I met Angel when we were freshmen in college. We were in the same bloc, so we had most of our classes together. Little did I know that, better than our professors, she would teach me one of the greatest lessons of humanity—respect.
The Weeds Pride and Prejudice
Angel isn’t her original name. Her birth name is a lot more masculine than that. She wasn’t much of a woman during our first years of acquaintance. Maybe it was because we were young back then and she was still exploring things. She used to wear tight baby-tees and flare pants, accentuating each of her flamboyant steps when she walked. Her hair was cut short, like a boy’s, but she flipped it whenever she could. She was good in volleyball, and I can remember seeing her play in the field with other sporty gay boys like her.
During that time, she seemed to have hated me. Despite the fact that there were other gay boys in our bloc, she always took to teasing and drawing attention toward me. She later admitted that it was because I did not have the feminine touch I ought to have had. It was quite a ridiculous reason to make fun of me, so I didn’t really think she was serious. Besides, whenever she teased me, I laughed. She was really good at lightening up the mood, so I didn’t really mind, even though it was at my own expense.
She was right though. I wasn’t as feminine as the other gay boys in our bloc. And I sure wasn’t as fun as they were. I wasn’t good at sports, and I tended to just stay in the office of the university publication I wrote for. No one would see me strut along the campus or party every night at the nearby bars. But then again, I didn’t care.
Little did Angel know that her seeming ridiculous hatred towards me was mutual. Brought up in a Catholic family and straight from a Catholic high school, I had a secret prejudice against cross-dressers. To me, they did not have to go as far as dressing and acting like women to rub it in people’s faces that they do not identify themselves as men. To me, I was better than Angel and the countless other transgenders who slave themselves in beauty parlors. And I let this unspoken pride and prejudice thrive in my chest, even as I talked face to face with her. I didn’t know any better.
In our Junior Year, everyone was shocked not to find the noisy and flamboyant Angel during registration. No one had any contact with her, so no one really knew what happened. The days and months went by with everyone busy with major subjects. Whenever we get together, someone always brought up Angel and what might have happened to her. All speculation stopped during registration of our final year.
The Blossoming of a Bud
Angel made her entrance, arms on her waist as she walked her Miss Universe walk. We weren’t surprised that she came back. What surprised us was how she looked. She definitely had turned into a 20-year-old woman like most girls in the batch. Her hair—highlighted with a dark shade of blonde—swayed straight to her waist. She was wearing undeniably women’s clothes, and, most of all, her chest was protected with a bra stuffed with God-knows-what.
To be completely honest, I was thrilled to have seen her after quite some time. But there was still a pang of disappointment over what she turned into. That year, we had a lot of classes together. She rented a room with one of my closest gay friends, so we eventually spent more time with each other, times we actually spent drinking.
It’s ironic to think that I had the most drinking binges in college during my graduating year. And I guess I can partly blame Angel for that. During that time, I was able to get closer to her, learn from her, and know her better. I found out that she chose the name “Angel” in honor of her favorite local actress, Angel Locsin. She also shared that all of her transgender friends are named after a local female celebrity, which was utterly amusing to me. I learned to understand and speak the then current swardspeak here in the Philippines. She also tried to teach me how to pick up guys, to which she failed miserably. But, most of all, she taught me something I will never forget.
Whenever she was asked why she stopped studying, her reply was always honest and straightforward. It was because her father refused to give her money for her tuition. She did not want to stay stagnant so she opted to earn money instead. The year she was out of school, Angel became a part-time makeup artist during town events and even worked at a call center.
That’s when it hit me. Angel also had a story of her own. Beyond her screaming, cross-dressing facade are real problems real people face. She had a lot on her plate that she decided not to care about what other people think about her. I realized that it was really stupid of me to overlook this fact, to only see things or people at face value.
The Seed of Respect
Like mucus stuck in my chest, I felt the pride and prejudice I held against Angel slowly dissolve the more I spent time with her. I also realized that there is no point comparing myself with her because she identifies herself as a woman, while I am a gay man. I could tell it, not just with the way she dresses, but with her stories about her past lovers. Who am I to think of myself as better than her when she had the worse in life and still survived?
There is this one side of Angel I will never forget. During my last month in the university, I went to Angel’s apartment unit and saw her alone. She was quietly looking at the wall, obviously in rarely deep thought. She was sitting on a cement pedestal with her legs against her chest. She was wearing a short dress, and I could see her hairy balls peeping from her panties. I didn’t mind though because I was more drawn to her face which I never saw so serious as before.
I didn’t bother to ask her because I knew I wouldn’t be able to delve into the depths of her mind. At the time, I could only guess. We were graduating and she would be left behind with the younger students she barely knew, and I could hardly imagine what that might be with her especially now that we had built something solid and strong.
I noticed that she was drinking straight from a Ginebra bottle, one of their cheapest but nastiest gin brands available. So I went inside, brought a glass, took my shot, and looked at the wall with her—in silence. I had to wait for quite some time before she broke the silence and dropped a joke, to which I laughed more than I ought to.
Angel didn’t finish college. She did not go back the year after. One of our well-off friends’ father wanted to support Angel’s study, but her reply was, as always, honest and straightforward: “My pride is all I have. Please don’t take that from me.”
It is not a question that Angel is a woman. But it also is not a question that, for her to become the woman she is, she needed balls. I have met a lot of transgenders but no one got closer to me than Angel. And I believe I would still have the same mindset that I had after high school – if not for her.
I just wish that, just like me, everyone would come to hit their head against a wall and realize that there is always something more to what we see. And drawing conclusions from only first impressions, makes us less human than we are trying to be.
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