Peer pressure, societal expectations, and familial duties can make the journey towards self-discovery pretty challenging, and those among us struggling to find their true selves can get overwhelmed with many pressing questions and emotions. Such was the case for Kevin Balot, one of the Philippines’ most visible transgender women and beauty queens and one of Pantene Philippines' storied ambassadors for their #StrongerNow campaign, a movement that celebrates the strength and resilience of women from all walks of life.
Kevin’s story was shared in Pantene’s video a few weeks ago in time for Transgender Awareness Week, and it was well received by the Twitter community, with users feeling inspired by her message of self-acceptance. She sends out this letter to those who are still conflicted about their own gender identities and feel torn between who people say they should be and who they want to become:
In as early as my elementary days, I knew that there was something different about me. Iba ang nasa isip ko kaysa sa nakikita ko sa katawan ko dati. Napansin ng mommy at ate ko, pati ng mga pinsan ko, na naiiba ako bago pa man ako nag-open up. Sa kanila ako umiiyak dati, kaya lang hindi rin sila makabigay ng advice para sa akin. Wala naman silang idea about what I felt—like a woman trapped in a man’s body.
Nahirapan ako sa childhood ko, lalo na sa dad ko. Ako kasi yung nag-iisang anak na lalaki, tapos gusto ko pa maging babae. I was torn between making my father happy and making myself truly happy. Ultimately, I chose the latter, and I did what I could to discover who I really was.
I started expressing myself by joining pageants. I started when I was in my third year of high school, and I was able to join a lot of them since there are always fiestas in the Philippines. For the first time, I felt appreciated for who I was, and this pushed me to train to be better at competing—naka-ipon din ako in the process! Onstage, I was happy—not only did I look and feel beautiful, I also felt like people accepted me. Pageantry really made a huge impact in my life. Eventually, I decided to join Miss International Queen in 2012, and I ended up taking home the crown. Biruin mo: Never ako nanalo sa mga pageants dito sa Philippines, pero ako ang unang Pinay na nanalo sa Miss International Queen. All I wanted to do was represent the Philippines in an international scene—my win was just a bonus.
I felt empowered by the pageant as it gave me more confidence and brought me happiness. I also felt grateful because my family and friends were proud of me, too. Because of the pageant, I became more empowered to encourage others—especially the LGBTQ community—to not be afraid of showing what they have and to be proud of who they are.
With the Miss International Queen win under my belt, I used my influence to allow those like myself to find the courage to express and celebrate their true selves. When I won the crown, I called my dad to tell him and he said that he was very proud and that I looked beautiful. He even told his officemates about it! That made me happier than my win, and I felt validated in my journey.
I hope my story encourages you to not be scared of who you are. We’re not different no matter what anyone says. We are regular people who work hard, who experience pain, who love, and who celebrate triumphs and defeats.
In hindsight, I’m really thankful na naghirap ako when I was younger because it helped me realize that the first person who should accept you is YOU. You can’t live your life hiding dahil parang patay ka habang buhay. Accepting yourself affects the way you interact with other people, so it’s important that you stay true to who you are.
At the end of the day, I took control of my own happiness, and that decision unlocked so many doors I never even knew existed. Why be afraid? Bakit mo kailangan magtago? Don’t be afraid; don’t let your soul crumble while you’re still alive because sayang ang life! Just express who you are, but remember to respect and understand others, too. They’ll come around, eventually. Know what is right and it will lead you to do the right thing.
And lastly, enjoy your life! You deserve it.
We can all get inspiration from Kevin’s story, and if you’ve seen Pantene’s video, you know she’s already inspired LGBTQ individuals—like 11-year-old Adrian Canlas, 16-year-old Janro Martinez, and 17-year-old Kylie Celebre—to take their own paths toward self-discovery. While the journeys may be different, one thing is certain: All of them were strong then for not succumbing to peer pressure, but they’re definitely #StrongerNow for choosing to embrace everything about themselves.