He Said, She Said, then He Said: Vins Santiago’s Journey to Homosexuality, Femininity, and Back

           On the year of the first People Power Revolution, Gavino “Vins” Santiago made a metamorphic decision as life-changing as that of the events that took place on the streets of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, more commonly known as EDSA. At that time, Vins donned the name Vinna to suit his fantasized feminine alter ego. His dreams turned into realities after undergoing a surgery at the age of 24 that made him the first Filipino in history to have had his gender altered.

            Before his transformation, his occupation as an entertainer in the club Coco Banana gave him the advantage and confidence to participate actively in beauty pageants, where he almost always took home the crown. During the early eighties, he recounts that judges could not care less about gender; they considered the outward appearance more than anything, and wearing a bikini would intrigue and impress, as hiding a man’s unmentionables was a challenge to behold. Occasionally, Vins would fly to Japan to work as performer at nightclubs. It was in the country of the rising sun that he would religiously take his first shots of female hormones. Nightly, he would attend to his adoring audience and, surrounded by mirrors on stage, he would catch glimpses of the womanly change occurring in his body, thinking that he was one step closer to achieving his goal of being a transsexual. The euphoric feeling would dispel come morning, when nausea stroke, although Vins felt better knowing that the void he felt in the past was now being filled.

            Vins was the youngest of six children: two sisters and three brothers before him. At a young age he discovered from his mother’s gynecologist and sister that his mother anticipated a baby girl while pregnant with her sixth child.  In the latter part of his adulthood, Vins attributed this finding to be a core reason of his early homosexuality, believing that this was a prenatal psychological command from his mother while he was still in the womb, although he openly forgave her for this when she was on her deathbed. His childhood was filled with other crucial experiences leading to his eventual gender confusion, paired with his passion for cooking and singing, and his siblings’ bullying him into finishing their degrading house chores. He felt hated all throughout his childhood. But it was at the tender age of nine when an older cousin sexually abused him that he first found love in that wretched act of intimacy. Succeeding this, he knew he had to become a girl.

            After pre-operative counsel, which he muses as having “passed with flying colors”, and a successful operation, media men hounded the remodeled Vins, and his desirable new appearance displayed on television screens nationwide. He was celebrated by the press and envied by both women and gay men alike, but something else was missing. He seemed to have caught everyone’s eyes but a pair in particular belonged to one who would end up tying the knot with him. Vins had many boyfriends, though Englishman Steve Robinson got him to settle down. After their move to England, Vins enrolled in a business school to pursue his master’s degree. He had everything he could ever want, but he could not help but cry at night. The supposedly occupied hole in his heart still bothered him. His emotional unrest was comforted by television show, The 700 Club, which he watched habitually, and there he found God. As a last ditch effort to find true happiness, he turned to God. Although he grew up a catholic, tried several religions such as Daoism, Buddhism and New Age, Vins never found the answers he continuously searched for and this left a pain in his heart. Finally, he realized the error in his decisions and committed himself to the Born-Again Christian faith. His marriage with Steve fell apart and they divorced. Presently, Vins has proclaimed himself a man again, legally, psychologically, and emotionally. In 2009, he was even engaged to a woman, but they broke off the engagement after further assessment concluded their relationship was of a selfish nature.

            While Vins cannot undo his surgery and can never obtain his original sex organs, he continues to testify in churches all over the Philippines.  Though he had his breast implants taken out, until today, the remains of his past mistake remind him of what he once was and this only strengthens his faith in the Father. He shares his testimony with other homosexuals as well, expressing that it is better to let it out in the open for a better chance of resolving the issue, rather than boxing it in. When asked whether he regretted the sex change, Vins says without skipping a heartbeat that he did not because if he did not go through that, he would not be as wise and would be unable to share his story to those in need. “We should not doubt what God has allowed us to become because this has a reason,” he adds, “Even the most successful will ask what I have done [reverting back to my original gender]. All this success will not define the person. It will only define what is outside, and not the inside”.


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