“I feel misunderstood and alone, to put it simply,” 20-year-old Youngblood says. “People talk of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) as if we were a different species, as if our sexuality was the only thing that defined us. You often hear people describe one as ‘the tall girl,’ ‘the smart student’ or even ‘the athlete,’ but when one refers to someone who is widely known as queer, one usually says, ‘the gay/lesbian one,’ not ‘the nice one’ or ‘the fashionable one.’
“We’re grouped with other people, just because of our sexuality. It’s like racism, but with sexuality. Because of this, certain traits have been known to be ‘inherently gay.’ A guy interested in fashion is suspected to be gay, a girl who cares for none of it is also suspected of the same thing. Of course, our country’s strong, traditionally binary gender roles play a part in this,” Youngblood adds.
“Being LGBT could be worse,” 17-year-old Prinsesa Castora comments. “In my everyday life, I’ve never had to endure hostile acts, apart from the occasional insults. People would generally brush past an LGBT. Contrast this with other places, such as Russia, where discrimination is basically state-endorsed; I feel fortunate that people aren’t as overzealous in upholding tradition.”
Being a homosexual in the Philippines has been a struggle for 17-year-old McFierce Fried Chicken, as he was always seen as a stereotype, and asked ridiculous questions such as, “Magpapa-sex change ka ba paglaki mo?”
He believes society has created this idea that all gay people like to act and dress up like girls, gossip, and play volleyball. “I’m telling you right now that these stereotypes are not true. We also enjoy playing baseball, Frisbee, basketball, soccer and other sports. Not all of us want to be girls or hang out with girls. I like talking to dudes because they’re easier to relate to, and you can discuss topics that girls normally dislike.
“People should stop paying attention to stereotypes, and get to know others for who they are. For all you know, you might actually like the person,” McFierce says.
Despite LGBT culture slowly seeping into the consciousness of Filipinos in a way that helps them understand the identity of the LGBT people, 17-year-old Kitty Pryde still thinks that he cannot reveal his real identity. “One day, I would like to casually tell someone that I am gay. That day has not come,” he sadly says.
“There is still time for society to change its ways,” Castora adds. “First of all, people should stop using the term ‘bakla,’ which means ‘coward,’ to describe LGBT, particularly the more flamboyant ones. What’s so cowardly about fearlessly and unapologetically expressing oneself? Due to our image of being vibrant, I often feel that I am expected to always liven up stuff, even if I just wanna sleep or something. It’s disappointing that news, rumors or speculations of someone turning out to be gay are still a big deal at this time.”
Having just graduated from high school from an exclusive boys’ school, Castora admits that what irks him most is the idea that there is an acceptable type of gay. “They say things like, ‘Buti pa sina ano… hindi masyadong malandi,’ and ‘Porket bakla ka, hindi naman kailangang maging masyadong namumukadkad ka umasta, o manamit…’
“Conservative society has played a big part in teaching me that being an LGBT was indecent, simply because it opposed what the Bible said that God created Adam and Eve to procreate, not [as we like to joke] Madam and Eve or Adam and Steve… The mere fact that you have feelings for someone of the same gender, or show signs of wanting to be the opposite sex, was considered immoral. Growing up, I shied away from people who exhibited such behavior. However, because of the usual teenage problems such as bullying and backstabbing, I searched for myself in other people.
“Among these were the LGBTs, who’ve accepted me for who I am, and made me value my gender even more. By developing friendship with these people who were also undergoing identity crises, I realized that many others were struggling to be normal in a traditional and rigid society, but could not find that voice to express themselves.
“Even though times have changed, with Western predecessors influencing the acceptance of LGBT culture, it still cannot be denied that LGBTs are misunderstood, misinterpreted and maltreated. However, hope springs eternal—in the form of Pope Francis, who broke new ground by saying, ‘Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?’ and in the form of six teenagers, through private messaging (PM) on Facebook, who have found the courage to express their beliefs and sentiments regarding LGBT.”
“Though sounding generic, it was actually groundbreaking,” says Castora, who, after hearing the statement, felt less uncomfortable about the idea of attending church. “LGBT rights may never sit well with the Roman Catholic Church, but by presenting a friendlier face, the Church can better achieve its goal of encouraging individuals to be good people.”
Pryde adds that the declaration was a step forward in improving the relations of the LGBT and Catholic communities. “Using his power and influence as head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, Pope Francis taught people to understand and respect the LGBT community by paraphrasing a passage from the Bible.”
For McFierce, the statement made him feel hopeful for the LGBT community, because after hearing about it from his school priest, he saw that his male classmates also received it well.
Applauding and praising this comment is 17-year-old Nom de Plume, who says, “I feel that Pope Francis, as the head of the Catholic Church, shows the kind of church he is trying to establish. The statement is not limited to a person’s sexual orientation, but to pretty much everything.”
One example, according to Nom de Plume, is a valedictorian who decides to take up music. Who is she to judge and stop that valedictorian from pursuing a passion? “The same goes for the LGBT community. Who are we to judge their life choices? Also, one doesn’t choose the people the LGBT people love. That resides within the domain of human nature, and we all know that we can’t change who we are. Our own nature is not an aspect of our life that we can control.”
Just like Castora, who can walk through his parish doors with little anxiety, Nom de Plume notes: “It is the open-mindedness of Pope Francis that makes me trust in the Church all the more.”
Based on Youngblood’s observations, LGBT seems to be more accepted these days, but not much. “It seems that the LGBT community is no longer invisible to Philippine society,” she says.
Pryde believes that we have made significant progress as a society in viewing and enforcing the rights of the LGBT community. “It was only a few decades ago that the mere mention of homosexuality was taboo, and here we are now.”
Even so, he still believes that our handling of LGBT rights is still a work in progress. “There are a significant number of countries where same-sex marriages are still illegal. There are even a few which even punish individuals for merely being LGBT,” he adds.
Nom de Plume agrees that society has been openly accepting the LGBT community, but there is still discrimination. She compares the acceptance of LGBTs with the emancipation of African-American people—the issue of racial discrimination having been allowed to sit and simmer for around five decades, as opposed to LGBTs having less time to adjust.
“A good chunk of society is very accepting of the community, but at the same time, another good chunk also discriminates against it.” It is her opinion, however, that there should be zero discrimination in the LGBT community. “If we can do it for a specific race, why not for sexual orientation? Some men want to be women, some women want to be men… We don’t choose our gender, but what if we prefer the other one?
“I don’t understand why we shouldn’t welcome the LGBT community. They simply make the world a more colorful place to live in. In fact, they promote freedom of choice. Isn’t that what the free world stands for? If people ask why, I would say, why not? There is no reason to reject them in society. They, too, are people.”
Castora thinks that the way society views LGBTs is still quite diluted. “We’ve come a long way from those times when LGBTs were viewed as a form of social cancer. ‘Salot sa lipunan,’ as some would have put it.”
Today he believes that LGBTs are treated and generally viewed in a benign manner. “People would usually just go about their business around LGBTs—as long as they’re not too loud, that is. Filipinos will probably still be slightly taken aback by an undaunted brandishing of identity, such as a man in drag or a same-sex couple holding hands,” he says.
He believes that one positive view of LGBTs, of gay men and transgenders in particular, is spurred by their perceived utility because they can be loud, fun and entertaining. “Lesbians and bisexuals in particular are sometimes seen as ‘hot,’ even leading some straight women to pretend to be lesbian or bisexual for attention, I dare say. Outside of this ‘utility,’ the Philippines in general is less accepting of certain aspects of the LGBT community. Men, in general, are scared of gays making landi to them, for example.”
Personal identity, the only thing that keeps an individual from being just another statistical blip, involves adaptation and evolution, according to Castora. “One must stand up and defend one’s identity, your right to be yourself, without being pressured by others to change just because they don’t fit in. One should also avoid blindly ignoring criticism.”
As a believer in open-mindedness, Castora adds: “Individuals must be able to differentiate between the kind of influence or pressure that stifles, intimidates and ultimately homogenizes; and the kind that encourages different perspectives.”
“I am all for self-identity,” says Nom de Plume. “Everyone is unique for a reason. You cannot be who you are if your own personality is oppressed. If you try to hide it, you’ll just end up unhappy, because you can’t be the best person you can be.”
She asserts that we can only help others if we are satisfied with what we can do, and that comes with full acceptance of our own person. “Being 100 percent content keeps you happy and allows you to be a productive member of society. We must always stand up for who we are because we can only be ourselves.”
McFierce strongly believes that we should fight for our identity. “Our identity is what sets us apart from other people. It’s something that brings us happiness. If we allow society to bully us into changing ourselves just because of their prejudice, we will learn to hate ourselves, and ultimately lose our happiness.”
Although we need to fight for our identity, we need to fight justly. “We shouldn’t shove our beliefs down people’s throats, or bully them into believing in what we believe in. We need to inform them of such reality, and hope they will understand. We also need to help others fight for their identities because no one can fight with an army of one. Fight for your identity, fight for your beliefs and fight for your happiness,” McFierce concludes.
To sum it all up, Pryde sent this uplifting message in his last PM to me on Facebook. “To the LGBT of the Philippines, especially the youth, do not be afraid to let your true colors fly. Along the way, you may find people you can relate to, and be yourself with. These are the people that make life truly worth living. So, keep shining!”