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Bakla 101

Numerous stereotypes about the “bakla” continue to exist. But while educating them may be a good – and important – step to better the understanding of gay men, Michael David C. Tan believes that at times, those who do not understand should be more proactive in doing the learning for themselves.

The jeepney was almost full – too full, in fact, that although the barker continued calling for more passengers to board, there was hardly any space left to move inside, much more to sit on. The only spaces left were the tight (though still distinguishable) space beside a malodorous sweaty man seated beside me, and the vacant space across us beside a fully made-up transgender woman who kept flicking her make-up kit open to check if her make-up was on place, and her friends who, although not as dressed up as her, kept on throwing sideway glances to the guys stuffed in the rusty vehicle.

Just as the waiting was getting intolerable, boisterous voices were heard from the street, immediately followed by three guys boarding the jeepney, swearing their way inside as they located places to sit on. Their loud voices ceased when they saw the transwoman they may have to sit beside of, though this was immediately followed by snickers as they started to gamely push each other to avail of the empty space at my side of the vehicle. In the end, one of them ended up sitting beside the transwoman, while the other two forcefully made themselves comfy beside the malodorous man, who, to my horror, got pushed against me.

Putang bading (Fucking faggot)!” one of them drunkenly slurred under his breath, first to his friend beside him who nodded his agreement with a smirk, and then to me as he acknowledged me with a nod and drawled: “Pare.” Then both of them laughed and started teasing their friend who was seated across them, warning him of the slight the “faggot” beside him may do him. I was forced to join the laughter, not so much because I found the joke they shared funny, but because the overall situation was. Considering their bloated tummies, flaring nostrils reddened by their alcoholic intake, and muddied appearances, I couldn’t imagine anyone who would want to put sexual advances to any of the three of them, and that’s irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Alam mo naman ang bakla, walang pinapatawad (Roughly: You know how gay people don’t let any opportunities pass)!” the other guy added, this time loud enough for everyone to hear, before they again broke into another drunken laugh.

Bakla po ako (I’m gay),” I said, not able to hold my tongue, immediately meeting stares of incredulity and sudden silence.

But I am. Bayot, bakla, bading, agi, faggot, queer, fairy – the names may change, but the thought remains the same: we’re talking about a guy who likes another guy. And I am one.

There was a time when I used to try educating people about the various issues around homosexuality, trying to do my part in shedding some light about the community that remains unaccepted even without first comprehending it. And yet, even with the passing of time, things are not getting any easier. Liberation movements may claim to have succeeded in their struggles to equalize the treatment of everyone despite whatever differences; but truth be told, civilization hasn’t gone very far towards enlightenment. After all the talks about sexual revolution, as a queer guy in the Philippines, I continue getting exasperated with the more than a bagful of stereotypes attached to being “not like everyone else” that are still in full force.

CONTEXTUALIZING SAYANG

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Photo by Harry Quan from Unsplash.com

Probably one of the most common expressions I hear especially when people know of my sexuality for the first time is “Sayang (Wasted).”

“It is such a waste that someone like you is gay”, is how this is best expressed, usually followed by the enumeration of my “manly” qualities that are “wasted” because I am gay: good looks, intelligence, big basket – the list goes on and on, as if heterosexuals have the exclusive right to these qualities. I was told not to be offended when told this because, more than anything, the statement is reflexive: a reflection of the speaker than the one being ridiculed. After all, you are “sayang” because you will never be hers (in the case of girls saying it), or he (for the straight male) will never be like you with all your “blessings.”

Greg, a friend, the only gay guy of seven brothers, was once considered the source of shame of his family. “Sayang ka, kalalaki mong tao babakla-bakla ka (You’re such a waste, you’re a man, and you choose to be effeminate)!” was what he was told when he was kicked out of their home. When his father had an accident that forced him to retire, his mother was forced to accept labada (laundry) just to make ends meet. It was also at this time when three of his brothers married their pregnant girlfriends, though continued living off their mother’s measly income, and the others chose not to continue schooling. This was when they approached Greg, now running a beauty parlor, to help them out – something he willingly did. Interestingly, and annoyingly, though he is now the family’s breadwinner (even of the married brothers and their kids), for his family, he is still “sayang (waste)”; though this time they often add that with: “May silbi naman siya kahit bakla lang siya (He is of use even if he’s gay).” Such irony.

A MAN IS A MAN IS A MAN

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Once my sexual orientation is disclosed, many also always associate me with girls – that gusto niyang maging babae (he wants to become a woman) or that may pusong babae (he has a woman’s heart). Admittedly, this may be true to some, though not to all. When actor Jeffrey Quizon was once queried about his portrayal of gay characters, he mentioned that he studies women instead of homosexuals because, quoting him: “Lahat naman ng mga bakla ang gusto nila maging babae, ‘di ba? Kaya hindi sila ang pinag-aaralan ko. ‘Yung mga nuances ng mga babae ang pinag-aaralan ko talaga (All gay guys want to be like women, right? So I study women. I study the nuances of women).

But I, for one, do not see myself as more of a woman or less of a man because of my sexual identity and gender identification. And there are others with the same perspective. Thus, that gays aim to be like girls is a misconception that has to end (we’d be discussing transgenderism, if this was the case).

In the same way, addressing gays ate (a title accorded to elder sisters/relatives), sister, manash or mama is never appropriate. A modern saying (politically incorrect as it may seem) states that “only a Black person may call a Black person the ‘N’ word without creating trouble“. This is basically the same with the addressing of gays – while it may be okay for gays to call each other “sisters”, it would be presumptuous for straights to call them as such. When girls talk, they don’t call each other sister. Even guys don’t address all guys pare (dude).

Closely related to this is the conversion of the male name to a female’s name. When people get to know that my name is Michael and that I am gay, some immediately call me Michelle or Michaela, feminine variations of my name. There is no shame in being (associated) with womanhood, but the segregation of gender, even if it’s just in the names, must be recognized and respected. When I say my name is Michael, it remains as such until I say otherwise.

A funny part of being gay is when men hoot, whistle and give loud catcalls to gays with the expectation that they will be catered to simply because they’re men – good taste be damned. I’ve met basureros (garbage men), janitors, kargadors (porter/stevedore) and construction workers (no offense intended to these professions) who, upon knowing of my sexual orientation, wink and whistle at me, expecting me to fall for them despite of everything, and putting all their weight on their supposed masculinity.

Masuwerte ka papatulan kita (You’re lucky I choose to be with you),” a guy once told me. “Ulol (Fool),” I snapped at him, losing my patience, “masuwerte ka kung papatulan kita (YOU are lucky I choose to be with you)!

In a way, this is related to role-playing. I have often been asked who is the man or the woman in a gay relationship. Both, I said – though this is a concept that many can’t comprehend. The point, in the end, is that whatever tickles the fancy of those in the relationship, then they do it: top, bottom, whatever. Role playing is so, well, heterosexual, and only limits the choices, therefore limiting the possibilities of the experience as well – and that is just not gay.

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A female acquaintance once told me that she wouldn’t introduce her brother to me. “Baka ahasin mo (Roughly: ‘You’d slither your way into his life’),” she said. As for her boyfriend, “Baka agawin mo (You may steal him).” Funny, really, considering the genetic composition of her family and her bad taste in men. Unfortunately, this perspective isn’t hers alone, but a pervasive belief that needs to be debunked simply because taste is inherent to everyone no matter the gender identity or sexual orientation.

Not far from this issue is the monetary exchange usually happening between men and gays who had a relationship (sexual or whatever). I was dragged by a friend to watch Ginoong Filipinas 2001, a sanitized flesh market if ever there is one, where, during the Q&A portion, Boy Abunda disappointingly and carelessly asked (without thinking that he was simply promoting stereotypes) two or three of the finalists if they were willing to do everything – including sleeping with gays – just to fulfill their dreams. All of them answered yes. The sad part, however, is the association of gays with something to be acquired, as if being with them is so yucky and degrading that anyone can only stomach it if there’s something to be gained from it. “Puwede na patulan kasi may kapalit naman (You can sleep with gay men so long as there’s something to be gained from it),” is how this is best put. For that matter, even if the meeting is only sexual, I can’t completely comprehend why any gay guy should pay a “straight” guy for sex when, in the end, it was the latter who enjoyed the experience.

I actually still often meet gay guys who claim: “Ito ang role nating mga bakla: magmahal, mamigay ng pera, tapos iiwanan (This is our role a gay men: to love, give money, and then be left).” But this is definitely not a role suited for all of us (if there is money involved, one may just as well hire a sex worker, then at least the arrangements are clear-cut).

BEYOND LIFESTYLE

Photo by Levi Saunders from Unsplash.com

Even now, many still assert that I am only gay because I still didn’t meet the right woman who will make me realize how “wrong” my ways are. Partnership does not always make a person realize his individuality. I know of many married men who, after years and years of marriage, part with the family they built because they can’t continue living lies; and there are those who remain married yet visit beats to satisfy their wanting of men.

Talking aside, this is quite interestingly often considered as bisexuality in the Philippines, which isn’t always true. While still a sore issue even in the LGBT community itself, bisexuality isn’t as easily definable as having a girlfriend and a boyfriend at the same time, or at some time in a one’s life. Yet many choose to be referred to as bisexual because it lessens the shame of being identified with the “others,” the “non-straight”, the gays. Supposedly, bisexuals, at least, have some sense of “normalcy,” whatever the word means, because they still do it with girls.

But a gay friend who almost got married once simplistically told me how, for him, it is easy to know of one’s homosexuality. And though it may not be agreed upon by everyone, this is is still a good one anyway. Supposedly, if a guy goes out with a girl and still have men on the side, then he should reconsider his position, especially if he can go out with a man and not have girls on the side.

Some assert that I just need to see God, who will right my “evil” ways. I was always taught that God, in His perfection, couldn’t make mistakes (else He won’t be God!). Thus, I am the way I ought to be, following the logic that He made me – just one of His many expressions. As such, I do not have to change – it is the populace that needs to do so, if only to acknowledge that there will always be differences, and these need not be attacked.

I am gay – the choice to be one going beyond the choice to live like one. It is an integral part of my identity. At the same time, however, it is not my entirety, just a part of me. I am good at what I do, for example, not because I am gay, but because I am me.

And yet, as I continue to experience, the old systems continue. In one of his interviews, the overexposed VJ Derek Ramsey said that he’d rather be rumored a playboy than gay, as if there is something so embarrassing with being gay that being chauvinistic is preferable. Again, unfortunately, the sentiment is held by the general populace. All in all, though, this is unfortunate not just for the gay community but for everyone because, by dwelling more on stereotypes than on the uniqueness of individuals, we are missing out on knowing individuals who, given the chance, could do so much.

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As I was getting off the jeepney, I heard the drunken guy beside the overweight person ask his friend: “Bakla ‘yun (That guy’s gay)?” But his friend just shrugged.

Gusto lang niya mapalapit sa babae kaya siya naging bakla (Being gay, he just wants to get close to women),” answered the one beside the transwoman.

If it were in the past, I’d end up discussing the issues surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, or at least try explaining my position. But, as Norma Desmond said in Sunset Boulevard, “That’s all in the past.” Now, it is time to educate yourselves.

Photo by Kirsty Lee from Unsplash.com

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