Tag Archives: Bakla

repost: Beauconera

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Originally from thepoc.net 

 

Much has been written about the gay beauty pageant, but it remains a topic so central to Philippine gay culture that it demands a closer look. One of the most basic questions this phenomenon poses is that of the name itself: Ms Gay.

It is a question that is so intricately linked to aspects of naming and identity. Are the contestants really gay or are they transgender or transsexual? The Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines, more popularly called STRAP, staunchly advocates distancing the transgender identity from the gay identity, and even from the local bakla identity. The members of STRAP call themselves transpinays, a coined term that allows transgender Filipinas to localize the global (Western?) transgender identity. These women are not bakla, they are not gay either.

To the uninitiated, these names may be quite confusing. But it’s relatively easy to separate gay men from trans women: gay men don’t identify themselves as women, they are men who happen to be attracted to other men. Transgender women identify themselves as women, who were assigned male at birth because of their bodies. At the risk of sounding like an essentialist (and reinforcing gender binaries), trans women have male exteriors (body) but are internally female (cognitively, emotionally, spiritually). It all basically boils down to body politics and the restrictions the physical self puts upon all other aspects of the self. But our sense of self is not only a function of the body. The SOGI framework attempts to address the concepts of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression. It draws much from Judith Butler’s writings on Queer Theory and proposes that the Body, Sexual Orientation, and Gender are all separate concepts and that people can freely manipulate any of these three.

The question of how different the bakla is from the transpinay is much more complicated and points to issues of economics and urbanity. Not very many people outside advocacy groups like STRAP and the Transpinays of Antipolo Organization (TAO) are even aware of the term transpinay (and conversely for trans men, transpinoy). Fundamentally, thebakla identity is much closer to the transgender identity than it is to the gay identity. The bakla, like the transgenderis male on the outside and feminine on the inside. The bakla is commonly known for having a pusong babae. Through years of oppression, the proud historyof the bakla, which traces its roots to the ancient babaylan healers, has been defaced. Now the word conjures up tragic-comic images of the parlorista. And so really, it is economics that separates the baklafrom the transgender. That and straight peoples’ conflation of these terms of identification under the umbrella term (politically correct euphemism?) gay. You even see that on shows like My Husband’s Lover where one character tries to explain, in as little detail as possible, that there are many kinds of gays: some dress like women, others are very masculine.

So are gay beauty pageants really gay? That depends.

Many gay pageants, especially those organized by text clans, actually have gay men who go into drag to join the competition. However, many other pageants are actually joined by trans women. Some of these are the more prestigious of these are The Queen of Cebu, Manila’s Five Prettiest, and Miss Amazing. In Australia, the categories are separate: Ms Gay and Ms Transsexual. The distinction is that for Ms Gay, a contestant must identify as gay or be a drag queen, and for Ms Transsexual she has to be either pre-op or post-op. Just exactly what kind of operation is needed to be in Ms Transsexual is left out in the guidelines. But does calling the pageant any other name make it less gay?

Of course there are more complex questions that follow. I suppose one of the more glaring ones is why gay pageants are so pervasive.

Scholars like J.Neil Garcia and Martin Manalansan comment on the spectacle of the beauty pageant and point to how these become avenues for the bakla/transgender to live out the ultimate dream of ‘becoming’ a ‘real’ woman. Conversely, it allows heterosexuals a ‘safe’ place to gaze at the beauty of the transgender, as evidenced by several of my straight cousins who keep commenting on how beautiful the contestants on Super Sireyna are. But this, of course, leads to questions of whether beauty pageants can actually advance the plight of transgenders in society.

Many of my feminist friends contend that beauty pageants cannot be platforms for equality because the contestants are paraded around like objects; this is a view I tend to agree with. These pageants also set an incredibly high standard for beauty, one that is problematically old-fashioned: either white and mestiza or dark and exotic. However, my pageant friends argue that it is through these contests that they learned to be confident in who they are and to value being graceful, strong, and intelligent. I also believe that people should be allowed the choice to enter competitions if they think it’s good for them and will help them better themselves.

Finally, and I think this is the most controversial question, should trans women be allowed to join pageants for ‘real’ women?

Miss Universe changed its rules last year so that trans women could be allowed to represent their countries. It was a controversial decision, but one that has very little actual impact since most local pageants still require contestants to be biologically female. But is womanhood solely rooted in biology? And if that’s the case, what physical/hormonal/chromosomal property actually turns a person into a woman? The reason I loved Jenna Talackova’s entry into Miss Universe Canada is that she forced everyone to rethink their preconceived notions of what a woman actually is. It’s a classic example of Gender Trouble: Talackova undid the perceived ‘naturalness’ of ‘being’ a woman and challenged people who work in an industry that survives by putting women on display to put her on display as well, at par with all the other contestants. She successfully blurred the lines between the categories of gender and sex, masculine and feminine, but not without creating new boundaries for herself and for her kind. As with the Ms Transsexual pageant in Australia, the new rules of the Miss Universe pageant indicate that candidates must have already had sexual reassignment surgery – a procedure that not all transgenders can afford (or are willing to undergo). This clearly reinforces a sort of hierarchy based on how close you are, bodily, to ‘being’ female.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the move to include trans women in a pageant as prestigious as Miss Universe is a phenomenal step toward the right direction. With that change as precedent, perhaps we can also move for trans women’s rights in areas that are actually more important: the access to education, proper healthcare, and the protection from physical, sexual, and emotional violence and workplace discrimination.

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Rap and the Martyrology of the Bakla

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Last week, a group of students reported on representations of Gender in the Media. One of their chosen media texts was Gloc-9’s Sirena. Their analysis of the video was quite impressive, but I do have some additions to their reading.

When the video first came out several weeks ago, it was posted and shared on Facebook by several of my friends touting it as progressive and positive for its depiction of the bakla and the violence we are forced to endure. They also seemed to enjoy the last part of the video that shows several prominent LGBT people, which included members of the Ladlad Partylist, several authors, and Boy Abunda. While I am hesitant to criticize these people for appearing in the video, I cannot help but question their motivations for doing so. Publicity, perhaps? Or did they genuinely want to show how the bakla can rise above oppressive situations and become empowered themselves? Do they fully endorse the video and the song? Did they not find anything problematic with the text’s depiction of the bakla? I do applaud the artist for bringing the issue of violence against the bakla into mainstream media discourse, however, I am left with the  above-mentioned questions as well as several others regarding the video/song’s portrayal of the bakla.

For one, the song treats the bakla as rooted in effeminacy and womanhood. There is nothing wrong with this image as, classically, the bakla is considered a woman-hearted male-bodied person. My contention is that in the video effeminacy is treated as superficial, comic, and trivial (refer to 2:10 of the video). Although alternate readings may code this as a semblance of empowerment: despite the violence the bakla suffers, our ganda remains intact. This is an important facet in the bakla identity. I am not saying that we are shallow and superficial, I am saying that the bakla’s kagandahan is an important source of the bakla’s socio-cultural power. Without the bakla, our world would be dreary and bleak and fall into dismal ugliness. As such, this is a bakla facet that should not be so easily brushed off and dismissed as it was in the video.

My primary problem with the video and the song is that while it shows the violence suffered by the bakla – an arguably common image in Philippine media – it does nothing to challenge this violence. In the video, while the macho father dunks his bakla son into a drum filled with water, no one attempts to help the bakla. No one even flinches; they all stand by and watch in amusement as the bakla is punished for not conforming to the binary of babae and lalake. The bakla is forced to endure years of this kind of physical and emotional abuse: he is forced by familial ties to remain with the ailing abuser in an apparent attempt to win him over and gain his acceptance. It’s incredibly Freudian, and also incredibly ludicrous. The bakla becomes powerless because his very sense of self is rooted in his father’s acceptance of his kabaklaan, and is unable to divorce himself from this abusive relationship because of this. At the end of the video, the bakla gains his father’s acceptance and is able to empower himself. This is a rather dated model for parent-child relationships and should be guarded against. Why would anyone want to stay in an abusive relationship? Why not just up and leave and find love and acceptance elsewhere?

The video also purges the bakla of his sexuality. His object of desire is the lalake (refer to 3:50 in the video), but he is frustrated when the lalake still chooses the babae over him. This frustration is, again, treated in the video as comic and funny. The lyrics also say that all his siblings have married and gone off to raise their respective families while the bakla remains single and celibate to take care of the elderly father. The bakla becomes a martyr, the classic tragic character, an echo of the disempowered woman from ages past.

One also has to question the role of the babae in this text. She is virtually invisible, peripheral, unimportant. Perhaps this is because the text is incredibly patriarchal and reinforces misogynistic beliefs. In the video’s introduction, a group of men call out to the father and the bakla saying: “Nag-aaway yung mag-ina!” The text justifies the violence against the bakla by equating the bakla with womanhood – and any  performance of femininity in a masculine body must be punished.

One also has to question if this kind of misogyny and the reinforcement of patriarchal standards is a matter of genre. Traditionally, rap is not a genre that the bakla will touch with a ten-foot pole. There are, of course, exceptions: Hip-hop artist Frank Ocean recently came out. However, locally, the genre is rife with stereotypical portrayals of the bakla, and as far as I know, there are no bakla rappers either, which leads me to question the motives behind Gloc-9’s choice of subject. Can an evidently straight artist properly give voice to an oppressed other without exoticizing him? Gloc-9 fails in this test. He even says, “I think this is the first time that a song about a gay man is presented in a first person’s point of view…” But my question is, by what right can he claim to give a voice to the bakla? Is he bakla himself? Was he subjected to the same kind of oppression that the bakla were in his song? If he is bakla and was subjected to this kind of abuse, why does this kind of abuse go unchallenged in his song? Why create a martyr of the bakla? Why not empower him, divorce him from abusive relationships, allow him to shine outside of patriarchal standards? All of these questions cannot possibly be answered by a person who was not, himself, subjected to the abuse and oppression that the bakla are forced to endure. It’s classic Orientalism, except this time in the area of gender representation. I digress.

If you look at wider musical phenomena, the bakla has only very rarely been depicted and when they are, it is often a negative stereotype. Blackjack’s “Modelong Charing” makes fun of the bakla and warns against being deceived by scheming, gold-digging cross-dressers and transsexuals and justifies violence toward them. Michael V’s “Hindi ako bakla” pokes fun at failed attempts to conceal effeminacy in favor of masculinity. Dagtang Lason’s misogynistic “Nagmamahal ako ng bakla” treats the bakla as an alternative to women but also the emphasizes the oppressive economic relations between the lalake and the bakla. It also calls the bakla “pangit” and “karumaldumal” – an attempt to take away the bakla’s ganda and therefore his power. Finally, Eraserheads’ “Hey Jay“, arguably the least offensive of these songs, advises the bakla to “ipagdasal na lang natin na balang araw ay… everything’s gonna be okay” and “kailangan ay magtiis ka.” Although at least the song questions why homophobes are “puno ng galit ang isipan… walang galang sa kapwa tao.”

Gloc-9’s Sirena ends with “minsan mas lalake pa sa lalake ang bakla” and simply reinforces patriarchal models of behavior by elevating the lalake as the standard against which other genders are compared. All of these things lead me to wonder if Harvey Fierstein’s motto (“Visibility at any cost!”) is still applicable. Can we still use that as a mantra if the images we consume are so highly problematic and if these images simply reinforce patriarchal control over other identities?

Queer Stories

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For the past two days, I’ve been participating in a forum about HIV/AIDS with MSM (Men who have sex with Men) and TG (Transgender) groups. I came in my capacity as both academic (which I seem to never be able to completely abandon) and as part of Task Force Pride. The people who were there came mostly from text-clans: those homosexual men whose contact with the wider queer community is mostly limited to texting and general eyeballs and sexual trysts. While I found the forum quite redundant and rather uninteresting (my role in the forum as part of TFP was not quite clear, a sentiment sadly shared by the other participants from groups like Ladlad and Strap), I found those who participated in the forum quite intriguing.

You must understand, though, that while I do study Philippine Queer Culture (and I use the term queer in the widest sense of the word), I have lived a rather sheltered life: private high school, elite universities, and a very tightly knit set of equally sheltered friends. This background has actually enabled me to both revel in my own sense of queerness, while at the same time shielding me from the realities of queer people who come from other different backgrounds. Add to that my own rather prudish and conservative personality and you get an academic whose ignorance of her own subject matter astounds even herself.

This is part of the reason I volunteered myself for this forum. Up until now, I’ve only read about and heard about these queer strangers from other friends or in academic books and publications. I’ve read what many Filipino gay-identified writers have written about these people – their misappropriation of the western sexual orientation labels, their wanton abandon of sexual restrictions, and their social class. Now, after meeting them and hearing their stories personally, I find that a great amount of what I’ve read is based on an elitist kind of queer culture – that based on economics and the projection of a western, global lifestyle. (I’m talking about you, Bobby Benedicto.)

You must also understand that I am rather shy – abrasive as I may seem to many, I regard quite highly the observation of proper manners and conduct, especially when surrounded by strangers. This, again, puts me at a disadvantage as I come off as aloof and unapproachable. I am, however, quite good and quite comfortable with the act of observing others as they interact with each other. Sometimes, being a wallflower truly has its perks.

So during the past two days, I have sat and observed and listened to what these people have to say. And last night, I got the chance to observe them up-close via the most traditional of tactics: a drinking session that held the promise of being able to practice one’s skills in flirting and perhaps a little more. Of course, before that, we had the mandatory gay beauty pageant where four young contestants paraded in their improvised swimsuits and long gowns, showcased their talents (which involved mostly hip and butt gyration worthy of Beyonce and Shakira), and sharpened their wits by lambasting each other and even the judges.

As the evening progressed, I got to talk to more of them about more intimate issues, like the matter of labeling the Filipino gay identity. One of them brought up the fact that the label, bakla, may not be appropriate for naming all those men whose itinerant sexual practices have become a major part of their lifestyles. And that the bakla will always be effeminate. Both valid points, of course, and none all the novel. What I found striking is their blatant misuse of the label bisexual as a euphemism for bakla and for gay to avoid the stigma that accompanies both labels. This stigma, they say, is based mostly on the issue of effeminacy – highly ironic since we had only recently crowned Ms. Clan Beauty 2011.

They also mentioned the importance of being discreet – that no one must know that they are bakla/gay, thus forcing them to hide their effeminacy. And that it is only when they are together (with other like-minded individuals) that they can truly revel in their effeminacy: a discourse supported by the prevalence and importance of the spectacle of the gay beauty pageant. Another point I found quite interesting is the importance of their projection of the idealized image of masculinity when cruising – in gay bars, through text, or through online chatrooms and dating websites. Their abjection of effeminacy, it seems, can be traced directly to sexual practices and the infiltration of hegemonic models of masculinity.

I always find astounding the wealth of information you can draw from people if you choose to simply listen to them. In high school, our guidance counselor asked us to memorize the Desiderata. And now I have found that all people truly have their stories to tell. Stories about their own legitimate experiences, which may help broaden how you view a subject in which you are already so entrenched.

But the most important thing that I take away from the forum is the realization that HIV is becoming an increasingly dangerous threat to the Filipino LGBT community. In the past four years, the number of reported and confirmed cases in the Philippines has more than doubled, and it is the men who have sex with men and transgender women who are most at risk. Thankfully, today HIV is a liveable disease – your life does not have to change too drastically if ever you’re diagnosed as positive. With proper medication and a careful, healthy lifestyle, the life-expectancy of an HIV positive person is about 70. But the key aspect is to be safe and protected during sexual congress. And to get yourself tested. I took the test, and it’s time more people have the courage to do the same.

What’s funny about Bakling?

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Planking, owling, and now bakling. What is it with these internet memes? Planking has been likened to how the bodies of victims of the Holocaust were posed just before they were disposed. The same gravity of this simile I find in this new fad, Bakling.

Effeminacy in men has long been linked to the practice of homosexuality. The two are completely separate – effeminacy is a mark of gender, not sexuality. Nevertheless, effeminacy does present itself in a great number of gay men. And because of this effeminacy, gay men (and transwomen) have been the butt of jokes since time immemorial.

Worse still is that this effeminophobic culture has trickled down into the psyche of the queer community, itself. Gay men have shunned the bakla for being too effeminate, and have striven to rid themselves of all vestiges of kabaklaan. It’s like we’ve been conditioned to accept the humor in our own effeminacy and that to be taken seriously, we must act “normal” – that is, a gay man must be masculine, a transwoman feminine. The application of this heteronormative model of gender performance is, of course, a mark of internalized homophobia – brought about by the world at large (ie. hegemonic heterosexuality) and its bigotry.

So why should we, as members of the queer (read: non-heteronormative) community, support this new fad of bakling when it simply reinforces the homophobic stereotype of the effeminate homosexual man? Why are we supposed to think that this is “just for fun”? And why are gay men supporting this fad? What is so innately funny about an effeminate man?

Apparently, the people who posted this meme on the Task Force Pride facebook page are holding a contest for the most creative bakling photo. I think that the last thing that gender rights advocates in the Philippines need is a contest/meme that does nothing but reinforce homophobic stereotypes, opens avenues for bigots to laugh at and make fun of queer people, and all-in-all degrades the legitimate dignity of the queer identity.

Beaucons and Misogyny

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Prologue:

A few years ago, my friends and I were in Thailand, clubbing at one of Bangkok’s more popular gay bars (DJ Station? I forget.) It’s standard practice for me and my friends to split up when we go clubbing – since it’s difficult to get your flirt on when you’re surrounded by people you’ve known since before you hit puberty. It sucks for me though, since bars have never really been my scene, and my friends tend to use me as a baggage counter: they leave me their stuff and just come back if they haven’t met anyone.

Anyway, back to Bangkok. So, we split up. I was on the 2nd level, my friends were… well, somewhere. So I was doing my little bouncy dance with a drink in my hand when I felt someone shove me. I didn’t think it was anything since the club was crowded, I thought it was just an accident. Then it happened again. And again. I look around and a bunch of tall, white guys (gay jocks – the worst kind of jock ever) were standing there looking at me all annoyed. Then I heard one of them complain, “What is she doing here? Doesn’t she know this is a gay bar?!”

I didn’t know whether to slap him or thank him.

The-thing-that-comes-between-the-Prologue-and-the-Epilogue:

Today was Miss Universe 2011. Virtually all my gay friends were on leave watching the live telecast in Star World or streaming it online. Now, you have to realize the importance of beauty pageants in gay culture. While it’s not politically correct to call the Miss Universe pageant the ‘Gay World Cup’, it kind of really is. Think about it: gays have been training, spending money on, and investing in girls to compete in these pageants since the dawn of time. A friend of mine, Mark, actually works with a working group that does just that: they’re like a talent agency, but they specialize in beauty queens.

And then, of course, there’s the ever-present gay beauty pageant. Another friend, Patrick (head of Task Force Pride), is helping organize Ultimo Icono, an LGBT pageant in October. When I say LGBT, I mean it. There’s a separate contest for butch lesbians and transmen, transwomen, butch gays and bisexuals.

In words of bakla scholars Martin Manalansan, Danton Remoto, and J.Neil Garcia, the beauty pageant holds a special place in the culture of the bakla because, through spectacle, masquerade, mimicry, etc. the beauty pageant provides a venue to make real the unattainable dream of the bakla – to be a woman. I’m not saying that all bakla want to be women – the influx of Western ideology has eclipsed that phenomenon and forced another label on this dream: transgender. The very same discourses which perpetuate this also offer modern (ie. urban, rich) bakla the opportunity to perform their kabaklaan as divorced from the aspiration of becoming a ‘true’ woman by allowing them the label gay.

Are you still with me?

In other words, the reason why beauty pageants are so important in gay culture is that it celebrates the dream (whether real or imagined; embraced or rejected) of becoming a woman. Since kabaklaan is rooted in the tradition of the babaylan – who embodied both male and female spirits – it is important to acknowledge that the primary reason why many bakla  love beauty pageants is that it allows them to live out the dream of idealized womanhood without necessarily becoming transgender themselves. Not that there’s anything wrong about being transgender, but many modern gay men don’t like to be referred to as bakla precisely because they equate kabaklaan with wanting to be a woman – when kabaklaan is so much more than that.

On a related note: I’m Ms. Brazil.

So why are many bakla (and gays) harbor so much hate for women? Case in point: a friend posted a picture of Ms. Colombia in our private Facebook group. In the photo, Ms. Colombia was sitting, wearing a skimpy dress and no panties. And maybe half of her vajayjay was peeking out. Comments from my friends ranged from JC’s “ay kipay! eeeeeeeeeeeee!” and another friend’s “Nakakasulasok!” (I don’t know what that means). Why are we so uncomfortable with female anatomy?

Granted, I’m not thrilled at seeing another woman’s privates, but it’s there, it’s saying hello. The least you could do is say hello back – preferably not with your own privates.

This may not be a pretty good example of misogyny in gay culture, but this kind of misogyny extends to effeminacy – the term effeminophobia was coined only in the mid-nineties and pertains to the kind of fear or hatred of effeminate men. Not homosexuality itself, just effeminacy in men – regardless of sexual orientation.

This is, of course, rooted in the patriarchal structures which privilege masculinity over femininity. Even in the gay community, we see gays who are more masculine as better off (ie. more sexually viable/attractive) than those who are more feminine. It’s disturbing for me to see that even in queer cultures, we simply reinforce heteronormative standards instead of challenging them and changing them.

And don’t even get me started on transphobia.

Epilogue:

Some could argue that the beauty pageant, itself, is misogynistic. I do not doubt this: beauty contests reinforce traditional and conventional patterns of beauty, femininity, and womanhood which are nothing less than unattainable for us mere mortals. A lot of people have been going on about Ms. Angola’s win as a possible deviance from this tradition of equating white-ness with beauty. But she’s not the first non-white woman to win the title. I don’t think her win was affirmative action. She definitely didn’t win because of her answer. and I know she didn’t win because she walked nicely – she could hardly walk in that gown and had difficulty navigating the stage. She won most likely because she’s the first Angola candidate to go so far in the contest (I may be wrong!) And she’s pretty.

On that note, I’ll end with a few words praising Shamcey Supsup, Ms. Philippines. I found her charming and graceful. More than that, her answer was great. I don’t think any other answer would have given her the crown (because, again, the judges might have been predisposed towards letting Angola win its first title). But I do think that 3rd place is pretty low. She should have been at least 1st runner up.

Oh well. No use contemplating on something that’s final. So we end with Ms. Philippines and her well-deserved Evita moment.

and her Evita moment