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They cannot change their names or gender markers on any legal documents, even if they have sex reassignment surgery.There are LGBT employment protections in some areas of Manila, but not in Pasig, where Angel works.
People assigned male at birth who grow up to identify as bakla are typically permitted to have feminine mannerisms and sometimes even wear girl’s clothes or accessories — but can’t grow their hair long or wear dresses, which would risk having them be mistaken for girls.
Today, many of the most prominent trans leaders in the country are former call center workers.“Trans women often don’t enter the call center as trans,” David said.
“The wages help enable and produce that identity.” Angel did not grow up thinking she would be a call center worker, just as she didn’t grow up thinking she was trans.
There are now more than 1 million call center workers in a country of 98 million, and the industry accounts for an estimated 10% of the Philippine economy.
Because trans women in the Philippines are legally classified as men, there are no reliable statistics to quantify their numbers in the industry.
And it was actually on the phone that she was first perceived as a woman, by American customers calling from abroad.“I have a feminine voice,” Angel said, “so customers kept calling me ma’am during training.” That was when Angel’s supervisor started allowing her to use a female alias, first Madison, which rhymes with her legal name, and then eventually Angel, the name she now uses both in and out of work.
That first experience of being affirmed and treated seamlessly as a woman by American customers profoundly influenced her desire to identify as a woman in the rest of her life.“I realized how much I enjoyed being feminine,” Angel said.
And because customers only hear them on the phone, those who would balk at being served by a trans woman are none the wiser.
Since women are often perceived as more comforting than men, presenting as women on the phone can actually advance call center workers’ careers.
However, her mom did not allow her to wear dresses or skirts and pressured her to wear men’s clothing when she became an adult.
Angel presented as male the first time she entered the call center industry in 2005, like the vast majority of workers who now identify as trans women.
Even when these protections are applied to transgender women in the Philippines — such as in one case when a trans woman was barred from using the women’s room at work and filed discrimination charges — they are officially classified as homosexual men. The 31-year-old manages 29 call center agents and a rotating crop of trainees at TREC, overseeing the quality of their work, taking particularly difficult calls called “escalations,” and reporting to the center’s United States office. In the Philippines, call centers have become havens for gender-nonconforming people, a place where they can experiment with their gender presentation and identity.