Emmanuel Agbayani is a 32 year old transgender woman from the town of Flora in the province of Apayao. She was born male. Growing up in their community was not easy because even at an early age, she knew who she was and it was truly a struggle. It was the love, understanding, and wholehearted acceptance of her family that got her through all the other rejection she has felt throughout the years.
Not All Heroes Wear Capes
Emannuel or Emma as she wants to be called now was the only one who finished her secondary education while the rest of her siblings only got through elementary. Due to financial constraints, even she, wasn’t able to continue on to the tertiary level, but this did not stop her from persevering to do better.
During planting and harvesting season, she works in the rice fields; and in between seasons, she works as a freelance beautician in their town. Emma also works in the rice merchandise where she met her partner, Jofrey.
The Four Letter Word
It wasn’t love at first sight, but it was indeed, love. Emma recalled she didn’t really like Jofrey when they first met because she was scared of him. “Ang pangit niya kasi ma’am kaya ko siya tinatakbuhan” she said with a laugh. She even used to hide in the stockpile and ran to the merchandise store whenever she saw him coming. But this did not keep Jofrey from pursuing her and eventually got together in 2003. This is when she said “may totoong magmamahal at nagmamahal pala sakin ma’am”.
Emma described their thirteen-year relationship to be romantic and fun-loving. Although she also shared that it wasn’t easy. In fact, for the first two years of their relationship, they have encountered countless trials that tested both of them, but they managed through their increased love, trust, humor, and most importantly, prayer.
Acceptance and Moving Forward
Since she was openly a transgender woman, Jofrey’s family had a hard time accepting her. They even called her names and threw heartbreaking insults her way. “Marami akong natanggap na pang-aapi at insulto pero pinaglaban ko siya ma’am, kase mahal ko siya”, Emma shared.
And true enough, they have beaten the insurmountable obstacle in their relationship and are now living together in their own built house together with her son.
A Family, a Home, and a Brighter Future
In 2009, Emma became a grantee of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program with her son as her beneficiary. She shared that the program gave her hope and a better understanding of life.
“Idi awan pay ti Pantawid, pirmi a kakaasi kami makasangit ak pay ta awan maipabalon ko jay ubing aglalo nga dakkel tulong na diyay binulan nga Family Development Sessions. Idi awan pay ti FDS kasla kurang ti ammuk, ngem gapu FDS adu naadal ko panggep ti panagbiyag ken ti Apo”, Emma added.
Emma also shared that with the grant, she is now able to buy her son a pair of slippers and new notebooks every year. With the grant, she was able to feed him three times a day unlike before, when she was lucky to have two meals a day.
Most importantly, she shared that with these sessions, she learned to become a better “housewife” and that her faith became even deeper.
Empowered and Motivated
Earlier this year, the Pantawid beneficiaries in Flora voted for Emma to become one of their Parent Leaders. “Active nak gamin ma’am ti amin nga aktibidades mi ijay barangay, isu siguro imbotos nak ti kakadwak”, she shared.
Emma manifested determination to continuously learn in every Family Development Session and she wants to share this with her fellow beneficiaries. Thus, she goes all out to encourage them to actively participate in all activities by patiently going around their barangay and visiting them in their houses just to remind them of scheduled payouts and meetings.
With her positive attitude and knowledge acquired in the program, Emma became an officer in their local cooperative. She is also active in the Self-Employment Assistance Kaunlaran (SEA-K) program under the Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP) of the DSWD.
Emma is the first transgender woman Parent Leader in Apayao. Her gender identity and her life condition did not stop her from improving and developing her skills and knowledge by actively participating not only in the activities of the Department but also in all the other activities in their town. Her gender identity did not also hinder her from building and realizing a family of her own. This did not hinder her from becoming a good wife and a mother.
The struggles she have conquered through these years only made her stronger, and she is now more than ever ready to face any challenges that may come her way. “Awan ti imposible ken Apo nu mamati ka ken agwalo ka, dakkel ti intulong ti Pantawid program kenyak kenti pamilyak. Masaya maging beneficiary, haan lang nga gapu ijay kwarta ngem gapu ijay da maisusuro tunggal Family Development Sessions, ta dakami nga awan adal na ket dakkel nga tulong diyayen”, Emma shared. #DSWD-CAR, SOCIAL MARKETING UNIT, Phylein Maria Rosette U. Callangan with Claudine Cosi