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Jhen’s story: When fatherhood transcends gender

MANILA, Philippines – Fathers have traditionally – and literally –  been referred to as the  as the “man” of the house.

In the Philippines, fathers are likewise dubbed as the “haligi ng tahanan” or the foundation of the family, the supposed provider and rock of the household.

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Fast forward to the 21st century.

The essence of being a father — which extends to the idea of a family – has journeyed through several transformations and veered away from traditions and stereotypes.

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Beyond gender

If you ask 35-year-old Jhen Latorre, fatherhood is way more than being a man.

Being a father transcends gender.

Jhen Latorre

Latorre is a proud transgender man and a father to two adopted children.

Unexpected fatherhood, blessings

Latorre had always envisioned having a family. But never did he imagine receiving a “unexpected blessings.”

Eleven years ago, a woman approached Latorre’s family and asked that her unborn child be adopted since she could not financially support the baby.

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Latorre likewise decided to adopt the baby of his former helper who could not support the infant.

“We were not prepared pero when we saw the child, we said na para sa amin talaga siya,” Latorre said.

‘Gifts’

“I don’t think someone will say no? Children are gifts. Alam ko naman na I wouldn’t get pregnant and inilapit ito sa akin. I accepted the challenge of life kumbaga,” he added.

DADDY JHEN. Jhen Latorre spends quality time with his two adopted children.

Latorre admitted that it was not an easy transition from being a mere transgender man to being a transgender father.

Even when his children were still infants, Latorre was already thinking of ways to explain his identity.

“It is hard. Kasi of course you get to be prepared and think of the future of your kids. Paano na lang ang mga taong makakasalamuha nila in the future who would ask them about me being their parent and yung sa mga anak ko mismo, on how will I discuss to them about myself,” Latorre said.

Focusing on equality, value

But through the years, Latorre raise his children in a world where acceptance and equality are of utmost value.

“I’ll explain to them you will feel ‘family’ as long as love exists. Kahit sa mga friends you will feel that you belong into a family,” Latorre said.

“I know my kids will grow up na may understanding sa situation na meron kami. Plus the support and love of other people na nakapaligid sa kanila,” he added.

Fatherhood, parenthood 101

What has being a transgender father taught Latorre? “Madali maging tatay pero mahirap magpaka-ama,” he stressed.

Latorre said that fatherhood does not really boil down to one’s gender but the one’s ability to love, protect, and raise their children.

“Kahit naman sinong cisgender male pwedeng maging tatay, pero hindi kayang panindigan ang pagiging ama. Hindi nasusuportahan ang pamilya,” Latorre said.

“Pero maraming mga tao, regardless of the gender, kaya maging isang ama kahit sa mga bata na hindi nila totoong anak. Kayang magprotekta, kayang sumuporta, kaya tumanggap at magmahal ng mga bata. At ang pinaka importante, kayang bumuhay ng mga anak,” he added.

This mindset, Latorre said, does not only apply to transgender men but to cisgender women as well who are able to raise their children alone as single mothers – proof that being a father is simply a concept that transcends gender.

“There is no gender identifying a parent. Hindi porke ilaw ng tahanan e nanay lang. Porke tatay e haligi ng tahanan lang. Ang nanay e hindi babae lang. Ang tatay hindi lalaki lang,” Latorre said.

  

Something different, something special 

Latorre’s childhood revolved around a life that is nothing out of the ordinary.

Spending most of his growing up years with a helper or a relative, Jhen discovered his talent in singing and  love for animals.

“When I was young I was able to know more about myself like my talents, on how I love helping people, how I love helping animals, and how I love dealing with people in different walks of lives,” Latorre told INQUIRER.net.

When Latorre was enrolled in an all-girls high school, he began to feel something different, being someone else, a feeling of being different, a feeling of being special.

When her classmates had crushes on boys,  Latorre was more interested in girls.

This made Latorre think he was a lesbian.

“When I was in high school, I identified myself as lesbian,” Latorre said.

“Pero iba pa rin ang feeling ko. Parang I do not fit pa rin with being a lesbian, kasi ang pagkakaalam ko at pakiramdam ko sa sarili ko e lalaki ako,” he added.

Crossing over

After years of soul-searching, she found out that she was a transgender.

“It’s more of a person living in a wrong body. Unlike with lesbians na they accept and believe that they are women who are attracted with women. Us, trans men, we are born female assigned at birth but we are males,” Latorre said.

A friend from the Pioneer Filipino Transgender Men Movement, the first trans men organization in the country, helped Latorre get educated on being a transgender, as well as exploring possible options.

Major change

Years of constant consideration ended up in Latorre opting to undergo hormone replacement therapy (HRT) at the age of 30.

“I identified myself as a trans man na prior pa ako mag-undergo ng HRT. I decided lang to undergo HRT for me to align my physical sa kung ano talaga ang nasa mind and heart ko,” Latorre said.

“[But] you do not need to change anything in your body for you to identify yourself as a transgender individual. I am part of the T in the LGBT. We exist,” he added.

Support group

As Latorre underwent therapy, he began to take notice of changes in his body — from his physique to his voice.

“My voice.. kumakanta rin kasi ako kahit paano. Medyo nagagamit ko voice ko to earn some. So syempre bumaba na boses ko, hindi na sya kagaya ng dati nahirapan talaga ako,” Latorre said, adding that pimple breakouts also became a regular occurrence.

Questions, questions….

While adjusting to the physical changes to his body posed difficulties, Latorre said it paled in comparison to the questions regarding the choice he made.

“Pero ang other struggles e yung changes talaga na makikita ng mga tao sa paligid ko,” Latorre said.

“Of course, while I discuss to them the changes, I need to discuss to them SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression). Ayoko kasi na nakikita lang nila ako na parang I am changing physically lang. I want the people to know why I had to do this,” he added.

Ate? Kuya?

Latorre said a transitioning is a work in progress, not only to the person undergoing transition, but also to the people around them.

“When you transition kasi, everyone within you transitions with you. Your family, friends, colleagues. So sa family ko, they are still working on calling me kuya instead of ate,” Latorre said.

Take the challenge

He also urged other transgender men in the country not to be afraid to start their own families.

But he reminded them to really think about the decision and the responsibility of being a father.

“Please make sure na decided kayo. It wouldn’t make you less of a parent if you are trans. Wala sa gender ‘yan. But, paulit ulit kong sasabihin na think twice or even thrice. Kasi buhay ang aalagaan. Instead na pansarili mo, ibibigay mo pa para sa anak/pamilya. Kaya hindi biro,” Latorre said.

He added: “Wag madaliin ang pagkakaroon ng isang pamilya o anak. Ang kailangan e handa mula isip, puso, physically, financially. Lahat lahat.”

What lies ahead

Today, Latorre works in a BPO firm to support his two children, now aged 11 and three.

Aside from this, Latorre handles SOGIE and Trans101 discussions in different schools, communities, and offices.

He is also a member of PTFM and had recently created a group called LGBT EXCLUSIVE, focused on educating individuals on SOGIE and the life of being a member of the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) community.

Your kind of dad

“Ang isang ulirang ama ay hindi tumatalikod sa responsibilidad. Umaamin sa pagkakataon na mahina, pero gumagawa ng paraan abot sa makakaya para lang sa pamilya,” Latorre said.

“As long as in your mind & heart, hindi nawawala ang pagsuporta, pag iisip, pag aasikaso, at lalong lalo na pagmamahal sa mga anak, isa kang ulirang ama,” he added. /gsg

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