Geraldine Roman, transgender and breaking barriers

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 06 2016 05:21 PM

Geraldine Roman may have come from a family of well-known politicians, but her journey to being the first transgender woman to win a seat in the Philippine Congress was not an easy feat in a predominantly Catholic country.

The neophyte lawmaker, who will be replacing her mother from the post, told ANC's Headstart with Karen Davila on Wednesday there were few members of the Church who campaigned against her, but there were also some who offered her moral and spiritual support.

"They would assure me, the latter, that God looks inside your heart; He does not look at gender. To begin with, God is supposedly a spirit without gender. They would tell me, what is important is your essence," she said.

Roman, who received primary and secondary education in Ateneo, believes that as Catholics, the Bible is not to be interpreted literally.

"My training—I was trained by the Jesuits—is that you follow your conscience after discernment. You have to discern what God’s will is in your life," she said.

Though the Atenean spirituality helped her accept her sexuality, it was still a Catholic school that did not allow her to grow out her hair or dress up as female.

She said it was the liberal atmosphere of the University of the Philippines that further led her transition to being a woman when she was able to wear feminine clothing and break free of the anxiety called gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria, she said, is being uncomfortable with your gender, because, for example, a boy may born with a psyche—the heart and mind—of a female. It is a natural thing, she added, and not one that was decided by the person.

At age 26, Roman underwent "gender confirmation," and fully transitioned into womanhood, but she said she has been a "transgender since birth."

She said she started feeling different at the early age of two or three, and there were moments while she was growing up Catholic that she felt conflicted if she was indeed committing sins against God.

"When people would judge me and tell me, ‘Oh that’s a sin. God does not like that.’ But deep inside, I knew that I was simply being true to myself. Can anything be wrong with being true to oneself?," she said.

Children, she said, do not receive instructions, conditioning, biases, or belief systems—they just do what comes out naturally to them even though some forces of society forces them to change.

"You actually realize that there is something wrong because people make comments or make observations and they try to modify your behavior. But a child, who is as innocent as a lamb, will just do the things that come out naturally to him or to her," she said.

Not all Catholics subscribe to the same thought as her, but Roman said "that’s their business. My relationship with God is very stable."

Apart from her faith, she also thanks her family for being her staunch supporters.

Antonino Roman, Jr., her father, was the typical macho politician, she recalled. But it was him and her brother who who stood as her lawyer in petitioning to the Bataan Regional Trial Court to have the entries in her official documents corrected into stating she is a woman.

"Not precisely or particularly the father figure [is crucial]. I would say the entire family is. If you cannot depend on your family or your family does not give you love and support, what’s the meaning of your life?," she said.

Roman, 49, is in a long-term relationship with her partner for 18 years now, and though they weren't able to have children, she believes being elected as the district representative has now given her a chance to be a mother to more people.

"First and foremost, my priority are the interests, the socio-economic interests of my constituents in the first district of Bataan. Sila ang pinaka-malapit talaga sa puso ko," she said.

With local and international spotlight turned to her because of her "historical win," Roman takes her position and the fame that came along with it as a "big responsibility," but she said it's a "challenge [she] should take positively" and shall fuel her drive to defend human rights.

Fighting for the rights of the LGBT community, said Roman, is to fight for the human rights stipulated in the Constitution.

"Sana isantabi natin ang ating mga biases, ating prejudices, and start dealing with each other as human beings. Yung mga external and personal circumstances—it may be gender, it may be your age, your physical attributes—are irrelevant if we are to advance the society."