CEBU CITY, Philippines – When the University of the Philippine (UP) Cebu announced that graduates of their 83rd Commencement Exercises can freely choose their attire, it received wide praises and commendation from the public.
But no one could have been prouder than the woman who made history in UP Cebu by being the first to break tradition.
Fashion designer Vienne Vildosola was all smiles upon learning that her Alma Mater has finally allowed its graduates to express their true identities this year.
“I was pleased as punch when I learned that the U.P. administration has deviated from tradition and decided to allow graduating students to wear clothes that support their gender identity and expression,” said Vienne.
Vienne made waves not only in the UP community but also among members and allies of the LGBTQ+.
In April 2013, she defied the university’s traditions for the male sex to don barong tagalog and formal slacks during graduation ceremonies.
Vienne went up the stage, got her diploma, and turned her ‘sablay’, the university’s iconic graduation attire, in a dress despite written orders from UP Cebu’s administration telling her to stick to the heteronormative standards.
In this edition of Faces of Cebu, Vienne shared her experiences and wisdom as the first transgender woman to march in UP Cebu’s graduation ceremony in a dress.
“Graduation is a day to celebrate our accomplishments… And I’m really glad – more than glad – that UP Cebu has reached this historic milestone,” she said in a mix of Cebuano and English.
Vienne entered UP Cebu in pursuit of her dreams to become a fashion designer, and took up Fine Arts at the university.
During her time in college, she was exposed to and eventually learned, the importance of expressing and staying true to one’s real identity.
“Looking back to my time at UP, I was exposed to LGBTQ+ lectures and discussions which taught me that being homosexual is simply another way of being, and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with it… We are the sole judge of our own identity. Upon this realization, I began my transition to becoming a full-fledged transgender woman,” Vienne wrote.
Her journey, however, was not easy. Vienne, too, had experienced setbacks and doubts that challenged her faith in herself.
“I was practically at rock bottom as the world continued to press me down; it wasn’t easy,” she said.
Being the fighter she is, Vienne was determined to ‘break through boundaries and challenge herself to be better and wiser’.
As her graduation ceremony in 2013 drew nearer, Vienne wanted to wear a dress, which she described as the attire that truly reflects her gender identity and expression.
She sought permission from the university administration, asking them if she can march in a dress, and not in the traditional barong tagalog and slacks.
“Mind you, I’ve always considered myself to be incredibly feminine. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like a boy,” said Vienne.
Unfortunately, the administration struck down her request, and told her to stick to the rules.
But it did not stop her to get up during her graduation day, and wear the dress that she wanted, even if the then-Graduation Committee threatened to prevent her from marching along with the other graduates.
“So, I thought, ‘What’s the point of following/wearing male clothes that make me feel like I’m crossdressing when, in reality, I’ve been wearing everyday clothes that represent my gender identification as a Transgender Woman since my college years until now?’” explained Vienne.
Looking back at her graduation in 2013, Vienne gave a shy laugh when she described how the university officials no longer fussed as she stepped on the stage, and gave her diploma.
“I felt oppressed and betrayed by my own University, which should embodied and embrace diversity. But despite the hardship and threats I received before my graduation day, I stand firm to fight for what I believe in. To show and express the real me to the public, and the rest is history,” Vienne added.
Vienne, for her part, told incoming graduates of UP Cebu, to stand firmly on their rights and liberties to express their identities.
“Being a transgender woman has never defined me nor prevented me from pursuing my personal or professional goals, and no one has the authority to make decisions about my life for me. Because of this, I chose to live my life authentically and joyously,” she said.
The fashion designer also urged others to be accepting of any individual – regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, race, and identity.
“Accepting them is critical because they contribute vibrancy to variety. It is all about recognizing and valuing our differences while respecting diversity and instilling inclusivity,” she added.