A Transgender Paradox, and Platform, in the Philippines

Photo by Hannah Reyes Morales/nytimes.com

By Aurora Almendral/nytimes.com – Angel Cabaluna dusted makeup onto her thighs, styled her hair in loose curls and applied smoky eye shadow that glittered on her lids.

As this hamlet of cornfields and concrete houses prepared for festivities honoring its patron saint, and as some people gathered in prayer, Ms. Cabaluna, 20, was primping to compete in an annual transgender beauty pageant.

“This is our passion,” she later said.

Dominated by conservative morals taught by the Roman Catholic Church, the Philippines is also one of Southeast Asia’s most tolerant countries toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. And lawmakers are taking steps to ensure national legal protections that would penalize discrimination against them.

At the pageant, children sat cross-legged in the dirt, crowded close to the spindly stage where the contestants spun and danced in red feather headdresses, gold brocade and clouds of tulle. The crowd laughed and cheered as they delivered flowery speeches, weaving jokes with witty rhymes, beauty-queen platitudes and proclamations on gender equality.

In a nearby chapel, the pageant’s blaring pop songs mixed with the steady rhythm of churchgoers reciting the rosary.

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