Monday, April 13, 2009

"Let's talk about sex baby, let's talk about you and me."

It's official. I'm off to India around the second week of May to attend the Regional Institute on Sexuality, Society and Culture sponsored by New Delhi-based NGO Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues (TARSHI). You can view their website here.

The Regional Institute is one of TARSHI's programmes and is on its fifth year. Each year beginning 2004, TARSHI has put out a call for participants from South and Southeast Asia, 20 of whom, after a nomination, application and selection process, are brought together to go through eight days of learning and discussion with a focus on sexuality, gender and reproductive health. The topics that participants tackle include the relationship between sexuality and gender, sexuality and sexual and reproductive health, sexuality and pleasure, sexuality and rights, issues in sex work, sexuality and popular culture/representation.

It should go without saying that I am ecstatic over the prospect of taking part in this year's Regional Institute. Sometimes I feel that talking about sex is the missing link in LGBT advocacy in this country. After the first Pride March held in Manila (the first ever in Asia, mind you) in 1994, the LGBT rights movement in the country seemingly embraced wholesale the American model of identity politics. And somehow, it has been stuck there in the last 15 years.

Identity politics purports that the marginalization of a certain group of people is based largely on their shared identity, for example the LGBT community. Members of the LGBT community are oppressed for the ways they express their sexual and gender identities. Thus armed with identity politics, LGBT advocates aim to empower their community and fight their shared oppression through political action.

The biggest criticism leveled against identity politics is that it tends to essentialize identity, making the same seem fixed and immutable. This means that there is a clear and distinct L G B and T identity based on some set of criteria. But we all know that LGBT most of the time, just really serves as a convenient initialism for our community. It really does not capture the diversity in our community and the reality of the messiness of our sexual and gendered lives.

This was affirmed by a book that I was reading over the Holy Week entitled PoMoSexuals:Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality edited by Carol Queen and Lawrence Schimel. PoMo here stands for postmodern and is a linguistic way of resisting being labeled for one's sexuality when in reality that sexuality cannot be pinned down by and reduced into a single word such as homosexual, asexual, heterosexual, bisexual, etc. Within the book, one will find writings of gay-identified men grappling with their sexual attraction to women, female-bodied people who sleep with women and gender-ambiguous men, transgender people playing with leather and finding pleasure in BDSM (bondage, domination and sado-masochism) sex, etc. I am sure I am describing the content of the book inadequately. Suffice it to say, this book (and others of its kind) should be a must-read for everyone as it turns sex and gender on their head and make one question if there really are distinct boundaries when it comes to defining who is a straight, gay, bi, trans, or not.

Certainly LGBT politics in the Philippines and all over the world for that matter has tended to invisibilize and disenfranchize people who do not neatly fit the LGB and T categories. It does not help either when you have conservative people who lead the community and purposely hide LGBT sexuality away from the larger society, the politicians who make laws, thinking that it is the least of anyone's concern unwittingly reflecting largely internalized sex-negativity.

So it is time to talk about sex (as the line above from that Salt and Peppa song goes) once again and bring it back into the discussion of LGBT human rights. And I am so happy that organizations such as TARSHI exist to provide us that platform. More importantly, it is time, as well, for us to be honest with each other and acknowledge our complex genders and sexualities. I know gay men out there who have been in committed relationships with both men and women. Why does it matter for them to identify as gay? I also know others who prove to me everyday that sexuality is something that cannot be captured by one-word descriptions: women who are attracted to transwomen, transmen who have gay sexualities, gay men who are attracted to transwomen, self-identified lesbians who sleep with gay men, transwomen who sleep with men with vaginas and penises, etc. The list goes on and on. They certainly make me think about what makes a man a man and a woman a woman. And, of course, they make me think about the efficacy and inadequacy of identity politics and confirm my personal suspicion that in the Philippines, it is time not only for a sexual but as well as a gender revolution.


Monica Roberts said...

In the States, identity politics is still the way business is done because race is still a major issue here.

That model probably doesn't apply elsewhere and needs to be adjusted and adapted to fit local political conditions in the Philippines.

Have fun in India. I'm jealous ;)

PinayTG said...

Correct. It just sucks that US-Philippine relations can still be characterized as center-periphery where the center dictates and the periphery merely follows. But adjusting and adapting seem to have become our expertise as well due to such a relationship and if we can indigenize/nativize/localize Catholicism then we can certainly do the same with identity politics.