for yourself?
Josie: I think my confidence grew over time. I’m such a shy and introverted person. Sometimes when I go out or have to speak in front of a crowd, I usually have to pull that from inside myself and just fake it, fake it till you make it. I’ll tell you honestly. I’m not 100% confident all the time, but when I have to, it takes a bit of work and it’s kind of draining, but you have to do what you have to do.
Some people don’t fully understand that a transwoman is a woman. How will you explain it in a way they could better understand it?
Josie: That’s not actually a huge problem for Gen Zs. I think now they’re very open to these new identities. They’re really open to change. However, for older generations who do not understand so much to simply, “I am who I am. I don’t question who you are. You don’t question who I am.”
I think that’s the most simple way to put it because if you really try to push, I am on him, it will be exhausting. Just have those standards on all the time. So I was just in BCI MYM. Don’t question me because I’m not questioning who you are.
What do you want to say to all the women who have the same struggles as you do?
Josie: Just be you and be empathetic because, at the end of the day, we never know what these people are going through, the hardships that they are going through, how much they’re bottling up inside of them. It never hurts and it doesn’t cost us anything to be empathic.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.