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social sciences

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The Philippines  
page: 1  2  

activist Alyssa Sasot has reported online regarding the status of in the Philippines. Sex-reassignment surgery is available, although as of 2002 there were only two physicians performing it. Male-to-female transsexuals are sometimes confused in the public eye with cross-dressing bakla. Likewise, "tomboy" can refer to a female-to-male person or to a masculine-appearing lesbian. The Society of Trans & Gender Rights Advocates of the Philippines documents incidents of discrimination and hostility against gender-variant Filipinos.

Cultural Interpretations

Some observers have interpreted elements of gender-variance in Filipino culture as analogues of expressions in the West. Whitam and Mathy, for example, after devoting enthusiastic attention to contemporary bakla and their prominence in decorative and theatrical professions, argue--with unrestrained zeal--that such cross-cultural manifestations are evidence for the biological basis of homosexuality.

Sponsor Message.

In an often-cited travel guide for gay men, Joseph Itiel--while acknowledging local ambivalence in sexual attitudes--nevertheless celebrates encounters with Filipino call boys and companions as indications of a characteristically "easy-going" sexual climate.

However, Filipino poet and essayist J. Neil Garcia warns against assuming parallels between the indigenous gender-crossed identity of the bakla/báyot and the Western concept of gayness. Observing that "gays get laughed at here a lot, but very rarely are they beaten up," he sees this phenomenon as an indication that gay men and lesbians are not taken seriously and thus not perceived as a threat to the social order.

For Garcia, a western-style gay movement has been difficult to establish in the Philippines because of an inherent "class conflict" between the effeminate bakla (who often work in pink-collar occupations) and their masculine partners. Because the latter escape any stigma associated with homosexuality, they do not have as great an investment in issues of gay rights. He cites the example of the first gay rally in the Manila area in June of 1994. While it received tolerant media attention, only 50 attended; weekend parties drew far greater numbers.

Garcia finds the Philippine situation a useful setting for examining the arguments between social constructionist (stemming from social conditions) versus essentialist (inherent) explanations of homosexuality. Dismissing Whitam and Mathy as "shamefully essentialist," Garcia sees the relationship of the bakla and his partner as grounded in indigenous patterns of gender assumptions, not easily categorized in Western terms. At the same time, he rejects a purely nativist approach, arguing that Philippine culture has undergone inevitable (and probably irrevocable) Westernization, making such arguments academic.

Eduardo Nierras thinks that neither constructionism nor essentialism alone provides an adequate vocabulary for Philippine gays. For gay male identity politics to have relevance in the Philippines, he notes, it must acknowledge (with respect to the West) their "different desires." Anthropologist Michael Tan also refutes the idea that the Philippines are an open society regarding homosexuality. He observes considerable ambivalence, with conservative right-wing values imported along with liberationist views.

In the Philippines as elsewhere, AIDS stigmatized gays but also galvanized community-building efforts, as it affects both bakla and their partners.

Filipina Lesbians

Recent anthologies, such as Anna Sarabia's Tibok: Heartbeat of the Filipino Lesbian (1998) and Santos and Villar's Woman to Woman (1994), have broken ground for expressions of contemporary lesbian culture. Unlike gay male writing, which devotes much attention to the traditional bakla, lesbian feminist prose in English has not invoked images of lakin-on, either as a romantic archetype or as a model for female assertiveness. Popular terms for lesbians such as "tomboy" and "t-bird" are obvious imports.

Many of the issues discussed by Filipina lesbians (visibility within the larger women's movement, family and religious pressures) will be familiar to western activists. The positions of lesbian organizations such as Can't Live In the Closet (CLIC) are phrased in terms linking them squarely within the contemporary global discourse on women's rights and economic emancipation.

As Aquino's and Macapagal-Arroyo's presidencies show, women have had important economic and political roles in Filipino society. However, as in other third-world countries, economic concerns often override other issues. Many Filipinas, regardless of orientation, face pressure to work abroad or marry well to help lift their families out of poverty.

Globalization of mass media influences has facilitated the importation of conservative religious views as well as liberal ones. For Filipino sexual minorities, preserving their traditional legacy on their own terms is an important challenge in the new century.

Ruth M. Pettis

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Aragon-Choudhury, Perla. "Philippines: Lesbians Affected by Religion--But Are Forging Ahead." Manila: Women's Feature Service (January 2003).

BBC World Service. "Being Gay in the Philippines." Audio report, n.d.

Brewer, Carolyn. "Baylan, Asog, Transvestism, and Sodomy: Gender, Sexuality and the Sacred in Early Colonial Philippines." Intersections Issue 2 (May 1999).

Can't Live In the Closet (CLIC).

Garcia, J. Neil C. Philippine Gay Culture: The Last Thirty Years. Quezon City: University of Philippines Press, 1996.

_____. Slip/pages: Essays in Philippine Gay Criticism (1991-1996). Manila: De La Salle University Press, 1998.

Hart, Donn. "Homosexuality and Transvestism in the Philippines: The Cebuan Filipino báyot and lakin-on." Behavior Science Notes 3.4 (1968): 211-48.

_____, and Harriet Hart. "Visayan Swardspeak: The Language of a Gay Community in the Philippines." Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 5.2 (1990): 27-49.

International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA). "Philippines."

Itiel, Joseph. Philippine Diary: A Gay Guide to the Philippines. San Francisco, Calif.: International Wavelength, 1989.

Marin, Malu. "Going beyond the Personal." Women in Action (ISIS International Manila) 1 (1996): 58-62.

Nierras, Eduardo. "This Risky Business of Desire: Theoretical Notes for and against Filipino Gay Male Identity Politics." Ladlad: An Anthology of Philippine Gay Writing. J. Neil C. Garcia and Danton Remoto, eds. Manila: Anvil, 1994. 196-201.

ProGay Philippines.

Santos, Aida F., and Giney Villar. Woman to Woman: Poems, Essays and Fiction. Quezon City: Pintados, 1994.

Sarabia, Anna Leah, ed. Tibok: Heartbeat of the Filipino Lesbian. Pasig, Metro Manila: Anvil Publishing, 1998.

Sasot, Alyssa. "Country Report: The Philippines."

Society of Trans & Gender Rights Advocates of the Philippines (STRAP).

Tan, Michael. "Foreword." A Different Love: Being Gay in the Philippines. Margarita Go Singco-Holmes, ed. Pasig, Manila: Anvil Publishing, 1993. ix-xiv.

_____. "Sickness and Sin: Medical and Religious Stigmatization of Homosexuality in the Philippines." Ladlad: An Anthology of Philippine Gay Writing. J. Neil C. Garcia and Danton Remoto, eds. Manila: Anvil, 1994. 202-19.

Whitam, F., and R. Mathy. Male Homosexuality in Four Societies: Brazil, Guatemala, the Philippines and the United States. New York: Praeger, 1986.


    Citation Information
    Author: Pettis, Ruth M.  
    Entry Title: The Philippines  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated March 4, 2009  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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