Many Filipino transgender people are still fighting for equality and respect, but if the positive reaction to a viral post written by a graduate of Ateneo de Manila University is any indication, people are (hopefully) becoming increasingly supportive of their right to live as the gender with which they identify.
Trans student Nicholai Belgica, 20, posted her graduation photo on Facebook late last month, showing her holding a portrait of herself taken pre-transition. In her caption, she wrote that seeing her teenage self was “surreal.”
“[F]our years ago, I didn’t think I’d be as happy as I am today. How I wish I could go back in time and show this to 15-year old Nicholai, so that she wouldn’t be so hard on herself! The truth is, I may look different — but my heart is still, and always has been, the same. I will always be proud of my journey, because it took so long and so much to get here,” she said.
“Thank you to Ateneo and most especially my parents for allowing me to discover and ultimately express my truest self. Thank you for consistently supporting my happiness. I will forever and always be grateful to you,” she wrote in her post, which has been shared almost 1,400 times.
In a Facebook interview with Coconuts Manila, Belgica explained why she decided to include her teenage photo.
“I wanted to make sure that my grad photo was something that represented me and my journey, and I felt like holding a picture of my past self was the perfect way to depict that,” she said.
She explained that she started transitioning at 18 years old and that everyone around her was supportive when she did.
“I had always known that I was very much feminine, but I never really knew about the concept of transgenderism up until I was in first-year college. I initially came out as gay to my parents and to my friends in high school — but once I discovered what being transgender was, it just felt more fitting and appropriate to what I felt inside,” she said.
“I transitioned at the age of 18, and luckily all my friends and family were very supportive of my journey. Everyone I loved cheered me on and that gave me the courage to continue with my transition despite the harsh emotional changes. I remember how happy I felt when I took my very first hormone pill, and ever since then my life has just been so much happier and better,” she said.
People loved her grad photo, especially her mother.
“Everybody was very supportive of the grad picture, particularly my mom who was basically just beaming with happiness when I initially showed her the picture after my shoot,” she said. “My friends and family have always been supportive of me being transgender so I guess I’m very lucky in that sense.”
Still, even Nicholai was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reactions that her grad photo has attracted, given that many trans people are still disrespected in the Philippines.
“I wasn’t expecting the flood of support and love from so many people,” she said. “I was actually a bit scared when it started gaining a bit more attention because I know in my heart there are people who can be mean on the internet, but so far everyone’s just been very supportive and loving and I’m thankful for that.”
Us too. All the best in your journey, Nicholai!
This article, Trans Ateneo graduate goes viral for posing with pre-transition photo, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!