Dear Ms. Tess Relucio,
I write this with the utmost respect to you, because after all, you are Jake Zyrus’ grandmother. I don’t expect to change your mind, but hopefully I could soften your heart so you can show love and compassion towards your grandson. You need this more than he does – for your understanding and healing.
You are entitled to the hate you are feeling right now. But please don’t mistake it for pain or love. If he owes you an apology for abandoning you, then abandonment is all that he should be sorry for.
When then-Charice told everyone of her dream of becoming a singer, you probably felt the same thing for her – FEAR. You probably thought of the most heartbreaking thing, “What if she doesn’t win?” But you did not let that stop you from supporting her. You made her costumes for her competitions, sat within the audience and probably recited a whole novena. And when she lost, you picked her up, and told her to join another contest.
That is the grandmother that Jake Zyrus needs right now. The grandmother that feared but still guided him, picked him up and made sure he felt that he was good enough.
But unfortunately, he felt not enough. He does not feel like he was born in the right body. He felt lost in the crowd when people called the name, “Charice.” That was not him. He didn’t have the confidence. There was a war inside him. He knows he could have done better all the time, but a voice was probably talking to him and telling him, “That’s not you they are calling.” Nevertheless, he was a success.
I know what it feels like to hear the name we have been given but know it does not fit us – does not feel right in our bones. I feel lost in a sea of people when I’m in government offices, banks, and other offices, because they have to call me in my legal name. They look at me like I’m tricking them. I am not. I am holding on to the gender that I know so well. I am a man. It took me 28 years, before I could admit it to myself. I couldn’t bring my art to the level that it should be. Not confident. Just struggling and lost. There was no one for me to help me embrace myself. Jake Zyrus is very lucky to have people around him that push him to love himself. You could be one of them if you want.
I’m pretty sure the whole 10 years of his career singing locally and internationally, he earned every cent of it. To where he wants to spend it is nobody’s business. To whom he wants to spend it with is his own rightful decision. He worked hard for it. When finally he had the chance to give himself a name, he took that opportunity. He chose to spend his money to something that will make him feel free, comfortable, and even make him happy. If I had the money that would be the first thing I would spend it on. Change my name and fully transition.
Do not feel bad if they dropped the surname Pempengco. You know in yourself that he can’t change the fact that the blood that streams down his veins is the blood of a Pempengco. You don’t have to shed the last drops of it. Also, you must know, he was not born Charice. It was just a name given to him for his birth certificate. He did not come out of his mother’s womb with a name plate attached to him. At least now, he chose a name for himself. He made a very adult decision and fought through the fear. You should be proud. You raised him well.
A lot of parents think that having children is a way for them to save their dying name, someone to continue their legacy. Do parents even remember the very reason they wanted children? Parents want it because they want a “bundle of joy” in their lives. Do not forget that. They do not owe you anything. They did not ask to be born. But since they have been born, the least that parents and grandparents can do is to give them the proper guidance, strength, inspiration, support and the free will to live their lives and to stand up against this world. They have served their purpose to you as children and that is to be your little bundle of joy. Now, serve your purpose as parents, and that is to support them for who they are, not just their dreams. The Bible asks from children is to “Honor thy mother and father.” But it didn’t exactly say how they would do that. So whatever they achieve in their lives, it brings honor to their parents and family. We all just have to be contented with it.
And since I mentioned the Bible, isn’t it that it says there that Jesus is love? God is love? Why can’t we just love?
The first time my mother was proud of me was when I was sent to Malaysia to represent my organization Pioneer Filipino Transgendermen Movement (PFTM) in the Isean Hivos Program to train and to volunteer with other LGBT and HIV support group and organizations in Malaysia in 2016. My mother didn’t have to say anything. I felt that she was proud of me. For the first time, my mother put her fear for me and my gender identity aside because it brought me somewhere good. I had achieved something. That was a first, and I know it won’t be the last. It feels amazing to be recognized by the most important person in my life. My mother made me stronger and made me want to be more than just a better person because of just that one act. And I’m pretty sure, Jake Zyrus would feel the same way if the most important people in his life would show him the same support. If they would just put down the fear, but still protect him when needed.
Charice has not died. She’s just known to be a man now with a beautiful name, Jake Zyrus. You did not lose a granddaughter, you gained a grandson. He will honor you more, now that he is comfortable with his name, in his own skin. Let your love for your granddaughter embrace your new grandson. He needs your support more than he needed it when he was starting out as a child star. We just need to understand that there are things that they need to do in order to be comfortable in this world. And it doesn’t mean shutting you down, you can come aboard if you’d like to. But just that, you need to be aboard. Let not hate eat you alive. It will do you no good. And we all need you to be the grandmother of the century for all transgender people. We will celebrate you, if you would celebrate with us.
Slac Cayamanda is a transgender male living in Metro Manila. He works as a spoken word poet at White Wall Poetry. He is an officer at PFTM, an organization providing information and caring support to Filipino Transgender Men since 2011.
Illustration by Madel Crudo
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