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Op-Ed

On democracy, citizenship, difference, and the advocacy of connivance

Sass Rogando Sasot responds to Atty. Bruce Rivera’s well-circulated contrarian take on the Valkyrie fracas. In an essay, Sasot presents four interrelated critiques of Rivera’s essay: 1) a critique on democracy, 2) on the question of whether transgender people are enjoying the benefits of full citi-zenship, 3) on Rivera’s rejection of an important aspect of acceptance: respect for difference, and 4) on the “advocacy of connivance that Rivera had fallen into by not challenging the frame in which Valkyrie’s no-crossdressing policy operate: the frame of cisgender norm”.

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In his well-circulated contrarian take on the Valkyrie fracas, Atty. Bruce Rivera rightfully said that cross-dressing and transgender people are entitled to all the rights and obligations granted by law because of their status as citizens. However, the problem lies not on their status as citizens but on “how we define the meaning of discrimination.” Thereafter, Rivera laid down the foundation of the rest of his contrarian view: “Is a democracy allowed to discriminate? The answer is YES. Provided there is a valid classification.“ Then he pointed out that the division of the almost 100 million population of the Republic of the Philippines into two sexes, though “a problem,” is still a “valid classification.” Therefore, the discrimination based on this division is allowed in a democratic society.

“This is the same law,” he said, “that forces a transgender to write M to the question of sex even if the heart wants to write F.” In this statement, he did not only reduce transgender people into transgender women only, he didn’t also point out why this is exactly a problem. Instead of offering this explanation, he just went on to say that Valkyrie pales in comparison to issues that he would have “taken the cudgels for,” namely: “denying a cross-dresser the right to vote; and denying a transgender the right to own property or denied the right to practice a profession.”

Unfortunately, he didn’t even include the cause of fighting for a gender recognition law, which is always implicated in almost every instance of discrimination transgender people face, including the Valkyrie issue, which Rivera reduced to an instance of “a bruised ego.” He concluded his essay by telling us that there is “only one way to be accepted” and that is “when people will see our similarities rather than our differences.”

In this essay, I will offer four interrelated critiques of Rivera’s essay. I’ve been academically trained in political philosophy; thus, I will interrogate his essay using the approach in this discipline. The first critique centers on democracy, the important actor in his statement, which Rivera didn’t define. The second on the question of whether transgender people are enjoying the benefits of full citizenship. The third one challenges Rivera’s rejection of an important aspect of acceptance: respect for difference. And finally, the fourth critique challenges the advocacy of connivance that Rivera had fallen into by not challenging the frame in which Valkyrie’s no-crossdressing policy operate: the frame of cisgender norm.

ON DEMOCRACY

Rivera didn’t give any definition and just assumed that “we all know what it means.” This taken-for-grantedness is unfortunate, specially that the central actor in his essay is a democratic society, who, as Rivera argued, is allowed to discriminate if there is a “valid classification.” So what is democracy? And how is the validity of a classification established in a democracy?

Democracy is not a legal term but a political one. Rivera lacked a political unpacking of the term that is crucial to his argument. Usually, we define democracy as the rule of the people, by the people, of the people. In On the Demos and its Kin: Nationalism, Democracy, and the Boundary Problem, Arash Abizadeh provides a more sophisticated understanding of democracy: democracy “demands that the human object of power, those persons over whom it is exercised, also be the subject of power, those who (in some sense) author its exercise.” In other words, the demos must be the author of the power they have to obey.

Classifying something, specially if it’s the State that is doing it, is an exercise of power. In a democracy, for a “classification system” to be valid, it must be authored by the demos itself. If the classification system is not authored by the demos, then the power this system holds over the demos is an arbitrary exercise of power, i.e. it doesn’t have any democratic legitimacy, thus unacceptable in a democratic society.

Gender is one of those classification systems. Gender has so much power over our lives. It shapes almost every aspect of our lives, and gender norms are enforced by the full might of the State. We are legally obliged by the State to write, recite, and perform the gender and the cultural norms associated with the state-sanctioned gender assignment we were classified into when we were born. If we disobey this gender assignment, we will be punished by the State in both direct and indirect ways.

For example, transgender people are required by the Department of Foreign Affairs to look like their gender assignment at birth in their passport photos. Maria, a Filipina trans woman in California, once shared: “When I was renewing my Philippine passport, I was asked to remove my make up and pull my hair in a pony tail because I am a “male.” This is no different from the experience of the trans woman referred to by the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) in its statement on the Valkyrie issue. “The Professional Regulation Commission or PRC’s Registry section,” STRAP narrated, “required a transwoman to tie her long hair and look less masculine before being issued a professional license.” Even in the workplace this is the case as what we can learn from the story of Claire, a labor rights leader and transgender woman, and “one of the 96 contractual employees of Tanduay Distillers Inc. in Cabuyao, Laguna who decided to launch a sudden strike after they were told on May 16 to stop reporting to work by May 18.” While working, Claire “was forced to be “mas mukhang lalaki (appear more manly)”, including getting a haircut, as well as wearing more masculine-looking clothes.”

Following Rivera’s logic, these instances can be allowed in a democracy because they are based on “valid classification.” But the question is: does the gender classification system, as it stands, have democratic legitimacy? Is the demos the author of the power of gender over our lives? If not, then how can it be valid in a democracy and be a legitimate reason for discrimination in a democratic society? And if we live in a democracy, why should Maria and the trans woman in the PRC Case be compelled by the government to obey something that has no democratic legitimacy? Isn’t that tyranny? Can Claire’s expression of her gender identity be protected by the State? Or will the State protect and enforce more the current legal gender system, just as much as it will protect and enforce more the interests of Lucio Tan?

ON CITIZENSHIP

Rivera said that transgender people are citizens. But while encouraging us to “let our advocacy have essence,” he failed to ask this substantive and essential question: Is the citizenship of transgender people in equal terms with cisgender people, i.e. those who have gender identity and/or gender expression that matches what is expected of their gender assignment at birth? The answer is No, and this is because citizenship has been based on the reality of cisgender people.

Citizenship is often understood as membership in a political community, which is currently embodied by the State. The State decides the boundaries of citizenship, i.e. who becomes a citizen, the terms of membership – the rights and obligations of being a citizen, and the level of membership – full or subordinate. Social groups that have been previously excluded from enjoying the rights of full citizenship – Greek warriors, peasants, plebeians, medieval artisans, proletariats, blacks, women, immigrants, gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender people, living with disability – have fought to make the boundaries of citizenship become more inclusive. However, these struggles are not easily won because as Engin Isin said in his essay City as a Difference: the “dominant groups…have never surrendered…without a struggle.”

In the context of this essay, the dominant group are cisgender people to which Rivera belongs.

Transgender people are seeking to redefine the social world because they cannot fully fulfil the obligations of being a citizen and exercise their rights as equal citizens if in the first place they have a subordinate form of citizenship and, most importantly, when citizenship is based on the reality of cisgender people.

The birth certificate is the legal document that establishes our existence. Through it we become legal persons, and this means that we will possess the capacity to have and to maintain certain rights, and to have duties enforceable by law. One of the important aspects of our legal personality is our sex.

Our sex is legally defined at birth. Let me digress for a moment. This article will not make any distinction between gender and sex as I don’t share the view that “sex” is a biological fact while “gender” is socially constructed. Hence, I use sex and gender interchangeably, as well as female with girl/women, and male with boy/men – but this is not to say that gender is a biological fact. Genitalia, body parts, are biological facts but the label we assign to them and the activity of assigning a particular sex/gender to these body parts are not. As what Anne Fausto-Sterling said in Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality, they are social decisions based on normative views about sex/gender. More importantly, the law does not make any distinction between sex and gender. Assigning a baby’s sex is also assigning the baby’s gender. They are not separate and independent legal processes.

Taking our external genitalia as the cue, the doctor (or whoever attended to our birth) proclaims, and hence assigns us, into either the category of “boy or girl.” This proclamation, however, is not a description of what is between our legs but an act of giving us the first aspect of our legal identity and therefore of our citizenship: sex. Along with other details such as name, date of birth, name of parents, the sex that was proclaimed by the doctor gets entered into our birth certificate. In turn, the sex on our birth certificates will be the sex that will be reflected on all our legal documents, such as our passports. It will be also be the sex that will be considered in the application of several laws, such as marriage laws.

Most people find no problem with the sex to which they were assigned during their birth. They are cisgender people whose sex assignment at birth matches their lived gender identity and/or their gender expression.

The reality of cisgender people is taken as the norm. And because cisgender people dominate every political community, the discourse of citizenship becomes entangled with the experience of cisgender people. Those who don’t share the way cisgender people experience gender are then treated as second class citizens. Thus, transgender people don’t experience citizenship in the same way as cisgender people. As what River said, transgender people are “forced” to kept on writing their gender assignment at birth despite the fact the gender that they live everyday is not that. Cisgender people, though required to also identify their birth gender, don’t experience this as “force” because the gender that they write is the gender they live everyday.

Cisgender citizens will never experience what Ria Rosales experienced when she saw her job offer evaporate after her employer saw that her documents reflect that she’s Male. Transgender people are socially marginalized and individually discriminated against because they are not living in accordance with the gender norms of their legal sex at birth, which in turn intersects with other system of oppression based on class, age, ability, ethnicity, religion etc.

What produces these patterns of discrimination based on gender identity and expression is the presence of a law that takes cisgender people’s experience of gender as the norm against which the legitimacy of our gendered experienced is judged. Cisgender citizens will never experience doors being shut to them because of their lived gender precisely because they are the ones who were closing these doors. And they don’t fear closing these doors because their exclusionary practices are backed by the full might of the State biased towards the cisgender experience of gender.

ON DIFFERENCE

“The only way to be accepted,” Rivera said, “is when people will see our similarities rather than our differences.” In one aspect I agree with Rivera. After all, the discourse of difference has legitimised the oppression of the other, which can even have a genocidal result. As what Narcisa Paredes-Canilao rhetorically asked in Decolonising the Subjects from the Discourse of Difference, “which one really led to colonialism or the Holocaust or which is a more potent antidote to (wo)man’s inhumanity to (wo)man, difference from or identification with the Other.”

However, it is not the recognition of difference per se that lead us to inflict indignity upon each other, but the way we value difference. If cisgender people, who dominate society, interpret their version of being human as exceptional, God’s chosen way of living, the only legitimate way of experiencing gender, they are not just recognizing difference but putting their difference on a pedestal, in the throne of power that can police others into becoming like them.

In Polity and Group Difference: A Critique of the Ideal of Universal Citizenship, Iris Marion Young discussed the failure of universal citizenship in treating each citizens as equals. Instead of delivering its promise of equality to all qua citizens, citizenship “operated in fact as demand for homogeneity.” The terms of similarity, Young argued, is set by the dominant group. Thus, seeing our similarities is not innocent activities but can be a way of imposing the way of living of the dominant group.

We must use both the lens of similarity and difference in order to see another human in her totality. More significantly, we must use both lenses in order to see how the lens of difference can make us see another person as inferior and how the lens of similarity lead us to reject the validity of another person’s version of humanity. The danger of a cisgender person seeing only a transgender person as similar to him/her is the inability to see how the State-sanctioned cisgender norm has rendered transgender people as not only different but inferior, illegitimate, and immoral. And a cisgender person who only sees a transgender person as different would be blind to the common humanity that binds them together.

ON THE ADVOCACY OF CONNIVANCE

Who has the right to decide our own gender, and therefore the way of expressing? This is at the heart of the Valkyrie issue and all instances of gender identity and expression based discrimination.

This is left unaddressed by Rivera who only assumed the validity of the current gender classification system, which lead him to conclude that discrimination based on it can be allowed. Earlier, I put into question the validity of the current gender classification system in our democracy because, in the first place, this was never democratically legitimated. Further, it’s a gender classification system that rendered the cisgender experience of gender as the only State-sanctioned experience of gender, and therefore the only gendered experience that have full access to the protection of the State. Consequently, transgender people, despite sharing the same formal citizenship as cisgender people, have to fight rather than simply request for this access.

By not challenging the very framework of cisgender norms, Rivera missed the opportunity of making the kind of advocacy he is forwarding fully relevant to the lives of transgender people. His advocacy is an advocacy of connivance. Borrowing the concept of trial of connivance that Jacques Vergés developed, an advocacy of connivance is an advocacy that seeks merely to evaluate the facts in relation to the existing framework. This is what Rivera did when he merely recited the law in relation to the facts of the Valkyrie issue and when he reduced the Valkyrie issue as merely an issue of a “bruised ego.” He accepted the cisgender framework and called it a day.

Rivera cannot see the issue beyond “a bruised ego” because it wasn’t his version of humanity that was put into question. He said that there are a lot of straight people who can’t enter the stores we’ve entered into because they don’t have money, a lot who can’t eat because they were poor. This is a valid point but the issue is not about class but the intersection of class AND gender. Not all impoverished people experience poverty in the same way. A poor cisgender man would have a higher chance of finding a job than a poor transgender woman. Claire’s cisgender co-workers don’t have to experience being forced to be masculine at the workplace in pain of losing their job. And even rich people don’t experience privilege equally. This was aptly demonstrated by the experience of Trixie and Veejay. Rivera can’t see this intersection because he has not problematized the cisgender framework of our everyday lives but simply considered it as “valid classification.”

He said that we must find an issue that can make “the common man… relate and symphatize.” When Laude was murdered, we have witnessed how vicious and transphobic the “common man” was. In order for the common man to relate and symphatize, Laude’s being transgender had to be swallowed by her identity as a Filipino. But when we highlight Laude’s transgender status, the common man, instead of relating and sympathizing, responded with a whole range of cruel, transphobic “blame-the-victim” tactics. Why? It’s because the common man is a cisgender person who has taken-for-granted the privileges he/she have by simply having a gender identity and/or gender expression aligned with his/her gender assignment at birth.

Trans advocates, including those Rivera condescendingly looked down upon, are revolting against the dictatorship of the State-sanctioned cisgender framework. They are engaging in an advocacy of rupture, an advocacy that seeks to challenge the very framework, in this case the cisgender framework, within which facts would be interpreted. Valkyrie didn’t simply make a business decision. Valkyrie is enforcing the State-sanctioned cisgender norm, which has been the source of oppression of a lot of people whose gendered lives don’t fit the cisgender experience of gender. Trans advocates are not just making noises, they are reclaiming the right to define our own gender from the state, the church, the medical profession, and even from private establishments like Valkyrie.

#BeyondValkyrie

Since 2001, as she was about to turn 19, Sass has dedicated herself to the LGBT Rights movement in the Philippines, most specifically to issues of gender identity and freedom of gender expression. James Green, an international transgender rights activist, served as her mentor via email. She started giving discussions on transgender rights and issues in Luneta Park in Manila. In December 2002, she co-founded the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP). In 2003 & 2004, together with Drs Sam Winter and Mark King of the University of Hong Kong, she did the first comprehensive study on transgender women in the Philippines. The study has been published in the International Journal of Transgenderism. In 2009, she was one of the LGBT activists invited to speak in a historic United Nations General Assembly side-event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. In 2013, she received the ECHO Award, given annually to excellent and promising migrant students in the Netherlands. In 2014, she received the Harry Benjamin Distinguished Education and Advocacy Award from the World Profession Association for Transgender Health. A nomadic spirit, Sass loves to write, walk, read, cycle, and cook. Together with the love of her life, Sass is currently based in The Hague, The Netherlands. She graduated with a Combined major in World Politics & Global Justice, minor in International Development (Magna cum Laude) at Leiden University College, which bestowed her the 2014 Global Citizenship Award. She is a contributing writer on TG issues for the mag, through The Activist. Sass.Rogando.Sasot@outragemag.com

Op-Ed

I may be HIV+ but that still doesn’t mean I’ll sleep with you

This is something every PLHIV needs to learn. That we are still “worth it”. Forget these notions of you being a “damaged good” or a “dirty person” or banalities given us along those lines. Because my HIV status is just one facet of my outrageous (and fabulous) personality; it does not define me.

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“I’m HIV-positive.”

That was the short sentence I remember telling this guy I used to date.

Okay – to backtrack – I met a guy while I was in Northern Mindanao. We dated for a while, and – at least I thought – things between us went smoothly for a while. I’d say he wasn’t bad-looking even if he looked somewhat common. He had one of those “if you stay long enough, I can teach myself to maybe even like you” face.

And then one night, we became more intimate than the usual. So I had to stop what we were doing (before we progressed further). And then – after prepping him up by first discussing with him his views about HIV and people living with HIV – I told him I had something important to tell him (if we were to advance what we had).

Thus that short sentence.

His face immediately changed; from what I saw was longing to… shocked. He couldn’t even say a word. And when he was finally able to utter a word, it was just to tell me that “I forgot I had to be elsewhere.”

The alibi was lame. But what made it more insulting was that I wasn’t even that into him to begin with; he was just a possible lay (if it came to that).

But that moment taught me two important things.

On one hand, how the sexuality of so many PLHIVs are tempered by their status.

I have frequently heard of medical practitioners who tell PLHIVs to “already stop having sex now that you’re HIV-positive; dadami pa kayo (you’d abet in increasing the number of PLHIVs)” – all too obviously unaware of safer sexual practices and U=U, among others. Worse, this sentiment is shared by a lot of PLHIVs themselves, who see their status as a “punishment”, and the only “cure” is to stop having sex altogether. Oh, please!

On the other hand, recognizing that being sexual doesn’t disappear (and doesn’t need to vanish) with being HIV-positive, there seems to be this supposition of PLHIVs being “desperate”.

That guy I dated, for instance, had every right NOT to have sex with me (it’s called power over one’s body); but that he had to lie just to get away from me was – to admit the truth – not only discourteous but even insulting. I suppose particularly because… I wasn’t even that into him.

Here’s the thing: Me living with HIV means just that – that I have HIV. But it doesn’t mean that I’ve lost my (yes!) sexual appetite and (for that matter) taste/preferences/standards on who to do it with.

And I believe this is something every PLHIV needs to learn. That we are still “worth it”. Forget these notions of you being a “damaged good” or a “dirty person” or banalities given us along those lines. Because my HIV status is just one facet of my outrageous (and fabulous) personality; it does not define me. And if (some) guys can’t see that, well…

Because remember dearie, just because I am HIV-positive still doesn’t mean I’ll sleep with you.

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From the Editor

Women are not ‘disgusting’; gay men are just not into them…

Why the need to demean women, or express disgust over their body parts, when we can just say, “No, we’re not into women”; or “I’m a man; but I’m (also) into men”?

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Time to unlearn sub-/unconscious misogyny.

Here’s the thing: With the demise of Christine Dacera, and with predominantly gay (and perhaps bi) men considered as suspects by the error-filled PNP (Philippine National Police), many members of the LGBTQIA community surfaced to defend members of the rainbow family.

Background info: Christine Dacera, a flight attendant, celebrated her New Year’s Eve with gay/bi friends in a hotel in Makati City. On New Year’s Day, her body was found lifeless. The PNP (pre-empting everything) pushed for questionable narratives – e.g. that she was “raped” (even if the autopsy report couldn’t validate this), and then committed inept acts – e.g. announcing the case to be “solved” when it really wasn’t, jailing three of the people who claimed to have helped Christine that night (with a judge ordering them to release the three; and then basically telling them to, yes, do their job properly), embalming the body before another (independent) autopsy can be done, etc.

It didn’t help PNP at all when one of its top brass stated that “gay men are still men” (Yes, sir, they are; DUH!) and insinuated that gayness can, basically, be cured by alcohol (that is, they’d start having sex with, or even rape women when they’re drunk).

Going online, among the statements of “support” for the gay/bi suspects, however, you’d find statements like “yuck”, gross ang vagina”, “babae, yuck”, “kadiri“, and so on. All these supposedly refer to what gay men “feel” when with women.

And let’s stop spewing these misogynistic statements.

Misogyny – that hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice against women (Merriam-Webster, 2021) – can be blatant. But it can also be “invisible”. And get this, even members of minority sectors – such as those from the LGBTQIA community – can be misogynistic.

This seeming disdain for women – or their body parts – is actually misogynistic.

If you think this I am making a big “leap” with this claim, consider that in Psychology Today, Dr. Berit Brogaard wrote that “in most cases, misogynists do not even know that they hate women.”

After all, why the need to demean women, or express disgust over their body parts, when we can just say, “No, we’re not into women”; or “I’m a man; but I’m (also) into men”?

The antiquated – and, well, fatuous – macho culture in PNP has been harming members of the LGBTQIA community. Let’s not become part of the problem by becoming just as antiquated and, yes, just as fatuous.

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From the Editor

To stand united, we also need to watch our tongues…

Our bigger enemy here is injustice… to everyone involved (i.e. Christine; her loved ones; and her friends, many of them treated – even without proof – with prejudice). And how this injustice can be perpetuated even by those in positions of power. But just as important is for us to stay… united against these abuses. And part of this is not to become sources of, well, discrimination ourselves.

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I was 28 the first time I was told I’m old. We were in a bar in Malate (the former gay capital of the City of Manila); and then – while partying with friends – this 21-year-old gay guy who was with a friend said: “You’re too old to be in a bar; yuck!”.

Ageism – which refers to prejudice or discrimination on the basis of age – is an issue in the LGBTQIA community. It is an issue that has been tackled repeatedly in the past; though, admittedly, perhaps not as much in the Philippines.

In 2009, for instance, Malcolm Sargeant published “Age discrimination, sexual orientation and gender identity: UK/US perspectives” in Equal Opportunities International”, which noted that LGBTQIA elders suffer from particular discrimination when compared to that suffered by elders in general, and heterosexual elders in particular.

It is, therefore, not surprising that elders have been calling for inclusion; something that Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE (an American organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ elders), said that should be tackled. “Over and over what we hear again from our elders is that they feel invisible and forgotten by the rest of the community, and that includes our younger people… And what we’ve seen is that it’s so powerful when older and younger people come together and engage as activists,” Adams was quoted as saying by Out.com.

These two points – ageism, and the need to dump it if we want to move forward TOGETHER – was re-emphasized to me after hearing from some of PNP’s suspects in the demise of Christine Dacera.

As FYI: Christine, a flight attendant, partied with mostly gay/bi friends during New Year’s Eve. She passed away on New Year’s Day; and the PNP has been “forcing” a narrative that she was “raped”, with a high-ranking policeman even claiming that when gay men get drunk, they “also become men”.

This one’s not to talk about PNP messing everything up; PNP’s assertion that “gay men are still men” (based on this antiquated misconception that “gay men are not ‘real’ men”); PNP’s erroneous belief that alcohol is a “cure” to being LGBTQIA (Hello, CBCP, send some my way!); and PNP’s insinuation that, yes, all men are rapists.

Instead, this is to focus on how “damage” can come from within the LGBTQIA community. And we really need to be aware of this; and even take steps to deal with this.

Now back to ageism and how this happens from within.

When ABS-CBN News interviewed some of the initial suspects (who were released when the court told PNP it, basically, didn’t do its job properly to pin these people down), one of them stated (off-handedly, if I may add; proceed to 56:25 in the YT video below) that they mingled with “mga bakla” in a separate room, but that this room had “matatanda/bakla na may mga edad na” so they may as well move to their room/a different room since “wala namang pogi dito eh“.

Discriminating may have been unintentional (ageism, and yes, lookism); but it’s still there.

The suspects’ names have been unnecessarily dragged by the PNP which committed errors after errors after errors when it dealt with this case – e.g. it prematurely declared the case “solved”; it claimed there was “rape” when the initial autopsy report did not back this claim; its key people even threatened that if the suspects did not willingly surrender, then they should expect the worse (and yes, we all know what THAT meant); and it basically prevented another autopsy from being done to the body when it had the body embalmed sans informing the family, etc.

Our bigger enemy here is injustice… to everyone involved (i.e. Christine; her loved ones; and her friends and acquaintances, many of them treated – even without proof – with prejudice). And how this injustice can be perpetuated even by those in positions of power.

But just as important is for us to stay… united against these abuses.

And part of this is not to become sources of, well, discrimination ourselves. Because how can we stand united if we discriminate against people we hope will actually support us (e.g. the LGBTQIA community as a whole, including the elders and, yes, the “not pogi“)?

So let’s be more self-aware as we start dealing with this…

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From the Editor

About sex work (and prostitution) among Filipinos at the time of Covid-19

Various Facebook GCs (group chats) highlight how Covid-19 may have pushed many Filipinos into the sex industry. And yet – except in these GCs – this is largely ignored.

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Facebook just prompted me to “join” three GCs (group chats) related to sex work (and even prostitution). One is for “mga lalaking bayaran“, another for masseurs with ES (extra service; the extra being the sexual favor), and another for “for hire daks Pinoys”.

These aren’t exclusive GCs, actually; and they aren’t new, either. Many others like them abound in Facebook (among other social networking sites).

But upon checking, what struck me with these GCs this time around is Covid-19’s effect/s on the (current) memberships. So many are in this because of desperation. For instance, it is not uncommon to see comments like: “Nawalan lang ng trabaho; sino gusto tumulong para may ipa-Pasko kaming mag-aama“; or “Para tulong lang sa online classes.”

This is another facet of the sex industry (and even prostitution) as exacerbated by the pandemic.

And this face – while at least tackled overseas – isn’t really openly discussed in the Philippines…

IN THE SHADOWS

Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines, this is worth stressing. Penalties vary, up to life imprisonment for those involved in trafficking (covered by the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003).

No, the country doesn’t distinguish between sex work and prostitution; here, those in the sex industry are largely considered as in need of being “saved”. Not just the body, too; but also the “soul”.

But – get this – prostitution is actually openly tolerated – e.g. let’s stop pretending we don’t know what many GROs actually do; what masseurs offer when they say “E.S.”; and that there are local government units that give workers (of bars, spas, massage parlors, KTV bars, and so on) “pink cards” to guarantee that they are STI-free and are “sexually clean/safe”.

And really, except for the occasional “saving” of trafficked people (who are then turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development) we see in TV, the deafening silence on this is what’s remarkable.

TRANSACTIONAL SEX

This silence is… worrisome.

Particularly because this continues to happen; and yes (yet again), exacerbated by Covid-19.

What the GC members I’ve come across in Facebook are doing aren’t new, actually. The Philippines – dearies – isn’t excluded from the “oldest profession in the world.” This, obviously, includes male sex workers (befitting the handling of this topic here).

Consider that in 2003, the University of the Philippines’ Population Institute and Demographic Research and Development Foundation released the 2002 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS3) that noted that about 11% of sexually active young people aged 15-24 did it with someone of the same sex. Of this figure, 87% are men who have sex with men (MSM; meaning they may not self-identify as gay or bi, but have sex with other men).

Here’s what’s worth stressing in UP’s study: Almost half of those who had same-sex encounters also engaged in commercial sex. Approximately 19% paid for sex, while 11% received payment for sexual favors.

At that time, Dr. Corazon Raymundo, project coordinator of YAFS3, stated that it appears that in a fast changing world, the “usual norms and expectations do not hold true anymore.”

REVISIT… EVERYTHING

There are too many interconnected issues that should be considered here…

There’s poverty; and how this forces people to do things they may not otherwise do.

There’s the continuing lack of government support for its people; otherwise, those who do not want to sell themselves wouldn’t be forced to do so – e.g. selling oneself for “online classes”; because of loss of employment; etc.

There’s the pervasive ignorance re the sex industry; this is what leads to the abuse of those involved in it because – since they are considered illegal to begin with – they can’t even access State support if they are abused, etc.

There’s the impact of tech on the industry.

There’s the ongoing hypocrisy re this – e.g. church people want to “save” sex workers; but ask them to give these same people job in the church, and start counting how many reasons they can come up with just to (basically) say “No way!”.

There’s the continuing “punishment” of those in the sex industry; and yet… look at how the patrons get away with “buying” (e.g. the GCs in Facebook blatantly haggle with the service providers, demanding for the absurd while asking to lower the prices).

There’s the continuing ignoring of the sexual and reproductive health concerns of Filipinos.

There’s the silence re this; it’s staring us in the face, and we don’t even talk about this.

And on, and on, and on we go…

In the end, this needs to be tackled. No matter your angle” – e.g. because it inadvertently signifies the adverse effects of Covid-19 on poorer sectors of society; because it highlights government inaction/misaction; because it needs to be monitored as a health issue; because you’re self-righteous and you want to “save” them all; etc. – this shouldn’t, couldn’t be ignored. Covid-19 is re-emphasizing what was already there; and so please… just address this already…

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Enter the alter world

Welcome to the alter world, where people tweet and retweet their or other people’s sexual engagements. Though often maligned, it actually also highlights formation of friendships, info sharing, emotional support, and even provision of a ‘safe space’ for those who wish to express their sexuality.

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Some time back, Kurt (a.k.a. @MoanerBottom) opened a Twitter account as a form of revenge. “I found out that my ex had an ‘alter’ account and he was fooling around with different people,” he recalled. And so “I wanted to prove to him that I can also do the same thing.”

Little did Kurt know at that time that he would become a mainstay in the alter world/community. A few months since opening his own alter account, he garnered over 130,000 followers, all of them craving – and even waiting – for what he would post, usually dominated by sexual encounters (“kalat videos,” he calls them) with mostly students, including a basketball varsitarian “who likes to penetrate deeply”, a Blue Eagle who allowed for his orgasm to be videoed, a Tamaraw who also allowed himself to be videoed as he orgasmed, and bending for a Red Lion.

“I must admit that I am a shy person in real life,” Kurt said. But “here in Twitter, it is like I have less shame and more courage to do kalat (contextually: shameless) posts and videos.”

Kurt is, obviously, only one of the people – not just Filipinos – with alter accounts, which many like him, say is similar to a “pseudonym — like Batman to Bruce Wayne, or Superman to Clark Kent; where people can have a separate account from their primary accounts, usually used to express themselves more ‘wildly’ yet more ‘discreetly’/anonymously.”

And so welcome to the alter world, where people tweet and retweet their or other people’s sexual “collaborations”, hookups, fetishes, fantasies and social engagements, with the audiences often never really knowing the content generators/producers/distributors.

Getting noticed

That the alter world is often dominated by sexual content is a given.

Onin (a.k.a. @Onin_NuezPH), for example, sees his alter account “as an avenue for me to express myself and my sexuality. I am able to let everyone know within the community about my sexual desires without the fear of being judged.”

Looking back, it was actually “a friend who is an alter too introduced me in this alter community,” Onin said.

One of the early instances Onin trended was when some of his nude photos circulated on Twitter. Many got curious, asking the person who previously reacted or shared the photos if there were more.

It whetted Onin’s interest; and so he started posting more photos and short videos. His followers quickly increased, reaching more than 145,000.

Taking pride that he is one of the more talked about alters out there, Onin has produced content that may seem trivial… but these have been keeping the alter community and lurkers interested, from balancing a shampoo bottle on top of his erect penis, sharing a photo of his endowment while asking his followers if they want to kneel in front him, a comparison of the length of a deodorant spray with his penis, wearing a see-through underwear, and teasing his latest sexual collaboration.

Standing out

Standing out in a platform where hundreds (even thousands) of alters saturate news feeds is a challenge. After all, it is not an easy feat to attract someone’s attention — what more to make them like, share, or follow an account.

For FUCKER Daddy (a.k.a. @ako_daddy), therefore, it all comes down to the type of content being posted, not just being well-endowed, willing to perform bareback sex, or how often the face is shown.

A licensed professional who has a son, FUCKER Daddy started as a “lurker’ (i.e. one who lurks, or just consumes content/views profiles) on Twitter. At that time, he wrote “my real-life sex stories, hoping it will pick up from there,” he recalled. “Unfortunately, alter peeps seem to be more into live action.”

And so FUCKER Daddy met someone from Telegram, without realizing that the person was “sort of (a) big (personality) on Twitter.” This guy discretely took a short clip of their sexual encounter, and then posted it on his alter account. “It was hit. (And) the rest is history.”

By August 2019, FUCKER Daddy said his inbox started receiving direct messages from different users – e.g. asking for more, congratulating him, wanting to collaborate, and so on.

He actually now has several sex videos in his cam. But he still doesn’t make recording the primary thing when engaging in sex “as my goal is to have hookups; videos are only secondary.”

Besides, he said that “I do not want to spoil the moment for sex and think only of it as merely for Twitter.”

But every time FUCKER Daddy posts a video, he said his over 95,000 followers respond to them “with enthusiasm, getting more curious and intrigued.”

Making a living

The concept of alter, however, isn’t set in stone.

For one, there are actually alter accounts whose owners prefer to use their real names and show their faces (like Onin), mixing their personal and private lives along the way. Following the Batman/Bruce Wayne and Superman/Clark Kent analogy, there are also people who follow the Tony Stark/Iron Man mantra, i.e. openly announcing that they are one and the same.

Secondly, monetizing is actually possible.

Also, one may be part of the alter community without knowing it – i.e. one engages in alter activities without recognizing it as such.

The likes of John (a.k.a. @johnnephelim on Twitter and Instagram), who has over 130,000 followers, comes to mind, using Twitter as a platform “to promote a job.”

“I do not even know that I am involved in the world of alter,” John said, adding that he did not even know what the term meant until it was presented to him. Instead, his account is used to “promote my RentMen and OnlyFans accounts”, just as he also promotes his availability for “personal appointment to people.”

John actually used to work as a brand ambassador, but because of this change in his work, he “can no longer work (in) that (field) because I am doing porn.”

He admitted that “this type of thing is double-edged.” On the one hand, “you can earn a great amount of money,” he said, “but there will be sacrifices.”

He noted, for instance, that the perception of people about me changed; most people judge you right away because of what you do, and not because of who you are as a person.”

But he ignores the naysayers; “I do not mind because this job gives more than what I expected!”

Like John, Onin also promotes his JustFor.Fans (JFF) account on Twitter to respond to the requests of his followers.

“They (my followers) want to see me in action and they are willing to subscribe too,” Onin said, with his exclusive content including: he and his partner having sex, and collaborations with other alters. “You will not earn that much, but pretty enough to compensate for the contents that we are posting.”

Not all alters think alike, obviously. FUCKER Daddy, for instance, won’t monetize his content, saying: “I value sex as it was created. I never sell any (videos) because I think it is something that is worth free. I simply treated it as making memories while those (who) watch put up the numbers.”

Behind the handles

The world of alter has actually already caught the attention of researchers.

For instance, in a study by Samuel Piamonte of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, Mark Quintos of De La Salle University Manila, and Minami Iwayama of Polytechnic University of the Philippines, it was found that the alter community may seem overtly sexual, but there is more to it than that.
“The sexual aspect of alter is the core of alter, but it has been enriched by more complex social benefits to users such as including formation of new friendships, sharing of information and advocacies, reciprocations of emotional support, and provision of a ‘safe space’ for those who wish to express their sexuality but find that doing so outside of the alter community could be met with stigma from their peers and family.”

Kurt sees his alter account as an avenue for him to tap his inner self and show the Twitter universe his kalat. Onin uses his alter account to broadcast his sexual side (together with his partner). And FUCKER Daddy uses his alter account as “a constant source of info, hookups, convo… and to learn social demographics as well.”

The evolution, indeed, continues.

Hate from within the community

Yes, yes, yes… with increasing numbers of followers, multiple likes and shares, and the creation of alter “celebrities”, this has not been spared from criticisms.

And sadly, said Kurt, at least in the Philippine setting, the prejudice against alters comes from within the community. “Kapuwa LGBT ang nagsisiraan at nagpapataasan sa isa’t-isa,” he said. “I know… that I cannot please everyone (but) for me it is okay, as long as I know that I am not doing anything wrong.”

Perhaps a “surprise” is the audience’s inability to “appreciate” the free content given them, with Kurt noting that there are times when “they are also pissed off with the things I post.”

This seems to contradict the findings of Piamonte, Quintos and Iwayama, since – here – the alter community can become a fearful place, too.

John, like Kurt, noted how people resort to demeaning others when they do not fit preconceived notions. But he just laughs this off, saying: “Do not hate me because I look good and make money (from) it. Life is too short to be a bitter person. If you do not like what we do, then shut the fuck up.”

The Pandora’s box, so to speak has been opened; and lessons learned along the way can just “make you stronger and bring out the best in you,” said Onin, who like many alters, “just focus on my goals.” And it is exactly because of the existence of this interchange – the content creation, and the love-hate reaction to what’s created – that alter is not going to disappear anytime soon (or at all).

Details and photos of sexual encounters were lifted from the Twitter accounts of the interviewees.

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Op-Ed

Simple but effective tips on how you can better protect trans women

Given that our lives are considered less than a lot of people, it’s easy for trans women to become victims of violence and for the perpetrator to get away with it. So our best defense against any untoward incident is to always think of our security and the security of our friends.

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These are simple but effective tips on how you can better protect the trans women in your lives in the context of a night that could go wrong. Given that our lives are considered less than a lot of people, it’s easy for trans women to become victims of violence and for the perpetrator to get away with it.

So our best defense against any untoward incident is to always think of our security and the security of our friends.

1. PICTURE.

If you are hooking up with someone, ALWAYS send a picture of the person you are hooking up with to people you trust with your life. If you are hooking up with someone from a club, bar, or any public place, ask your friend to take your picture with the person you’d be with. This can be de done discreetly or with the permission of the other person. When asking permission, tell the person that you’re taking his/her picture for security purposes.

2. ADDRESS.

If you are going to someone else’s house for a booty call, send your GPS location via Whatsapp OR text the address of your location to people you trust.

3. WAIT.

If you are walking someone home or dropping them off, do not leave until the person is already inside his/her house. Do not let your drunk or high friend go home alone, either invite your friend to your house or accompany them home.

4. “I’M SAFE” CALL/TEXT.

Always demand an “I’m safe” call/text from your friend as soon as they’re home.

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