Charice, on his own terms

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
totalITemsFound:
maxPaginationLinks: 10
maxPossiblePages:
startIndex:
endIndex:

Whether he realizes it or not, in the three years since he came out, Charice has become a walking paradox and cultural marker who is symbolic of the way Filipinos have come to view gender and sexuality.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A year after this article was published, Charice has since changed his name to Jake Zyrus.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — For a woman to land on the cover of a men’s magazine, typically, she would have to be scantily clad, the skin-to-fabric ratio favoring the male gaze. On very special cases — if the featured woman, for example, is highly regarded in the industry she’s in — she is given a tasteful portrait with little artistic flourishes. But Charice is no ordinary woman. In fact, Charice has repeatedly clarified in a number of interviews that he identifies himself as a man, and “he” is his pronoun of choice. (Although for the sake of politeness, or in his words, “respect,” he lets people use whichever pronoun they want.)

He celebrates this pride month on the cover of Mega Man, Mega magazine’s supplement that caters to men. It’s a move which some people call a brave step towards equality. Others call it a shameless PR stunt. Regardless of the intentions and interpretations, the significance of it is undeniable. In the images that accompany the cover story, Charice is a not merely a girl dressed up in boy’s clothes for the effect of androgyny. He is a man, and the styling and wardrobe accentuate just that. It is this matter-of-factness in the way Charice carries himself that’s causing both excitement and discomfort for onlookers.

Gender is still a very juvenile concept in the Philippines, where, when you’re queer, you’re automatically asked whether you’re bakla or tomboy — a limited dichotomy based on the reversal of the sexual orientations defined for heterosexual men and women. The possibilities of being bisexual, asexual, a trans woman, or in Charice’s case, a trans man are still very alien concepts to most Filipinos. You can spot evidence of this on Mega Man’s social media channels.

Charice - Megaman In the cover story of Mega Man, Charice admits that he is more comfortable with a male pronoun but isn't selfish enough to push people to call him 'he.' Charice photographed by John Ocampo of Studio 100. Photos courtesy of MEGA MAN MAGAZINE

For every “fierce,” “slay,” and “idol!” remark left in the comments section, there are a few stray negative responses. One person asks why the magazine considers Charice a man when he lacks the prerequisite penis apparently required to be one. Someone else suggests renaming the magazine to Mega Lesbian. Another says that Charice on the cover is an insult to “true men,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. The same faceless commenter also states that the straight community has “rights” that should be upheld. This causes one to pause and ask: Is Charice’s magazine cover really endangering human rights in any way?

Why do some people make it seem like Charice stole a coveted spot exclusively reserved for heterosexual men? Does he not deserve to join the ranks of Piolo Pascual, Dingdong Dantes, and Manny Pacquiao? Has he not achieved enough in his chosen field to be worthy of the distinction of being a cover man?

Perhaps a part of the public still can’t wrap their heads around his transition, having witnessed Charice start out as this little girl in a singing competition who grew up under the tutelage of Oprah Winfrey and David Foster and blossomed into an international singing sensation. They are still probably somewhere between flashbacks of Charice singing the national anthem at a Dodgers game or slaying the crowd at the Oscars after party. Or maybe they’re still in limbo with the image of Charice, in dark rimmed glasses, serving up awkward diva realness on “Glee.” At that point in his career, Charice was at the apex of #PinoyPride. But then it happened.

Why do some people make it seem like Charice stole a coveted spot exclusively reserved for heterosexual men? Does he not deserve to join the ranks of Piolo Pascual, Dingdong Dantes, and Manny Pacquiao? Has he not achieved enough in his chosen field to be worthy of the distinction of being a cover man?

 

Much like every coming out story, the responses to Charice’s were varied. For a young superstar, with many admirers from different backgrounds across the globe, it was only inevitable for some fans to feel betrayed or repelled when he came out in 2013. But it was a necessary choice on Charice’s part. It was either he kept lying to his fans and feeling down about it or he freed himself by telling the truth.

During that period of internal back and forth, he was hit with depression. In an interview with CNN Philippines' "Leading Women,” he revealed: “I thought about killing myself, like teenagers do. Pero I didn't do it. And look where I am right now. I get to be with the person I love. Yun ang result ng hindi pag-give up sa sarili mo.”

The fanfare around Charice may have considerably died down quite a bit after his Sunshine Corazon heydays, but he is in a much happier place now. He has swapped his pigtails for a slick clean cut, and his ball gowns for button ups and jeans. He scrapped his repertoire of Whitney Houston and Celine Dion. In their place, he plugged in Kurt Cobain and Freddie Mercury. He even did away with the bedazzled microphone. Charice has taken up songwriting full time to come up with original tracks despite the clamor for rehashed oldies. He is redefining himself, and he’s letting everyone know through his magazine cover.

Charice - Megaman This is Charice's second appearance in Mega Magazine. In a 2013 issue, he was interviewed for the magazine's list of 'Most Powerful LGBTs.' Photos courtesy of MEGA MAN MAGAZINE  

By putting himself out there, Charice is granting more exposure to people who identify as LGBT. “We are not invisible. We are here,” he says on “Leading Women.”

Filipino LGBTs are in dire need of representation in media. Right now, there are only a handful of existing LGBT-centered mainstream programs and publications in the country. And fewer still are visible out and proud LGBT icons. This is why LGBT people who can relate to Charice’s story cling to him, if not as a role model (which is a title he’s reluctant to take on), then at least as a constant LGBT presence that reminds them they are not alone.

“I think kailangan ko lang laging ipakita how I stand up for myself, how I stand amid a lot of criticism without breaking down,” he says.

Charice represents overcoming inner hardships and insecurities. On the pages of a magazine and in front of crowds, he now looks surer of himself. Many people might not like the change of his direction in terms of his gender expression or musical style, but he is content with that. He exudes the confidence of an artist who is at peace with himself and the world he's living in. And that’s something most guys can only dream of for themselves.