HOPEFULLY, sexual rights would be integrated in age-appropriate sex education as required by the Philippine Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, and also into gender sensitivity trainings or GSTs. Thus far, most GSTs are stuck with only making the classical differentiation between sex and gender, and have not covered sexual diversity. Moreover, many Philippine offices and organizations are guilty of labeling fields in their forms as “gender” when all they are asking about are really one’s sex (i.e., female or male). Delivering more inclusive gender education is an area where the Davao City local government can once again exercise leadership, systematically pursue anti-discrimination, and thus assist people like my bewildered jeepney fellow passenger.
While the LGBTQI terms and concepts originated from the west, it is only a matter of time before we evolve our own. And no, I am not referring to the Internet meme that spread after Alma Moreno’s interview with Karen Davila where the actress was spoofed as apologizing to the “lesbian, gay, bakla, tomboy (LGBT)”.
But poor awareness of SOGIE is not the only concern here. There is also the matter of power relationships between individuals.
For indeed, why must we refer to each other as sir and ma’am? Are there not other ways that we can show respect for each other without using sex-specific titles and positions?
When I enter a commercial establishment, I do not have to be hailed with a “good morning sir-ma’am” to feel welcomed; a cheery good morning greeting would have been enough.
As somebody who struggled to find people with whom I could situate feelings, experiences and aspirations that I had been told were not “normal” I wish there had been more diverse and positive references about, and portrayals of LGBTQIs while I was growing up. These would have provided a perspective to the dominant images of lesbians as kargadors and security guards in largely rural Lupon and even in Davao City. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these occupations, the mindset that they are all that lesbians would amount to was quite disempowering. I detested being called tomboy because the word was often delivered in a derogatory manner, like I was unacceptable. Also even from the simplistic view that I had at a young age, the term simply did not represent me—I was not a boy, and did not want to be one—I was a girl who happened to like girls and was fine with being a girl. But at that time, and in some communities to this day, the dominant system did not and would not provide other images of girls who like girls beyond that of the very masculine kargador and security guard.
The message to the young me was that if I did not want to be a kargador or security guard, I had to hide the fact that I was a girl who liked girls, or at least to be subtle about it. I turned to books for help. Dr. Margarita Holmes’s A Different Love: Being Gay in the Philippines was informative and useful in dealing with issues like sexuality and coming out, but I hungered for stories about people like me. The first story I read about homosexual women was the 1928 novel The Well of Loneliness, which was about an Englishwoman who found love with another woman but ended up being isolated and rejected. Without going into the literary and other merits of the novel, the prospect of looking forward to a life like that depressed me.
It was not until the anthology Tibok: Heartbeat of the Filipino Lesbian and Women Loving, single-authored by Jhoanna Lynn Cruz, that I came across books dedicated to stories written by, about and for Philippine lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer (LBTQ) women who covered a wider spectrum of Philippine society. I unfortunately misplaced my copy of Tibok, but have the good fortune of being able to re-read and discuss at will Women Loving with its author with whom I share living and loving spaces.
I can imagine how empowering and affirming it would have been for a younger me had I read Women Loving decades ago. The diverse stories in Women Loving, which has come out in eBook format as Women on Fire, paint a picture of the state-of-the-possible when it came to life decisions, loves and desires, triumphs and travails of LBTQ women, and would have brought inspiration, hope and courage to my young self—and even to struggling LBTQ women of this time, I dare say. Because my young self—and hopefully other LBTQ women— would have understood that if these stories are possible, then there is not much left that can be considered as impossible. And if I knew and understood that then, I would have early on stopped carrying and reinforcing my own glass ceiling.
May the coming Year of the Fire Monkey be a good one for LBTQ women out there, who are neither sir nor mang, but are simply women loving women and are courageously on fire, and also for fellow life travelers who are seeking to be respectful, and make sense of this wild, wacky and wonderful ride.
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