(This article won 2nd place in the 2017 Metro Manila Film Festival essay writing contest – teachers’ category, the awarding ceremony for which was held last March 27. – MM)
Even before it started, the organizers of the recently-concluded 42nd Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) promised that it would be different from previous years, and they kept their word. Movies featuring perennial film fest stars like Vice Ganda and Vic Sotto didn’t make the cut while independent films earned the spots that could have gone to them instead.
One of the eight movies that were approved for inclusion in the 42nd MMFF is “Die Beautiful.” Directed by award-winning writer Jun Robles Lana, “Die Beautiful” revolves around Trisha Echevarria, a transgender woman who loved participating in beauty pageants throughout her short-but-colorful life. Television comedian Paolo Ballesteros played the role of Trisha, for which he won the Best Actor award during the film fest’s Awards Night.
The story shows Trisha’s journey through self-discovery (even as a young boy, she already enjoyed pretending to be a beauty queen), getting disowned by her own father, finding acceptance from friends, seeking romantic relationships, adopting a daughter, and ultimately, her sudden death. (1)
Pinoy LGBTs may not be as flamboyant as Trisha, but they can surely relate to the important issues that the movie effortlessly brings into focus including social acceptance, child adoption, as well as discrimination in public accommodations.
For that reason, and not to mention the movie’s compelling portrayal of the life of a transgender woman, it can be argued that “Die Beautiful” is the most gender sensitive film among the eight entries to the 2016 MMFF.
Long relegated as second fiddle to the lead stars, more and more Filipino movies in recent years have stories that centered on gay characters including “Markova: Comfort Gay” (2000), “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros” (2006), and “Ang Lihim ni Antonio” (2008). “Die Beautiful” is the latest addition to that.
As noted earlier, Jun Robles Lana’s movie discussed a lot of issues that resonate with the LGBT community here and around the world. One of this is the need for LGBTs to have acceptance from their family. According to the 2014 Pew Research Center’s Global Views on Morality survey, 65% of Filipinos see homosexuality as unacceptable. (2)
Getting insulted by your classmate or neighbor is never easy to deal with, but to hear harsh words about your sexual orientation from your own father will definitely cut you to the core.
Took many shots of d confrontation scene. Here d cam is on d brilliant Joel Torre. Christian is offscreen, but he still gave it his all. pic.twitter.com/cuc5HFNpqb
— Jun Robles Lana (@junrobleslana) January 14, 2017
Being rejected by your own family can have serious consequences. Apart from being a big blow to someone’s self-esteem, a team of researchers from the San Francisco State University led by Dr. Caitlin Ryan released a study in 2009 indicating that teenagers who’ve been rejected by their respective families due to their sexual orientation are more likely to experience health problems like depression, illegal drug use, and higher risk of HIV infection. (3)
Luckily for Trisha, she has friends like Barbs (played by Christian Bables, who won Best Supporting Actor) that helped her keep going even if she was disowned by her father (portrayed by veteran Joel Torre). In real life though, untold others aren’t as fortunate as her.
In the beginning of the movie, Trisha was shown adopting a baby girl from a poor mother. In a succeeding scene, Trisha and Barbs talked about the need for them to raise a child so that someone will at least take care of them when they grow old.
As American psychologist Dr. Vince Berger explained in his website, “being alone and lonely, and even just the fear of being alone, make many people insecure, anxious, and depressed.” (4)
For Filipino LGBTs, the possibility of growing old alone is a real one. While successful straight couples here can always seal their lifetime commitment to each other by getting married, there is no such thing to look forward to for Pinoy LGBT couples. There is fear for a lot of gay men that they may end up spending their final years on wheelchair assisted by a nurse caregiver.
While Pinoy LGBTs may look at child adoption as a way to ease this anxiety, the reality is not on their side. They are not legally prohibited technically from adopting a child, but a child rights expert from the University of the Philippines explained that their chances of being allowed to do so is not a sure thing especially if the assigned social worker from the Department of Social Welfare and Development deems that prospective LGBT adopters do not have “good moral character.” (5)
That appalling belief is baseless because according to the American Psychological Association (APA), the effectiveness of parents is not at all related to their sexual orientation.
“The body of research has shown that the adjustment, development and psychological well-being of children are unrelated to parental sexual orientation and that the children of lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those of heterosexual parents to flourish,” the organization reiterated in a position paper. “Die Beautiful,” in its own way, was able to show that transgenders can be good parents too just like Trisha toward her adoptive daughter Shirley Mae. (6)
Lastly, the movie also touches on the continued discrimination toward LGBTs in public accommodations. In one scene, a bar bouncer can be seen stopping Trisha from using the women’s washroom. She would have been forced to use the men’s washroom had her secret admirer Jesse (played by Luis Alandy) not intervened.
The question of whether transgenders can use the washroom they identify with, just like the debate whether it is appropriate for them to cross-dress, may seem like simple issues on the surface but they are not. Let us not miss the bigger picture here – can LGBTs truly express their sexual orientation and gender identity without fear of being rejected by their family, mocked by neighbors, losing their jobs, and stigmatized by the society?
Some local government units like the Quezon City government under Mayor Herbert Bautista and Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte have taken affirmative actions to combat anti-LGBT discrimination but a lot needs to be done at the national level. (7)
It is amazing how “Die Beautiful” was able to highlight so many issues concerning the LGBT sector in general and transgender community in particular in a movie less than two hours long. What’s more stunning is that it was done in such a way that won’t appear as lecturing, guilt-tripping, or patronizing to its viewers.
After all, one good way of promoting social acceptance of LGBT people through the media is by making viewers realize that just like straight people, they can also contribute greatly to their community and the country. As the world goes deeper into the 21st Century, long-held stereotypes must be challenged and replaced by more inclusive ideas. In conclusion, it is hoped that more gender-sensitive movies will be done in the mold of “Die Beautiful” in the near future.
Notes and references:
1) The use of the pronoun “she” to refer to Trisha Echevarria, the lead character of “Die Beautiful,” is a deliberate choice this author made. As elucidated by the United States-based advocacy group Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), transgenders must be addressed by the pronouns which they prefer. To learn more:____________. “Tips for Allies of Transgender People.” Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation website (http://www.glaad.org/transgender/allies)
2) ___________, “2014 Global Views on Morality survey results.” Pew research Center website (http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/04/15/global-morality/table/homosexuality)
3) Renna, Cathy. “Family rejection of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Adolescents and Negative Health Outcomes.” San Francisco State University – Family Acceptance Project website (https://familyproject.sfsu.edu/news-announce/family-rejection-lesbian-gay-and-bisexual-adolescents-negative-healt h-outcomes)
4) Berger, Vince. “Understanding Loneliness.” Psychologist Anywhere, Anytime website (http://www.psychologistanywhereanytime.com/relationships_psychologist/psychologist_loneliness.htm)
5) Go-Evangelista, Brian. “Inter-Country Adoption Laws and the Foreign Homosexual Couple as Prospective Adoptive Parents.” Philippine Law Journal online (http://plj.upd.edu.ph/wp-content/uploads/plj/PLJ%20volume%2081/PLJ%20volume%2080%20number%201/PLJ%20 volume%2081%20number%201%20-02-%20Ronald%20Brian%20Go-Evangelista%20-%20Philippine%20Inter-Countr% 20Adoption%20Laws.pdf)
6) ________________. “APA on Children Raised by Gay and Lesbian Parents.” American Psychological Association website (http://www.apa.org/news/press/response/gay-parents.aspx)