Emo culture

By Danton Remoto
Remote control
Views & analysis
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com
Posted July 14, 2009

More than 10 years ago, I had a student who came to class wearing an all-black ensemble. His fingernails were painted black, his shades were darker than night — and he wasn’t even gay, snickered the straight guys in class. I didn’t mind, because he wrote well, asked difficult questions, and made the teacher think.

Later, he became a friend of mine and last I heard, he was making short films that were being screened all around the globe.

He seems to be the precursor of the emo phenomenon that is sweeping some (okay, a small) segment of the studentry. In 2009 Philippines, what does emo mean?

Since I am now between the age of 40 and death, I had to ask the help of my students in figuring out what it is. They tell me it began with an underground music scene. It all loops back to the mid-1980s in Washington, D.C., where the bands played with pitch and passion bordering on emotional overkill. The subject matter of the songs thrummed with images that are dramatic and poetic – all served up in contemporary melodies. Thus was emo born, emo being shorthand for emotive hardcore.

Quoting Frederic Trasher, a student of mine said that young people cluster together because of common likes. “Peer groups function in two ways: they substitute for what society fails to give them, and they provide relief from suppression (of feelings). Thus, peer groups fill a gap and afford teenagers a form of escape.”

And if it happens in the West, can its clone in the Philippines be far behind? The emo movement has also made its mark here. My students cite bands like Chicosci, Typecast, and Urbandub as emo, whether self-proclaimed, or hailed so by their teenage fans. Young people swoon at lyrics like “I’ll bleed for you like a new tattoo. In my heart you’ll stay permanent . . . permanent . . .” Or listen to these lines: “Caught you in the arms of another, and I’ve been dying every day since then.”

They add it is not unusual to see the teenage fans imitate the way the band members look. Clones of Chicosci’s Miggy Chavez, Typecast’s Arsie Gabriel, and Urbandub’s Gabby Alipe abound. The look is generic: asymmetrical haircut, black nail polish, skinny jeans. The looks telescope the feelings welling up from within. My student, Jamir Tan-Torres, calls these “unstable moods, dark emotions, suppressed feelings. In a way, their personal style is reflective of their current state of mind.”

The young ones also bristle at what they perceive to be emo stereotyping.

Jamir says: “It is a misconception that people who are part of the emo culture cross the boundary of what is normal. It is unfortunate that some people view them as disturbed, self-mutilating and apathetic individuals. Just like the punks and Goths before them, people immediately pinned a label on them. Even media worsened the situation by using the term emo loosely, in several cases portraying the teenagers in a negative light.”

To prove his point, Jamir interviewed a 15-year-old girl who is a self-confessed emo. “Her profile did not fit the description of my notion of the emo look. She was wearing white short shorts and a bright yellow shirt with the figure of a smiling sun. She wore French tips and not black nail polish. Her reply to my comment that she looks so un-emo was a raised middle finger and a laugh. She said she does not like the typical emo look. For her, being an emo is not a matter of physical transformation but a decision to be ‘true to one’s self.’ It is a way of feeling and there is a sense of freedom and acceptance in being an emo.”

However, I have also received some e-mail – mostly from my hyphenated readers (Fil-Am, Fil-Brit) in the West—that emo takes on a much darker hue in the West, with teen suicide as one of its fallout. The location, of course, is the West, where angst, alienation and anomie – and a sense of drift and rootlessness – hounds the young and the restless.

But wherever one is, emo, which used to be a term for a subgenre of punk has, like all its earlier reincarnations, taken on a complex form. Another young Filipino artist I know describes emo in the form of the images that she draws. Her roses have black petals. The tears streaming down the faces are like black knives. Even the blood gushing down a cut wrist is black. And I hope, the way I am sure her mother does hope, that the last image is only alive in the world of her invention and imagination

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Gay group Ang Ladlad sees Comelec accreditation

By DJ Yap
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: July 09, 2009

MANILA, Philippines—Ladlad, a party-list organization representing homosexual men and women, expressed optimism Wednesday that it would finally be accredited by the Commission on Elections for the 2010 polls.
Ateneo de Manila University professor and Ladlad leader Danton Remoto said the Comelec had assured the group that it would be accredited as a party-list group provided it could prove a national membership.

Remoto said the group now has 22,000 registered members and 10 regional chapters.

In the 2007 elections, the organization was rejected by the poll body on the ground that it did not represent a “marginalized and underprivileged” sector as required by election laws, Remoto said.

“We were told that the likes of (prominent gay men) Boy Abunda, Ricky Reyes, and myself, a teacher at Ateneo, did not belong to the marginalized sector,” Remoto said at the Fernandina Media Forum at Club Filipino in San Juan City.

But he said the fact that some homosexuals belonged to the upper classes did not mean they were not underrepresented. “Most gay people are poor,” he said.

Remoto said Ladlad would advocate “equal rights and not special rights” in the workplace and in schools to remove discrimination against homosexuals.

He said same-sex marriage was not on their agenda, adding that he did not think it would prosper in the Philippines.

Remoto said the group was in talks with several political parties, including the Liberal Party and the Nationalist People’s Coalition, for possible collaboration in the 2010 polls.

He said major political parties were interested in teaming up with organizations like Ladlad since the presidential election would likely be a “closely fought” contest and could be won with a margin of fewer than a million votes.

Remoto said his organization would make its final decision on who to support for president in the 2010 contest by September or October.

Pink Revolution: Ang Ladlad’s Danton Remoto

Danton Remoto in 60 minutes

Caption: Danton Remoto brings his pink army to the electorate. Photo by Pol Briana, Jr. Manila Bulletin

Pink Revolution: Ang Ladlad’s Danton Remoto
60 Minutes
June 28, 2009
Manila Bulletin

Will Danton Remoto be the Philippines’ answer to Harvey Milk?

Milk made history in 1977 when he became the first openly gay man elected into public office. Remoto is yet to do the same, but the impact he’s made on the Filipino lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is certainly as impressive as Milk’s history-making feat.

Remoto, with fellow writer J. Neil Garcia, was behind the pioneering “Ladlad: An Anthology of Philippine Gay Literature.” Its effect on Filipino culture has been immense. Ladlad has gone through several editions, has resulted in the teaching of gay literature classes at the University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila University, and is credited for Ang Ladlad, the partylist that Remoto formed in 2003.

“We started in September 2003 with only one mandate — to help Akbayan push the Anti-Discrimination Bill which was filed in 1999,” he says of Ang Ladlad’s beginnings. “Congress is not really against it but they just think it is not as important. So lagi, ang mga bading, lesbians, transgender, bisexual, laging, kung baga cameo role lagi.”

Fighting for one’s rights is certainly nothing new for Remoto. With his father in the military, Remoto grew up with the belief that nobody should take any abuse lying down.

“My father was a military officer and we were trained to be amazons. Isa lang ang turo niya: You study hard, you study well at ‘pag may umaway sa inyo at umuwi kayo ng luhaan, papaluin ko kayo, you should learn to be tough and fight back,” he recalls with a laugh. “So ang nangyari ngayon, may mga pumupunta sa bahay namin na mga magulang, ‘Naku sir, ‘yang anak ninyong bading binugbog ang anak ko.’ Sabi ng tatay ko ‘Eh di, mabuti!’”

Remoto does the same fighting for the LGBT community. Whether it’s freeing hundreds of gay men being detained illegally or arguing for lesbians and transgenders who have been discriminated against for their sexual orientation, Remoto and his allies are always ready with a legal challenge and a witty retort.

“You have to show them that you will not allow this. If you show them that you will fight back, they will move away. Bullies are really cowards,” he says.

Remoto’s fight for equal rights would have reached its peak in the 2007 elections had Ang Ladlad been allowed to run as partylist, but the COMELEC refused to accredit the group, citing its lack of constituents. It is Remoto, however, who has the last laugh, as he is now planning to run for the Senate on an education platform.

“I’m running on a platform of education because I’ve been teaching for 22 years. ‘Yun talaga ‘yung alam na alam kong issue, ‘yun gay rights, kasama na ‘yan sa education. Open-mindedness
is a function of education, kasi ang tao kapag pinaaral mo, luluwag ang isip. Education is what we really need in this country,” he says.

To close June as the Pride Month, Danton Remoto lets it all out: about being gay in the Philippines, his vision for the Philippine LGBT community, and the possibility of being the country’s first openly gay senator. (RONALD S. LIM)

STUDENTS AND CAMPUSES BULLLLETIN (SCB): What led to the creation of Ang Ladlad, considering that the gay rights movement has been here in the country for quite sometime now?

DANTON REMOTO (DR): We started in September 2003 with only one mandate – to help Akbayan push the Anti Discrimination Bill which was filed in 1999. We wanted to help. Akbayan and Ang Ladlad are not enemies ah, si Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel whom you interviewed and I are very good friends. We went to Ateneo together but of course, I’m older than her, by only a few years. (laughs) Magkalinawan tayo noh. (laughs)

Congress is not really against it but they just think it is not as important. So lagi, ang mga bading, lesbians, transgender, bisexual, laging, kung baga cameo role lang…

SCB: How does that make you feel?

DR: I feel bad. One time, it almost got through, it passed the Lower House in February, 2004 but we needed a Senate version. So we called up the Senate, kanya-kanya silang dahilan. Senator A said, “I cannot push for it, my office just got burned.” Senator B said, “Bakit pa ninyo kailangan ng LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights, eh ang yayaman naman ng mga bading?” I think they were talking about Boy Abunda o Ricky Reyes noh. ‘Yung isa naman, sabing ganyan, saradong Katoliko raw siya. Maraming bading ang nangangailangan. My house in Xavierville has an extra room. That became a halfway house for young people na pinalayas ng mga magulang. They stayed for a few months or as long as they wanted, until their problems get sorted out.

SCB: But it’s not really not a center?

DR: No. I’ll be honest with you, we have a lot of offers but we always ask where the money is coming from. Sa politika, some people they don’t argue where the money is coming from, so they can use you for the elections.

SCB: What about for the older gays?

DR: The old people naman like golden gays, we have an alliance with councilor Justo Justo of Pasay. What is sad is that they are not poor. Many of them sent their nephews and nieces to school. Kapag nasa abroad na, hindi na sila naalala, so itong si bading wala nang ngipin, kalbo na, mashonda na, wa datung. Councilor Justo helps them, house, water, light, and food. We want to have a center that will house these old and abandoned LGBTs, kasi ‘yan mga nagpaaral ng kapatid, pamangkin kaya lang inabandona. ‘Yung iba pa diyan, pagkakuha ng retirement, ‘yung pera ipapaaral o ipapautang sa pamangkin to set up a business, not all pero some of them are abandoned. Meron diyan dentista, teacher, they join the Pride March every December.

SCB: That is sad…

DR: We also want to promote LGBT-friendly businesses. In the US for instance, Levi’s is gay-friendly. I studied kasi sa US ang daming gay-friendly businesses that I hope we can also do here. Kasi dito, like the TV show “Out” only had one season, which is only 12 episodes kasi wala silang advertisement. Even if the ad agencies’ creative directors are gay, the owners did not want to advertise. So we have to push for that support, like all the gay magazines are closed now, Icon is closed, Generation Pink is closed.

SCB: What other laws are you pushing for?

DR: We are pushing for the Anti-vagrancy Bill to be taken out of the law, not all pero some policemen use that to extort from gay men. Vagrancy was a law during the American time, it was used to control the population. Kasi ‘yung ibang mga bading di ba nagpapahangin, mainit kasi, naglalakad sa park. So ikaw, as a bading, you bring an ID, you bring money at least R50 para meron kang pamasahe. In short, ‘pag wala kang pera, ‘wag kang lumabas, subersibo ka. So ngayon, ‘yung mga bading
na nagpapahangin lang o nag-aabang ng taxi sa Taft, hinuhuli ng pulis.

I remember, I would always go to the police station in Balic-Balic, CIDG (Criminal Investigation and Detection Group), Camp Caringal, lahat ‘yan napuntuhan ko na, pinapakawalan ko ‘yung mga bading. Because the law says, you cannot detain somebody beyond 12 hours, the new law is 18 hours kung hindi, we can accuse the policemen of illegal detention and we have done that. Actually lahat ng kaso namin nanalo kami, dinemanda talaga namin along with the Akbayan lawyers, pupunta kami sa city hall for the inquest of fiscal. Like one time, there were like, mga 100 na bading ‘yun sa isang gay bar and they were being asked for a lot of money, and you cannot do that.

SCB: Does it still surprise you that young gay men are still being treated this way?

DR: There are cases like that until and unless, they got out from college and begin working. If you want an economic analysis, ang bading para siyang unit of production that only when he gives money to the family saka siya ginagalang. Again, it all boils down to Apple Macintosh or Nokia – “user-friendly.’’

Sa mga magulang at kamag-anak ginawang insurance, ‘yung mga bading na anak. ‘Pag wala pang pera ‘yan, inaapi, inaaway, ‘pag may trabaho na si bading, bida na siya. Like ‘yung mga nagja-Japan, the transgenders, the one with humongous breasts, sabi ko bakit ninyo ginagawa ‘yan? “Kasi ho sa Japan ‘pag meron po kaming breasts, mas popular kami, either as singers or dancers.” Eh saan napupunta ‘yung kita ninyo? Kalahati yan or more than half goes to our parents, brothers, sister the, ‘yung konti sa amin.

If you talk to any beauty parlor worker or transgender worker in Japan, pare-pareho ng kwento ‘yan, ang Filipino family, whether male, female, transgender, bisexual, lesbian or what, nakasentro lagi ‘yung family. So ‘yung mga bading, they only earn respect generally, if they contribute to the family.

SCB: How was it for you growing up gay in a Filipino family?

DR: My father was a military officer, now we were trained to be amazons (laughs). Isa lang ang turo niya, you study hard, you study well at ‘pag may umaway sa inyo at umuwi kayo ng luhaan, papaluin ko kayo, you should learn to be tough and fight back. Kaya nga marunong kami mag martial arts, imagine me, alam ko ‘yan, the basic self defense, tinuruan kami.

Now, sabi ng tatay ko, if the enemy is bigger than you, kumuha ka ng bambo, hampasin mo, kasi he’s bigger than you, he’s bullying you hindi ka pwedeng umuwi nang umiiyak. So ang nagyari ngayon, may mga pumupunta sa bahay namin na mga magulang, “Naku sir, ‘yang anak ninyong bading binugbog ng anak ko.” Sabi ng tatay ko “eh di, mabuti” sabi ko “Papa bully ‘yan eh” “Ano ginawa mo?” “Hinampas ko ng buho!”

SCB: So that is why you are so feisty…

DR: Hello, I grew up in a military camp during Martial Law. We would go to school with military escort kasi di ba ang daming NPA sa Pampanga, barilan kung barilan ‘yan eh. That is why I am not afraid of guns. We’re taught to fight back, ayaw ng tatay ko na iiyak ka. Diba ‘yan ang stereotype ng Pilipinong bading, iyakin, takot, ayaw ng away, ayaw ng gulo, cry na lang ng cry, hindi naman ganun.

SCB: Your father knew outright that you were gay?

DR: Of course! Grade 1, I was seated beside my classmate Robert, he’s now dead, hindi ko pa alam ‘nun ang word na crush. Katabi ko naman si Vivian na crush ko rin, parang bakit ganito? Tapos ang nakikita kong image na bading si Georgie Quizon, sa TV, kapatid ni Dolphy, in short, our role models were negative, sila ‘yung laging pinagtatawanan sa sine. Then later in high school, Roderick Paulate movies.

The only gay role models then were showbiz reporters or hairdressers.

SCB: How did your mother raise you? Did she counter your dad’s ways?

DR: My mother was a music teacher. Ang sabi ng nanay ko lang nun, kasi nung Grade 1, ang hawak ko sa book ganyan (holding a book against his chest) Sabi ng nanay ko, “naku magagalit ang tatay mo. Ang paghawak ganyan” (holds a book on his side). Tapos naalala ko nun may perya nun, may mga impersonators sabi ng tatay ko, ‘Wag mong gagayahin ‘yan.’’ I was 10 years old, and when you’re young you’re confused, wala namang role model.

SCB: Did your father try to “straighten” you up?

DR: Naku ‘neng, pinag-karate pa ako niyan, kaya marunong ako mag-karate, ang hirap nga ng karate, you have to memorize all those moves, hallu!

SCB: Were there no bullies when you were younger?

DR: Ang nanay ko kasi teacher sa elementary, ang tatay ko military. At saka first honor si bading! Wala na silang kokopyahan! (laughs) Sige, bakla pala ha, wala kang kokopyahan sa Social Studies
mamaya. ‘Yung presidents at prime ministers memorize ko, wala kang kopya. Pero pag math, pakopya naman! (laughs) Bobo ako sa math.

Hindi ako na-traumatize, hindi ako pinagalitan, hindi ako pinalo, hindi ako nilublob sa drum ng tubig. My parents were so civilized.

SCB: Kailan niya natanggap?

DR: I love it! When the book “Ladlad 1” came out in 1994, ‘yung kopya ko ibinigay ko sa kapatid kong babae, binigay niya sa nanay ko, nanay ko binigay niya sa tatay ko.

Eto na, sabi ko sa kapatid ko, ano response ng ating parents? Nakita ng tatay “Ladlad” ‘yung cover di ba half-naked man, tiningnan niya ‘yung loob, alam mo kung ano sinabi niya? “Oh, at least they used white paper for his book.” Sagot ng nanay ko “Oo nga.” Ayun, tapos! (laughs)

Kasi in the Filipino society, unlike in the film Philadelphia na aaminin mo sa magulang mo na bading ka, dito hindi naman inaannounce eh. Here, the gay person is the last person to know he’s gay eh. Meron pa “Alam mo bading ako” “Naku, noon pa naming alam bading! Halu, hindi mo pa ba alam?” (laughs)

SCB: You were saying that you were confused before? When was this confusion solved?

DR: I was 26 when the British Council sent me to the University of Stirling in Scotland! (laughs) Naloka ako sa classmate ko na si Brendan from Ireland, a football player, full of muscles. Then he told me he was gay, aba kaya pala sa swimming class namin, sa common bathroom kung makatingin, hindi ko alam, kapatid pala! Sabi pa niya “I like the color of your skin, where did you get your tan?” Sabi ko, “Oh, it’s natural!” Siya ‘yung naging first boyfriend ko. Ay hindi pala, si Stephen pala ‘yung una. Nakalimutan na! (laughs)

NO TO DISCRIMINATION

SCB: Have you ever been disadvantaged because you are gay?

DR: I’ll be honest with you. I used to get offers from big multinational companies to work for public relations, communications, kasi I went to Ateneo, I have a degree in Scotland, I went to the US for further studies.

‘Yan ang gusto ng mga multinationals eh, may master’s from abroad. Eh ‘yung ginawa ko ‘yung “Ladlad” wala na, lost na, wala nang nag-alok. Dati, every three months may offer letter na mataas ang sweldo, pero ano gagawin ko kung ayaw sa iyo, ‘di ‘wag.

SCB: Pero ‘yung mga lumalapit sa ‘yo na humihingi ng tulong?

DR: For example, like this transgender sa Ang Ladlad, Ateneo graduate siya, with MA in Sociology. Nag apply sa call center kasi konti lang ang trabaho ng sociologists. Apply siya, number one sa entrance, pagdating sa interview long hair, tigbog! Sabi ng interview, this is a call center (based in Ortigas). We cannot hire you because you’re a man with boobs. Sabi ng transgender “Why? Will my breasts do the talking for me?” Sabi lang niya, “Because the manager of the company is a Mormon. He does not want.” I’m just quoting him. Sabi naman ng HRD, but you have to remember that this call center follows American laws. That is questionable because we are on Philippine soil, hindi naman sila embassy, only embassies and consulates follow the law of the country. If you’re a call center here, you follow Philippine laws. So we asked again, gusto mo ba idemanda? Again, the problem with that, siya na rin mismo ayaw, so the victim who doesn’t even want to pursue it hindi na pwedeng ituloy.

Ten years ago, there was a lesbian, malaki ang katawan, apply siya sa Makati. Number one sa written, UP graduate, cum laude. Maikli ang buhok, talagang butch lesbian, hindi lang ‘yung tipong kargador sa pier, kayang buhatin ang buong barko, ganun siya kalaki, matalino. Sabi ng HRD, “Are you a practicing lesbian?” Sabi niya “Why?” Sagot nila “Well, because in this company we don’t hire practicing lesbians.” Sabi niya “Excuse me, I’m no longer practicing, I’m already good at it.” She wasn’t hired!

SCB: Do you get a lot of stories like that?

DR: Kasi, the Labor Code is silent about this, so wala. Sa Philippine military wala rin siya, sa US, don’t ask, don’t tell. Sa Philippine National Police, sa revised code of 1998, nakalagay dun, “There will be no discrimination in the hiring and firing based on sexual orientation.” Napasok namin ‘yan, kasi si Orly Mercado, then Defense Secretary, had a staff who was our lawyer and he was gay. It’s now a law.
Ang military naman, two months ago, I talked to spokesperson Lt. Col. June Torres.

Sabi niya walang diskriminasyon maliban na lang na gay male ka, as opposed to lesbian, ang suot mo talaga male attire ‘pag female ka, female attire.

You know, things are changing, this military spokesman, they talk about it dati they would not even talk about it.

SCB: What’s the worst discrimination you’ve ever experienced?

DR: I remember when I was walking down Katipunan, merong pick up truck. Hindi naman ako pinipick-up. There were a group of teenagers, sabi nila, “Bakla! Bakla!” I’m sure hindi sila taga-Ateneo kasi wala silang breeding. Alam mo sabi ko, “Halika, baba kayo dito!” Umalis! Kukuha pa naman ako ng bato! Kaya lang parang wa’ poise! (laughs)

SCB: That’s the worst?

DR: You have to show them that you will not allow this. If you show them that you will fight back, they will move away. Bullies are really cowards.

SCB: What’s the worst case of discrimination you’ve heard?

DR: Ten years ago, in Iloilo, this beauty parlor worker pinahabol sa aso. In Gen. Nakar, there was a mayor who closed down the beauty parlors kasi salot daw. Ang problema niya, ‘yung mga botante niya nagalit. Lahat ng mga bakla lumipat sa kabilang town, nagalit ‘yung mga babae kasi magbibiyahe pa ng jeep. Natalo sa eleksyon. Buti nga sa kanya.

Sa lesbians, pinapa-rape ng tatay. Kasi daw if they taste having sex with men they will stop being lesbian. These are documented cases. The last case that was reported to me was 2007. Job discrimination is still with us.

Dati sa Catholic school, the parents will sign a form that their son is not homosexual
before they could be accepted. How would you know? Ang anak mo ngayon straight, bukas sirena na! Nagbabago naman ‘yan. Kaya ikaw kapatid! (laughs)

SCB: People say that the number of gays is increasing. Why is this happening?

DR: Parang gremlin lang ‘yan, pag nabasa dumadami! Mas naging visible lang ngayon. Marami na ‘yan noon pa. Dati noon ang tawag diyan PB, pamilyadang bading, bading na nag-asawa. Statistics say na 10 percent although sabi ng ibang tao sa Pilipinas mas marami. Sa Greenbelt, Ang Ladlad diyan laging mabenta. Ang mga malls, urban centers, places na merong medical schools, nursing
schools. Kasi mga nurturers, healers. Mga babaylan! (laughs)

SCB: Are they younger now?

DR: Nako neng, nakakaloka ang mga bading, ang babata. I have a friend who told me “Yung mga bata ngayon sa Catholic school, kapag tumatawid, elementary pa lang, ganito na!” (makes hand gesture) Hindi kami ganyan nung maliit! Ayaw ng tatay ko niyan! ‘Yung tatay ko kasi is from the old school. If you saw me in college sa Ateneo, tahimik lang ako.

That’s the way they want to express themselves. There are conservative elements who say bakit kailangan kumendeng?

Well, malambot kasi ‘yung hips nila, pabayaan niyo na. Kanya-kanyang hips ‘yan. Katulad nung issue sa sagala. We have so many big problems in the country, like one third of the Filipinos don’t have jobs, pag-aawayan natin bakit nakasagala si bading o si BB? Pera naman niya ang ginamit
niya doon. There are bigger problems than men wearing the clothes of women.

SCB: Are you friends with BB Gandanghari? What is she really?

DR: She doesn’t want to undergo sexual reassigment surgery. For her, she’s transgender. Her mind and heart is a woman. The new meaning of transgender, according to my transgender friends, is that you don’t need female sex organs, breasts, as long as your being, sa isip, sa puso, sa kaluluwa – parang Panatang Makabayan! – girl ka, girl ka!

SCB: Some people may misconstrue that as them making a choice….

DR: According to them, kami talaga we were assigned the wrong gender. Some of them work hard, save money, to have sexual reassignment surgery. Another group doesn’t believe you have to undergo surgery. They’re not gay, they’re women.

One time I was in Thailand last year for a meeting with Asian Studies scholars. May tatlong transgender, may boobs na sila, punta silang Thailand para kompletos rekados na. Dumating kami ng Bangkok, tatlong bading nauna na. Pagdating ko, sabi ng matanda sa immigration “You, no breasts yet, no down there, you here for complete operation?” “No, I’m here as a teacher!” (laughs)

FIRST OPENLY GAY SENATOR?

SCB: So are you running for the Senate?

DR: I’ve been invited by at least three political parties to run as senator. They’re sending intermediaries. They want me to run with them. Bibigyan ka ng papel na puti, nakasulat ‘yung figure. Hindi statistics ha, datung! Nakalagay 10, 10,000 lang? Sorry, may pagkabobo! (laughs) Hindi sanay sa maraming pera! ‘Yan na pala ang halaga ng mga bading ngayon! And that’s only one politician! On record, we haven’t accepted a single centavo.

SCB: Are these major political parties?

DR: Of course! Tapos na ang independence days ko. People who promise you money don’t deliver. I think that they recognize that the 2010 elections will be a closely fought election. Ang mananalo diyan baka two million votes lang. Ilan ang bading? Bilangin niyo. Ten percent of the population. If we are 82 million, 8.2 million. Sabihin natin na 40 percent lang ang voters niyan. That’s 4.8 million.

SCB: How does it feel that the LGBT are being recognized?

DR: Ang haba ng hair ko! Blond! Naapakan mo na! (laughs) Alam mo kung bakit ako tumatawa na ganito? Ininsulto tayo ng COMELEC! We were not allowed to run kasi ang sabi nila kokonti lang ang bading. Hindi daw marginalized. May umamin bang bading sa Congress? Sabi nga ni (Imee) Marcos, siya lang ang bading diyan!

SCB: Why are you running?

DR: Because of our party list. ‘Yun lang naman ang gusto kong itakbo noon eh, to help Rissa (Baraquel) and Tita Etta (Rosales), and then go back to teaching. Eh ininsulto ang mga bading! Can you imagine Abalos telling us that we are phantom voters? In Tagalog, mga multong bakla? Imagine! Ang sabi ko “With all due respect, Commissioner Abalos, we are not phantoms. We are the opera!” Eh di naloka siya ng ganyan. Hindi niya na-gets. Binulungan pa ng aide niya. Nag-smirk siya. Eh ‘yung mukha niya medyo dry, kailangan ng moisturizer!

SCB: If you win, what will this mean for the gay community?

DR: You know what, I really just wanted to run for party list, push for the Anti-Discrimination Bill, and return to teaching. Ang buhay ng teacher masaya naman ‘yan eh. You don’t grow old. When I see my students “Tatay mo ba si ganyan? “Yes sir!” “He was my classmate.” “Bakit tatay ko kalbo na? Ikaw mukhang bagets?” “Plus 10 ka sa test, iha!” When you’re a teacher you’re always around young people, you’re always happy. It’s a job that doesn’t stress you so much.

Nung hindi kami pinatakbo, I ran as Congressman, natalo kami. Or so the vote count said. That’s ok with me, I never felt bitter. I don’t like this. I’m being invited. They will show me figures that I’m in the Top 12. Hindi ko sinasabing totoo ‘yan. What I’m saying is that I have seen figures. One day I’m in the Ateneo, these three military men, I don’t know them, say I’m number eight. Saan? Hindi naman ako sumali sa beauty contest. (laughs) Sa meeting ng NGO, sasabihin number ganyan ka. 2006, ayaw patakbuhin ang bading. Ngayon ang telepono ko ring ng ring.

It began last year, they were inviting us because they know that 2010 will be a closely fought election. Kaya ang sabi ko sa Liberal Party, ang kunin niyong vice-president, si Kris Aquino, para tapos na ang laban! Deal or no deal! Mananalo siya. She’s very, very strong.

SCB: If you win, how do you plan to change the perception of gays?

DR: I’m running on a platform of education

because I’ve been teaching for 22 years. ‘Yun talaga ‘yung alam na alam kong issue, ‘yun gay rights, kasama na ‘yan sa education. Education is what we really need in this country. One hundred ‘yan na papasok sa Grade One. Forty na lang pag-graduate ng elementary. Twenty na lang pag high school. Apat na lang pag college.

In the general elections, 60 percent of the voters did not finish Grade Six. ‘Yan ang haharapin natin. I will focus on primary schools, kasi makagraduate lang ‘yan ng Grade six, at least may basic skills. They drop out in Grade Four kasi they don’t have food.

It’s not all about my group. My grandparents were public school teachers. My mother was a public school teacher. My father lectured in UE for a while. We’re really a family of teachers. Malaki pa ang sweldo ng call center kesa sa teacher. Mas malaki pa sweldo ng pulis.

SCB: How would you rate the acceptance of gays and lesbians?

DR: Sa urban areas mataas siya. Sa probinsiya, it’s better, but it can be even better.

SCB: Marami pa rin…

DR: Ay oo, alam mo naman the Philippines, the closet capital of the world! (laughs) Lalo na sa business. Sa politics!

SCB: Is it better to be gay in the Philippines than in other countries?

DR: I can only compare it to the United Staes where I studied nine years ago. In the urban areas it’s like here. Pero in the rural areas, marami pa ring small-minded people. Open-mindedness is a function of education, kaya nga my main platform is education. Kasi ang tao kapag pinaaral mo, luluwag ang isip.

SCB: What’s the biggest challenge that gays and lesbians face?

DR: I say this not just to gays and lesbians. Ang biggest challenge natin is education. With 100 call center applicants, they only get three. The rest are retrained.

We need education that will make them stay in this country. We had a reunon in Ateneo, more than half of them are in the US. We are losing the best minds to work abroad. Education is the biggest challenge both of LGBT and non-LGBT Filipinos.

SCB: What’s next after the Anti-Discrimination Law?

DR: The Philippines has many, many laws but they’re not implemented. If it’s passed during our term, our next part is implementation. You need a group like Ang Ladlad and Akbayan as an oversight committee. You make sure that all the implementing rules and regulations are implemented.

SCB: What’s your dream for LGBT in Filipino society?

DR: It’s better now, but I hope that they don’t feel embarrassed that they’re LGBT. If you look at the West, many suicides are gay men. We have not done studies here but I have heard that some of those who have taken their own lives are gay men. I hope they will never be ashamed of who they are.
In the end, if you are working, you are a taxpayer. You pay income tax na masakit, madugo. And then, you are not given the right to do what you think is right for you? We’re all fighting for equal rights.

(Interview by RACHEL C. BARAWID, ANGELO G. GARCIA, INA R. HERNANDO, RONALD S. LIM, JASER A. MARASIGAN)

Imperial conquests

by Danton Remoto
Remote Control
Views and analysis
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com
June 16, 2009

God’s Dust: A Modern Asian Journey
By Ian Buruma
Phoenix Books, London
2008 reprint, originally published in 1988

The last 20 years has seen an enormous rise in interest in Asia among travel writers from the West. Verily, it is a tradition that goes many centuries back, when the first Westerners set foot in Asia and returned home with fabulous tales about our “exotic” continent of legend and wealth. This kind of travel writing reached its peak in the 19th century, which was also the century when colonialism was most widespread. Western chroniclers sent home “travelers’ tales” that reported the strange customs, the different rites and rituals of the East. The general idea, of course, was that the people of the East should be saved from their backward and primitive lives, with salvation coming from the West. In short, these travel narratives provided a convenient weapon of words for the imperial conquests.

But such thinking was debunked by Edward Said in his highly influential book, Orientalism (1978). Professor Said pointed out that these Western books turned the East into an “Other” that is exotic, feminine, strange and different. Therefore, it is a land to be conquered, to be colonized, to be contained. It is a land to be turned into facsimiles of the West.

In general, Ian Buruma’s book tries to veer away from this “Orientalist” direction. Although born in The Netherlands, Mr. Buruma is the son of parents from different countries. He was educated in The Netherlands but writes in English, which is his mother’s tongue. He has lived one-third of his life in Asia, where he wrote for the Far Eastern Economic Review, the New York Times, and the New York Review of Books. This hyphenated writer spent one year traveling from Rangoon to Hiroshima to write this book. He focuses on “what happens to people when the loyalties and traditions of the village break down and are replaced by the complexities of the modern world.”

It seems like a burdensome thesis, but Mr. Buruma’s book is most illuminating when he writes about people – leaders and beggars, poets and peasants, prostitutes and monks – and spares no incident, whether big or small, as long as it throws light on his theme. He has the journalist’s nose for news and the fiction writer’s gift for the anecdote.

Mr. Buruma laments the Western cliché that one has to go outside the seemingly “Westernized” Asian cities to discover the “reality” about the country one is visiting. He is right when he said that one only has to scratch the surface of lives in Asian cities to find a “cultural sense of self.” Kampung Baru lies near the shadow of the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, but when one has al fresco dinner in one of the mamak stalls selling nasi bubur, a Filipino visitor could feel in his bones that the Philippines must have been like this before the Spaniards came – a Malay society where neighbors were linked to each other by blood and social ties, where the way of life was slow and gracious, where nature shaped the gestures and seasons of rite and ritual, custom and ceremony.

Mr. Buruma also notes that although many Asian societies are torn by economic crisis and the crisis of identity, these twin horns of difficulty can also be sources of creativity. Verily, he alludes to the Chinese saying that a crisis creates its own opportunity. “The necessity to experiment, to redefine themselves, to find meaning in a world of conflicting values has made the capitalist countries of Southeast Asia extraordinarily dynamic. They are alive in a way that old Europe, complacently bearing the burden of its long, miraculously continuous history, is not.”

”The Village and the City” contrasts the neighbors Burma (renamed Myanmar by its military rulers in 1988) and Thailand. Because he had difficulty staying long in Myanmar, Mr. Buruma’s essay on the country is naturally thin, relying mostly on historical vignettes. I also have a problem with his dichotomy between the village and the city. I think it is too simplistic. Surely, in Asia today, the pace of development is uneven, such that some parts of the city still remind you of the village, while a few parts of the village seem so urban. Thus, the labels of “village” and “city” become slippery constructs when seen in this light. His essay on Singapore also suffers from the changes wrought by history, for what he calls the “nanny state” has changed in the last 10 years. It also focused too much on the “nanny state” image of the island-country, and he did not interview any artists who could have provided a cross-section of views about Singapore, the way he did with most of the other countries in the book.

His essay on Thailand offers more insights. “Patpong kitsch and Thai traditions coexist – they are images from different worlds, forms manipulated according to opportunity. The same girl who dances to rock ’n’ roll on a bar top, wearing nothing but cowboy boots, seemingly a vision of corrupted innocence, will donate part of her earnings to a Buddhist monk the next morning, to earn religious merit. The essence of her culture, her moral universe outside the bar, is symbolized not by her cowboy boots, but by the amulets she wears around her neck, with images of Thai kings, revered monks, or the Lord Buddha.”

And then Mr. Buruma goes for the jugular, showing the West for what it really is: “The apparent ease with which Thais appear able to adopt different forms, to swim in and out of seemingly contradictory worlds, is not proof of a lack of national identity, nor is the kitsch of Patpong proof of Thai corruption – on the contrary, it reflects the corrupted taste of Westerners, for whom it is specifically designed. Under the evanescent surface, Thais remain in control of themselves.”

”The Old Japanese Empire” deals with Taiwan and South Korea. The author twinned the essays in one chapter because Taiwan looks up to Japan as a model, while South Korea reviles Japan for its harsh colonial conquest.

Mr. Buruma’s essay on Taiwan is also rather thin. The essay on South Korea is more instructive. He points out “the complex and sometimes explosive mixture of shame and chauvinism in South Korea. The one, of course, stokes the flames of the other. There is a Korean term for pandering to foreign powers: Sadae chuui. And Koreans are forever accusing one another of it. These accusations are not without reason, for Koreans have a long history of using outside powers to fight opponents at home….”

This peninsula divided into two countries, this country located between China and Japan, is beset by an identity crisis. It seems to have an inferiority complex masquerading as superiority. There is a constant desire among the South Koreans to prove they are better than their neighbors – whether it is in the economy, in having “the most scientific and best writing system in the world,” and, yes, in the race for the slimmest cell phones and the most durable SUV. It seems, Mr. Buruma suggests, that “Koreans often can only define themselves in terms of a foreign civilization.” More so if they can prove themselves better than that civilization.

Mr. Buruma’s essay on Japan, where he lived the longest, is the best in the collection. “Arriving in Japan always fills me with feelings of ambivalence. It is like coming home to a country which, to me, can never be home. I spent my twenties in Tokyo. Everything is familiar: The language, the manners, the advertisements, the TV programs. Japan is part of me, yet I can never feel part of it. This may have something to do with me. But it is also in the nature of the most insular of nations. It fills me with love and horror, which alternate and sometimes even coincide, the one sometimes, in a perverse way, feeding on the other. Japan looks the most modern society in Asia, politically, culturally, aesthetically. It is also among the most archaic. It is one of the most open societies – foreigners can go there, live there, marry, and prosper. But it remains in many ways as exclusive as Burma. Japan is ‘Westernized,’ yet somehow, the country in East Asia least touched by the West. I am never sorry to leave, yet I always yearn to go back.”

Shrewdly Mr. Buruma points out what ails modern Japanese – the feeling that something has been irrevocably lost in Japan’s dizzying rise to progress and modernity. What has been lost is replaced by an uncritical acceptance of many things from the West. Urban Japan has become like a pastiche of many influences – a modern yet tacky Disneyland, if you will.

”But it is not so much the modern vulgarization of traditional forms that is disturbing, but the idea of tradition as just another transient fashion, another form without substance. One sometimes wonders whether anything in modern Japan has lasting value, whether anything substantial can visibly last. There is a rootlessness, a constant evanescence about Japanese sophistication which explains, perhaps, both the melancholy Japanese love for fleeting beauty, for visible decay, and the anxiety about cultural and spiritual loss.”

What has been lost is the Japanese spirit, the national soul – however you define it. Nihonjinron, or defining Japanese-ness, is a constant topic of best-selling books and top-rated TV shows. Sometimes, the form it takes veers dangerously close to ultra-nationalism. And here, Mr. Buruma engages in the history of Western ideas in a learned and admirable manner, comparing prewar emperor worship in Japan to “a kind of Bonapartism grafted onto Japanese traditions.”

If there is one flaw here, it is the hasty generalization that “Japanese intellectuals often seem marginal figures, writing for one another, respected as men of learning, but not taken seriously by the world at large.” Of course, in any society – I am sure even in London, where Mr. Buruma now resides – intellectuals are marginal figures. The same intellectuals write for The London Review of Books that the same coterie of intellectuals reads. He also failed to note that there are now public intellectuals – people in academe who write for newspapers and magazines and who appear even on TV talk shows, giving depth and illumination even if they are only allowed so many column inches or so many milli-seconds for their sound-bites. And I am sure Mr. Buruma has read the novels of Harumi Murakami, one of Japan’s best writers – and intellectuals – who dissects Japanese society with a pen as sharp as a scalpel, and as focused as a laser beam.

The essays on Malaysia and the Philippines are the weakest. Mr. Buruma scores some points with his brief discussion on the racial issue, but undercuts it with his shallow take on Malay architecture. Being an archipelago in Southeast Asia, Malay architecture is based on wood and other natural elements. But since Malaysia is also an Islamic country, the motifs of Islamic art – the onion-shaped domes, the curvilinear shapes, the ornate arabesques – have seeped into the country and have been grafted into the look and shape of the buildings. Therefore, I do not understand Mr. Buruma’s statement that the Islamic Center and other additions to the skyline of Kuala Lumpur are “alien forms [because they were] borrowed from the Middle East.”

Then he notes that “Food is one of the few instances of integrated culture: The delicious Nonya cuisine mixes Chinese and Malay dishes in ways that add an extra dash to both.)” But this assertion is only partially correct, because he does not say how. Baba Nonya-Peranakan cuisine has made Chinese food more spicy; it has also enlarged the repertoire of the traditional Malay cuisine.

However, aside from being a great leveler in Malaysian society, food can also be seen as a great divider. The Muslim notions of halal (food should be prepared according to Islamic adat – custom and tradition) and haram (the notion of evil or “sin”) – has served as an effective buffer for integration at the dining table. Only the people of immigrant stock – the Chinese and the Indians – happily eat in each other’s restaurants and stalls.

Mr. Buruma also flounders when he talks about the so-called Third World. He said “The Third World persona… is an image borrowed from the West, from social activists in Berkeley and concerned poetry magazines in London. The Third World concept is a product of post-colonial guilt….”

Again, this is only very partially correct. The concept of the Third World came not from Berkeley or London but from France. It is a literal translation of tiers monde, and was first used by the French economist Alfred Sauvy in an article published in the Observateur magazine on Aug. 14, 1952. Three years later, the newly independent countries of Asia and Africa held a landmark conference in the Indonesian city of Bandung, giving credibility to the idea of a cohesive Third World that was at once opposed to colonialism and aligned with neither the East nor the West. This group has grown into the Non-Aligned Movement, which held its 14th conference recently.

Indeed, the Berkeley intellectuals flirted briefly with the notion of the Third World in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as part of American protest against the Vietnam War. The London journals also dwelt on the concept of the Third World in the mid-1970s, when they were publishing protest poetry and trying to free writers hauled into jail by some of the despotic regimes in the Third World, including that of Ferdinand Marcos’s.

However, it is this, in the end, that mars the book of Mr. Buruma. If only he spent more time sitting down and reading more books on Asian history – especially books that give credit to what the East has done in the history of ideas or the turn of events – he would have avoided the historical gaps in his book.

The essay on Thailand also suffers from this gap. Mr. Buruma says that “The Thais have been both clever and lucky in their relations with foreigners. The Thais were lucky that the British and the French, the two major colonial powers, neutralized each other, so that Siam became a kind of buffer zone between Burma, Malaya, and Indochina….”

This is a flippant assertion; the events of history do not bear this out. A country is not simply “lucky” that the two colonizers around it “neutralized” each other. Saying so is to diminish the pivotal role played by King Chulalongkorn (known to the Thais as Chula Chom Klao or Rama V), who reigned from 1868-1910. Educated by European tutors and drawing inspiration from his father, the great libertarian King Mongkut (known to the Thais as Phra Chom Klao or Rama IV), King Chulalongkorn opened the doors of his country wider to the West. He also built railroads, established a civil service, and restructured the legal code. Verily, he brought his country to the 20th century.

But this was also the time when Siam was being threatened by two greedy colonial powers. How to ward off the might of these two empires—the British and the French? It is not a matter of luck, then, but shrewdness that saved the day for Siam. King Chulalongkorn and his emissaries negotiated with the French and British colonial powers. True, the King was compelled to concede some territory to French Indochina (Laos in 1893 and Cambodia in 1907) and to the British Burma (three Malayan states in 1909). But the fruit of these concessions was that Siam was never colonized, and a large part of its territory remained under Siamese hands. And to this day, the Thais are one of the proudest peoples in Asia, with dignity and a sense of national self intact.

Perhaps I am just a Filipino who is a student of his country’s history, but I found Mr. Buruma’s essay on the Philippines similar to a golf course – full of holes. In the first sentence alone, he calls Olongapo City a “typical Filipino town.” How could a town of 250,000, which hosted an American base, be called typical? Then and now, the typical Filipino town is a small, agricultural place where life revolves around the town square bordered by the church, the marketplace, the municipal hall, and the houses of the few elite.

Then Mr. Buruma also calls Ferdinand Blumentritt, the Filipino national hero Dr. Jose Rizal’s friend, “an obscure Austrian schoolmaster.” Blumentritt was a professor, yes, but he was also a doctor and a scientist renowned in Europe during his time. Then Mr. Buruma adds that Rizal had Japanese blood (not true; he had Chinese blood), had lived much of his life abroad (not true), and called the Propaganda movement Rizal’s movement (not true, it was started by the lawyer and journalist Marcelo H. del Pilar).

Moreover, Mr. Buruma adds that many Filipinos like to claim that Rizal and his fellow ilustrados (the Enlightened ones, the leaders) in the Propaganda movement “were the first modern nationalists in Asia. . . “ Filipinos never claimed that; perhaps Mr. Buruma’s informants did. But what many Filipinos claim is that the Philippines became the first independent republic in Asia in 1898 – a claim that is based on historical fact. Mr. Buruma also says that the Rizal millenarian cult is based in Mount Makiling when, in fact, it is based in the bigger Mount Banahaw. Mount Makiling is the small mountain that can be seen from the azotea (porch) of Rizal’s ancestral house in Calamba, Laguna, south of Metro Manila.

There are more. Mr. Buruma claims that “the typical hero [in Filipino movies] is a simple man who gets abused and humiliated, often sexually, all through the film.” I have been watching Filipino films for the past decades and I have yet to come across a Filipino film with this plotline. Then he said that “one Canadian Zen master set up a successful business in Manila by convincing Filipinos that they, as a people, are especially gifted for spiritual quests….” Filipinos need no reminders about these. The country is full of faith healers and espiritistas (spiritual mediums), from Luzon to Mindanao, who are more imaginative than a Canadian Zen master.

Moreover, Mr. Buruma claims that “Filipinos have no collective memory, no recorded history that precedes Spanish conquest….” The point is that history – or literature or other forms of culture – is not always recorded in print. Philippine literature, like the pre-colonial literature of its Southeast Asian neighbors, was mostly oral and handed down the generations by the centuries-old tradition of oral storytelling. The Philippines has a wealth of epics that are as larger-than-life than any Western one, and a trove of poems, riddles, and proverbs that have the lyricism and pith of the haiku, or of any poem written by Wang Wei, Li Po, or Tu Fu.

Then, Mr. Buruma notes that the education minister from Cebu (he was referring to Mrs. Lourdes Quesumbing) was not understood by the Tagalogs of Luzon when she spoke in Cebuano at the Rizal Park. But Cebuano and Tagalog are cousin languages, the way Tagalog and Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia are cousin languages. This cluster of cousin-languages came from the Austro-Polynesian line of languages, such that when I speak in Tagalog now, my Malay friend in Kuala Lumpur can understand some of the words I use because they have the same meanings. Therefore, when a Cebuano speaks, a Tagalog could understand the gist of what he or she is saying because of more similarities between these two major Philippine languages.

Although Mr. Buruma is a fine and accessible guide to modern Asia, what we need at this point in our cultural history are writers who come from the continent itself. Steeped in the history of Asia and nurtured by its cultures, I hope that they will write the books that will finally give authentic voices to the complex and colorful continent we live in. A few of them have already done that. The real journey, then, has just begun.

God’s Dust: A Modern Asian Journey can be ordered from Powerbooks.

Danton Remoto
Remote Control
Views and analysis
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com

Straight from the mouths of babes

Several weekends ago, I visited a college and talked to their students. They usually ask me about communication and the art of writing. If not that, then they ask me to give a talk on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and issues.

I always like talking to young people because they are so vibrant. They ask so many questions and that is good, because they want to know the answers as well. I think it is this casual impertinence and insatiable curiosity that are the hallmarks of the young and the restless. And it is these qualities that might fuel the so-called youth vote that all presidentiables are now angling for. This reminds me of a small run-in with a presidential wannabe in 2010, a man who loves to shoot his mouth off without knowing the facts and figures at hand. With imaginary poise, he told me breathlessly: “Professor Remoto, there is no such thing as a youth vote. They would rather go to Starbucks or watch MTV.” I answered him that the kids would rather go not to Starbucks but the fastfood places, and they would rather watch MYX. “MYX?” he asked, his big, wondering eyes glazing. There you go, I wanted to tell him, you will lose this election because you do not know your voters.

With this in mind, I talk to the young during weekends. Lolo Pepe Rizal was correct then, and now: hope for this scandalously colorful country only resides in the young.

And so several weekends ago, I gave a short, spicy talk about the images and stereotypes of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders in the mass media. Then I asked them for questions, which is always the more fruitful part of any discussion, especially with the young. And the questions, they came in such a deluge that I wasn’t able to answer everything. I gathered up the rest of the unanswered questions, and promised to answer them. Here they are:

How do you define LGBT?
Lesbians and gays are people whose sexual attraction and affection are directed at people of their own sex. Therefore, women to women, and men to men. Bisexuals are people whose sexual attraction and affection are directed at people of both sexes. I quipped that they are like AC-DC electrical outlets: plug them in and they will electrify everybody. A young man asked me if I believe bisexuals exist and I said, “Of course! They may be fewer, but I believe that bisexuals exist, and bisexuality is not just a step away from homosexuality, nor is it a phase that can be outgrown.” And how about transgenders? They are people who believe they were assigned the wrong sex. Transgenders are not gay men; their whole being rests on their gender identity of being women.

What causes homosexuality?
Some people say it is nature, that is why there are gay papayas — (they flower but do not bear fruit) and there are gay crabs — they have big bodies and they have eggs, that is why housewives love to buy them. So if you follow this argument, then gayness is part of nature and nature was made by God; so why would you despise something that God has made?

Another point of view is that of nurture: that gayness is acquired through upbringing and socialization. That young men whose fathers were absent when they were young grew up to be gay (something straight from Freud). And that young men who were molested by same-sex partners when young grow up to be gay. Of course not.
I think it is, like most things, a combination of both nature and nurture, birth and breeding.

What are metrosexuals?
Ten years ago, the concept of metrosexuality started in the West, crossed oceans and cyberspace, and reached our shores. Metrosexuals are men who have appropriated the style and even the sensibility of gay men in clothes, décor and even language. But some of them are still straight. I guess it has come to a point where it has become déclassé to be anti-gay. To know gay fashion and gay language is to be hip, to be young, and to be fashionable. If colegiala language was the youthspeak of the 1980s, then gay language is the youthspeak of the present generation.

How do you deal with all the discrimination?
Personally, I have never felt discrimination because I never let people oppress me. I oppress them. This must be because I was born in a military base to a father who was a military officer and a mother who is the soul of stoicism. My father, who also went to law school, insisted that you should always debate and argue with your nay-sayers. If he is a bully and bigger than you and challenges you to a fistfight — go, girl! But first, get a bamboo stick or a slab of wood to beat him up, black and blue. Because if you go home black and blue and mewling that the enemy was bigger, my father himself would give you a dose of the fabled military discipline. That was one of my earliest lessons in justice and fairness.

But there are others who did not have my, uh, pure, Amazonian breeding. Social structures created by people oppress them. One of the lesbian members of Ang Ladlad, a UP graduate, applied for a job in Makati. She was number one in the exams, and during the interview, the HRD officer’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets when in came this mega-butch, super-dyke of an applicant.

HRD asked point-blank: “Are you a practising lesbian? Because we do not hire practising lesbians.”

Ang Ladlad lesbian’s answer: “No, I am no longer practising. I am already good at it.”

Naturally, she was not hired.

Another of our Ang Ladlad members, a transgender who took her MA in Sociology at the Ateneo de Manila University, applied for a call-center job in Ortigas. Again, she was number one in the exams. And the HRD officer’s eyes really popped out of their sockets and flew to the wall when in came this tall, long-haired transgender. With boobs.

HRD asked point-blank: “But the application form said your name is Rogelio and you are supposed to be male!”

Ang Ladlad transgender’s answer: “But I am a woman.”

HRD: “We cannot hire you because we do not hire men with breasts!”

Ang Ladlad transgender: “Why, will my boobs answer the phone and say, XYZ Corporation, may I help you?”

Naturally, she was not hired.

Are there more homosexuals today and why do you keep on multiplying even when you don’t procreate? Why is that?

I love the needling and insistent tone of this question. Parang she (the questioner is a she) is so shocked by the fact that we are now here, there, and everywhere. Do I detect here a babe scorned by a cute, buffed, and bright dude who happens to be a dudette? Hmmm.
Anyway, gays are not like gremlins: the moment water is thrown at them, they multiply. There have been gays before, but they were in their closets, living the life of mummies in their coffins made of stone. Sexuality studies by Alfred Kinsey, et al, have confirmed that at least 10 percent of the population must be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. If there are now 88 million Filipinos that translates to 8.8 million Filipinos who are LGBT.

That is the big news that our friends — politicians included — should think about, now that the 2010 political cauldron has begun to bubble and boil

Mama’s Boy

BY Danton Remoto
Remote Control
Views and analysis
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com

Thirty years ago I joined an essay-writing contest for Quezon City high-school students and won for this piece, written when I was 14 years old. I recently unearthed this while fixing my files. Let us see if times have changed for the bagets nowadays.

* * *

It has been said that a mother’s hands shape the world. From cradle to college and even long afterward, a mother nags, laughs, cries and goads you to be not just what you are but what you can be.

“Your mother belongs to the old school,” my father will say when we are baffled by her actions. She barks orders like a platoon sergeant, telling us children to fold our blankets, flatten our bed sheets and not to leave our dirty clothes on the floor like molten snake’s skin. She also orders us to arrange our books, dust the windows, and sweep the leaves in the yard now that the maid has gone back to her hometown to join the fiesta and the baile (dance).

My mother is a worrisome woman who hates villains in soap operas, tends to her orchids as if they are diamonds, and plays well on our upright piano, which our father bought for her after they were married. She came from a musical family in Oas, Albay, and she required us to study the piano under her tutelage. When she has time, she installs herself in front of the piano and plays, her fingers running on the keys like spindly spider’s legs.

Her warts of worry multiplied, though, when we all grew up to be lanky teen-agers. She thought it was a bad reflection on her, a home economics major who teaches music in school. She requires us to eat, and eat a lot. Since I am a rebel and always do the opposite of what my elders tell me to do, I ate less and less. She is a mean cook, all right, but sometimes, I would rather just sleep, or read, or watch TV.

Her exercise of motherhood is simple but not simplistic. She sticks to the essentials: study well, do not quarrel with each other, learn the house work, and keep away from bad company in the neighborhood and in school. Also, look both ways when you are crossing the street, do not poke fun at the disabled, and attend Sunday Mass.

Of course, she has her weak moments: she will frown when my father comes home late from work; she will frown when we come home late from school, and she will frown some more when the house maid takes hours to return from the market. And she also talks a lot. I guess this happens, by reflex, from being a teacher. But I guess all these have made her more real, more human, and more alive for us.

We sometimes have our skirmishes. Being the eldest, I’ve been told to take care of my younger siblings until those words have clogged inside my ears. Like most Filipinos, we are a tightly-knit group. But sometimes, I just want to climb the roof of our house and stay there, under the aratiles trees filled with their tiny, red fruits. Sometimes I feel smothered, lost in the confusion of voices and faces and movements in the house. Sometimes, I just want a space where my spiky elbows can move about without hurting anyone.

But when I get sick, my mother becomes a mother again. No more drama from my part about wanting some space and distance. My mother’s blurred outline becomes sharp once more, clear in my mind. When my tonsils swell, like a fatal fever in my throat, she will rush to the room I share with my brother. She brings with her standard paraphernalia: blanket, rubbing alcohol, antibiotics, thermometer, and a glassful of lukewarm kalamansi juice that she herself squeezed.

She begins the ritual, naturally, with her scolding me for taking cold soft drinks, for letting sweat dry on my back. But after this, she settles back beside my bed, takes my temperature, shakes her head, pops a capsule into my mouth and washes it down with the lemony juice.

And then once again, I become the child, remembering the lullabies and the warm, gentle hands and not caring a bit if I am called, uh, a mama’s boy.

The many petals of desire

REMOTE CONTROL | DANTON REMOTO | 04/21/2009 12:16 AM
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“Heartsong and Other Poems” is only the first book of poems by Felino S. Garcia, Jr. But collected between its covers are some of the most amazing love poems I’ve read. There is no rawness, no rush, and no half-cooked efforts in this collection. We have to thank publisher John Iremil Teodoro of Imprenta Igbaong for coming out with this collection of poems.

The book is divided into four sections. “Coming to fruit” deals with love’s beginnings, when the days pass in a blaze of happiness. And the nights more so, as captured in a poem called “Flood.” The poem has an epigraph from the now-iconic song of Basil Valdez: “Tuwing umuulan at kapiling ka (When it rains and I’m with you).” The poem points out the overpowering presence of love, like water that drowns everything in its wake, including the lovers.

Listen: “How we drown/ in our own flooding, plunging ourselves,/ shapeless, yet with gravity, swirling/ deep/ down/ down/ in the bottomless murky-/ sweetness of our watery love/ We drown/ without any hint of an end,/ no aftermath to this wild overflowing/ this flood, this love, this flood,/ this love, this love, this . . .”

Water then and wind: the natural elements of motion and force are compared to the brute power of love. In his novel A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway seemed to say that between birth and death there is only loneliness. But Garcia points to another direction: that beneath birth and death there is loneliness, yes, but also the bright and shining possibilities of love.

Moreover, the poet implies that love is not just moored in the elements of nature, but also in the elements of the body. The face and the voice, which are staple fare in the usual love poems. The body and its sensory zones, which are staple fare, too, in the usual erotic poems. But in our poet’s book, love is de-familiarized and the “heartsong” is the snore of the beloved. From snore to song is one bold leap, but our poet has steady legs and a pole-vault surer and stronger than any other’s. Watch him trace that arc.

“How you snore, my dearest one./ I stay up all night . . . . / I can bear listening to your heart-/ Song breaking loose,/ Breaking through the throat’s/ Darkness, soft singing its way/ Through this listening silence,/ Filling the brims of my watchful eyes/ And rising like a hairline/ Of breath, or smoke gathering light/ Unto itself, air sprouting flowers. . . .”

“My skin’s terrain” is the second part of the book. Here, the poet talks about the art of cartography. But what are mapped are the slopes and seas, the coves and caves of the beloved. Such appropriation — for the poet is also a keen student of contemporary criticism and has grafted its select theories into his poetics — is also found in two other poems in this section.

The body’s desires and dreams are etched in the poem “Inscription.” Here, the body’s various vowels and consonants, the syllables that form a text, find a haven and home. This triumphant work should make the three horsewomen of French feminist criticism giddy with joy. “ Must I then seek/ A quick, sudden release/ From all these beginning less and endless/ Sensations and ululations/ When you are already inscribed on my body,/ On my body’s margins and boundaries,/ On my body’s text as ecriture/ Defying, denying all forms of otherness,/ Othering and erasure/ Like love drawing us all in/ Mercilessly in its full embrace—/ Ever grasping,/ Running out of breath.”

There is also the appropriation of the poetics of Islamic mysticism in the poem “Pillow,” with an epigraph from Khaled Mattawa: “Come love like a crushing seed.” Islamic mysticism is focused on the Tariqa, or the Sufi Path. Its poetics is rife with motifs of birds and blood, of spore, semen and light, of journeys whose destination is the Beloved. Garcia weds beautifully the sensual gesture and the mystical moment in the poem “Pillow.”

“Imagine him as you close your eyes./ Imagine him in your sleep./ Imagine him as though this were your last slumber,/ As though you would no longer hear/ His voice echo the bird’s sweet singing,/ As though upon hearing him, your body, your ribcage/ Could no longer be shaken into sobs,/ Convulsed into tears as though you were cursed/ And could never be awakened./ Imagine his voice as though its sweetness/ Could no longer like an arrow/ Pierce your heart . . . ”

“Beyond this lifetime” is the title of the third part. In a homage to the finest love poems, the sensual the spiritual have become one in this poem, wedded in utter and singular bliss. The readings of the poet are varied; in this poem, he alludes to Buddhist motifs. Without the endpoints and pauses of punctuation marks and in lines fluent and fluid, the poet leads us to the heart of nirvana:

“and like the Eightfold Path fulfilled/ you came stepping in this room quietly/ as if it were a lake you dipped soaked/ your feet/ as if you were a bodhisattva/ deferring enlightenment How we learned/ to breathe in time murmuring each other’s/ name over and over like a mantra/ while we slept in this bed shaped like a lotus/ on a night made lucid by the full moon . . . .”

“The wind relents” is the last part of the book. And as if to mimic the natural order of things, it deals with endings. In “The Second Aftermath,” the persona is full even when empty, for the beloved’s presence is made even more manifest by his absence. The poem has images of wayward fish bones stuck in one’s throat, of boulders sinking deeper than gravity could hold them, of eyelids closing for the night.

I would like to end this review by quoting in full the poem “Undertow.” It is a poised, painful meditation on the pendulum of love and loss. Like a haiku, it tells us that beauty is fragile and transitory, and its very transience hurts.

“No one speaks/ Of all that was here/ All that you and him were/ All that will no longer be/ Between you and him/ In a single blink/ Final and irreversible/ And yet world of his touch/ His whispers his voice/ The sea in his mouth/ Its undertow hissing/ The sound of it all/ Still hanging in your heart.”

The tradition of the love lyric is long and diverse. Heloise wrote letters to Abelard, Robert Browning to his Elizabeth Barrett, Walt Whitman to his anonymous young men, and Emily Dickinson “to a world that never wrote to me.” It seems that the poems of Felino Garcia Jr. belong to the world explored by Whitman and Dickinson. Garcia’s poems are letters to a world that still turns a blind eye to the wonder, the majesty, and the pain of men loving other men.

Warm, witty and wise, grainy with the many landscapes of love and longing, the best poems in this collection have already earned their secure places in the many rooms that comprise Philippine writing in English.

* * *

Inquiries about the book can be sent to imprenta_igbaong2004@yahoo.com

Rina, OFW, HIV +

REMOTE CONTROL | DANTON REMOTO | 04/07/2009 6:50 PM
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The following is a direct testimony from Rina (not her real name), an overseas Filipino worker who contracted the HIV virus while working abroad. She read her testimony during the launching of the United Nations Development Programme Report called HIV Vulnerabilities of Migrant Women: from Asia to the Arab States. The launch of the report coincided with the launch of the Philippine report on Filipino women in the Arab states. The launching of the two reports was held last March 10 at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City. The Asian report was a collaborative effort of UNDP, UNAIDS, IOM, UNIFEM and CARAM Asia. It is based on interviews with 600 migrant workers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka who went to Bahrain, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. One of these women is Rina, and this is her story:

I was a former domestic worker several years ago. I dreamed of working abroad to help my family rise from poverty.

Year 1992. I was able to leave our small town and eventually work as a domestic worker. I was only 17 yrs old. The passport I used to go to Qatar had another surname. My age in the passport was older. The agency sent me to Qatar without asking for a placement fee. They said that this will be paid through salary deduction once I started working.

My employers were very strict. They were selfish and insensitive. They gave us very little to eat and sometimes, we would go without eating after a whole day’s work. I was also made to work for my employer’s extended family. The worst part was that they paid me less than what was stipulated in my contract.

Many other women domestic workers have similar experiences. There are even others who did not receive their salaries at all. Because they needed to send money home to their families. They had no choice but to either engage in part-time work, or sometimes, even sex work. Others would engage in relationships with other migrants or with nationals of that country to ease their loneliness, or to fulfill their need for comfort and affection. Also, their boyfriends could support them financially. Unfortunately, these situations make migrant workers vulnerable to HIV.

There were times when I got sick, but still I had to work. I was not given any medicine. I could not go to the doctor, since I was allowed only one day off for an entire year.

There were several occasions when my male employer made sexual advances to me. I was ordered to give him a massage and all the while he kept touching my private parts. I could do nothing to stop him. All I could do was endure the hardships for the sake of my family.

It was in 1999 when I worked in Dubai. I was hired by a real monster. My male employer raped me repeatedly. When I had mustered enough courage, I told my lady employer about what her husband had been doing to me. To my surprise, she believed me and helped me report her husband to the authorities. Even the police was surprised because it was their first experience to have the wife of an Arab employer on the side of a foreign domestic worker. Afterwards, she helped me return to my country. I was finally able to come home to my country after seven months’ stay in Dubai.

Unfortunately, nothing came out of the case I filed against my employer. The agency promised me that they will pursue the case on my behalf. But after I got back to the Philippines, I found out that they did not do anything about it.

Even after everything that I had endured from my previous employers, I still did not lose hope. I still believed that working abroad was the only way to make our life better. In June of the same year, I applied for overseas work again. I was about to leave for Malaysia as a domestic worker when my medical test results showed that I was positive for HIV.

When I was diagnosed with HIV, it felt like the moon exploded in my face . . . or a bomb exploded. . . I kept asking myself, what will I do? I was so shocked. I couldn’t accept it. I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to be alone. I cried every day. It was so hard to accept because at that time, I didn’t have any idea about HIV and AIDS. I thought it meant that I was dying.

One of the worst impacts of HIV infections is that I can no longer work abroad. Many migrant workers who are diagnosed with HIV are left without any source of steady income. In the Philippines, jobs are very hard to find.

One day I met a volunteer of Positive Action Foundation Philippines in the hospital (PAFPI). They provided me with the proper information about HIV. They told me about their organization and introduced me to their support group. I started working for PAFPI as a volunteer for their family support program. It took me six months to accept my HIV status.

When I got involved with Achieve’s research in 2001, they gave me an opportunity to become an advocate. They facilitated my participation in different forums as a resource speaker. My involvement with them enhanced my knowledge and my skills. I am now able to impart also to others what I have learned.

I am also a member of Babae Plus, a support group of women living with HIV. In this group, we learn our rights as women and this helps me in my relationship with my children and my husband. I also draw strength from the other members of the support group.

However, because my job in PAFPI is tied to project funding, after the project ended, I also do not have an income. We are still waiting and hoping for new projects to get approved so we can continue working. For now, I do volunteer work for PAFPI and I accept invitations to be a resource speaker in trainings and forums.

I am currently taking antiretroviral drugs, which allows me to be healthy. I am now living with my family in Cebu City, where I was, and where we hope to start a new life.

Thank you very much for listening to my story. I am also thankful to UNDP and Achieve for doing this study and coming up with this publication. I hope they continue to advocate for the protection of women migrant workers.

More information on “Unveiling Vulnerabilities: Filipino Women Workers in the Arab States” can be accessed at http://www.undp.org.ph

The Power of YouTube

By Danton Remoto | Remote Control | 03/30/2009 11:22 PM
Views and analysis section
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YouTube has brought the power of vivid images right in your very face. I’m sure many of you have now seen the horrible video where the very obscure Boyet Fajardo ordered a cashier at Duty Free to kneel in front of him. Reason? The poor man did not know Boyet and asked him to show another ID to verify his identity, since Boyet’s credit card was unsigned.

And Boyet, puffed up with wounded pride because he is not known at Duty Free, ordered the hapless man to supplicate. Last I looked there were 600 comments to that video uploaded in You Tube. Rightly so, they skewered Boyet for his crassness and arrogance. But I take issue with some comments who said that Boyet is like that because he is gay. Hello? Where did your logic go? One is not connected to the other. I’ve known gays who used to be as poor as Boyet but infinitely more famous than him now – like my dear friend, Boy Abunda – who have remained humble. The ancient writers are right again, when they said that lucre did not lead to the deepening of one’s wisdom, or the expansion of one’s soul.

Well, the last words I can say about Boyet is that his manners are as bad as the clothes he makes.

And now for another case of YouTube as wielder of power. Another friend of mine, a lawyer, fired off this letter against Bayani Agbayani and his alleged homophobia. Here is the letter, the Taglish translated into English, then edited for clarity and brevity.

“I was watching Showbiz News Ngayon (SNN) when Kris Aquino said that Bayani Agbayani was featured in a YouTube video because of a bout with another person, a guy who supposedly bumped his car. Apparently, Bayani was dead drunk, and recognizing this, he tried to settle with the other man to the tune of P6,000. But the latter’s companion intervened and allegedly hurled invectives at Bayani, whereupon, Bayani did likewise.

“Of course, the unprintable expletives were substituted by special characters in SNN’s subtitles, but Bayani was heard shouting, “Bumalik ka dito, bakla ka, bakla ka! (Come back here, gay! gay!)” repeatedly, after he challenged his opponents to a fistfight. But they simply ignored him and went about their way. Bayani even tried to pursue them, saying, “Naka X5 ako, naka- motor(cycle) ka lang.

“When asked to explain the video, Bayani clarified that the video only showed him saying the cuss words, excluding what the other two guys said. And then he added, matter-of-factly: “Lalaki lang ako. Kahit naman siguro itanong niyo diyan sa kung sinong lalaki, artista man o hindi … magagalit or gagawin ang ginawa ko (or something to that effect). Translation: “I’m just a (straight) man. If you want to ask any other guy out there, movie star or not, they will also get mad and do what I did.

“Kris Aquino lost no time in appearing as an official apologist for Bayani. She, who had been a woman-victim of violence herself, said that what Bayani must have meant when he said “bakla!” was actually “duwag” (coward). But she did ask Boy Abunda to issue the caveat that not all gays are cowards. Then, Kris added that Bayani should have just ignored it, since his reputation could be destroyed.

“I was infuriated and wanted to react immediately, although at the back of my mind, I also did not want to dignify the incident with an extended discussion on Bayani’s (and what a name he’s got!) political incorrectness. His political incorrectness may have its genesis in his ignorance. Then again, letting the matter pass without any comment normalizes machismo and the prejudice not only against gay men but against all people (including women) in general. While it is true that worse things could have happened, or have happened in the past, it is the subtlety of the lack of physical violence that should alert us. This is what is ignored, even by law-enforcement agencies like the Philippine National Police, which are supposed to have already been instructed in gender-sensitivity and towards objective first-line-implementation of national policies.

“Regrettably, we have a long way to go in our pursuit of genuine equality as to sex, gender and orientation. Perhaps it entails the saturation of media with accounts like this that could bring the issue into national consciousness. Celebrities and media personalities should become aware, get involved and participate in raising gender awareness, because they are seen and heard on TV by millions of people.”

I don’t know what my friend, college classmate at Ateneo Batch ’83, and newly-appointed ABS-CBN Entertainment head honcho Cory Valenzuela-Vidanes will say to this. But I’ve known Cory to be a just and fair-minded person, and I’m sure if apprised of the situation, she would act accordingly.

But what about me? Well, I’ve never been amused – not even by a millisecond – by Bayani Agbayani. Tange, Balot, and Ponga were comic geniuses compared to him. And Bayani’s case in this accident was pure and simple drunken driving, which is punishable by law. Those two guys (or gays, who cares) should have brought the matter to the police. Ang Ladlad would have brought one of our ace lawyers and we could have thrown the book at the drunken man with the middling talent.

And then we will see who will have the last laugh.

‘Transgender women are not gay men’

By Danton Remoto | Remote Control | 03/24/2009 12:03 AM
Views and analysis section
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My transgender friends in Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) met with me for coffee one night in Makati and told me they want to write a rejoinder to my column about our common friend, BB Gandanghari. I was glad to listen to them and learn more about the transgender experience.

I attended a four-hour-long session with them two years ago about the transgender experience, but I guess I still have a lot to learn. I also admitted that, like many others, I was confused with the beautiful and effervescent BB Gandanghari. In “Pinoy Big Brother” two years and in some of her magazine interviews in the past two months, she confessed to being “a gay man” and not once did she use the word “transgender” to identify herself.

Be that as it may, I now give the floor to Dee Mendoza, Chairwoman of STRAP, who wrote a reaction letter to “articles written about and comments given to BB Gandanghari and to all women of transgender experience.” We learn something new and something true every day. My warmest thanks to my friends in STRAP, who by the way are also active members of Ang Ladlad, for setting things right.

***

As the country’s limelight shines ever so brightly on BB, the issue of transgender has come to the surface. A lot of incorrect information has been expressed about her and, therefore, about others like her.

To err is human. But ignorance? Not bliss for all. Willful ignorance, or judgment in ignorance, should not be treated so lightly or be easily dismissed because of the harm it can cause.

A number of misunderstandings about transgenderism have recently been displayed in print and on the television by both the unlearned and the experts alike. Sadly, even some of those in the LGBT community have contributed to this confusion. Well-intentioned articles that result in harm simply because of the clear lack of knowledge must be rewritten to reflect only the facts and the truth.

Here is a fact and the truth: Transgenders are not gay men who think and feel they are women born in the wrong body. They are not, as stated by one so-called expert, merely people who suppress their sexuality for a very long time.

“Transgender” is a term that has emerged fairly recently and is used to describe anybody who feels their gender identity and expression is different to that which was assigned to them at birth (based only on the viewing of their genitalia). A transgender may be a woman or a man, and like any woman or man, they can be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. Therefore, their sexuality is not their gender.

To clarify and emphasize this point, gender is who we are – it is ourselves, our person. Gender is not our body, not our genitals, not our clothes, not even our names, not our hormones and not our sexual preference.

A newborn who is pronounced male by the doctor or midwife may not necessarily identify as male when that child grows up. This person must have every right to choose to live his/her life the way s/he needs it to be lived. This person who was born male may live her life as a woman. Because she expresses and identifies as a woman, then she is a woman.

One’s gender has nothing to do with the absence or presence of a specific genitalia. Gender must not be imposed on us. Who, then, has the right to determine the gender of a person? Is it the church? Is it the doctor who inspects the baby’s genitalia upon birth? Is it the psychiatrist? Surely, it is only that person because only s/he alone possesses and has innate knowledge of his/her self.

Furthermore, a person need not make any change in order to be the gender they are. Feeling is being. No genital or cosmetic surgery, hormone replacement therapy, nor any other intervention is a prerequisite to being oneself. A man is a man and a woman is a woman not because of their genitals. We are not walking penises and vaginas. We are living beings who happen to have a certain kind of genitalia. Surely, we do not want to reduce ourselves to mere organs. Our being is a determinant of who we are, not what’s between our legs.

Man or woman. Hetero-, homo-, bi- or pansexual. These are only words, and words are only inventions. Sometimes, words are ambiguous. Sometimes, their meanings change over time. Sometimes, new words are invented as our knowledge and understanding evolves over time. It is not surprising then when sometimes, writers publish a piece that contains inaccurate and misunderstood use of certain words. Words, which in this case, are crucial to the understanding and description of other people. Words that can confuse, harass, demean and disrespect people. Hence, a writer must take it upon themselves to be vigilant in ensuring their thorough understanding of all words before going to print.

As for BB, let us respect her freedom of expression. Let us graciously accept what she tells us because only she has the right and ability to assert her own identity. Only she can truly know herself. If you don’t understand, ask her. If you can’t ask her, then it is best not to comment with so much certainty. Opinions are one thing, statements are another.

_________

STRAP (Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines) is the first and only support, contact and information group for girls and women of transsexual experience in the Philippines. For more information, visit http://www.tsphilippines.com.

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