When Jefry Tupas agreed to be the officer in charge of the Davao City Information Office, she brought with her a cache of experiences and insights as a prized journalist reporting on the people of war-torn Mindanao.
On top of her impressive credentials, though, Jefry joined the city government with a vision and set of goals that jibed with those of her boss, Mayor Sara Duterte, aka Inday Sara.
Together, from day one, they had wanted to make a difference in the lives of the people of Davao City. Their vision has always been a better city, one that they both hoped would be more progressive, more peaceful, safer, cleaner and more welcoming not only to tourists but to investors and native Davaoeños who, should they wish to come home and settle back for good, will find opportunities for livelihood and the availability of basic services at a reasonable cost.
While realizing that her job was not going to be easy, she saw that these new challenges would be lightened by her relationship with her boss that is founded on their respect and understanding for each other.
The following, second part of Daily Tribune’s interview with Jefry, focuses on her journey from being a girl hiding underneath her boy’s skin to her becoming the “brains, beauty and talent” that she is today, the latter reaching an initial apex only early this year. As in many similar stories, Jefry has also found the love of her life and she tells us about the ecstasies that now fill her days.
Different kind of politics
DT: How is it like working with Inday Sara? How is she as a boss?
JT: Mayor Inday is very meticulous. She is hands-on. She wants to know what is going on in the office. She’s a very serious leader. She puts her heart and head into whatever she wants to achieve. So, it’s tough working with her but at the same time, it is challenging.
DT: Are you enjoying your job?
JT: Of course I am enjoying it because I always love challenges. Inday Sara has a lot of ideas. Sometimes, we would talk about a topic. Like, why are there many people suffering from poverty? Why are there many children not going to school? The next thing I know, she would have this idea and she would ask me to write a project proposal to address this particular problem. And I end up saying yes, of course.
DT: What makes her special?
JT: Her politics is a serious kind of politics. The one that listens to the people. She has a genuine desire to help others, and to help solve problems such as poverty and insurgency. At the same time, she just doesn’t talk. She studies the issues. Her brain is pregnant with ideas. And yet, she is very much present in the communities. The people love being around her. She herself acts as an emcee in community programs and how they enjoy her company.
DT: Let’s go back to your childhood. When did you feel or realize you were different?
JT: I think it has always been there. That’s why if I were given the chance to choose what my gender would be, I would go for being straight, either a boy or a girl, not gay. Our world is very unkind to gay men. It is difficult to be in a gay’s situation. Up to this day, that equality that we talk about does not yet exist the way it ought to. It is still not easy to come out as gay. Good for people like me, gays who have the courage to claim their place in the sky.
But that is not the case with all the gays in this world. This world is so unkind, we gays still have to strive hard to achieve equality, while equality is a given thing for the straight.
DT: Were you bullied as a kid?
JT: No, but I think being gay was something that I was fighting as a child myself.
DT: Were you ashamed?
JT: I think that was the reason. I am a lone child although my parents have an adopted son, my brother.
Delighted to be called “Ma’am”
DT: When did you come out?
JT: I am now very much in touch with my femininity. Especially recently, since I now have a lot of friends who are trans, who are gays. Just last year, I came from Europe. I was being playful. It was Octoberfest and it was so cold, and yet I would walk around and party on cobble stones in my high heels. People were crazy about it. I felt that I was enjoying it. I decided I look better when I am feminine. And my friends now tell me I look better when I put on make-up. Now, I have several high heels.
DT: So, this was only in 2020?
JT: Yes, it was only in January when I started wearing androgynous wear. I am delighted when people call me “Ma’am” or “Miss” and then they don’t apologize. I experienced the same thing in Turkey, where they seemed to enjoy looking at me. They told me to pee in the women’s comfort room. So, I told them, “I am not a girl, I am a boy.” And they said, “Oh, my, you don’t look like a boy.” This happened to me in restaurants and at the airport. It’s crazy but I am loving it.
DT: You don’t look like you underwent certain processes. You really look like a woman. But tell us, did you undergo surgery or something?
JT: Two years ago I had alarplasty. I had my nose improved. Other than that, it’s the same old me.
DT: Have you thought of having a sex transplant?
JT: I never considered that but I had been thinking of breast augmentation. But not sexual reassignment.
DT: Is your boyfriend okay with that?
JT: I think he prefers it and it is working for us. We enjoy our companionship. Beyond it, we are able to satisfy our sexual needs, so everything is okay.
DT: Where did you get that dress? It is beautiful.
JT: Oh, this is a kimono-type outfit. It is from a local designer, Nino Franco Limon. I get stuff from him.
DT: So what did Inday Sara say?
JT: Inday Sara is very supportive. To her, if it is your body, it’s your decision. It’s your life. As long as you don’t end up destroying your inner core, the essence of your person. I told Inday that I do not want to be flamboyant. So she asked me what I wanted. And I told her facial feminization is all I want. And then, I said, “Maybe you could sponsor my nose.”
Basta di ka masisira. Sabi ko nga, ayaw ko maging flamboyant na bakla. Sabi niya, “Anong gusto mong gawin?” sabi ko “gusto ko facial feminization.” Sabi ko pa “I think you can sponsor my nose?”
DT: You mean it’s just make-up or cosmetics that’s making you look very feminine?
JT: Yes I only put make up. And then my hair was colored by my partner. It’s cotton candy pink. My boyfriend is very supportive.
Supporting each other
DT: Oh, let’s shift gears. Where did you meet?
JT: Our relationship is quite fresh. We’ve been together for only six months. I met him in a party last December. Then, I pursued him nonstop. He turned me down thrice. But my perseverance paid off. So, he gave me his yes.
Then Davao was put in a lockdown. But it worked out well because we live in the same house. It is good to know that I have someone who supports me in what I am trying to be and what I am. I told him I wanted to learn how to apply make-up on my face. So, he helped me. He does my make-up and he does my clothes. He knows many things. He cooks well and now he’s learning how to make a dress. He is 30 years old.
DT: Who leads in your relationship?
JT: Both of us. We support each other. He loves to cook so I said he should pursue it. He wants to learn dressmaking so I encouraged him to do just that. I told him I wanted to learn how to apply make-up and he is teaching it to me now.
DT: Is that what he does for a living?
JT: He works for a BPO here in Davao City but before that, he worked in Thailand in a resort. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management.
I think we are good. He originally outed to his brother but not to his mom, so that’s the only problem. Otherwise, we’re okay. On my part, my parents have since passed on, and I never had the opportunity to tell them I am gay.
But they were still around when I would take home with me male friends. They surely noticed how sweet I was with those friends of mine.
Continue to be fabulous
DT: How is the community in Davao? Do you participate in their activities?
JT: There is a gathering every December, so I join them. I would have gone this year all dressed up, fabulous and colorful, but the pandemic came. But yes, the community here is very supportive. And if they have a need, the LGU responds to that too. Mayor Sara even gave the LGBTQ +community a role in the fight against the pandemic. They were asked to distribute goods to those in need. They were also asked to collate data pertinent to the COVID-19 watch and to the assistance program for members of the community.
DT: How is the state of the LGBTQ+ community in the Philippines?
JT: The members of the community are politically engaged and they are able to speak on behalf of members who do not have the opportunity to articulate their needs. There are political issues that still need to be threshed out, like the political participation and representation of the community. And then there are insecurities of partnership, like can they get married? What is their future? There is still so much to do for rights advocates.
DT: What is your message to the LGBTQ+ community?
JT: That we should continue to be good citizens with our hearts attuned to what is right and what is good for the community and our respective families. Let us, at the same time, continue to be fabulous if that is our choice, or be simple if it is also our choice, but what is important is we should love one another. And if we have that love, we are as good as being fabulous.