In Conversation With Miss Trans Global Philippines' Albiean Revalde and Janlee Dungca
The Miss Trans Global Philippines 2021 titleholder and the pageant’s national director talk about asserting space, revolutionizing pageantry, and safeguarding lives
Early this month, 19-year-old artist and student-leader Albiean Revalde was crowned Miss Trans Global Philippines 2021. Decked in vibrant Dinagyang-Babaylan-inspired armor, Albiean proudly represented her hometown, Iloilo City, and will soon represent the country, too, at the Miss Trans Global pageant happening later this year. Albiean succeeds Mela Habijan, the first Filipina to win the Miss Trans Global last year.
Created by transgender beauty queens and activists to “raise awareness about the plight of transgender people around the world,” Miss Trans Global is an international digital pageant participated in by countries from all over the world, including Australia, Brazil, Scotland, the Philippines, and more. Locally, the pageant is headed by its national director, PR practitioner and HIV/AIDS awareness advocate, Janlee Dungca.
Together, the two are working towards the goal of strengthening the trans community and championing their respective causes—for Albiean, it’s gender equality and the rights of farmers, workers, and students; for Janlee, it’s HIV/AIDS awareness.
“I actually didn’t plan on being an advocate,” Janlee explains. “Sometimes I still don’t feel comfortable calling myself one. But I just wanted to really live my truth and that was when I transitioned.” Her work in PR has also been instrumental, because it has afforded her the opportunities to share her story with a wider audience and, ultimately, to amplify causes that matter to her and to her community.
“It’s no longer about me just sharing my story,” she says. “It’s about reaching out to people, reaching out to other trans and other LGBTQ+ individuals who may not have a figure or a model that they can follow after.”
For Albiean, it’s an expression of her fight for her rights, as well as the rights of others. “If you’re being put in a condition na katulad ng binibigay ng society to people like me,” she says, “with identities like us—people who are LGBTQ+, particularly trans people or people who are very persistent with their expression, who are so visible talaga—wala talaga tayong choice kung hindi i-forward ’yung ating karapatan.”
“As I have grown,” she continues, explaining how her views and opinions have progressed through time, “I have realized na hindi isolated ang laban natin sa ating sector alone, or sa ating selves alone, as an LGBTQ+ person, as a trans person. We see na there is a bigger fight, a bigger system that oppresses people and only through realizing this p’wede tayong mag-unite para i-change ang mismong sistema. Only then can we truly win as a community, as a society.”
And for Albiean and Janlee, it’s more than just views or opinions; it’s praxis. As a student-leader, Albiean is in constant dialogue with varying sectors, from her school’s administration to the individuals she meets out in the world. As a PR practitioner, advocate, and pageant director, Janlee has played a significant part in making sure voices like Albiean’s are heard.
When first asked to head the local chapter of Miss Trans Global, Janlee was hesitant. “I’m not a huge pageant girl,” she says. But after spending more time in her role, planning and mounting the pageant, reading the life stories of the 100+ women who sent in videos answering what they’re doing to push forward the trans advocacy and why they deserve to be Miss Trans Global, Janlee was moved.
“That was when I felt the pressure, actually,” she says. “I know that these girls are serious in winning and pushing the trans advocacy forward. That was when I realized clearly my purpose, why I’m doing this. Since I’m not a huge pageant girl, the advocacy comes first for me. I want this to be a platform where people can understand trans women more and trans men, of course—through beauty, through intelligence, and creativity.”
For Albiean, it’s not about iconizing herself—it’s about maximizing the platform she has now, and it’s about empowering the rest of her community, the rest of the sectors she’s fighting alongside. Ultimately, after all, she believes in these communities, these individuals, and she hopes her platform helps them realize that.
“I really want people to realize the power that they have without someone like me speaking in front,” Albiean tells Metro.Style. “They have that power in them to unite with each other. Hindi nila ako kailangan; sila ang kailangan ko. And I can only use this platform para mapa-realize ’yun sa kanila.”
“All of us plays an essential part in winning our fight for gender liberation and equality for all,” Albiean adds. “Masaya ako sa feedback ng community. Nakikita kong ramdam nila na nagagampanan ko ’yung gawain ko bilang hindi lang queen, kundi advocate as well. But also, there is a challenge in me na mas mag-integrate pa sa kanila.”
As an activist, she knows that it is an unending process of learning, unlearning, and always doing better. What matters to Albiean the most is that she is able to share her story, as well as her community’s—“kahit inuutal, kahit kinakabahan.”
While pageants have long been disparaged for upholding patriarchal values and perpetuating unrealistic and Western beauty standards, they are also able to afford women the platform to speak out on important and pressing issues, especially in a country as interested in pageants as ours.
“That’s what we want to destroy,” Janlee says of pageants’ tendencies to maintain the status quo. “That’s what we want to abolish. We’re doing pageants not for the male gaze or for male satisfaction, but to put forward our causes.”
But most of all, pageantry, to some people, is a form of livelihood. “Pageantry is really their source of income,” Janlee explains. “They go to different barangays, towns, regions, just to participate in different pageants. That’s how they earn. They go in groups, helping each other, providing opportunities for trans people, to still keep on earning and have a source of income for this time.”
“We need to create our own safe spaces first while we fight for inclusion, while we fight for the space that we deserve,” she continues. “This can happen simultaneously, strengthening our safe spaces—trans-specific pageants—while at the same time lobbying for the inclusion of trans women in pageants meant for cis women. They’re not contradictory; they’re actually complementing each other.”
Trans women, after all, experience multiple layers of marginalization. Transphobia is widespread across the world, and the truth of the matter is that trans women are killed or attacked at disproportionate rates. (According to a report by The Fuller Project, it is estimated that at least 50 transgender or nonbinary individuals across the country have been murdered since 2010—but the real death toll is ‘likely higher.’)
“They are being marginalized for their expression, for being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, for being a woman,” Albiean explains. This platform is essential to Albiean’s work as an activist because it allows her to impact actual change. “We need tangible policies that will safeguard our rights, our lives,” she says.
That’s why it’s become incredibly important to Janlee to legitimize this pageant, and why it’s become incredibly important to Albiean to have a platform this large—because ultimately, it’s about the fight to affirm one’s identity in a world that has historically been exclusionary, that has historically been uncaring for transgender rights. In the end, it’s not about pageants. It’s about human lives.
Lead photos from @janleedungca and @albieanrevalde