Ja Du, a transgender woman, now speaks up about newfound Filipina identity
A white transgender woman in Florida announced this week that she identifies as a Filipina.
In a story that first broke on the Tampa area WTSP on Monday, November 13, the woman — who was born Adam and said she’s in the process of legally changing her name to Ja Du — told the station that she considers herself Filipina.
Ja Du says she grew up watching The History Channel and said that “nothing else intrigued me more but things about Filipino culture.” She has since concluded that she is Filipina and intends to live a “transracial” lifestyle as a Filipina.
“Whenever I’m around the music, around the food, I feel like I’m in my own skin,” she told WTSP.
Ja Du drives around town in what she calls a Tuk Tuk, a purple motorized vehicle inspired by the tricycle public transit bikes in the Philippines. She said she has started a Facebook group for other transracial individuals who identify as other races and ethnicities.
“I think things that make no sense to most people make sense to us on an individual level in almost every person, like a swelling feeling you feel when you listen to dramatic music,” Ja Du told HuffPost. “It’s all sound and vibration but something in it relates to your soul on such a subconscious level that you connect with it and [that’s] how I feel about the Filipino culture.”
She reportedly said that she wouldn’t use her newly-found identity to access Filipino-specific benefits like scholarships, jobs etc.
I believe people will [take advantage] just like other people have taken advantage of their identity to get their way, but the difference between me and them…is that I don’t want that,“ she told WTSP. “I think that we all have the freedoms to pursue happiness in our own ways.”
But Filipinos are not so quick to embrace Ja Du as a Filipino-American.
Political science student Erica Sy at UC Riverside says that simply claiming identity to another ethnicity for “superficial reasons” such as liking the food, music or cultural aesthetics negates the struggles that people of those communities suffer.
“Just because you enjoy certain aspects of the Filipino culture doesn’t make you a Filipino. You know what it takes to identify as a Filipino? Being Filipino,” Sy said in an email to the Asian Journal. “Being Filipina means more than connecting with the music, food or what have you. It means living a life where discrimination is frequent.”
She added that many Filipinas, including herself, have gone through identity crises relating to being Filipina. Before she fully embraced her “Filipino-ness”, she often tried to mask her ethnic identity.
“I grew up thinking my features were less appealing and made extensive efforts to hide my Filipino-ness, so to speak,” Sy, 27, recalled. “I grew up seeing my Filipina mother being called these awful, derogatory terms. When I grew older, I, too, became a target of those attacks. People of color, especially women of color, receive a lot of s**t for just existing. So unless you’re OK with receiving the struggles, then welcome to the community. But you can’t just sail by just taking all the harmless aspects of the culture.”
Ben de Guzman, an executive member of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, mirrored Sy’s take and said that trying to claim another race or ethnicity represents white privilege.
“For Filipinos who don’t have the luxury of making the decision to identify as another race in a society where whiteness as a default places real constraints about how people of color can decide to move in the world, this smacks of white privilege in the worst way,” de Guzman said in an email.
People who have criticized Ja Du’s new identity compared Ja Du’s announcement to that of white-born former NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal who received backlash for identifying as black. (Klarize Medenilla/AJ Press)