WHAT must it have been for the family of Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton when they first heard the news?
One day, he’s tottering, discovering these sticks called legs. Then he’s rolling in the mud, it’s summer and the hose dribbles on the ground, the kid is a fish then a log of carnivorous teeth watch out he’s about to leap, he’s a frog. And he’s accused of killing a transgender woman named Jennifer or Jeffrey somewhere in a place called Olongapo the sin city and he’s a grainy profile caught by a newsman’s camera that could not get close enough to zoom in on his head no it’s a helmet to hide him from the pack baying for his blood is that our son?
This is fiction. What may be true is what was reported. U.S. media reports quoted Pemberton’s mother, Lisa, saying that she was not aware of all the details of the case but their family loves him “very much. Nothing is going to change that.”
The late Jennifer Laude’s mother, Julita, also said the same thing: she is loved.
Mother’s love, which we believe is pure and singular, can then be two things. Despite not knowing if her son is guilty of the crime he is implicated with, his mother declares her love for Joseph Scott.
The Laudes love Jennifer, too. She is Jennifer to them. While we grope for the correct pronoun to use, she is Jennifer to the woman who gave birth to him. Who would not flinch at Julita’s cry of despair: who would kill my child?
On the Internet, ignorance and awareness do not constitute the same love. Netizens are taking sides on the gender divide. “Justice for Jennifer Laude” is one Facebook community. “Support For Joseph Scott Pemberton” is another.
Some Netizens claim that discovery of the “deception” pushed the U.S. Marine “over the edge,” as if murder could be justified. A U.S. news website quoted an unidentified neighbor of the Pembertons in New Bedford, Massachusetts: “I wouldn’t want to be with a guy and find out it’s a girl. I’d freak out.”
What can justify reducing someone to an “it”? Other Netizens point out that it is perceptions like this that give away the gender bias and intolerance for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. They are the “Others” for choosing the “abnormal”. And for being different, the rules can be bent for them, too.
The online community is harsh on the LGBT’s “deception”. I would have expected the online portal to be more predisposed to sympathy for diversity and divergence. In the mediated worlds of the Internet, where avatars, role-playing, codes and cyber identities are normal, what is unusual about taking on a gender you prefer to your sex at birth?
Even today’s workplaces find use for multiple layers of fiction. Upon learning that a friend works at this outsourcing company, I asked if she met a former colleague of mine. I gave my former colleague’s name but my friend looked blank.
I said she may not have met him because of the number of employees or offices.
What name does he go by? my friend asked. When it was my turn to look confused, she explained that upon hiring, each employee was given a name, complete with a fictional biography, to be committed to memory. Overseas clients prefer to talk to a “Raven” of “New Jersey” rather than “Chinky” of “Poro Island”.
To help their role-playing, employees call each other by their fictional names even when they’re off duty.
This is an anecdote that may just as well be fiction for unbending moralists and online machos who brag that they would rather go to bed with the ugliest “real” woman than the prettiest transgender. Fiction is not for everyone. But if I’ve learned anything from a lifetime of reading, it’s that empathy begins once you step into the shoes of the character.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s October 26, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”