The challenges of transphobia

As society struggles with gender issues and understanding what these entail, it is inevitable that there would be those who are uncomfortable with exploring the topic.

It is when “awkward” and “unaware” become “inconsiderate” and “hurtful” that such instances need to be called out. A line is crossed when banter becomes bullying.

Esquire Magazine Philippines posted a seemingly innocuous article about singer Charice Pempengco’s recent announcement of name change to “Jake Zyrus.”

The lauded performer came out as transgender male some years ago, changing his appearance and clothing to reflect this decision. The name change, announced on his Instagram, is the latest move in a gradual process of sharing his identity with the public.

The Esquire PH article, written by editorial assistant Miguel Escobar, is titled “Jake Zyrus and the Challenges of Personal Reinvention.” The headline was interesting; I thought it would be a look into transgender individuation and the ways this may be accomplished.

I was wrong.

It turned out to be a mean-spirited and contemptuous mockery of the new name Pempengco chose.

After explaining about the name change, the writer goes on to say: “We’re happy for Jake Zyrus. We really are. It took courage to come out, to transition…” In my experience, the phrase “we really are” signals the opposite of what the writer has just declared.

“It is, after all, Jake Zyrus’ choice, and no one else’s. And hell, we dare say it took balls to make that choice.” Indeed.

“But while we stand in full support of Jake Zyrus’ decision, his new identity, and the right of every transgender person to identify with a name of his or her choosing, we can’t help but feel that Charice could have picked a better name than Jake Zyrus.”

There it is—the “but.” Why? After acknowledging that it’s “every transgender person’s right” to pick their own name, Escobar derides the singer’s choice.

“Charles, maybe. Or Chandler. Chandler Pempengco has a nice ring to it, right? Anything but Jake Zyrus.” Miguel, perhaps?

These remarks are so elitist, the entire article not only galls but infuriates. This diatribe against a name reminds me of “coño kids” back in school who mocked classmates with less than patrician monickers. It’s hegemon versus jejemon.

But no, Escobar wasn’t done. He went further. If this were a movie this is the point where the viewer would scream, “Don’t go there!” But he does.

He continues: “Jake Zyrus” sounds like it could be the name of a vampire hunter who vanquishes his foes using two automatic rifles and a machete that’s glazed with the blood of a newly slaughtered elf. “Jake Zyrus” sounds like the name of a character that Keanu Reeves would play in an R-13 movie that your 11-year old cousin really wants to see. “Jake” and “Zyrus” sound like they could be the names of Blue Ivy’s new twin siblings.”

This sounds like those school bullies going “nya, nya, nya.”

Escobar ends with a sop: But “Jake Zyrus” is the name that Charice chose—and goddammit, he’ll use it if he wants to.” After trampling all over the name. Right. Sarcasm much?

The vast majority of comments about the article were negative: “Judgmental!” “Why ridicule someone’s name? #transphobic.” “Tasteless and very ignorant.” And, a blow to the writer (and it should sting): “Poorly written na nga, insensitive pa.”

Several commenters urged Esquire Mag PH to take down the article. As of presstime, they have not.

There are many risks—physical, mental, emotional—associated with coming out. Many young people still fear revealing their true sexual orientation, particularly if they belong to families where being non-cisgender is something to be ashamed of.

My daughters have friends who agonize about how to tell their family they’re gay or trans. Some of those who have come out, instead of being accepted by those closest to them, have been scolded, ostracized, beaten, ignored, or met with other sorts of negative reaction.

For Esquire Mag PH to post this article in the first place, and refuse to delete it after the scathing comments, shows their stance on the issue.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. However, this article has a prejudicial character to it that cannot be overlooked. It was unkind. It was mean. It was unnecessary.  

And it is when commentaries like this are normalized and given value through exposure on a high-profile magazine website that a disservice is done, in this case to the LGBTQ community.

Jake Zyrus, congratulations on your new name! Esquire PH, your move—and may you do the right thing.

Dr. Ortuoste is a California-based writer. FB: Jenny Ortuoste, Twitter: @jennyortuoste, IG: @artuoste

Topics: Jenny Ortuoste , The challenges of transphobia , Esquire Magazine Philippines , Miguel Escobar , Charice Pempengco , Jake Zyrus
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