Make Your Voice Count

Self identity, gender identity, and expression

By Tharindi Devasurendra – Wednesday, August 11, 2021

One of the most integral parts of oneself is one’s identity. What’s more, what humans thrive on is the expression of that sense of self and individuality. Creatures such as humans with complex social structures and social expressions have progressed and flourished in spaces with less limitations on their expression as individuals. Going deeper into the topic of self-identity, it can be a very broad subject to touch upon. Self-identity is how you identify and define yourselves. It is your perception of specific and selective traits, qualities, abilities, and characteristics that represent you. The certain aspects and the weight you give to those distinctive attributes are formulated by the individual person. It is extremely important to have a broader sense of self as these characteristics are such a fundamental part of a human being.

Discussing identity

As we discuss identity, it is important to identify the two types of identities as they are very integral to how internal and external factors affect our sense of self. There is personal identity and social identity.

Our personal identity is how we perceive ourselves; you might find that when we are entering adolescence especially for young people, we go through rapid changes in response to peers, family, school and among other social environments. Our self-identity shapes our perceptions of belonging. On the other hand, our social identity is how others perceive us. Society categorizes individuals according to broad socially defined labels. An example can be if you are a feminine presenting man, you might be categorized as gay even if you personally don’t identify with that sexuality.

Largely depending and defining oneself on one aspect of your identity can be somewhat detrimental, since your self-identity, mentality and personal self is a constantly changing and growing thing. Aspects of your self-identity can change and throw you into a confusing journey to personal discovery. For example, if your job and personal success was a big part of your identity and you lose that job or lose interest in a part of your identity that you put so much weight on, you will then start to struggle to find your self-identity and it will shake the foundations of yourself by the fact that such a large part of your identity was taken away. Most people base their identity in accordance to social context or social roles rather than personal characteristics, so it is important to not to limit yourself and have a broader sense of self to free oneself from internal conflicts.

In a progressive and forward-thinking era, talks about self-improvement and being in touch with our identity and the importance of self-discovery are essential to a healthy lifestyle. Today’s society still upholds a backward mindset when it comes to mental health and self-growth or even such topics as gender identities. These aspects of self and the active participation of self-discovery are treated as unimportant or feminine or seen negatively. It drives people to suppress or disassociate with certain attributes of themselves, which affect their mental health which in turn affect their day-to-day life.

Examples of such practices are the transphobia and homophobia that is prevalent in today’s society that drives LGBTIQ youth to internalize their homophobia and drives trans youth to struggle with depression and body dysmorphia. By being cut off from such an essential part of their identity, they are discontent in life and suffer mentally and this sometimes even leads to suicide.

In conclusion the word “identity” is used to suggest permanency, stability, and general unchangeability. But more out of ignorance than truth. We now know that it is growing, changing, and something that is in a state of constant rediscovery throughout one’s life. It is such an important part of our interactions that it has now become matters of negotiation for your place, purpose, and presentation in society and day-to-day life. What’s more, it becomes essential to a person’s mental health and to a happier, productive and successful life.

Discussing gender

When talking about identities, the aspect of gender is something that cannot be ignored as it ties itself with society as well. True happiness and contentment lie in who you are. Humans naturally being social beings shackle themselves to the perceptions of others, and in the process of trying to fit into the so-called acceptable identities or templates, they forget themselves. They forget or ignore some of the most integral and interesting parts of their identity that make them unique. In an era such as the one we live in, one debatable topic is that of gender identity and expression, an essential part of every human being. Gender is a concept that can be broken down into three categories: gender identity, gender suppression, and physical sex.

         Gender identity is the internal sense and personal experiences of one’s own gender. It is a concept that is determined by oneself and their own experience of what their gender is and not something that can be changed by an external factor unless the change happens within one’s own growth. Gender identity has been confused a lot with sexual orientation, as with many terms are related to gender. Sexual orientation is who you are attracted to depending on your gender but gender is an internal awareness that develops throughout your lifetime. For a very long-time, gender had been classified into binaries (male and female) but with further societal progression, more spaces for people who don’t fit into these narrow concepts have opened up. People who do not identify as a man or a woman may identify as both, neither, between or not gendered at all. Gender will not always match with a person’s assigned sex by birth and those who feel discontent and do not align with their biological sex may make physical and social changes to express their gender identity.

Illustration by Abigail Amon

          Gender expression is how a person outwardly shows their gender identity. It could include clothing, makeup, and hairstyles which are physical expressions but there are also more social ones like changing their names and pronouns. What’s more, behavioral expressions such as masculinity, femininity, and androgyny can also constitute parts of your gender expression. As you grow and discover your gender identity and expression, it is extremely important to express and come to terms with your own identity. Disassociation or suppression can cause great harm to a person mentally. This is mostly caused by societal pressure, discrimination, family expectations, homophobia, and many other factors. Gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation in many young adults which develop a lot of the time around puberty are suppressed due to societal norms and stereotypes. One such example would be that it usually comes as a shock if you find a masculine man who identifies as gay, which is stereotypically seen as a feminine sexuality. This could also come as a feminine man who is heterosexual or a tomboy girl who is heterosexual. In relation to gender, a person who has male genitalia and presents themselves as feminine can be a shock since gender is misconstrued to fit your biological sex.

            Gender norms have been misinterpreted and the effects have seeped into the most basic parts of our lives. We don’t even pay attention to simple things such as colors like pink being considered feminine and blue masculine which can negatively be used in a patriarchal society which views femininity as lesser. Whatmore, it is also dictated by what things a certain sex can and cannot do. One such example is how men crying is a sign of weakness. This implies that the opposite sex is weak for showing emotions, when it is actually healthy to process emotions such as grief and sadness. Such pressures of society could lead to depression, body dysmorphia, internal homophobia, and even suicide as it severely effects the mental health and state of LGBTIQ individuals.

         Lastly, gender is a cultural, biological, and social construct that cannot be changed unless the change comes from within. It is a very broad concept that does not always fall into the binaries, the way the larger society views the world. Viewing it from that perspective can be detrimental to yourself and others as it can narrow the self-discovery of your own gender identity, an essential part to self-growth and happiness.

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JAN GABRIEL CASTAÑEDA

Philippines
He/Him
Board Member

Jan is passionate about seeing through the potential contributions of psychological sciences and human rights advocacy in LGBT people’s lives. He is currently Program Associate of ASEAN SOGIE Caucus and is a member of the LGBT Psychology Special Interest Group of the Psychological Association of the Philippines. He has written for various platforms and publications on a diverse range of topics from gender and sexuality to human rights experiences in different contexts. Jan’s desire is to engage in productive and meaningful work that bridges scholarship with practice rooted in people’s real experiences.

PATRICK JUANICO

Philippines
He/Them
Graphic Designer

Currently, Nico is a college student studying in the Philippines and is simultaneously working for Youth Voices Count as one of the graphic designers for the organization. He lists producing the brand logo and look of HRPlus Asia as one of his significant achievements. His interests in literature and creating films have also honed and continued to improve his skills in graphic designing.

JAN ELLA BRILLANTES

Philippines
She/They
Social Media Officer

Jan Ella is currently taking up her undergraduate studies at the University of the Philippines Visayas and has been a consistent academic awardee since 2019. She is involved in various organizations such as the Catalyst UPV as the Volunteer Director in 2021, former Publications Committee Head for UP Lipad and former member of Iloilo Pride Team.

JE-ANN PALMAIRA

Philippines
She/Her
Project Finance Officer

Je-ann is the current Project Finance Officer under the Finance Department. She graduated from the University of San Agustin with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration major
in Marketing Management.

Her involvement in her University’s Little Theater organization led her to find an interest in theater, films and the arts. Aside from theater arts, she also partakes in the company’s production work including stage management and most notably, heading the organization’s marketing team.

MARION REA CAMEROS

Philippines
She/Her
Accounting Associate

Marion graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Accounting Technology which has made her suitable for being the Accounting Associate of Youth Voices Count. She lists watching movies as one of her hobbies that helps her wind down during her leisure time.

ATTY. RONIFELLE L. BARRIOS

Philippines
She/Her
Legal Counsel

She is a graduate of AB Political Science from West Visayas State University (WVSU), in Iloilo City. In her days in college, she was the founding Prime Minister of WVSU Debate Circle, the ROTC Corps Commander and later a Volunteer Instructor in the Air Force Reserve Command. When she ran for the first time in their University Student Council, she was elected number one councilor. Her interest in leadership grew when she joined the 10th National Youth Parliament, organized by the National Youth Commission in 2014, where she later on became the Regional Convener for Western Visayas.

She then pursued her studies to take up law in San Beda University in Mendiola, Manila. As a law student, she was still active in student organizations: She joined moot court competitions, she served as layout artist in 2 of San Beda Law’s Official Publications: The Barrister and San Beda Law Journal. In her last year in law school, she was the President of San Beda Law Human Rights Advocate (HRA), where she was later conferred Leadership Award by the Association of Law Students of the Philippines (ALSP) and her organization, HRA was awarded top advocacy organization.

She passed the 2019 Bar Examinations and became a full-fledged lawyer by 2020.

She worked as Associate of Javier Santiago Torres & Panghulan Law Offices. She now runs her own RLB Law Office as a solo practitioner and serves as Notary Public for and in Quezon City. She serves as legal consultant to MSMEs and Non-profit organizations. At present, she is the Vice President for Communications of the National Society of Parliamentarians, Inc., the Chief Legislative Staff of Councilor Quin Cruz of Pasig City Council and part-time law instructor in Malayan Colleges Laguna – a Mapua School. Interestingly, she is the creator and blogger of The Young Lawyer PH. Recently, she served as Resident Parliamentarian during the Bangsamoro Youth Parliament held last Nov. 7-11, 2022 at Cotabato City.

A lawyer by profession and an artist by heart.

LOUELA MARIE PRADO

Philippines
He/She/They
Admin Officer

An advocate at heart, Louela is a part of several youth-led organizations in the Philippines with various advocacies ranging from climate justice, environmental protection, gender equality, human rights, SRHR, mental health prioritization, youth empowerment and HIV/AIDS awareness. She is currently the Interim Chairperson of Iloilo Pride Team after serving the organization for 4 years as the Admin Officer, Executive Secretary at Proyekto Philippines, Member of Team Dugong Bughaw, and more.

She graduated as Summa Cum Laude at West Visayas State University majoring in English Language Studies and is currently taking up her Masters in English Language Studies at the same institution. During her stay at the university, she served as the Vice Chairperson at the University Student Council and Federated Student Council where she organized programs and initiatives that advocated for student involvement in societal causes and being the voice of the students that lobbies their concerns to the administration.

In July 2022, she was awarded by JCI Regatta as one of the Top Outstanding Students in Iloilo and a Top Circle Awardee which is the most prestigious recognition given by the award-giving body.

RONAN JAMES B. PENUELA, RN

Philippines
He/Him
Project Officer

Ronan passed the Philippines nursing licensure exam in 2022 immediately after graduating his Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from the University of San Agustin. While juggling his academics, he was elected governor of his college’s student council (Nursing Student Council) in 2021 and board member in 2019 where he was awarded the leadership award and Agustino para sa Tao award due to his excellence in service. He is also a certified Safety Officer (SO1) after completing his training.

He is currently a dialysis nurse in training. He handles the Intersex projects of YVC.

ANFERNEE NENOL KAMINAGA

Marshall Islands
He/Him, They/Them
Project Officer for IGNITE! Empowerment Grants Program

Having done some activism for the Marshall Islands both locally and regionally with climate change, youth empowerment, LGBTQI rights, and nuclear injustice, Nenol takes pride in being an advocate for the causes he is passionate in, being a part of Youth Voices Count and taking a step in amplifying young LGBTQI+ voices. This also inspired him to co-found the first Marshallese LGBTQI Youth Support called Brighten the Rainbow. He is featured in “We Have a Dream” which is a collection of stories from young leaders around the world.

THARINDI DEVASURENDRA

Sri Lanka
They/Them
Project Manager

Tharindi is currently a feminist activist and researcher based in Sri Lanka, and has worked with the Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka (YANSL). They are a trainer on advocating for comprehensive sexuality education and providing knowledge on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) where they actively advocate for safe abortion and bodily autonomy for women.

One of Tharindi’s brainchild initiatives is an Instagram page which mainly focuses on the process of reaching out to queer women in Sri Lanka, a platform that helps in providing them visibility and strategy direction on programming through social media and other means.

They have completed their Bachelors (BA Honors) in English and Linguistics at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka.

JOHNMEL ESTIMAR

Philippines
They/Them
Finance Manager

Johnmel M. Estimar is the founder and senior adviser of La Villa Pride, a grassroots-level organization for LGBTQI in Villa, Iloilo. They are also a member of the Iloilo Pride team, a Community Based Screening motivator for HIV and an LGBTQI Rights Activist. Miles, as they like to be called, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University-Molo, Inc. They also hold an Associate Degree in Cruise Ship Management in the same University.

They have ample experience in clerk and accounting work for nine years from their previous employer, they are currently employed with Youth Voices Count as Finance Manager since 2019.

ANTHONY DE VICENTE LOPEZ

Philippines
He/Him, They/Them
Deputy Executive Director

Mx. Toni graduated with a bachelor’s degree of secondary education majoring in English at the Capiz State University back in 2021. Aside from this, they sought out other educational opportunities such as Advocacy and Project Management at the Women Deliver Digital University (2015), International Women’s Health and Human Rights at Stanford University (2014), and Global Health and Humanitarianism at the University of Manchester (2013).

An advocate of many causes, they are members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, and Y-PEER Pilipinas, founder of the Y-Cap for SRHR, founder of United Colours of CapSU, and Alumnus of Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Back in 2018, they were awarded as the SDG 5 Youth Champion due to the amiable service they have rendered for gender equality.

JUSTIN FRANCIS BIONAT, MA HRD

Philippines
He/His/Him
Executive Director

A learner for life and a seeker of knowledge, Justin graduated his Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Political Science at West Visayas State University, Philippines and took on a Master’s of Arts in Human Rights and Democratisation (International Program) at the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Mahidol University, Thailand under the APMA / European Union Scholarship. At present, Justin is pursuing a Juris Doctor (JD) degree (Law Degree) from the College of Law, University of San Agustin, Philippines.

Justin entered Youth Voices Count, Inc. in 2018 while studying in Thailand. He later took on the role of Executive Director beginning 2019 and successfully set up the legal registration of the organization in the Philippines under the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Since then, he has been leading the organization in various programs and projects centered around LGBTIQ children, adolescents, and youth. Outside Youth Voices Count, Inc., Justin is active in other initiatives in the field of research and law. He was a law student fellow of the Legal Education Advancement Program (LEAP) of the Legal Education Board and the UP Law Center in 2022.

As an aspiring lawyer, he hopes to one day be instrumental in providing legal support for marginalized populations. Justin has also published reports, journal articles, commentaries, and book articles in the fields of law, HIV/AIDS, LGBTIQ, and Human Rights.

In 2018, he was awarded the Young Achiever HERO Award by APCOM Foundation during the HERO Awards reception at the Royal British Embassy in Thailand for his outstanding work on equality and human rights. He is one of the Youth Council members of the Global Fund, an international financing and partnership organization that aims to “attract, leverage and invest additional resources to end the epidemics of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria”, and a Board Member of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia Committee.