by Rose Cruz Churma
Jake Zyrus, when still known as Charice Pempengco, first burst into the American consciousness when he sang at the Ellen DeGeneres Show in December 2007.
Prior to this, he made a few recordings in Sweden that were posted online that caught the attention of the talk show host. The following May, he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show—where his talent so impressed the media icon that she contacted David Foster “to see what the music producer could do for Pempengco.”
With this mentorship, Zyrus widened his reach, performing concerts with Andrea Bocelli, among others. His album “Charice” released in 2010, entered the Billboard 200 at number eight, the first album of an Asian solo singer to land in the top 10. He released two more albums after that before crossing over to television where he was cast in the TV series Gleeas Sunshine Corazon.
In 2013, he came out as a gay woman and transitioned into a transgender male in 2017 and discontinued the use of the name “Charice Pempengco.”
In this book, he chronicles his journey. Born in Cabuyao, Laguna province in the Philippines, he was raised by a single mother Racquel, who he claims served as his first musical influence, but also his harshest taskmaster—the ultimate “stage mother.” He helped support his family by entering singing contests as early as seven years old, eventually competing in hundreds of these contests.
This memoir consists of eight chapters, where the first one titled “Awakening” describes the initial days after his operation and the process he went through in deciding in going through the procedures to change his gender completely.
The first few sentences in this chapter is telling: “When I woke up in the hospital, my first impulse was to look down at my chest. They were gone.”
In most of the chapters, he relates episodes that describe his relationship with his mother. He recalls how his mother often hit him in the head with her high heels—the reason why his scalp is covered with scars that have formed bumps and valleys on his head.
Despite the abusive behavior, he reasons that: “She’s not a bad person. Her own difficult experiences with her family contributed to the kind of person she is.” He surmises that his own mother went through the same abuse from his grandmother.
He devotes another chapter to his father, who was killed by an icepick-wielding man while buying something at a store. He recounts how he, with his mom and younger brother, lived with his dad until he was four years old and the years he experienced what it was like to be a child.
He felt that the absence of his father enabled the abusive behavior of his mom to happen, as well as the sexual abuse he suffered from a male relative when he was still a young girl.
Despite a harrowing childhood and early adulthood, the last chapter is filled with hope and acceptance. His last sentence says it all: “I have lived my truth. And that is all that matters.”
Through all that, he maintains his sense of humor. To all the folks who miss Charice—her magnificent voice, her long hair and pretty face—he proposes a solution: “Go on YouTube.”
Senator Risa Hontiveros, who championed the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill (also known as the Anti-Discrimination Bill) in the Philippine Congress writes in the book’s back cover:
“Touching. Vivid. Heartfelt. Here for the first time is a deeply personal account of Jake Zyrus’ ordeals with abuse, poverty and gender discrimination. But more than a tale of struggle, it is ultimately one person’s inspiring, continuing journey to solve the greatest mystery in life—the question of who we truly are.”
Jake Zyrus is here to stay, living the life he wants!
ROSE CRUZ CHURMA established Kalamansi Books & Things three decades ago. It has evolved from a mail-order bookstore into an online advocacy with the intent of helping global Pinoys discover their heritage by promoting books of value from the Philippines and those written by Filipinos in the Diaspora. We can be reached at email@example.com.
by Rose Cruz Churma