meet the dolls: victoria gigante

i have a very vivid memory of the first time i went to cliniq, a trans-led clinic where i booked an appointment to get my bloods done in the hopes of finally starting hormone replacement therapy. i entered the building with a fake-it-til-you-make-it power walk, whilst shaking with panic in the insides. luckily i was welcomed by victoria’s warm smile at the reception desk. with outstanding kindness, she immediately filled me with comfort and this appointment no longer felt like the daunting obstacle it did all day.

over the last year, i found myself regularly spotting victoria: from watching her touching performance in the short film miss philippines by rogelio braga, to seeing her work on the southbank with a volunteer t-shirt for bfi flare, to randomly bumping into her at my friend ella’s flat in south london. 

victoria moved to the uk in 2009, and has made herself a household name fighting for the betterment of trans and filipino people in the uk. on top of her work at cliniq, victoria is a patient access coordinator for st. guy’s hospital, the managing director of philippine theatre uk, and an actress.

when choosing who to reach out to for this celebratory interview series, victoria immediately sprung to mind as the perfect woman to kick this off, not only due to her talent, intelligence and glamour, but because the altruism she brings into the world holds the kind of revolutionary power this world desperately needs.

jb: hey victoria! how are you babe?

vg: i’m good, a bit nervous. usually i’m the one talking to clients who share with me their journeys, and now i’m on the other side!

jb: maybe that’s a good place to start? could you share the work cliniq does and the work you do for them?

vg: sure – cliniq is a community interest company for trans and non binary people, and i have been one of their mentors, support workers and greeters, for almost three years now. we try and assist people in the community who might be thinking about having a hormone replacement therapy, who might need support on how to approach their gp in getting a gender dysphoria diagnosis, or any other sort of issue they may be encountering like housing, sexual health support or family issues. 

jb: what’s been the biggest joy that has emerged from your work there?

vg: i’ve been in health and social care for almost 11 years and ultimately i just really love to make sure people have fulfilling lives and i want to support them throughout their journey. i feel grateful to be able to do that, despite all the challenges.

jb: in your work you come across very vocal and proud of your transness. why do you feel like that’s important?

vg: it’s because of the journey i’ve been through. i was six years old back home in the philippines when i first started feeling uncomfortable in my body, being put in boy’s clothes i didn’t like. i couldn’t express myself because the philippines is so religiously catholic, so i spent years just focused on my studies, i was top of the class. and then i had the opportunity to meet some very brave trans people in the philippines who shared with me their journey for their hormone replacement therapy, and this hormone called diane 35, which is very famous but very expensive. so later on at 16 when i was a working student for kfc, every salary i allotted a percentage to buy my hormones, but i would have to ask my girl friends to buy it for me because they were the only people allowed to.

jb: is that still the case today?

vg: we’ve been fighting for almost two decades for better lgbtq+ rights back home in the philippines, because we don’t have enough protection. in terms of transitioning, you either self medicate or if you come from a wealthy family, you can do it privately.

jb: i find that interesting, that despite a lack of legal protection, there’s still so many trans women in the philippines who are not being stopped by the law. and i’m also aware of the popularity of trans pageants?

vg: pageantry is definitely one of the platforms through which we show our existence. i’ve never done one, but i love pageantry. i became a judge back home! i was very active as a young trans woman, i was a youth leader in the community. we’d organise projects from basketball to volleyball tournaments, as well as pageants. 

jb: what are they like? is it actually a similar format to like miss universe?

vg: yes, you have different categories, as well as questions and answers. it was called miss gay, because we didn’t have a word for trans back then.

jb: i love that – gay supreme!

vg: yeah, gay is used as an umbrella term. before the colonisation of the philippines from the spaniards, which lasted 333 years, we had a third gender, which is called babaylan who were considered a sort of healer, and leader in our community.

jb: there’s actually a similar figure in burma, called nat gadaw, who are thought to be closer to spirits because of their femininity.

vg: different countries had different names for our identities, and colonisers took this. 

jb: it feels really powerful to know that this history goes back however many hundreds of years – that’s a really powerful legacy to hold.

vg: yeah. and i’ve been contacted a lot by babaylans. there’s a babaylan community now in europe, and other parts of the world as well, claiming it back. getting back to the roots and owning different identities we had before colonization. 

jb: thank you for sharing that history with me! because you’ve mentioned the importance pageantry holds to you, i was wondering if you could also share a bit about the work you do in acting and theatre? 

vg: philippine theatre uk was founded in 2002 bringing different amateur artists into a theatre group to explore their talents, and in different fields like acting, lighting, sound… we tackle a lot of different sociopolitical issues, but have also done children shows. what’s special about philippine theatre uk is the comraderie, we’re all very supportive. 

jb: i find it kinda fabulous that this is not a trans group, it’s a group organised around ethnic heritage, and you’re the managing director – and actually your transness doesn’t primarily come into play there. 

vg: i’m very thankful of how supportive they are towards me. i was a stage manager to start with – i’m very organised. then, our artistic director asked me if i’d like to be on the stage too and i said “no, i’m too shy!”. but i love dancing so i ended up choreographing a dance and that’s what brought out victoria: the artist and the actress. i started enjoying the light and the stage, and that’s what brought victoria, the artist and the actress! from then on, i started to enjoy the stage. the light. being in front of people. i started playing different characters – every know i was given the role for a cisgender woman too. i started being vulnerable. being an actress, people get to see you from head to toe. they will criticise the way you speak. the way you move. the way you talk. and that has triggered my gender dysphoria. but i’m still here – doing it, being an actress. 

jb: what’s been your favourite acting project that you’ve ever done? 

vg: i think it would be summer in london at the theatre royal stratford east in 2017, where i was playing the character summer. it was the very first theatre play with an all transgender cast in the uk and it was directed by rikki beadle-blair. he’s the very first director who gave me an opportunity to work as a professional actor in theatre. i played with amazing trans actors out there like ash palmisciano who is now in emmerdale. and mzz kimberley who’s an amazing bitch up there!!! with luna, her puppy, who she’d bring to rehearsals. and mzz kimberley is one of the patrons for cliniq! and other cast members were tigger blaize, emma frankland and tyler cunningham, who is now in holby city! yeah, i loved working with my other trans performers out there.

jb: maybe that brings us to our last question, which is… what’s something that you’ve got happening this year that you’re excited about that you would like our readers to know? 

vg: we’ve been doing script readings for the last couple months for miss philippines by rogelio braga at the national theatre. it’s still in the process for now, and i’ve been cast as the character mimi.

jb: congratulations!!! is it about pageantry?

vg: yes – with an underlying political message surrounding the issue of drug use in the philippines. and i’ll be playing alongside another filipino nurse and actress, vivienne

jb: that sounds like it’ll be iconic!

vg: thank you. i’m also still focusing on my work at the nhs in the department of diabetes and endocrynology, which is a very challenging department, but i love working for that trust. 

jb: they’re lucky to have you!

vg: thank you – i was actually awarded ‘receptionist of the year’ last year, the very first in our department at st guy’s hospital! and i just want to continue to offer the community whatever i can. 

jb: fabulous – thank you so much victoria, it’s been fabulous talking to you.