She Is A Woman, Hear Her Roar: Meet Iyah Mina, The First Transgender Woman To Be Named Best Actress In The Philippines
The scene is this: Alex Medina and Paolo Paraiso open the Best Actress envelope. There’s silence in the air as nominees wait with bated breath. “And the award goes to” is a phrase oft-repeated in many aspiring actors’ dreams. When they hear their name after, it feels like warmth and explosion and lightheadedness; it feels like nothing and everything all at once.
“Ito po’y para sa trans community, sa LGBTQ+ community,” Iyah Mina exclaims, her grip on her award strong and firm and everlasting. “Para sa atin ito. I-celebrate na natin ang equality!” She has just won for Mamu; And a Mother Too, a CinemaOne original about a transgender sex worker who unexpectedly has to parent her orphaned niece.
Hindi ko alam kung paano ako magsisimula. Nung unang inofer sa akin ito nagdalwang isip pa ako baka hindi totoo.Hanggat sinabing ikaw nga po tlga Canpirm. Nung ginagawa ko na eto madami akong isinakripisyo Ang trabaho ko mga raket na kailangan ko kc dun lng nmn ako kumikita pati sa regular gig ko pero d ako nagsisi kc gusto kong maexperience ito. Hindi ko talagang Pangarap ang mag ka pelikula laging dasal ko lang sa Gabi regular guestings lang sa mga Game shows para alng may appearance ng makaraket ulit. Pero binigay sa akin ang Big Screen Thank You Lord.. Ng papalapit ng papalapit ang Awards night Wala sa isispan ko ang Pagiging Actress kahit sa panaginip. Ibinigay ko lang kung anung kaya kong gawin sa Pelikula lalo na sa Tulong na aming Director Rod Singh Mahal na mahal kita pati kay Direk Easy Ferrer na napakahusay din salamat sa tiyaga. Yun pangarap ni Direk ay khit manominate lang yun lang wala ng iba. Kaya nung lumabas na asa Actress Category Shiiiit natuwa na kami dun okay na kami. Nung tinawag na ako di ko na alam nangyayari. Ganun ba talaga ang Feeling wala akong hinandang speech aba malay ko ba tatawagin. Kung anu nalang lumabas sa bibig ko kung anu na lang laman ng puso ko. Nung asa Stage ako dati namunuod lang ako ng awardsnyt ngayon ako na un asa taas ng stage Grabeeeeee!!!! Lord grabe ka magbigay ng regalo. Ngayon na ako magpapasalamat kung may makakalimutan man ako pasenxa na po.. Congrats muna sa Team Mamu; And a Mother too Audiece Choice Award okay na nga kami dun eh hehehehe. Ang Galinggg! Sa akin Co -Actor @arronvillaflor05 congrats isa rin nagulat nabigla sa nangyari Deserv mo yan kc mabuti kang tao Best Supporting Actor. Sa anak ko Bona Ej Jallorina ilove u and Congrats din alam mo un laki ng naitulong mo sa akin.. Sa mga Cast sila Nay Vincent Aycocho (Petite) Congrats Bessie.. Sa mga baklang tow na napakahusay din Renz Cyrus Ibiza Aguilar Girlie... Kay Jovani Manansala at Markus Congrats din sainyo. Sa Team Mamu na sobra ang hirap pagod stress sa mga bagay bagay nung shoot pero makikita mo parin ang saya saknila lalo na sa shoot na always happy.. Mam Krupskaya Valila (Kaya Valila) love u Mam Dot Labro Sa aming DOP Sir Theo,
Iyah is the first transgender woman to win a Best Actress award in the Philippines—and we’ve been making movies since 1919. She’s moved to tears on stage, decked in a peach silk gown, her hair slicked back, friends and supporters from the audience whooping and hollering. It’s a sight fitting for lustrous film stars, and on the 21st of October 2018, Iyah becomes a bona fide film star herself.
It wasn’t always this glamorous, though.
Iyah was raised in Isabela, not at all a stranger to the trials and tribulations of life. “Tinuruan ako ng magulang ko na matutong kumayod nang mag-isa,” she tells Metro.Style. Growing up in the province, she hadn’t known that she could be anything but a straight male—until suddenly, that’s all she didn’t want to be. “Late bloomer ako,” she admits. “Nagka-crush ako sa guys, pero nagka-girlfriend pa ako before. Tinry ko. Na-realize ko na babae ako at around 11 or 12 years old. Nag-bloom na ‘yung pagkadalaga ko, unti-unti na. Pero patago pa rin.” She moved to Manila when she was in college, and began cross-dressing and joining beauty pageants.
“Pero patago pa rin,” she says again.
That isn’t to say, of course, that Iyah’s mother didn’t have her suspicions. One day, Iyah finally found the courage to come home in full female attire. Her mother didn’t say anything. Later on, they would talk about it in depth—“nu'ng okay na ang lahat”—but even early on, she knows that her mother immediately accepted her for who she is. Iyah shares how her heart would swell when she would see her mother wash her panties and bras. “Nakakatuwa.”
Iyah’s love for her family shines through her stories and recollections, and she finds herself connected to Mamu since they are both family-oriented. “Malapit ang puso niya sa lahat,” she says of her character. “Matulungin kahit kanino.” These are the same values her parents have instilled in her as a kid growing up. She’s been taught to be respectful and polite, and to learn how to stand up on her own and for herself. It’s no surprise then, that in 2003, when Iyah flew to Japan to become an entertainer, she struggled at first, but she survived nonetheless. “Mahirap, kasi malayo sa family,” she says. “First time kasi na maging independent.”
She returned to Manila a year and a half later and began working in comedy bars, where Rod Singh, the director of Mamu, would eventually come to discover her. “Nag-start ako sa maliit na bar,” she says. “Tapos 'yun na, araw-araw ganu'n ‘yung pamumuhay ko. Nag-start ako na 100 pesos ang talent fee ko.” In 2009, she would end up in Punchline Laffline, a comedy bar on Timog Avenue in Quezon City. There, her career would truly flourish.
“Nagbago ang buhay ko sa Punchline Laffline,” she says. She was discovered by Vice Ganda, who then enlisted her to become a "jester" on his late-night Sunday show, Gandang Gabi Vice, where Iyah would entertain Vice’s guests, including Megastar Sharon Cuneta. “Hindi ko naman pinangarap na umarte,” Iyah admits. In between shows in Punchline and beginning her acting career, Iyah still finds time to travel back to Isabela to be with her family. “'Pag umuuwi ako du'n, happy pa rin. Hindi nagbago ‘yung kung sinuman ako.” And it shows: to this day, she is still that same family-oriented girl, close to everyone’s heart.
When Ronald Arguelles of CinemaOne gave her the opportunity to choose which category she would compete in, “Siyempre, sa Best Actress,” she had said. “That’s because I am a woman.” Her nomination would’ve been enough, if she was being honest with herself. “Bonus na lang ‘yung pagkapanalo. Naging eye-opener sa akin na, ‘Oh my god, kaya ko palang umarte.’”
And she can, indeed: since winning her first award in October, she’s been nominated for more—and from two of the most lustrous and prestigious film awards in the country, no less: the Gawad Urian and the FAMAS. As an actress, she advocates for equality and bringing LGBTQ+ films to the fore. “Lagi na lang nasa likod 'yung LGBT movies and indie films. Napapabayaan. Hindi na-e-educate 'yung mga tao,” she says.
Despite her success—and despite wider acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community from society—Iyah says that she still approached this win with hesitation and fear. “Medyo natakot ako nung na-awardan ako ng Best Actress,” she confesses. “Ang dami pa ring bashers. Tinanggap ko na ‘yun, sabi ko, ‘Ok, ganyan talaga ang buhay.’ Pero naging happy ako kasi nagkaroon ng lakas ng loob ang transgender community. Nabigyan sila ng representation.”
For all that she’s been through, Iyah, seasoned comedienne and first-time actress, is anything but weak. “Fill in the blank, we ask her. ‘I am Iyah Mina and I am?’”
“Strong,” she says. “Ang pagiging strong naman talaga, ‘yan ang kailangan sa buhay,” she says. “Isipin mo na lang ‘yung mga taong nakapaligid sa'yo, ‘yung mga taong kailangan ka. ‘Yan ang pinanghahawakan ko sa buhay.”
“Bawal ang mahina.”
Catch Iya Mina, along with other guest speakers like Jay Altarejos, Rod Singh, Moira Lang, EJ Jallorina, and Zar Donato, on June 30, Sunday, 6:30p.m., for Cinema '76 Sessions' Pride Sesh, which will be held in Cinema '76 Anonas - 3/F Anonas LRT City Center, Aurora Boulevard, Quezon City.
Photos from @iyah_mina