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Defining ‘real men’ and ‘real women’

After watching GMA Network’s Tonight with Arnold Clavio last June 4, Michael David C. Tan notes how the host intimated that the transgender guests are not “tunay na babae (real women)”, thereby highlighting the dire need to continue educating people about SOGIE. For him, “everyone needs to realize that LGBT people are as REAL as everyone.”

A screenshot of TWAC, where the host Arnold Clavio referred to his transwomen guests as "beki".

In my circle of friends while I was growing up in Cotabato City, we often talked about this gay guy who – because he said his parents told him he’s not “tunay na lalaki (real man)” because he’s “babakla-bakla (effeminate)” – was not sent to school. The supposed “logic” (if it can be considered logical at all) behind this is that because he’s gay, his education won’t be put to good use. Particularly, even if he earns a degree and lands a good job because of it, he will supposedly only waste whatever he will earn to finance the men (the “real men”) who will come in his life.

There were those in my circle of friends who feared acting effeminate (or be seen as effeminate, or not like a “tunay na lalaki”) because if that happened, their parents may stop sending them to school, too.

And then there are those like that gay guy who accepted the “truth” in the parents’ way of thinking – i.e. that they’re better off not going to school, since the parents were right after all, that they’d just end up wasting what they learned (and will eventually earn) by spending the same on “real men”.

Curiously, years later, I heard that this gay guy who ended up not having proper education was able to establish his own business (a beauty parlor). And this beauty parlor is not only what sustains this gay guy, it is also the main source of living of: 1) his parents who saw fit not to send him to school; and 2) his brothers, all “real men”, who now have their own families (including numerous children) who they can’t even feed.

This always riles me up. And this is even if this gay guy supposedly graciously accepts his plight – that whatever happened to him is “just okay”, and he now has to look after everyone in his family who belittled (and still belittles) him. One of them supposedly even said: “Bahala na bakla, may silbi naman (It’s okay even if he ended up gay; at least he has some use to us).”

I can’t help but ask: Who defines the “tunay na lalaki”?

There’s idiocy in believing that solely being able to breed is what defines masculinity (After all, gay men can breed, too!).

While TWAC's June 4 episode was at times funny and even enlightening, it was also a disappointment as far as Clavio is concerned because of his repeated use of “tunay na babae (real women)” to identify Melanie Marquez, versus the transwomen guests.

While TWAC’s June 4 episode was at times funny and even enlightening, it was also a disappointment as far as Clavio is concerned because of his repeated use of “tunay na babae (real women)” to identify Melanie Marquez, versus the transwomen guests.

In any case, I was reminded of this again last Wednesday (June 4), while watching GMA Network’s Tonight with Arnold Clavio.

Then, respected TV personality Clavio had as guests beauty queen cum actress Melanie Marquez, and transwomen Kevin Balot and Francine Garcia.

Playing on Melanie’s verbal slips (if they can be called that), the show was at times funny. After all, only Melanie can seriously attempt to explain: “Don’t judge my brother, he is not a book.”

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The show was somewhat enlightening, too, with Melanie actually openly saying that she’s – well – okay with same-sex marriage. As far as she’s concerned, her main concern is that “basta lahat masaya (as long as everyone is happy).”

But the show was also a disappointment as far as Clavio is concerned because of his repeated use of “tunay na babae (real women)” to identify Melanie, versus the trans guests.

This treatment of members of the LGBT community as not “tunay (real)” is not new.

In 2012, when transgender woman Jenna Talackova became a candidate in Miss Canada, with a possible shot at Miss Universe, another beauty queen, Miriam Quiambao, expressed her dismay. Taking to Twitter, she said: “In my humble opinion, transgenders should not be allowed to join the MissU because it’s only for REAL women. We should all make a stand. Just because it’s popular, it doesn’t mean that it’s right.”

Miriam had the gall to add: “In my humble opinion, the decision to include transgenders in the @MissUniverse pageant sends the wrong message. This may set a precedent that one day most participants in @MissUniverse are transgenders. #essenceofawoman? #majormistake @realDonaldTrump”

Many agreed with her, actually. And many of those who did surprisingly came from the LGBT (specifically trans) community, claiming that they agreed with Miriam because, after all, they’re not “real women”.

Miriam, of course, also famously Tweeted: “Homosexuality is not a sin but it is a lie from the devil. Do not be deceived.”

I am among those who’d openly say that I’m happy Miriam is now happy; but – as a public figure – we all know she separated from her first husband, and if we’re sticklers to the Bible, it states in Matthew 19:6 – “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate”.

Nonetheless, while the religious beliefs of Miriam (and people like her) merit another discussion, it may (also) be worth it asking her about her concept of what makes a “real woman”.

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Is it being able to breed, too? If so, are infertile women not “real women”? For that matter, all women who choose not to have children, are they not “real women”, too?

Does it solely rely on chromosomal composition (if not accident)? Then what about the “lived” experiences – that is, the “person’s innate, deeply felt psychological identification as a man, woman or some other gender, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned to them at birth (e.g., the sex listed on their birth certificate)”?

In his show, Clavio, by the way, also referred to the transwomen as beki – the term used to refer to gay men in the Philippines.  Simplistically, trans ≠ beki; and this distinction from homosexuality is because “homosexuals nearly always identify with their apparent sex or gender”.

As such, transwomen ARE women; transmen ARE men. Gay men ARE men who happen to like/love/desire other men; lesbians ARE women who like/love/desire other women.

Yes, it can be said that it was NOT Clavio’s intention to hit a nerve.

But for me (and at least those watching with me), that’s what he did anyway.

Am I nitpicking? Some may say “YES!”. And some of you may even believe this is too unimportant an issue for me to even raise.  But there’s nothing trivial about being treated as not “tunay na lalaki/babae (real men/women)” and not equal with everybody.  For those who would prefer to just put up with the status quo, I don’t feel happy knowing that you (with your consent or not/knowingly or not) suffer from the discriminatory treatment.  But while I may not agree with you, I recognize your choice not to make noise about this; and I truly hope you find happiness even with the discrimination heaped your way.

But for me, if we honestly want to be treated as equals, we need to open our mouths for even seemingly small issues like this to be brought out in the open and be intelligently discussed.

Because personalities (from whatever industry) need to be aware of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE). For that matter, EVERYONE NEEDS TO BE AWARE OF SOGIE. Mainly because it affects how we live our lives.

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And on this, so many LGBT people would willingly discuss SOGIE with these personalities, if only they are tapped (I can recommend, as needed; just contact me).

Because everyone needs to realize that LGBT people are as REAL as everyone.

William Shakespeare’s words come to mind: “If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?”

There are rights taken from us – e.g. the right for our relationships to be legally recognized, the right not to be discriminated, and so on.

But like everyone, we fuck/make love, shit, eat, go to school, work, have children, raise children, send children to school, watch shitty telenovelas, spend too much on a bad product because the model promoting it is hot, go gaga over beauty pageants, yell with pride for Manny Paquiao to beat the shit out of his opponents so we can feel some pride in being Filipino, get angry with corrupt politicians, worry about where to get the food to place on the table to feed our loved ones, pay taxes (no matter that it just gets stolen by politicians), fight with loved ones over petty things, cheat on our boy/girlfriends, try to make relationships work, play Candy Crush, use Facebook, go to church, pick our noses, diet to look good…

And like that gay guy in Cotabato City, at times we even keep the “real men” and “real women” in our lives alive by providing for them even if they treat us like dirt.

So that, heck, we’re just as REAL!

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan completed BA Communication Studies from University of Newcastle in NSW, Australia; and Master of Development Communication from the University of the Philippines-Open University. Conversant in Filipino Sign Language, Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, and research (with pioneering studies under his belt). He authored "Being LGBT in Asia: Philippines Country Report", and "Red Lives" that creatively retells stories from the local HIV community. Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism, and Art that Matters - Literature from Amnesty Int'l Philippines in 2020. Cross his path is the dare (guarantee: It won't be boring).


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