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TikTok's 'Seafairy' Raises the Queer Flag in a Seaman's World

Meet Andy Ef.
by Ara Eugenio
3 days ago
Photo/s: Courtesy of Andy Ef

After a long, tiring shift at work, Andrew Militante transforms himself for Tiktok, stripping off the boiler suit he dons daily as a seafarer to wear fun and fashionable clothing and makeup that remind him of who he really is—a proud queer person in the hypermasculine maritime world.

Known to his over 50 thousand followers as Andy Ef, the 32-year-old is among rising "seafairies" of the platform known for birthing non-traditional stars.

For him and the rest of Tiktok's baklang mandaranggats, apart from overcoming the isolating feeling of being at sea for months, the goal is to show that one need not be masculine and macho to find themself working for a cargo ship. 

"Sa barko kasi, you really need to find something that will divert your mind from the stress, homesickness, and the loneliness," Andy told reportr. 

"[Crossdressing] makes me happy kasi I am reminded na 'okay, this is me'. Kapag nagsusuot ako ng pambabae, dun ko nafefeel na bakla ako talaga, na hindi ko siya kailangan kalimutan kahit nasa mundo ako ng mga lalake," he added. 

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@andy.ef Reply to @iampharsa2691 #seamantiktok #marino #fyp #seafairy #ofw ? Paper Birds (3 min) - Jordan Halpern Schwartz

Becoming 'Andy Ef'

Like his rise on the platform, coming to terms with who really is took a while for Andy. Growing up as the youngest child of a farmer in Santa Fe town in Leyte, he didn't feel particularly attracted to boys but wasn't drawn to girls either.

"Siguro nakitaan ako ng father ko ng pagka-feminine. So when I was young, he said hindi raw ako dapat maging bakla kasi bibitayin daw niya ako sa puno pa-baliktad. Siguro sa takot ko, I was convincing myself, 'okay hindi dapat ako maging bakla'," he said.

When it was time to decide what to study in college, his parents lobbied the idea of becoming a seafarer. "Sabi nila, ito raw yung aralin ko because there’s a good future. But actually, behind it, iniisip nila magiging lalake ako once I-mix nila ako sa mga lalake."

"Pero nung nasa maritime school na ako, 'yung ginusto ng parents ko went the opposite way kasi na-open talaga 'yung pagiging iba ko. 'Dun ko napansin talaga yung difference and I was able to confirm na I was gay. Nahanap ko yung sarili ko," he said. 

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Even as he started loving his course, Andy said multiple times he was challenged and forced to rethink if seafaring was really for a queer person like him. One time, he was even told by a teacher that no one would hire him because of his sexuality. 

"I argued with him that day and pinalabas niya ako sa classroom. I was really upset kasi nakipagtalo ako sa isang captain because I know I had to defend who I am. Hindi ko pinagsisihan 'yun kasi it’s my right to correct him," he said.

When third year college came, he was one of few in their batch who got offered a scholarship by Maersk, one of the world's largest shipping companies. Now a second officer at the company 13 years later, he's in charge of the ship's navigation, functions as a medical officer and watchkeeper, and are just two levels away from being captain.

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"Looking back, i'm really of proud of how far i've come. One of the biggest shipping companies in the world ended up hiring me.. One of my senior officers told me this one time, 'You don’t really need to have muscles on board. You can be the brain of the ship," he said.


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Life as a queer person at sea

Like thousands of other Filipinos who found respite on Tiktok during the pandemic, Andy started on Tiktok doing dance challenges and makeup transformations, admittedly for a shot at fame, "but no one was watching", he said. 

It was when he started answering questions about life as a queer seafarer that people began to listen. "Nagka-pawis-pawis ako and then people just wanted to hear my voice pala. Ganon lang pala 'yun. I didn’t have to do anything but just talk," he said.

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It's hard enough being away from your loved ones for months, says Andy, which is why he tries as much as he could to keep his content on Tiktok within the bounds of entertaining and inspiring. Normally, he would immediately block negative comments, but there have been a number of them that he couldn't just let pass.

His most viewed video, at 1.3 million likes as of writing, has him responding to one user who said getting harassed was okay for people like him. 

@andy.ef Reply to @yuri10_28 #seamantiktok #ofw #marino #seafairy #foryoupage ? original sound  - Andy Ef ?????‍????????????

"Hindi ko napalagpas kasi nangyari sa'kin 'yun sa isang Arab country at hindi talaga okay. Nabastos talaga ako sa comment, so I told my story. 'Di kasi dapat nino-normalize 'yung mga ganong klase ng bagay kasi never naging okay 'yun, bakla man o hindi," he said. In the course of their work, LGBT+ people in the maritime industry often find themselves in countries where their mere existence is still heavily frowned upon, even deemed illegal. 

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"Kapag nagjojoin ako sa barko, I usually tell the captain, 'Captain, i’m gay. Do you have any problem with that? If you have any problem, then i’m going home. Mga kapitan naman, they would say they don’t have any problem as long as it doesn’t get in the way of work. So I make sure na okay performance ko kasi kapag okay, walang masasabi sayo," Andy said, admitting to feeling pressured about performing well all the time compared to his other colleagues.

"Wala ka namang ibang magagawa dito sa barko kundi magkatotoo ka nalang talaga. 'Yung goal ko naman ever since, maging maganda buhay ko at ng pamilya ko. Oo, may mga times na may mga kupal din kasi dito sa barko. Pero that's when you really have to be yourself and fight back," he said.

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