For some reason, Facebook won’t let me post this link.
For some reason, Facebook won’t let me post this link.
So the Miss Universe Organization is changing its rules to allow transgender women to compete in it. I wanted to write this article just to put in my two cents.
As of right now, I still have mixed feelings about this change.
Being transgender myself, I know people would expect me to think highly positively about this change. But I have my reservations. I also have a friend who is an avid fan of the pageant circuit, to say the least, and I asked him his opinion on the change. He’s gay, so I expected him to say that it was a good thing. However, he pointed out that there are other pageants out there for transwomen, why not leave Miss Universe to biological women? He has a point, but there lies the difference in our reasons for not liking the change: Biology.
My main reason for not liking the change is that I don’t think the Miss Universe pageant is the right avenue for pushing transgender rights. (But then again, what is the right avenue for this?!) Ok, news like this is great for getting transgender awareness out there. And while I appreciate the value of spectacle and artifice as espoused by the pageant circuit, I am also very much aware of the deep-seated hegemonies and misogynistic discourses perpetuated by such pageants. For one, instead of celebrating the whole range of womanhood and the diverse experiences of “being” a woman, these pageants celebrate only one phase: the Virgin phase. (Insert Ancient Greek models of womanhood: Virgin, Matron, Crone.) The rules of the Miss Universe pageant are openly misogynistic: a woman must be of a certain age (no older than 27), must have never borne children, must have never been married, and the winner must remain unmarried until the end of her reign. And second, these pageants create an oppressive model of womanhood – one that is unachievable by ‘ordinary’, lower/middle class, biological women, let alone transgender women. My take on beauty pageants is this: go pageant crazy for a few weeks a year, then move on with my life and forget who won the title. I can always refer to my friend for his expertise on this topic.
On the other hand, this change openly challenges our preconceived notions of what being woman/female is. Is it a mere question of biology, and if it is, which body part makes a woman, a woman. Is it genitalia? Is it the brain? Is it a chemical thing, hormones, chromosomes? Or is womanhood, as with anything we have been conditioned to accept as natural, simply a social construction, which Butler argues is created and reinforced based on the repetitive performance of actions coded as male/female (masculine/feminine) (heterosexual/homosexual) and the policing of actions which transgress these poles? Allowing transgenders (post op transsexuals) to compete in the pageant for ‘natural-born’ women exposes the superficiality of the naturalized category of Woman – that is, I think, why people have been so aggressively arguing against the change. Just read the comments section of the article I posted above and see how powerfully negative most of them are.
By undoing the naturalness of the sex/gender categories of male/female, masculine/feminine we basically destroy the world and its purported sense of order. If we get rid of these categories – and the subsequent hegemonies brought about by these categories – then we get rid of discrimination and social imbalance based on sex/gender/sexuality. Now imagine that: a world with no gender. Of course, I digress.
Jenna Talackova’s bid to run against ‘natural’ born women in Miss Universe Canada is courageous, yes. But it also gives her, and other future transgender contestants, an unfair advantage over other contestants. If not for anything, her story has already given her quite a lot of press leverage: if she doesn’t make it to at least the semi-finals, the organizers will be accosted for being transphobic. And we all know how affirmative action isn’t really affirmative. Also, allowing only post-op transsexuals compete in such pageants simply reinforces heteronormative/heterosexual discourses: as if to say that even within the transgender community, post-op transsexuals occupy the higher rungs of the hierarchy with pre-ops and non-ops occupying the lower levels. Talackova is opening doors for other transgenders, yes. But one might have to ask if she’s opening the right doors. When so many transgender women are denied access to medical care, education, legal protection, and other human rights, is joining a beauty pageant enough for our advocacy? The obvious answer is no. It’s a good start, it challenges people’s preconceptions of womanhood, and is a great medium for transgender awareness and education. But it shouldn’t stop here. There is a long way to go.
Coincidentally, Talackova’s name is perfect for Filipino Gay Lingo: Swardspeak. The Tagalog word ‘talak’ means to nag, to scold, or to verbally abuse. Used in a sentence: Shutanginmez! Na-Talackova na naman ako ni mudrakelles!
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.
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.