Interview with Sass Rogando Sasot - Part 2

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Sass: For me, coming out is not a one-time thing - it’s an endless process. Coming out is disclosing ourselves. Disclosure is a fundamental part of our lives as humans. In order to connect with another human being, we have to open up and let another person enter into our lives. Every disclosure is different. Our experience of it depends on the person we are disclosing to.
The hardest thing I’ve experienced is being able to convince my mother that my life wouldn’t waste away by living as a woman. My mother, just like every person in the position of responsibility, is prone to fear. The highly-publicized murder of Jennifer Laude reinforced her fear. If she could have her way, she would have wanted me to live like a gay guy - like Boy Abunda, a famous TV personality in the Philippines. This is because the images of gay guys she is exposed to are more positive and empowering.
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?
Sass: We can, but it wouldn’t be easy because LGBT is such a big tent. There’s a risk that our cause might be drowned by the various issues this group is fighting for. We have to be able to do our own thing, outside this tent. We would definitely need support from LGB folks, and from other people, to pursue our political goals. Because our issues intersect a lot, working together makes political sense.
But we must always remember that solidarity is not about getting in front of somebody and leading the fight, drowning her voices with our agenda, which she may or may not agree with. Solidarity is standing beside somebody, encouraging her to speak, lending her our power so that she can be heard. But she can't be heard if we are the ones speaking all the time.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Sass: It’s improving, but we need more positive, empowering radically different characters. I hope that we can have more trans characters whose storyline doesn’t revolve around being trans. I want to see a trans character who is in a position of responsibility, for example, a film in which the President is trans. Perhaps a remake of the Matrix, in which The One or Morpheus or even Trinity is trans? Perhaps a trans James Bond - why not?
I mean, why not have a new Dirty Sexy Money with a trans senator rather than a trans mistress? Real life already provides inspiration for such characters. The poet Lucille Clifton once said, “We cannot create what we cannot imagine.” Thus, if these creative outlets cannot create in a reel world other possibilities a trans person’s life can take, how can we create them in real life? Art must not just imitate or reflect life back to us, it must co-create a new way of being.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Sass: I’ve been exposed at a very early age to the political dimension of our life. My first exposure was by witnessing the brutal side of humanity’s struggle for power. I grew up in downtown Manila. The Malacañang Palace, the presidential office and residence, the seat of political power in the Philippines, was just walking distance from where we are. The historical Mendiola (now known as Chino Roces Avenue), as well as the bustling Claro M. Recto stretch, was just a hop away.
I was four when I witnessed the 1987 Mendiola Massacre. Six when I woke up to helicopters hovering on top of our house during the 1989 coup d’etat against President Aquino. It was very seldom to see Mendiola without a protest rally. I think it’s a bit misleading to think that there’s any moment in our lives in which we are not active in politics, i.e. not participating in the struggle for power. This struggle for power is what brought into being the state of affairs in which we live now and in which we would live in the future Even being apathetic is being active in politics. One cannot be apathetic without choosing to be one. Apathy is a response to and not an escape from politics.

During a talk with the students of the University of the Philippines.

I have participated in lobbying campaigns before. When the anti-discrimination bill was first presented in Philippine Congress in early 2000, it was just addressing sexual orientation. I was one of the voices that encouraged the main proponents of the bill to include gender identity and expression. The proposed bill was revised to include these categories.
Though it has not been passed into law yet, this trans-inclusive bill became the prototype of anti-discrimination laws passed at the local level. My libertarian side, however, cautions me about relying on the coercive power of the State to effect social change. Laws’ normative power comes from two things: fear and internalization.
Monika: So what should we aim for?
Sass: People either obey laws because they fear the consequence of doing so, afraid of experiencing the harshness of the State’s coercive power, or people obey laws because they believe in what the law tries to accomplish. The latter is what we should aim for. This entails educating the public, shaping a more inclusive mindset through dialogue, and being positively visible in different institutions of influence and responsibility.
Trans women can make a difference in politics if they are competent and passionate in politics. I won’t vote for someone because they happen to have the same identity as me. You see, when you assume these positions of influence and responsibility, the decisions that you are going to make will affect everyone regardless of who they are. Thus, trans women, just like anybody else, can make a difference in politics if they have an insightful mind, a visionary outlook, and a strong sense of duty.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Sass: A nice pair of heels is a must. Hahahah! Well, I'm not really following trends. I dress according to my mood - which is usually laid back - and according to the situation. What you wouldn’t see me wearing is jewelry. It’s very very very rare to see me wearing any item of jewelry. I’m not fond of them.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Sass: There’s this line in Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, one of my favorite films, that aptly sums up what I think of love: “Unless you love, your life will flash by.” Love is what makes life worth all the fuss. But love here doesn’t just pertain to romantic love but love in all its manifestations - passion in what we do, appreciation of our own version of humanity, trust in our ability to thrive and flourish. Without these, my life would have been meaningless.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Sass: I am now working to realize my aspiration of becoming an international relations scholar and practitioner of diplomacy. This is where most of my energies will focus on the next ten or twenty years of my life. Getting into that selective 2-year MSc in International Relations & Diplomacy brings me a step closer to this goal.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Sass: I recommend that they love themselves a little bit more and live their lives as a monument to their souls. Their greatest saboteur is not society but themselves. I’ve said this somewhere else before and I would like to repeat it here. The challenges we trans people face exist in a vicious circle. Each point in that circle feeds on each other, giving this cycle a momentum that is very difficult to counteract.

During a poetry reading session in the Philippines.

One crucial point in that circle is our internalized transprejudice, which is a set of practices and beliefs whose underlying assumption is that trans people are not human beings, therefore they don’t deserve respect and appreciation. The danger starts when we start acting on that assumption by engaging in reckless, irresponsible, and self-defeating behavior. I have struggled with this myself.
Trans people should start being aware of how they have internalized the prejudice and bigotry against them. When one becomes aware, one can be able to arrest the damaging effects of internalized transprejudice. We trans people cannot stand up and claim our rights, or even love wholeheartedly, without first reclaiming ourselves from prejudice and bigotry. This is a difficult and long process, but it needs to be done so one can fully live.
Monika: Sass, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: Courtesy of Sass Rogando Sasot.
© 2015 - Monika Kowalska

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