Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Interview with Rica Salomon

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Rica Salomon, a young video blogger that documents her transition on YouTube. Hello Rica!
Rica: Hello Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Rica: Hi! My name is Rica Salomon, 24 years old and I was born and raised in Manila, Philippines. I just recently graduated from a Jesuit university here in my country and I took up AB Interdisciplinary Studies having communications and psychology as my main tracks.
Right now, I am currently focusing on my YouTube channel and at the same time trying to venture into putting up my own business. I am eyeing either franchising my father’s restaurant or starting my own beauty salon.
Monika: Your vlog is very popular. You talk about many topics about your transition. What has been the hardest topic that you have ever covered?
Rica: The hardest would probably be my transition video solely because it shows everything about my past which, in the past, I was uncomfortable sharing others with. When I transitioned after graduating high school, I untagged and deleted most of my past photos on Facebook because I did not want people to see how I was back then. I was ashamed of my past and it made me uncomfortable. I felt ugly.

A promotional photo that Rica did for
a pageant. Shot by: Cholo Dela Vega.

However, I realize that you can never forget your past, you can simply move on from it. I learned to accept and love myself for who I am now and for who I was before. I learned to embrace my past and now I am proud to say that “yes, that was me back then, but this is me now.”
I take pride in everything that I have accomplished and all the hardships that I had to face in order to be who I am now. So yeah… that was the hardest topic I had to cover because it’s me publishing my story online. It’s me showing the whole world about who I was and who I am now.
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on YouTube?
Rica: There are actually a lot of reasons why I decided to put up my YouTube channel and one of which would be because I really do LOVE making videos. After graduating college, I gave YouTube vlogging a shot… at first, it was just supposed to be an experiment if I could pull off vlogging then eventually it became a commitment.
Through time, I met people who would share their stories with me and also send wonderful messages that I inspire them in one way or another.
My boyfriend is the number one supporter I have and he keeps pushing me to upload a new video every week. He got me started in vlogging because he believes I have a lot to share with the world which may help other people, and I am so glad he did.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Rica: There’s an improvement, but it’s still just tolerance rather than acceptance. The Philippines still has a long way to go before we can truly say that transgender women and even people who are part of the LGB community will be respected and treated equally by Filipinos and under the law.

Her graduation photo. She had to petition and
fight for her right to be allowed to present
herself as a woman in the yearbook and in
graduation ceremony.

As much as I would love to believe in a future of LGBT rights here, I highly doubt that will happen anytime soon because even now we remain the only country that still prohibits divorce.
Most of our government officials do not separate church and state– Just like Manny Pacquiao, who has a seat in the Philippine government and commented that people of the LGBT community are lower than animals.
Despite having big personalities who dominate the Philippine media – the Philippines remains to be a country where we are seen and treated as second-class citizens.
A recent example would be Jennifer Laude who was murdered by an American soldier, Scott Pemberton, and was victim-shamed and was blamed for deserving to be killed for being transgender or for pretending to be a woman.
So to answer this question – we’re in a constant battle with society but we are getting by. 
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Rica: I started the moment I graduated from High School. I’ve always known deep down I was transgender but I had to conform with my school for the first few years of my life because I studied in a private all-boys school, run by Jesuits. There was a dress code that included school uniforms and a proper hair length so I really had no choice but to conform to society.
As much as I would have loved to live my early life as a transwoman, I did it for my education as it was the best school in the Philippines and I also did it for my parents. I did not have a hard time during my stay because classmates already knew that I was different and they treated me well.
After high school, that was when I started growing my hair and slowly changing the way I dressed one step at a time. It wasn’t a difficult process because I had a good support system and like I said, it’s not something new to the eyes of Filipino people since there is a big transgender presence in the country. 
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Rica: I followed Kim Petras, a transgender woman from Germany who is a singer and a YouTube artist. I was inspired by her story and was jealous of her beauty. As I transitioned I had other transgender models like Nong Poy, Gigi Gorgeous, PrincessJoules, and Geena Rocero.

LA Pride 2015.

Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Rica: I really admire and respect Nong Poy. She was Thailand’s Miss International Queen back in 2004 and until now she has maintained her status in Thailand.
With numerous endorsements and covers from magazines, TV appearances, and movies, she truly is someone I admire and respect. She has proven that transgender women can be mainstream media and that transgender women can be successful.
Other transgender inspirations I have would be Laverne Cox, Geena Rocero, and Trixie Maristela.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Rica: I never really had to come out to anyone including my parents. I think everyone already expected and knew I was different ever since so coming out wasn’t really difficult for me. My family and friends have always been supportive and I am so thankful and blessed to have them.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Rica: Well I think there has been an improvement regarding the portrayal of transgender characters in media. I think some are very raw, real, and positive while there are others (especially in the Philippines) that portray transgender women as a freak, an act, or a comedic character.
Stereotypes are made from these portrayals and as far as I’m concerned I think so far I’ve seen more good than bad, but I might be wrong. There will always be someone who will feel they aren’t being represented in the right way so I hope there would be more chances and more opportunities to see transgender characters in different aspects.

She is a volleyball athlete, she used to be a varsity
player for her school.

Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Rica: Within the LGBT group? My thesis in college was to study the stigma within the LGBT community and how the role of media contributes to discrimination. In my study, I learned that in the Philippines, there is truly a stigma that happens within this group and it leads towards heteronormativity.
I believe that the transgender community, no matter how vocal and influential, and powerful their voices are, there is still a difficulty in promoting the transgender cause within the group. People wouldn’t want to be associated with the other…which is sad because how do we fight for equality when we ourselves do not practice it.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Rica: Anyone can make a difference in politics as long as they have the right heart, mind, and passion for it.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Rica: I’m your typical girl-next-door with a sporty twist. My usual go-to outfit would be a tank top, shorts, and sneakers. Although there are times where I would feel like dressing up and putting on make-up and curling my hair. I don’t think I’m trendy nor am I a trendsetter, but I make sure I’m never out of style.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Rica: I think they should make it more serious and add more substance into the competition.

It's not the first time I wore a bikini but having this photo
taken I can't help but remember the first time I wore a
bikini to the beach. I really felt liberated and  confidently
beautiful with my black bikini with a ruffled skirt back in 2011.
As a woman that was born different, the first time I wore
a bikini was truly an empowering moment. I embraced
all my imperfections and insecurities. I felt comfortable in
my own skin and because of that, I was able to conquer
my fears...then the beach... NOW THE WORLD.

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Rica: I think being born different in this world, I think love is really something we long for and is important to us. We just want to feel like we belong in this harsh world that excludes us. It doesn’t have to be romantic love, it can be love from your friends and family.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Rica: Yes! I even wish and plan to make a movie out of my life… because I’m that iconic. Just Kidding! But seriously though, I do want to make a movie because I feel like I have a story to tell.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Rica: Not really. Just really focusing on my YouTube channel.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Rica: Don’t rush. It is a beautiful experience to grow and learn more about yourself and fully understand who you are as a person. Everyone is just finding his or her own place in this world and you are not alone in your journey.
Monika: Rica, thank you for the interview! 

For more information about Rica, check her pages on YouTube and Instagram.
All the photos: courtesy of Rica Salomon.
© 2016 - Monika Kowalska

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