My sister is a trans‑woman. Maybe because we were the two middle children that she became the one I am closest with. Maybe it was also because we had the same sensibility: we didn’t go out as much, we stayed at home after school, we didn’t really have friends, whenever we’d get sick we cried because my mom didn’t let us go to school. Our pastime involved watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway and rooting for different finalists, with her choice always ending up winning or getting farther than my pick. We are two years apart. I graduated ninth out of my elementary class composed of 21 sections. She graduated second. In our respective high school graduations, I finished salutatorian, she finished valedictorian.
She took care of my dad when he was sick. She was already in college then, doing all-nighters for design plates. My mom was working, my other sister still lived with her husband, I was busy juggling school and work.
Last year, after seven years in university, she graduated with a degree in architecture. It took her 2 years longer to finish her course, mostly because we didn’t have the money to print the design boards for her thesis. In those seven years she went to school with money just enough for her fare, no extra for food or anything else.
Weeks after her graduation, we found an employment opportunity. We were prepared, we made a resume and wrote her application letter.
The night before her interview, she messaged me and asked me how interviews went, asked me what questions were usually asked. She asked me what I thought she should wear. The day before her graduation, she asked me what kind of shoes would look best with her dress. She showed me pictures, discussed with me what made this or that a better choice. This was the same routine, except that this time, it felt like she was second‑guessing herself. She wore a skirt when she presented her thesis, she wore a dress in her graduation ceremonies. It was logical to me that if she wanted to wear a skirt, she should wear one. So when she asked me if she should wear a skirt, I told her to wear a skirt. I told her to wear what she wanted. I told her that she should wear what she wants to.
Days after the interview, I received a message from her. She asked me whether or not she should still wait for the response of the company she applied for. She told me that when she was about to meet the company’s president as part of the final application process, the company’s vice‑president for human resources came to her and told her that the president was in a meeting. The VP told her that they’d just reschedule the final interview. The VP said that they’d call her back. Weeks passed, and she didn’t get that call. This, after everyone who went through the same application process (who met the company president on the same day they were interviewed) had already received their application results. This, after the same VP told her that she had a great interview and that she got high scores in the exams. Weeks came and went and, when she tried to inquire, the same VP told her that their company did not allow “severe cross‑dressing.”
During the conversation, she asked me, “Should I wear a skirt for my next interview?” This has been the fourth or fifth time she asked me this. Always, my answer is “Wear a skirt, wear what you want.” When she gets rejected, my go‑to response is “hayaan mo sila, baka mga tanga nagtatrabaho diyan.” I would’ve decided to respond with a variation of these responses today, but it has been a month now and she gets the same treatment. The last time, in a skirt, she was told that she cannot use the women’s room. The last time, she was asked if she was open to choosing “more normal clothes” if ever she gets hired. I can only imagine how tiring it is. I can only imagine how hard it is to have your very being discredited. I can always insist that she can wear what she wants to wear, but I can only imagine how difficult it is to be at the receiving end of rejections that dismiss your ability because you chose to wear a skirt.
So today I asked her, “Ano feeling mo?” “Hindi ko na alam, nabibwisit na ako… Nakakadepress.”
I didn’t know how to respond. I just stared at my phone’s screen. I was thinking of what to say. I was thinking of how to answer without making her feel that even I didn’t know the answer. That even I—the only one in my family to get into UP, the first one to finish a proper degree, have a passport and go overseas, the first one to get a government ID, even—can’t do anything to make these stupid people understand how smart she is, how she finished college with almost no proper support from our family, what a great person she is. She even continued taking care of my dad after he almost hit her. She even asked me to attend his wake.
I just stared at my phone’s screen, thinking of what to say. I want her to do what she wants. I want her to be able to wear a skirt. After all she’s been through, I would think that she deserves a chance to choose who she wants to become, how she wants to express herself. I would like to think that she deserves to wear a skirt. At one point we were almost agreeing that she can try to wear more androgynous clothes, but I thought why is wearing a skirt a problem? Why does she need to change how she wants to present herself? I wouldn’t want her to feel that she can’t do these things—these things that make her who she is. I don’t want her to be hurt, dejected. I don’t want her to be discouraged. I felt helpless. But, I can only imagine how she felt. I can only imagine how difficult it is to be told, time after time, that she can’t be herself.
After a long silence on my part, she messaged me again. “Huy.” I didn’t know what to tell her, but she needed my response at that very moment. I didn’t know what to tell her and I can’t afford to show her that I am weak, I can’t do anything, I am just a literature major, the best thing I can do is teach the basics of fucking plot. I can’t afford to be weak, but I am not sure how not to be.