Authentically Me: Derek Sabado

Photographer: Adam Moco

Photographer: Adam Moco

Dear HIH readers- meet my friend Derek Sabado. 

Derek came into my life about 6 years ago, as part of the creative team at Holt Renfrew.  He instantly struck me as an exuberant soul with amazing energy.  Through the years, I saw his relationship with his own identity and sexuality transform.  He became more comfortable dressing as he wanted and identified more closely with his feminine side.  As a heterosexual female, my sexuality has never caused me any stress.  I leave my house in the morning and society simply accepts who I am.  Members of our LGTBQ community often experience unjust judgement which can result in debilitating self-image issues that can lead to depression and anxiety.  In a 2011 interview with Pride Source, Beyoncé acknowledged the difficulty of coming out and said that she was in awe of her LGBTQ fans. “The amount of confidence and fearlessness it takes to do what maybe is not what your parents expect you to do or what society may think is different -- to be brave and be different and to be yourself -- is just so beautiful,” she said. “Not worrying about satisfying or becoming what other people think you’re supposed to be, that’s like the ultimate dream.”  

We are in a transitional state in society where acceptance and equal rights have finally been granted, but there is still much work to be done.  One does not choose their identity or sexuality and I feel strongly that a person should never be judged for their sexual orientation.  Mental health is intricately related to the mind, body and soul concept that inspires many of us.  Derek and I had lunch a few months ago and dove into a deep conversation about gender identity.  I asked many questions. How did he view himself?  What were his biggest challenges growing up? How did he want people to refer to his gender? I shared with him that for many people there was an uncertainty about how to approach the unfamiliar topic of gender identity.  I was lucky enough to be close to Derek and to be able to ask hard questions. It inspired me to want to give him a voice and create a platform where he could share his journey. 

 Thank you Derek for your collaboration on this piece.  Your voice represents many who do not have a chance to share their thoughts.  


1)     What was your family like growing up?

There was definitely a certain expectation of me growing as the eldest of three boys in a  traditional Filipino household. As an unconventional child, I think it was a challenge for my Mom and Dad to parent me - simply because my being was just something they weren’t accustomed to. It took a bit of time and understanding for everyone to come to the realization that my feminine qualities were not a phase, and although I did feel the pressure to suppress and conceal who I was, I always felt loved. Part of the suppression also came from the feeling of obligation as the eldest child to lead by example. Today my femininity isn’t really a topic of conversation in our family, but rather a mutual understanding and acceptance of who I am.

2)     What do you do for a living?

I’m currently a Senior Graphic Designer. I’ve always been a creative soul and along with my admiration for fashion, the arts have always been a very prominent aspect of my life. I’m inspired by the world around me and the little things that make life a little more lavish. I started working full-time in my second year of university, which quickly lead to new corporate opportunities. From there, it was a combination of hard work, dedication and time management that excelled my career to new heights in a very short period of time. I think my work ethic was a construct of my upbringing and a constant need to do better. My mental state has always looked to the future for answers, but in recent years I’ve learned that an appreciation for the present is a necessary balance.

3)     Did you feel different when you were a child?

I always felt a bit different as a child. School was an escape from the pressures at home, and I always found it easy to make friends with all the girls. There was a natural  commonality in games, interests, topics and overall likeness. My softer appearance and voice held me back from being accepted by the rest of the boys, which resulted in many of the insecurities I’m still working on today. As much as I tried to suppress and play with more “masculine” toys (or what society deems as masculine), I was never fully accepted into that world which only fuelled my comfort in femininity.


4)     When did you start to feel like your being was more on the feminine side?

I don’t recall there being a defining moment that made me realize I was more feminine. Femininity and the social attributes surrounded by it, have always been a natural part of me. It’s harder for me to express masculinity in both my physical and intellectual characteristics. Looking back I have a clearer understanding of how my femininity progressed from a mental to physical state. This change, or evolution relied heavily on the state of my environment and the acceptance and comfort of others. I owe so much of my new found self-discovery to my friends and family I hold so close to my heart. When we are accepted by the world around us, it’s easier to accept ourselves. When we start to accept ourselves, we gain the confidence to push into new worlds and challenges.

5)     Do you identify as a woman/man, both?

I love getting asked this question because it prompts good conversation. Simply put, I don’t know - this question is constantly evolving for me. If you asked me a year ago, I wouldn’t think twice and tell you that I identify as Male. In the last year I’ve grown to love and embrace my femininity in new ways I never have. I’m in a constant state of self-discovery and for the first time ever, I don’t second guess what I want to wear or how I want to express myself.

Genderqueer and Transgender identities do not fall within societies existing gender binary. The challenge of understanding genderqueer and transgender identity lie in the constant evolution of the individual. For example, I do not personally identify as trans but I am also in a state where I don’t fully feel identifiable as a man or woman. I personally feel like I fall under the umbrella of genderqueer, which consists of identities such as gender fluid, non-binary and non-conforming. In many cases, my self-identity may not be similar to someone else's identity.

Today I’m comfortable identifying as gender fluid, whereby my expressions, choice of clothing appearance, etc. do not conform to the gender binary. Note that genderqueer and transgender identities are not emotionally based choices of wanting to be a man one day, and choosing to be a woman the next (or vice versa) but is rather an evolution or better understanding of self-identity. Genders do have grey areas and we should be open to the fact that sometimes, we will get it wrong - but knowledge is key. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and keep prompting new discussions.


6)     What advice do you have for children, teens and adult who are in your shoes?

Dream more and worry less. Most of the things you worry about only happen in your head, don’t let yourself hold you back. Be present and enjoy every minute of life, once you start to accept the things you have today, the future becomes much more clear. Find comfort in the things that make you feel happy and stick to it. Surround yourself with people who bring the best out of you and accept you for who you really are. These are the people who will help guide you in your direction of self-discovery.

7)  What do you do to release stress?

I’m most relaxed when I make sure my mental and physical state have been exercised. Mentally, I love to unwind with meaningful music on my way to and from work. I find simple pleasure in relating to other artist’s lyrics and tapping into emotions that I’ve kept to myself. I also love to get caught up in a digital black hole of inspiration. There is so much to be inspired by at the palm of our hands. Social media has given us real-time access to new art and design from around the world. This has really helped me find new meaning and motivation in my design work. Physically, I’ve been really enjoying yoga. Not only am I am able to meditate my thoughts, but my body gets to enjoy it too. I love the challenge I’m able to put my body through with each and every class - not just new poses, but also the limits I push myself as my body gets stronger. Like in life, the stronger your body gets, the more appreciation you have for the states or poses you once were in. 

8)  How would you like to see society change in regards to treatment of trans, gender fluid and queer culture?

I would have loved to see more role models and people I could relate to as a child. Having more queer/trans visibility in the media would help aid negative connotations or stereotypes against the community. I think society is doing a better job of representing the L and G in LGBTQ but there is still so much room to highlight and showcase talent in this community. The lack representation of genderqueer and transgender people in corporate settings is very prominent. I want to be part of the future whereby genderqueer and transgender people are commemorated by the skills, talents and capabilities they are able to bring into the world of business rather than their identity that sets them apart. As society evolves and is more understanding of the genderqueer and transgender community, I hope that encourages allies to continue developing opportunities of growth to provide people like me a platform and shine and lead by example. I think we all need to be more conscious towards the sensitivity and complexity of gender identity. When we choose to open our minds to notions that transcend social binaries, it allows others to be more honest and authentic with the world.