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'I Always Knew I Was a Girl'

A transwoman speaks her truth.
IMAGE JULES VELOSO
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As told to Paul John Caña

My name is Jules Veloso. I’m 34 years old. I am the managing director of influencer marketing agency In Circle, and my role is laser-focused on driving the company’s growth and strategic direction by inspiring synergistic relationship between brands and content creators. 

I am also the co-founder of ITOOH, an online platform that brings together home furniture and home accent and accessories. By making interior design services more accessible, ITOOH’s single minded goal is to inspire millions of Filipinos to create the home they love and cherish.

Photo by Instagram / @julesveloso.

Family life

My father was an entrepreneur. He ran a trucking business, working daily to supervise the dispatch of his trucks, give orders to his drivers and haulers. He works day and night, spending most of the week in his office near Manila’s port area. Although my mom is a house wife, she would help my dad in the family business and, at the same time, run a small convenience store to generate additional family income

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In his early 40s, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological disorder. He continued to work despite his worsening condition. At 53, he died. My mother was forced to move to the U.S. to find work to support us all.

There are five of us, four girls and one boy. My brother and I went to Colegio de San Juan de Letran, an all-boys private school. Then we went to a conservative Filipino-Chinese school, Chiang Kai-Shek College, for high school. All three of my sisters studied in Colegio de Sta. Rosa.

Batang pier

I spent my childhood in Manila, close to both my school in Intramuros, and my father’s office at the Port Area. A father’s girl, I would spend most of my time in his office, which was an airconditioned fitted out container van, that was situated in a dusty open lot where 16-wheeler trucks, empty container vans and forklifts were parked. After school, I’d play outdoor with kids, many of whom were out-of-school children of workers who live around the Port Area.

I was very active as a kid. Because I would spend all day in the streets, playing traditional pinoy street games, I was known in the family as ‘Batang Pier.’ I traversed two worlds: exclusive private schools and playground with poor kids at the port area.

I grew up very close to my older brother, Rollo. Because we only had a two-year age gap, we played the same games and had similar interests. When we were young, we both aspired to become teachers. We would role-play during the weekend, my brother being my Language teacher, and me as the student. Then we would change roles. I’d be the Math teacher and he was the student. We also followed world tennis sports together. Because we did not have cable TV, we would eagerly wait for morning newspapers to find out who won in tennis matches. We were huge fans of Martina Hingis.

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Photo by Jules Veloso.

A complicated feeling

I always knew I was a girl. I did not wake up one day and decide to be a boy or a girl. I just know I am a girl. It is a complicated feeling that was met with lots of confusions and struggles inside me. At the age of 6, it occurred to me who I really was and who I wanted to be. 

Growing up, I would choose paper dolls over Lego. I was never comfortable wearing clothes that my parents would buy me: oversized T-shirts and loose jeans. I fancied growing my hair long down to my shoulders. I wanted to wear my sisters’ skirts.

I do not recall telling it to anyone.

Frustrating times

The lack of avenues to express myself and to find out more about what was going on was frustrating. Growing up, I had to fit the mold that was set for me, and knowing that I was not fulfilling these expectations made me feel inadequate at times. Even in school, I was not afforded the opportunity to be able to express and explore myself, as is the case with most institutions in the country.

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When one shows signs of deviance at a young age, the usual response is to “correct” towards heteronormativity rather than support this perceived deviance in behavior. I looked up to my immediate family as my support system, and fortunately, they chose to accept and support rather than to suppress, making sure that I grow in an environment that is, at least, tolerating if not fully accepting.

Walking into my transition period, I read a lot of literature about SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression). At the time, it was a developing discourse among scholars of gender studies. It was during my long mental preparation for a planned gender conforming surgery in Thailand, for which I consulted a couple of psychiatrists, that I had full understanding of gender identity. 

Coming out

I don’t think I have a notable coming out story. The search for identity took a natural progression. Coming out started when I tried to resist fighting off the internal struggle inside me, when I became more vocal about my choices and when I cared more about who I think I truly am, and less about what my classmates or anyone around me would think. And I realized that when I decide to transition, the people who cared for me transitioned with me, too. Frankly, it was a liberating experience.

Photo by Jules Veloso.
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Experiencing discrimination

Navigating through a challenging job search in 2007, I knew that I was never going to let it diminish my gender identity. I decided to appear in these job interviews proudly wearing a corporate dress and well made-up.

As a transgender woman who was trying to break though into the corporate world, I had a fair share of experiences dealing with discrimination, in different shapes and forms, unconscious prejudice and humiliation, most notable of which were during job interviews. Typically, these conversations came with brutally discriminating remarks guised in a friendly and professional note. I recall walking into a job interview by a panel for a communications assistant role for a bank, and towards the end of the interview the HR told me that the company had a dress code, and that “male employees are required to wear barong.”

But I was mentally prepared for this journey. Navigating through a challenging job search did NOT come without warnings from college professors, friends and even family members. What I was not prepared for was the humiliation that came with ‘recruiters’ inadvertently ‘outing’ me. I remember, in a job interview for a role at a five-star hotel, the recruiter would call the applicants out loud BY their legal name in a room full of applicants. And when my turn came, she blurted out RONALD. RONALD. RONALD. Then I stood up wearing a corporate dress, and she went on to ask, ‘Oh you’re Ronald?  Oh?’ That was disheartening. My first interaction with this company was a situation in which they out me. I had no doubts that these recruiters cared more about how I looked, how I dressed, what my gender marker is, and less about what I can contribute to the company.

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After more than a year of rejections after rejections, a PR agency, GeiserMaclang called me for an interview. “What is your preferred pronoun, Jules?” the HR Manager asked before even looking at my resume. It was the first time ever that an interviewer asked me that question. Asking me for my pronoun told me that this company was going to change my life. I was hired and went on to become the company’s business unit head for public relations in 2013, setting the groundwork of my entrepreneurial journey.

In 2016, I put up my own firm.

Photo by Jules Veloso.

Identity as an advantage

I think that, by the very nature of my experiences and identity, I have an increased capacity to lead. My life is like a puzzle that I am trying to solve every day to find a work around, and this is essentially how it is in the workplace.

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I built my career in the face of discrimination and isolation and as a transgender woman, I know that I can demonstrate tolerance and understanding despite rejection. I bring a unique and valuable perspective to life, becoming fiercely passionate about issues that are close to my heart.

Transition process

It was a gradual transition process that began when I was 11 years old.

It was both an easy and difficult decision. It was easy because I know I have the full support of my family and friends but also a difficult one because doing so placed me in a position of ridicule and humiliation especially outside my home and in school. 

I started my gender affirmation process at a very young age. I would save money from my school allowance so I could buy clothes that I wanted. By 12 years old, I had completely stopped wearing clothes that do not align to my gender identity. At the same time, however, I became anxious about how my body was becoming more masculine.  So by 15 years old, I started taking puberty-blocking medications and estrogen hormones, many of which were recommended by a transwoman friend who was very successful in her transition.

Like many transwomen, I didn’t have access to proper health guidance by doctors, and I was aware that there may be health risks that come with these medications. In college, my transition was in full swing: I grew my hair longer, I completed a facial feminization program and I was lucky to achieve what the transgender community call a “passing privilege,” or the ability to walk outside and appear cisgender to the rest of the world. In 2016, I travelled to Thailand to undergo gender confirmation surgery.

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At the backdrop of this long journey is my family’s and friend’s unwavering support. 

Photo by Instagram / @julesveloso.

LGBTQ rights

I do consider myself an advocate for LGBTQ rights and representation. Because of both the struggles and success I faced during the early stages of my career, I have become a fierce advocate of creating a LGBTQI-inclusive work environment that does not only foster acceptance and tolerance for them especially for transgender men and women, but also empower them to chase leadership roles. 

Continuing hate and discrimination

There are instances where I would feel diminished. Misgendering, for instance, remains common, especially among those in the service industry. People need to understand that by NOT using the right pronouns, or address transgender women as “Sir,” one is invalidating our existence, our dignity. When faced with this situation, I would politely correct and engage them. I believe behavioral change begins in awareness.

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What life is like now

After studying Data Science at UCLA, as a prelude to a planned MBA, I decided put up ITOOH, an e-commerce platform that is designed to inspire thousand Filipinos to create the home they want by bringing together quality-vetted home furniture and home accent and accessories representing varied homestyle. This is very exciting but also very challenging because it is far from what I have been doing in the past years.

I look back over the past years and I have nothing but infinite gratitude to the many people that shaped the person I am now. They are the people that enabled me to lead without bias towards my gender identity. They are also the people that shut their door to me in the early stage of career so my path can lead me to the right one, to where I am now.  

Now, I find it my personal advocacy to speak and be a voice for transwomen who want to make a mark in the corporate world because I am aware that not everyone is afforded the same opportunity I have had. I want to create a community of empowered transgender women who will not only survive discrimination and prejudice, but more importantly, their own fears and doubts.

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