Tuesday, March 3, 2009

LGBT people in the Philippine Military? What's new? We've always been there.

Yesterday someone who works for a major TV station (let's call her Lily) called me up regarding the latest, breaking news that some members of the top brass of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are now actually inclined to accept gays and lesbians in the military. Lily, however, was more concerned about terminology. She wanted to know the correct terms that their their News and Current Affairs department should use to report the story in Filipino.

"Shall we use bakla and lesbyana?", she asked. I told her that lesbyana (a direct translation of the word lesbian) was fine but bakla might prove to be more problematic. Firstly, the terms that the general Filipino viewing public are familiar with in referring to the Pinoy LGBT community are bakla and tomboy.

Bakla as a term is traditionally associated with effeminacy, "softness", weakness and sometimes even, cowardice, which fall under the purview of gender. Thus, I have always maintained that bakla was originally meant as a gender term and NOT a sexual orientation term. Currently, however, the term has become "homosexualized" meaning people tend to think that bakla is the indigenous equivalent of homosexuality when it is not; but this has not stopped many non-effeminate Filipino gay men from using the term to identify themselves with. Thus, gender identity and expression continue to be conflated with sexual orienation in the Philippines.

Moreover, contrary to what some people may think, bakla as homosexual invisibilizes transgenderism. And although it could have been, bakla is definitely not the equivalent of transgender. Thus, organizations like the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) have felt the need to coin a term to specifically denote transgender Filipinos. Hence, the launch of the transpinay identity in the 2008 Manila Pride March. Transpinay pertains to transgender (trans for short) Filipina (pinay for short).

The fact still remains, however, that bakla as a term continues to carry stigma such that when someone who is not LGBT calls someone bakla in an obviously unsympathetic manner, the term only serves as a pejorative. Same goes for tomboy. So my answer to the question on what term to use regarding LGBT people in the military was LGBT, of course. Although problematic in itself, LGBT at least holds a certain currency. It is recognized globally to pertain to our community. It is more inclusive as compared to just bakla and tomboy and it is also more diversely representative of us all. Lastly, it came from the community itself. And of course, it can always stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Bakla/Bayot/Bantut, Tomboy and Transgender to include indigenous identities. That, however, still does not cover everyone in the community (such aspeople who identify as MSM, silahis, third sex, etc.) and thus needs to be reconsidered.

Lily, however said that the army personnel they interviewed only mentioned gays and lesbians. Okay so I said use those terms then. Last night when I saw the news, both English and Filipino broadcasts used the terms gays and lesbians at least over at the concerned TV channel and its subsidiary.

Interestingly, the army officers who spoke on cam were in a consensus that the AFP should not discriminate echoing the current global thinking as regards LGBT people in the military, that qualification and not discrimination should govern the recruitment process--something that is becoming clearer and clearer to many nations recently. Argentina, for example, has just ended its ban on LGBT people following the lead of progressive nations such as Canada, Great Britain, Israel, Sweden and many others.

Sadly, some of the military men interviewed last night still fell back on citing stereotypes suggesting that if gays will be allowed in the military then they should behave, not be loud, should be respectable, etc. This is not good, of course, because it privileges only one kind of being in the world. And so what if a man is effeminate that does not say anything about his sexual orientation, gender identity and most importantly military abilities! Also, if women in the Armed Forces can be mannish why can't the opposite be permitted?

Anyway, I was happy to hear one reporter tell a general that there are, in fact many gays and lesbians in the military. Exactly. As I've always maintained, whether you like it or not, we've actually always been there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice posting