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Male Homosexuality in the Philippines:

a short history Crispulo ‘Pulong’
Luna (1903-1976). A
Filipino bakla or gen-
The folk wisdom that Filipinos are a gay-friendly people must have first been mouthed by a der crosser from
Research > wide-eyed tourist one lazy orange afternoon, assaulted by the vision of flamboyant Paco, Manila. Luna is
Gender crossing transvestites sashaying down Manila’s busy sidewalks in broad daylight. Swiveling their hips seen here in a native
from side to side, nothing seemed to threaten these chirping damsels except their heavy Philippine costume.
pancake makeup, which could run at any moment under the sweltering tropical sky.

Victoria Studios, Paco, Manila. Reproduced with the kind permission of Patricia A. Callasan and family.
By J. Neil C. Garcia the archipelago’s various indios that gen- native effeminate man (bayoguin) in the
der crossing and transvestism were cul- Tagalog-speaking regions of Luzon slow-

W hen visitors to the Philippines

remark that Filipinos openly tol-
erate and/or accept homosexuality, they
tural features of early colonial and thus,
presumably, pre-colonial communities.
ly transmogrified into bakla, a word that
also meant ‘confused’ and ‘cowardly.’
Unlike his formerly ‘destined’ state,
invariably have in mind effeminate, Local men dressed up in women’s kabaklaan was a temporary condition
cross dressing men (bakla) swishing apparel and acting like women were away from which he might be wrested,
down streets and squealing on television called, among other things, bayoguin, using whatever persuasive, brutally lov-
programmes with flaming impunity. bayok, agi-ngin, asog, bido and binabae. ing means. Nonetheless, despite
This is sadly misinformed. To equate They were significant not only because Catholicism – with its own sacramental
Philippine society’s tolerance for public they crossed male and female gender frocks worn by its ‘men of the cloth’ –
displays of transvestism with wholesale lines. To the Spanish, they were aston- and three-hundred years of Spanish
approval of homosexual behavior is ishing, even threatening, as they were colonial rule, cross dressing, effemina-
naive, if not downright foolish. respected leaders and figures of author- cy and gender transitive behavior never
ity. To their native communities they really disappeared in Philippine society.
While cross dressing exists in the Philip- were babaylan or catalonan: religious
pines, it is allowed only in certain social functionaries and shamans, intermedi- Western sexualization
classes and within certain acceptable con- aries between the visible and invisible The American period, in which arguably
texts, among entertainers and parloristas worlds to whom even the local ruler the Philippines remains, saw the expan-
(beauticians) for instance, and during (datu) deferred. They placated angry sion of the newly empowered middle
carnivalesque celebrations and fiestas. In spirits, foretold the future, healed infir- class, the standardization of public edu- Westernized knowledges hold sway. like.’ This status denoted what was more
fact, Filipinos have yet to see trans- mities, and even reconciled warring cou- cation, and the promulgation and regu- Thus, the effeminate bakla is also the properly a gendered rather than a sexu-
vestism as legitimate in ‘serious’ profes- ples and tribes. lation of sexuality by means of academ- ‘homosexual’: a genitally male man alized form of social being.
sions – male senators filibustering from ic learning and the mass media. This whose identity is defined as a function
the podium wrapped in elegant, two- Donning the customary clothes of discursive regulation inaugurated a spe- of his sexual desire for other men. By contrast, as though coping with his
toned pashminas, or CEOs strutting women was part of a larger transforma- cific sexological consciousness, one that swishy ways in a helplessly macho cul-
around open-air malls wearing power tion, one that redefined their gender was incumbent upon a psychological Nonetheless, it’s important to qualify ture was not enough, the bakla must
skirts and designer leather pumps. Sec- almost completely as female. We may style of reasoning hitherto unknown in that residual valuations of gender per- now contend with the private demons of
ond, and more importantly, cross dress- more properly call them ‘gender crossers’ the Philippines. sist, and have simply served to modify pathological self-loathing, primarily on
ing is very different from homosexuali- rather than cross dressers, for these men the new sexual order. For instance, account of his intrinsically ‘sick’ desire.
ty: the one does not necessarily entail the not only assumed the outward appear- We can reasonably surmise, following though the bakla has sex with the lalake Nonetheless, the pathologizing of the
other. Observed more closely, the two ance and demeanor of women, but were academic accounts of how Western psy- (‘real man’), for many Filipinos it is only bakla into and as a homosexual has
have very different stories to tell. granted social and symbolic recognition chology took root in the Philippines,2 the former who is ‘homosexualized’ by resulted in encouraging narratives of
as ‘somewhat-women.’ They were com- that this ‘sexualization’ of local mentali- the activity. This means that the process hybridity, appropriation and postcolonial
Tolerance parable to women in every way except ty, behavior and personality accompa- of sexualization, while increasing in resistance from ‘politicized’ Filipino gay
If their society was truly tolerant of that they could not bear children. Croni- nied English-based education in Amer- alacrity and perniciousness, has not writers and artists. These ‘gay texts’
(male) homosexuality, then Filipinos cas tell us they were ‘married’ to men, ica’s newly acquired colony at the been consistent. In fact, the process has demonstrate how the very people who
would see not just flaming transvestites with whom they had sexual relations. beginning of the twentieth century. The been skewed towards the further have been pathologized by the Ameri-
shrieking their heads off in TV sitcoms These men treated their womanish part- force of this imported ‘psychosexual minoritization of what had already been can sexological regime are ironically
and variety shows, but local men, sissy ners like concubines; being men, they logic’ has grown and become entrenched an undesirable, effeminate, ‘native’ enabled by this very stigma.
or otherwise, frenching and erotically had wives with whom they had their since then; present generations are sub- identity: the bakla. While the terms bakla
manhandling each other in steamy ‘gay obligatory children. jected to levels of sexual indoctrination and homosexual are far from congruent, We may therefore conclude that ‘gay
telenovelas’. There would be as many many Filipinos use them interchange- identity’ and ‘gay liberation,’ as Filipino
gay pick-up bars as straight bars, and ably because they entail the same social gays currently understand, live and
both the femmy pa-girl and butchy
despite Catholicism – with its own sacramental frocks effect: stigmatization. champion them, are as much the ascrip-
pa-mhin would be able to display affec- worn by its ‘men of the cloth’ – and three-hundred tions of these histories of cross gender
tion in public. While his effeminacy and transvestic behavior and homosexuality as the
years of Spanish colonial rule, cross dressing, ways place him in a long line of excep- expressions of the various freedoms and
At the heart of the idea of homosexuali- effeminacy and gender transitive behavior never really tional and ‘gender anomalous’ beings in desires these selfsame histories have
ty is sex, no matter the sartorial style of Philippine history, the present-day bakla paradoxically conferred. <
the persons indulging in it. Thus, to his-
disappeared in Philippine society is unlike any of his predecessors in at
toricize homosexuality in the Philip- least one respect: he is burdened not Notes
pines, we must recognize the funda- Gender crossers enjoyed a compara- unheard of in previous decades. In other only by his gender self-presentation, but 1. These are culturally comparable words for
mental difference between gender and tively esteemed status in pre-colonial words, by virtue of American colonial- also, and more tragically, by his ‘sexual ‘effeminate homosexual’ among the Philip-
sexuality. More specifically, we need to Philippine society simply because ism and neocolonialism, Filipinos have orientation’, an attribute capable of pines’ Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilongo and
disarticulate the presentist and com- women enjoyed a similar status. been socialized in Western modes of defining his sense of self. Tausug ethnic communities.
monsensical connection between gen- Women were priestesses and matriarchs gender and sexual identity formation, 2. See: Alfredo V. Lagmay, 2000. ‘Western
der transitive behaviors and the identi- who divorced their husbands if they courtesy of a sexualization that rode on During the Spanish period, a religious Psychology in the Philippines: Impact and
ties of bakla, bayot, agi, and bantut1 on wanted, chose their children’s names, different but complementary discourses discourse of ‘unnatural acts’ grouped Response’ in Journey of a Humanist. Que-
the one hand and the discourse and real- owned property and accumulated of public hygiene, psychosexual devel- under the rubric of sodomy was half- zon City: College of Social Sciences and
ity of homosexuality as typically ‘gay’ wealth. opment, juvenile delinquency, health heartedly propagated through the con- Philosophy, University of the Philippines,
same-sex orientation and/or identity on and physical education, family planning, fessional. Such acts were nevertheless 163-180.
the other. The history of the former Spanish machismo feminist empowerment, gay and lesbian temporary and surmountable, a weak-
stretches into the oral past not only of This was the state of affairs when the advocacy, and the corporally paranoid ness to which heirs to Eve’s original J. Neil C. Garcia teaches literature and cre-
the Philippines, but the whole of South- Spanish arrived. Over the centuries, as discourse of AIDS. transgression were vulnerable. Sodomy ative writing at the University of the Philip-
east Asia. The latter is a more recent the status of women progressively dete- was not a discourse of identity but of pines and was a Visiting ICOPHIL Fellow at
development, a performative instance riorated, gender crossing in the tradi- The new sexual order acts: non-procreative, non-conjugal and IIAS in 2004. His books include Philippine
and discursive effect of the largely tional sense became more and more dif- The result is a deepening of sexuality’s ‘non-missionary’ acts that were com- Gay Culture: the Last Thirty Years (1996),
American-sponsored biomedicalization ficult, with the gender crosser suffering perverse implantation into the local soil, mitted by men with men, women with Postcolonialism and Filipino Poetics: Essays
of local Filipino cultures. from the ridicule and scorn which only accompanied by the exorbitation of the women, and men and women with ani- and Critiques (2004), and the poetry collec-
the Spanish brand of medieval Mediter- ‘homo/hetero’ distinction as the organ- mals. Even so, the gender crosser’s sex- tion, Kaluluwa: New and Selected Poems
Gender crossing ranean machismo could inflict. From izing principle in the now heavily- ual predilections for and acts with men (2001). He is co-editor of the Ladlad series of
We know from Spanish accounts of being likened to a naturally occurring freighted sexual lives of Filipinos, espe- simply attended – and did not deter- Philippine Gay Writing (1994 and 1996).
encounters between conquistadores and species of bamboo called bayog, the cially those in large urban centers where mine – her redefined status as ‘woman-

IIAS Newsletter | #35 | November 2004 13