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Op-Ed

My journey from ignorance to SOGIE enlightenment

Peter Jones Dela Cruz admits that – while he talks as if “I’ve known about sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE) for a long time” – he only knew much of what he now knows quite recently. “I realized that if I was to be one of the tiny voices that speak for my community, I had to know more about it,” he says, adding that now he knows that “people are just diverse. This can’t be overemphasized. As much as we try to box people into labels, we don’t have as many boxes as needed, if they’re needed at all.”

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I talk as if I’ve known about sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE) for a long time, but I only knew much of what I know quite recently. More than three years ago, I only heard of straight, gay and bisexual orientations. I didn’t know much about gender identities and expressions, although I had come across terms such as transgender and crossdresser.

But for me, it’s not about how long you’ve known about something. It’s about how willing you are to change your views in favor of what’s logically and ethically correct.

I had never really given SOGIE education much thought until I spent some time with gay haters online. They inadvertently forced me to learn more. I realized that if I was to be one of the tiny voices that speak for my community, I had to know more about it.

When I was in college, I only thought of two sexual orientations – straight and gay. That was more than 10 years ago. During that time, I was a passive gay student who didn’t care about the welfare of other people. I only wanted to finish school. I was part of a queer community, a clique of queer folks who would huddle at an outdoor cafeteria during lunch break and be the most boisterous of all the huddles there.

That was my idea of gay then. Gay to me meant being a loud, feminine guy who talked about cute guys in the campus. That was basically what there was to being gay during my teenage years, and I didn’t bother knowing much. I was the meek member of the group, and soon I was on my way to solitude, as each of us went our separate ways. Even so, I thought that gay guys should express their femininity and that they should be proud of their sexuality.

I didn’t have respect for discreet queer boys, more so for those who identified as bisexual. To me, discretion, masculinity and bisexuality in the gay community were manifestations of dishonesty and cowardice. Loud gay guys had to be celebrated and respected within our micro-community because they were bolder. Or so I thought (but no longer).

My own ignorance misled me.

I thought I was somewhat a girl inside a guy’s body, as did several other gay pals.

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Two years after college, I found myself teaching at a small technical/vocational school. Again, I found myself in a company of non-hetero/non-cis folks – a few discreet gay nurses, a transgender department head, a gay registrar and a gender nonconforming human resource manager.

At that time, I thought that there were just different types of being gay – discreet, loud, flamboyant, feminine and cross-dressing. I might have been half-right, but I was really thinking of “gay” as a gender or a form of expression, not necessarily as an orientation. I still didn’t quite understand what gay meant then. I thought guys who wore make-up were necessarily gay, as well.

In addition, I lamented the fact that there seemed to be two immiscible gay communities – one was composed of loud, flamboyant queer folks; and the other one was composed of discreet gay or “bi trippers” who cruised around for sex. These were pretty bad generalizations shaped by my own ignorance.

But today, I think there are so many discrete non-hetero and non-cis communities, each having unique issues and struggles, each wanting recognition and respect.

I sort of explored, too.

Seven years ago, I experimented with my clothing. I wore female clothes – turtleneck tops and ladies’ pants. Those were my bone-thin days, and in those clothes, I looked queer as f***! I eventually stopped wearing those clothes because they were uncomfortable and the only reason I wore them was to draw unnecessary attention to myself. Then I slowly gained weight, and I could no longer fit in those clothes, so my wardrobe had to change. I went back to wearing shirts and pants.

But that’s not the crucial part of the story.

Four to five years ago, I started to become active online. I started joining discussions about gay issues in the country. I realized a dark reality. Although Filipinos are tolerant of gay people in everyday situations, this kind of tolerance doesn’t seem to translate well online. On the Internet, anyone can say anything and be brutally honest. It was during some of my tours to news about gay issues that I came across vile comments about gay people. I became more aware of how people regard homosexuality. Whereas gay haters might be passive in person, they drop all hesitations and just hurl their hate at this minority (when online).

I couldn’t let some of the ugly, antigay stuff online pass. I thought that I was gay myself and that I had to do something about this ugly treatment that no human being deserved. So I started reading. I started subscribing to pages dedicated to gay voices. As much as I learned how to fight back, I also started educating myself and curing my ignorance. I didn’t have formal education or training on this. I never went to seminars. I just read tons of articles online.

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A crucial part of my self-education involved learning about the sheer complexity of gender and sexuality. I threw my ignorance into the bin. I threw away the old binaries – male and female, masculine and feminine, and straight and gay. I threw away biphobia.

People are just diverse. This can’t be overemphasized. As much as we try to box people into labels, we don’t have as many boxes as needed, if they’re needed at all. Whereas some seek their identity, others disregard it and refuse to be labeled. I think the LGBT elders should know how to accommodate these varying personal needs for self-discovery and understanding among younger members of this diverse community.

One of the challenges in educating people on this subject is the still huge influence of the church and its conservative proponents, whose basis in assigning sexual and gender identities to people is their genitalia. Another challenge is the indifference of the mainstream media and the people in general. Even many LGBT people disregard SOGIE education and thus fall prey to stereotypes and misconceptions.

Sexuality and gender are states of your mind more than states of your genitals. Genitals don’t think or make decisions for you. They are not attracted to people. They are not the ones deciding whether you should wear panties or briefs. Your cognitive faculties do. This is an important realization for me because it helped me decide how to approach LGBT(QQIAA) issues.

Apathy, bigotry, and hate remain threats to LGBT welfare. We get them everywhere, even within our community.

ALL PHOTOS FROM TAIWAN LGBT PRIDE 2015
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