OPINION: Jake Zyrus deserves better

The singer formerly known as Charice comes out as Jake Zyrus. 2014 file photo

Jake Zyrus deserved better.

When the artist formerly known as Charice adopted his new name and sent out his first Tweet last week, it should have been recognized as a powerful moment where a young and accomplished Filipino singer, who had lived the first 25 years of his life as a female, claimed his identity.

READ: Singer Charice changes name to Jake Zyrus

Instead, we got a chorus of transphobic responses, including one from Zyrus’ own grandmother. It might be 2017, but somehow that reaction wasn’t entirely unexpected.

We did, however, expect more from certain quarters, namely Esquire Philippines, an ostensibly progressive magazine followed by 170,000 Filipinos on Facebook. But we didn’t get more. We got “Jake Zyrus and The Challenges of Personal Reinvention.”

The title sounds thoughtful, but the content of the piece and its misguided attempt at humor was anything but.

“[W]hile we stand in full support of Jake Zyrus’ decision, his new identity, and the right of every transgender person to identify with a name of his or her choosing, we can’t help but feel that Charice could have picked a better name than Jake Zyrus,” the article read.

Laughing yet?

The Facebook caption that accompanied it doubles down on the laughs: “But why Jake? Why Zyrus?”

Several studies show that transgender people are at higher risk of suicide. A study by University of California Los Angeles’ (UCLA) Williams Institute found that an alarming 25% to 43% of transgender adults worldwide have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

Given the incredibly sensitive and personal nature of Jake’s decision, that mocking question is condescending at best.

Here’s the thing. Esquire doesn’t get a vote. None of us do. Nope, not even Jake’s grandma.

Reader Allan Carreon succinctly summarized the problem with the article in the comment section. “Wow. What a disturbingly transphobic article disguised as a supportive one. Shame on you, Esquire. I thought you were better than this,” he said.

Stories like this don’t come in a vacuum. According to the Transgender Versus Transphobia (TVT) Project,the Philippines has one of “the worst records of violence against the transgender community.” There have been more than 30 cases of transgender persons murdered in the Philippines, the worst case being the brutal murder of Jennifer Laude in 2014 by US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton.

A special report in The Huffington Post meanwhile, “The Dangers Of Being LGBT In ‘Tolerant’ Philippines,” quoted LGBT activist Ging Cristobal, who pointed out that “while there is a high tolerance [for LGBTs], there is no real acceptance.”

And the reaction to Jake Zyrus’ coming out seems to confirm this.

After dozens more commenters pointed out the transphobic undertones of the article, Esquire took it down and apologized. Sort of.

The article now redirects to a letter from Esquire editor-in-chief Kristine Fonacier titled “We were wrong to make fun of Jake Zyrus, and we’re sorry.”

“Ultimately, it was a failure in empathy and sensitivity,” she wrote. “We regret the article and, knowing that a lot of other people are critical of Jake’s name, urge everyone to be more thoughtful about the issue, and more careful when discussing it. This kind of lapse is easily made, especially when you consider yourself fairly liberal and progressive and accepting. It helps to remember what that really means, once in a while.”

The letter goes on to say that while the now-pulled article was well-intentioned, they had simply “drunk-uncled” their support for Jake.

After the explanation, Esquire listed the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s (GLAAD) guidelines on covering the transgender community.

To his credit, Jake replied that he “forgave” Esquire for deriding his coming out. And to theirs, they did pull the article and admit it was in poor taste.

But there’s a very simple sentence missing that might’ve made it feel a bit more impactful. One not only Esquire, but many in our country might think about uttering today.

“Jake, we are sorry.”

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