Recently, a Twitter user named Jzan Tero (@JzanVern), an art student based in Cebu, came out with a thread calling out Sam Morales, alleging that the local photographer had been catfishing her for eight months.
It’s not the kind of catfishing account that you’d see depicted in MTV’s “Catfish.” What Tero laid out was a harrowing case of manipulation, gaslighting and sexual assault, all directed towards one thing: transphobia.
A brief overview of the allegations: Morales, posing as a model named Bill Iver Reyes, hit up Tero on a dating app. When things got serious, Tero eventually realized that she was talking to a catfish after Reyes was a no-show during their first planned meet up and blocked her on Viber. That would usually be the end of a catfishing story, but Morales tried to contact Tero again using her own name this time, and enlisted the help of Bilko Argana, the real model behind the pictures, to enact the ruse. Throughout the next months, Morales would continue to message Tero and manipulate her into a relationship (after Tero found out about Argana’s real name and almost caught the lie, Morales would make new excuses and new reasons to keep Tero hooked). Morales would also constantly gaslight Tero and put her in vulnerable positions, including one visit which saw Tero visiting Metro Manila and being abandoned at a Jollibee right after her flight at night without warning, not even giving her time to collect her bearings.
“Kahit iwan mo nalang ako after just please let me settle in a place first.” I was hurt but i was more desperate. I was scared because im in a very unfamiliar city. “AYOKO NGA BITAWAN MO NA AKO!!” he had no remorse.
— Tzan Jero (@JzanVern) March 30, 2020
This all culminated in their last meeting, in which Bilko Argana finally spilled the beans and told Tero what had been happening in the eight months they were “speaking” to each other. “Si Sam… si sam lahat.. hindi naman ako yung kausap mo. Si sam…,” (sic) Tero quoted Argana saying, with him also alleging that he was also manipulated into catfishing her.
In a later tweet, Tero revealed that Morales herself allegedly admitted that what happened to her wasn’t an isolated case. Morales had been targeting gay men and trans women since high school, and it had become “an obsession” for her. She also claimed, however, that what happened with Tero was something that “went too far” and wasn’t supposed to happen.
More people have since spoken up about their own experiences, though, and these seem to refute that claim. In one case, a user claims that Morales had forced them to get an anniversary tattoo and would manipulate them into staying in relationships, with Morales (posing as someone else) saying that she would die by suicide if they broke up with her.
Btw, suicidal po si Jae. Yun ang lagi niang panakot sa akin pag mag bebreak kami
At andami namatay sa pamilya nila na mga reasons para di kami magkita
This month namatay lolo sunod tatay, nxt month namatay nanay pinatay daw ng kapatid ng nanay dahil s pera LOL so ako convinced pic.twitter.com/kcKpFsXOsL
— ish coldura (@ishsexi6) March 31, 2020
While many people have supported Tero and the other people who have come out, there still seems to be others who don’t fully grasp what’s so wrong about the allegations. Some also seem to focus on the catfishing aspect without engaging with its inherent homophobic and transphobic nature.
So here’s the thing: Even if Morales hadn’t admitted to Tero that she was specifically targeting gay men and trans women, what she allegedly did would still be clearly transphobic and homophobic. When you look at the people she had allegedly catfished and abused (and there are a lot of receipts), aside from noticing that these are all gay men and trans women, you’ll notice that she exploits the things that they are most likely to be vulnerable and insecure about. In Tero’s case, many times Morales would use fears of transphobic backlash to manipulate Tero into pitying her. Constantly reminding a trans woman about transphobia as a weapon to wield against her and harm her is in itself transphobic. Same thing for gay men with homophobia. I don’t know how else to make that clearer.
If you don’t think that’s serious or you don’t understand why transphobia is inherently problematic and should be dealt with, look at these numbers: On the last International Trans Day of Remembrance, trans rights organization Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide reported that there have been 331 cases of murders against trans and gender-nonconforming people from Oct. 1 2018 and Sept. 30 2019 alone. Trans people are constantly being marginalized and discriminated against. The Philippines constantly parades around the fact that it’s one of the more tolerant nations in Asia, but trans people here don’t have the rights that they’re owed as people: They aren’t even allowed to legally change the gender on their government documents. The SOGIE bill, a landmark bill that would criminalize discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, continues to languish in the senate.
That’s not even talking about the effects of transphobia on the mental health of trans people, both adults and young people. In a survey with “34,000 young LGBTQ people,” the Trevor Project noted that “the figures of trans young people who have tried to take their life are double their cisgender, people born in the gender they identify with, LGB counterparts. 15% of young lesbian, gay and bisexual people will try to take their life, compared to 29% of young trans people.”
“Both figures are significantly higher when compared to the average in the wider population. Compared to the average among high school aged youth, just 5.4% of straight-identified students reported attempting suicide in the past year,” notes Forbes.
However, there’s another aspect to this case that I want to talk about, which other people have seemed to gloss over. Tero’s catfishing allegations against Morales is also about sexual assault. I noticed this the first time I read the thread, especially when Tero talked about having intercourse with Argana.
“He started f*cking me.” “Why did you f*ck me?” “I felt molested.”
That’s how I would talk about my own sexual assault before I came to terms with it, using the language of something being done to you rather than being a part of it.
He came and then said to me “masaya ka na?” I WAS LIKE TANG INA?!?! You fucked me. I just wanted a kiss. Anong MASAYA NA BA AKO?!?!? I came back to my senses we dressed up and I sat down with him. “What the fuck is going on? Ano ba to?”
— Tzan Jero (@JzanVern) March 30, 2020
Rape by deception or fraud is not a common term. Even if you’re an advocate against rape and rape culture, you might not have heard of it. If you did, it might be because of the landmark case in 2018 when a woman was assaulted by a man she thought was her boyfriend and the legal hurdles she jumped through to try to convict him. She had consented to the sex act, but not to the man.
Joyce Short, an advocate against rape by fraud, believes that consent is a “freely given, knowledgeable and informed agreement” and that rape laws should reflect that. Short herself is a survivor of rape by fraud when she became involved with a man who lied about his entire identity (not a catfish—this happened before the internet existed).
“His assault of me is something that I face every day of my life,” she says about her assault.
Our rape laws don’t have a provision for rape by deception, but I’d argue that it’s still an important dimension to Tero’s allegations.
Here’s my final piece on the thread: At the bare minimum, when talking about this, we shouldn’t minimize the transphobic and sexual assault aspect of it. These are not laughing matters, and definitely not things to take lightly. Doing so is harmful, and adds insult to an already painful injury.
Art by Tricia Guevara
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