IT IS one of the things guaranteed to get me agitated—being called sir, that is. And this morning, the barista had penned Mang’s on the side of the coffee cup. My friend who had done the ordering apologized, explaining that my name had been misheard, which was likely because I’ve been called Mag, Mac, Max and Smag before.
Later in the day while riding a jeepney and seated near the driver I overheard the conversation between him and a passenger. The driver had described one of the passengers as babaeng lalaki in a chiding way, and my co-passenger volunteered that he himself had earlier gotten into an argument at work with one of his male supervisors whom he called ma’am. My fellow commuter claimed that he had done it out of respect, and that his boss should therefore have been appreciative rather than upset.
As a lesbian who bristles at being called sir, and now mang, I can empathize with the supervisor. But my co-passenger’s explanation about using a female appellation to refer to somebody whom he perceives to be “not male” does call attention to a societal conundrum—while advancements had been made in the recognition of sexual diversity, significant parts of Philippine society are still stuck with the paradigms captured by the old childhood rhyme “girl-boy-bakla-tomboy” with baklas and tomboys being perceived as wanna-be-females and wanna-be-males respectively.
So assuming my aggrieved jeep seatmate was not masking homophobia using good manners and right conduct as an excuse, how is a well-meaning but uninformed person to call a non-heterosexual person particularly in a city like Davao where an Anti-Discrimination Ordinance is in place? Advancements in the promotion of gender equality and the assertion of sexual rights, or human rights related to sexuality, have supported wider acknowledgment of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression or SOGIE. Those schooled in SOGIE know that one’s sexual orientation, which indicates the direction of emotional and sexual attraction (i.e., towards people of the opposite sex thus heterosexual, of the same sex or homosexual, of both sexes or bisexual) does not dictate one’s gender identity, which was defined by the consolidated Anti- Discrimination Bill of the Philippine House of Representatives as one’s personal sense of identity characterized, among others by manners (of clothing), inclination and behavior in relation to masculine or feminine conventions. Or simply gender identity is an individual’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else according to the National Center for Transgender Equality or NCTE. Advocates make a distinction between gender identity (which speaks to the question “who do you identify with?”) and gender expression, which is about how one embodies gender attributes, presentations, and roles and is best articulated by answers to the question “How do you express yourself?”
SOGIE terms in our country have expanded to include the categories LGBTQI for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexual men and women, queers and intersex. Lesbian women, gay men and bisexual women and men have had more inroads in contemporary Philippine consciousness compared to the last three categories. The injustice committed against Jennifer Laude drew attention to transsexuals as people whose gender identities are different from their assigned sex at birth and who are seeking to transition from male to female or female to male. Queers can either refer to LGBTQIs or, according to the NCTE, to individuals who identify as neither entirely male nor entirely female. Intersex pertains to those born with reproductive or sexual anatomies and/or chromosome patterns that do not seem to fit typical definitions of male or female. Philippine media has featured a number of stories like a child in Bukidnon who was born with two sexual organs. Unfortunately, the coverage did not go beyond the reportage of the inexplicable.
The point I am laboring to make is that sexual orientation is not locked on to a particular gender identity or expression. So a homosexual woman (lesbian) could identify as female and express herself in either masculine or feminine ways. Thus, lesbians do not automatically want to be called sir or mang even if they appear to be more masculine acting/looking compared to other women. In the same manner, a heterosexual male could identify as a male and still express himself in a manner that could be considered more feminine. Hence, effeminate men ought not to be assumed as gay. A transgender woman (male to female) could identify as female, express herself as female, and depending on her sexual orientation, be attracted to males or females.
Admittedly, these are a lot to take in and require discussion and processing. (to be continued tomorrow)