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I would like to acknowledge Dr. Allan De Guzman, Cora Parco, Martin Guasch and Luz Urquiola, and the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.
Today, the international gay rights movement has put homosexuals into the public discourse. In nations like the Philippines in the 1960s the issue was rarely discussed, yet a homosexual sub-culture existed. Moreover, there have been studies that would indicate that the Philippines was a relatively tolerant nation of gays. The two major colonizers were homophobic; hence, the roots of such tolerance might be of pre-colonial origin, carried over within Philippine society.
To measure the level of tolerance of gays prior to the gay movement, the researcher interviewed eleven post-65 year old gay men from different locations in the Philippines. Philippine gays were well tolerated prior to the emergence of the international gay movement; thus indicating a prior baseline tolerance for homosexuality in this culture.
Today, the international gay movement, coupled with AIDS prevention projects, has put male homosexuality into the public discourse in most South East Asian nations. This, along with the Internet, social networking and pornography sites, allow many Asian gays to see themselves as part of an international culture. Many heterosexuals are now aware that homosexuals want equal rights. Yet this was not the case in the 1960s Philippines. Back then homosexuality was not openly discussed. Despite a lack of a gay movement, gays were accorded much tolerance.
This issue has hardly been studied before. There have been only a few articles indicating that the Philippines was tolerant of gays in the 1960s and 1970s, that is, before the Stonewall rebellion in New York in 1969. For original research there are only two studies; Hart in1968 and Lopez in 2007. Hart’s study was confined to a village, while Lopez’s work focused on Tondo, a small district in Manila in the 1950s. Hence, by utilizing interviews of older gay Filipinos who recalled the 60s, this research uncovered a hidden past in an era and in a country untouched by strict homophobia.
Tolerance was indigenous
The evidence suggests that this relative tolerance of Philippine homosexuality was not the influence of either the Spanish or American colonizers. Instead the toleration was indigenous. Spain was, after all, home of the inquisition, and executed hundreds of males who were caught having sex with each other during the 1500s (Berco, 2008, p. 336); about the time when Magellan landed in the Philippines. Although strict enforcement of sexuality slowly died away, there was still a stigma attached to homosexuality in Spanish culture.
The Spanish model of homosexuality is different from the Philippine. Spain was a firmly patriarchal culture (Berco, 2008). The culture valorized males, including their sexual practices. Although homosexual relations were definitely stigmatized, a segment of the Spanish culture seemed to allow it (Berco, 2005). Tolerance was also dependent on the roles played by the participants in the act of homosexual sex itself.
Scholars of sex have called the Spanish model Mediterranean. It goes back at least as far as the ancient Greece. In this, the “top” or active partner in sex is the male, while the “bottom” or passive partner is the female. Since females were less regarded, the bottom is looked down upon more than his “male” partner (Sigal, 2003). The active male partner was in control, and for some, it might have increased his feeling of masculinity. The active would be perhaps married, a priest, or a man of high standing. He was termed machista meaning male or a real man.
The passive bottom partner often suffered more shame for being woman-like. He was frequently a slave, an adolescent boy, effeminate, or poor. The passive younger man was called maricon, an insulting term meaning sissy, faggot, callboy, or puto, meaning a callboy wishing to be penetrated. (Sigal, 2003a). Being called a puto was perceived as a horrendous fate. In this sense, the passive male was not being shunned not so much because he had sex with another male, but because he had allowed himself to be penetrated and thus was weak and feminine (Sigal, 2003b). Sexual morality of this sort followed the Spanish into its colonies in the New World.
America arrived in the Philippines in 1900. Strangely no law was passed prohibiting homosexuality (Carale, 1970); although during this time, the United States was beginning to actively prohibit homosexuality within its own shores. During their occupation of the colony, American gays were increasingly harassed (Kaiser, 1997), yet there seemed little impact overseas. In 1946, the Philippines declared independence, but the American influence remained strong, partly because of the shared experience in the liberation of the islands from the Japanese during World War 2.
The post-war brought the Cold War and McCarthy witch-hunts in America. Thousands of gays lost their jobs, and thousands more were the victims of blackmail and harassment by the police. It was during this time that the sex researcher Alfred Kinsey claimed that the United States was the worst place in the world for homosexuals (Canaday, 2009). These anti-homosexual campaigns did not reach Philippine shores.
If this tolerance of gay men evident in the 1960s did not come from either of the colonizers, then it must have been part of the Philippine culture itself. This toleration may have come from pre-colonial culture.
The Philippines was the northern section of Malay culture. Women in this culture were well respected, reported Barbara Andaya in extensive research done in 1994 and 2006. Thus, since women were accorded near equal status with men, the effeminate males probably suffered no loss of status for assuming the roles of women.
Michal Peletz in his book Gender Pluralism: Southeast Asia Since the Early Modern Times (2009) identified a great amount of homosexual acceptance among the Malay. He states “that in the early modern period and earlier times as well many communities of Southeast Asians accorded enormous prestige to male bodied individuals who dressed in female attire and performed certain rituals associated with royal regalia, births, weddings, and key phases of agricultural cycles” (2009, p. 22). Peletz and others have brought out much information on Malay acceptance of homosexuality in the areas of Malaysia and Indonesia. These would include the Bugis and their bissu of Sulawesi (Boellstorff, 2005, p. 38) or of the Ibang Dayak and their manang bali of Borneo (Peletz, 2009, p. 42, quoting Roth 1896, 1980) or the Ngaju Dayak ethnic group and their basir, also of Borneo (Peletz, 2009, p. 46, quoting Scharer). These are just some of the Malay groups have had eyewitness anthropological observations of homosexuality, and thus offer more convincing evidence than what can be found in the Philippines.
Neil Garcia (2008) has carefully documented the accounts of Spanish friars that clearly indicate a parallel with other Malay communities in Southeast Asia. The native priests, who mostly were transgenders called babaylan were well respected, and engaged in sexual relations with men. These sources also indicate that there was some sort of native acknowledgment for homosexual behavior, and this tolerance may have persisted up through the modern era. However, after about 1625, Spanish investigation of Filipino culture generally stopped. Open discussion of sexuality was frowned upon. There are no available records for the next three hundred years!
Garcia makes two summary points: 1. There was sodomy—‘unnatural acts,’ including same-sexual activity—in the Philippines during the earliest periods of colonization. 2. Gender-crossing was institutionalized in many pre-and early colonial cultures in the Philippines (Garcia, 2008 p. 184).
The 1950 gay males in Tondo (a district of Manila composed primarily of urban poor) were described by Ferdie Lopez in a paper written in 2007. Interestingly, like today they had gay beauty pageants, although not so openly conducted as they are now. Some young men openly carried on relationships with gay males. There were a few daring souls who encountered light teasing when cross-dressing in public.
There is also a lengthy study done on Filipino gay life by an American anthropologist Donn Hart (1968). He concentrated on the small town of Siaton, described as a tolerant place for effeminate homosexuals at the southern end of Negros in the Visayas in the 1960s.
In this study, Hart wrote that some gay men claimed to have openly crossed dressed at the fiesta dances. Like Lopez’s study, some males carried on rather open relationships with effeminate gays. Both Hart and Lopez noted that in an era where women’s virginity was imposed, some males sought sexual release through neighborhood gays.
In a 1973 study, Sechrest and other researchers documented Filipino attitudes towards gays. These sociologists made a questionnaire with follow-up interviews of three groups of college students, one from U.S.A, another from Pakistan, and from the University of the Philippines. The Filipinos were likely to view homosexuals as different but normal, while Americans viewed the same as abnormal.
The key term is tolerance. The first definition will be the commonly understood term. Defined from the American Heritage dictionary “1.The capacity for or practice of allowing or respecting the nature, beliefs, or behavior of others” (Morris 1969). This is the definition that participants of this study probably thought of during the interviews.
The more academic concept of tolerance is less accommodating. From The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology: “It is the not an expression of benevolence, but embodies a sense of disapproval. Tolerance is the deliberate choice not to interfere with the conduct, beliefs, lifestyles and behaviors of which one disapproves. (Karstedt, 2007).
The classic definition of tolerance comes from the Latin root, tolerare or tolerantia. The first is a verb, meaning to endure, while the second means forbearance (Weissberg, 2008). “It involves recognition that a civil society must include a willingness to bear with people whose ideas and practices are not merely different, but believed to be wrong” (Bergen C., Bergen B., Stubblefield, & Bandow, 2012, p. 112)
For gays, the most intolerant time of life would be adolescence, when males are trying to gauge gender roles and sexual identity. This testing often can be light teasing, or can go so far as repetitive verbal or physical abuse, known as bullying.
Forty years after the birth of the lesbian and gay movement, one would think that there would be greater tolerance towards minority sexuality, yet anti-gay bullying remains. Ninety percent of gay teens have been the victim of verbal or physical harassment in 2006 in American schools (Espelage & Swearer, 2008). Over eighty percent of the kids do not report the abuse, believing that the administration tolerates abusive bullying of others. Unfortunately, there were no studies on bullying internationally done the 1960s, and there are no Philippines studies on bullying gay boys and girls even today.
Clearly there is a gap in research defining the relative tolerance of Philippine gays males. What would typify the tolerance experiences of a gay boy of the 1960s, that is prior to any influence of the international gay rights movement? That is what this paper will try to explore, from the point of view of the participants themselves. Through interviews with older gays, a glimpse of the past can be made, when this culture was relatively isolated from outside sexual morality. Although gays were not accepted, surprisingly they were tolerated.
Even today, terms to describe a Filipino gay male are ambiguous. Bakla, not the term “gay” was used up through the 1960s. The word as an adjective means confused, messed up, or indecisive. As a noun it may either refer to a sissy, a coward, an effeminate male, or a homosexual. Donn Hart (2008) felt that bakla was not as negative as the term homosexual. The common Philippines gay male sees himself as part female, and thus seeks a partner of the opposite sex; a heterosexual male. This can cause confusion. For instance, masculine men who have sex with a bakla for money, or for emotional or sexual release are not included in this term nor are they considered gay. In the past two decades, there have been more “modern” gender identified male gays, perhaps influenced by Western culture (Altman, 1997; Jackson, 2011; Manalansan, 2006). There is no term for this new gay male. Silahis is the closest word, although this is also a term for a bisexual male.
In this study, for the sake of simplicity, the Filipino 1960s participants will be identified as gay males although the term was not in use during that time. For the purposes of this study, bakla means someone “an anatomical male whose attraction is towards the same sex, who to some degree, has a transgendered identity.” A transgender is, for the purposes of this study, is a male who acts much like a female. Today gay is the preferred term of Filipino male homosexuals themselves.
This study employed the social construction theory. Briefly, it is the idea that a society “constructs” a belief system that is meaningful to it, and that these realities can change over time (Garcia, 2008, p.14). Concepts such as gender roles are not biologically fixed; instead a society constructs its own meanings to these roles (Vance, 1989).
A culture’s definitions that make up social construction can be varied and complex, and thus meanings are best derived unfiltered from the statements of the participants themselves (Creswell, 2009). Interactions between individuals help define a particular situation, and thus help make a social construction of reality.
Queer theory employs social constructionism. This states that sexual desire is a completely malleable social construct that changes over time, and means different things to different societies (Valocchi, 2005). Thus, differences in sexuality are not biologically based, but instead chosen (consciously or unconsciously) by the society and its members. People who believe in essentialism, the opposite of constructionism, argue that concepts such as sexuality, gender and race are universal categories. These divisions have always existed in human society, because many differences are inborn.
I believe that while social construction does address why gay sexuality is treated differently in different cultures, the theory cannot answer the origins of same sex desire in world culture, because homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is found in all cultures (Chiang, 2009). Thus, homosexuality seems an essential part of human society. Societies though, do indeed create definitions and roles for those practicing sexual desire, and that is the theory of social construction.
There were oral interviews
To measure and assess tolerance, I interviewed older Filipino gay men pertaining to tolerance they perceived in the 1960s. Example questions included: Were they fired for being gay? Did the police ever arrest them for cross-dressing, homosexual acts, or propositioning another male for sex? Did they have to hide their sexuality from acquaintances and family? Did their classmates ever bully them?
The research was a qualitative study, employing induction, using phenomenological research design. Phenomenology is a philosophy and a method to examine how people live using the scientific method, unbiased as much as possible, gathering the data and organizing it, and only applying analysis near the end of the study in an effort “to see the things themselves” (Wertz 2005, p.168). As a research design, it employs epochés; procedures which caution the researcher to abstain from influences that could lend bias to the study. The approach makes clear that the unreflective life that people live daily is a natural attitude.
The phenomenological researcher needs to methodologically abstain from inserting meaning when exploring and recording the subjective meanings people give to their lives. The researcher’s thoughts and analysis are bracketed away from interfering with the collecting, coding, and reducing the data. Edmund Husserl, the acknowledged founder of phenomenological research, called for free imaginative variation, which the reality being examined is twisted and turned in a variety of ways, in order to separate the incidental from the essence. This method was selected because the subject had not really been studied before, and I did not want prejudge my data.
The target group was gay men born prior to 1945. Thus they would have been at least 15 years old in 1960, perhaps the time of their first sexual experience with another male. By 1970 then, they would have been 25, and would be an accurate witness of how the 60s unfolded.
Eleven men aged sixty plus were interviewed. All were mentally alert and healthy at the time of the interview. According to Wertz (2005), a phenomenological study proposal does not need to specify the number of participants, while Groenwald noted that usually the participants numbered between one and ten, and usually new participants were sought until the “saturation point” was reached. This was when the data gathered became repetitive, and no new information could be extracted (2004, p.11).
I strove to interview effeminate acting and male acting gay men, discreet and overt, from varied economic and social backgrounds. Although Metro Manila provided most of the participants, nearly all came from the countryside, since this city has had such a tremendous population growth from internal migration.
In order to choose the participants in the study, the study employed anonymous, purposive non-probability sampling. Initial participants suggested other participants, which is an acceptable method called “snowballing” (Groenwald, 2004). These initial contacts were “gatekeepers”. Instead of the actual names of the participants, an assorted list of gemstones were used to identification.
I contacted the participants, described the study, showed the recording device, and asked that they sign an anonymous interview consent form approved by the University of Santo Tomas Graduate Research Center. The participants chose the interview location. Then the interview proceeded, with notes taken by my assistant or myself. After the interview was over, I made a summary from my own notes, and later the recordings were transcribed.
The interviews were done in a mix of Filipino and English. I am fairly fluent in Filipino, and the transcriptionist was a native speaker. Another native speaker translated the dialog into English. The interviews were then broken up into “meaning units” that grouped together common ideas and perceptions of the interviews. (Creswell, 2009,188). Themes were identified, combined, and then described using the language of the participants.
Only at the very end of the process would previous studies, theories and hypothesis were tested against the data and analyzed. Not all the data “fit” into a theme, and some data ran counter to expectations. This errant data was identified and analyzed.
In terms of possible bias, the literature suggests the researcher to give a short biography of himself. I am American, and was a gay activist in the 1970s in the United States. I am pro-gay, and the participants knew this.
There was no check for data verification. Ethically, I could not go around and ask friends and family if what the participants reported was accurate or not. Nor was there enough time to go check the Philippine media reports for verification of events, because the press has never been catalogued. Also, the tabloid press, which would yield the most sensational stories, was never kept in libraries.
In a developed country a survey would provide accurate, quick results. In the Philippines surveys are only seen in the academic world, and would be distrusted by older people. Further, since the questions are of a personal nature, older people would be quite reluctant to write anything down.
The study only covered two of major regions of the Philippines. The participants came from all over Luzon, and two from the Eastern Visayas (the center of the archipelago). Because of this limitation, there can be no assumption that this what was said would hold true for the whole nation. Nor, since there was little data verification, this paper can only be an accurate reflection of what was reported, it cannot state for certainty that the events described actually happened.
Unfortunately poor gays were not well represented. There was only one beautician interviewed, although there it is a popular profession for Filipino gays.
I interviewed, along with their gemstone code names:
Five college professors or administrators- Agate, Bloodstone, Jade, Onyx, Ruby
Two celebrity talk show hosts and script writer- Crystal, Topaz
One movie set designer- Pearl
One retired pickpocket and transgendered prostitute- Diamond
One teaching assistant in a public high school- Opal
One beautician- Garnet
On a positive note, the participants were excited and proud to tell their stories. Only two, Jade and Topaz, were the exceptions. Jade had feelings of guilt because he is a born-again Christian. Topaz, the TV host, although a vibrant talker, could give only a quick and shrouded interview, citing the contract with his TV station. Also, two potential participants cancelled upon my arrival, perhaps due to embarrassment.
All grammatical errors in the dialog have been retained. I used the pronoun “he”, although frankly, for a few of the participants, the feminine “she” would have been more appropriate.
I asked the participants about their first sexual experience. There was a common scenario. An older boy aroused the gay boy, who was usually under ten years old. Frequently he was a cousin. The male would rub the participant’s sex organ to get him excited, and then prod him into performing sex.
A typical story comes from Crystal, in Leyte who described himself as watching boys who were bathing in the river near his town:
Why was it that I cannot help watching them? And they kept on masturbating! They were big. And they even put my [hand], put it there, [they touched] my pants, then fondled. I could not prevail over them. I can’t. . . No but I spank them. Ahh, not me! But of course, they knew I was gay! I was about seven or eight. . . I only pretended not. . .to like it.
Bloodstone described a somewhat long-term sexual affair with another high school student: “We didn’t talk about that. We just felt like we have to see each other. . .there wasn’t any vocabulary”.
Diamond in Samar in the Visayas also had no term to call himself, nor did he have any guilt when he had sex play with boys. He narrated:
Actually, I just realized and felt that even when I was young, I had a strange feeling, I felt differently. I was grade two then, that was before the war. There was a classmate whom I would often tease—Benji, my classmate who is now in (name of a government agency). I would play seducing my friends. I would fondle Benji’s penis like this. Then a classmate who saw us reported me to the teacher, ‘Ma’am, look at Diamond, he is fondling our classmate.’
Diamond was asked by the teacher what he was doing; he only replied that he was playing. He found nothing to be ashamed of. Afterwards the two boys went to another room where they continued. When I asked who taught him about sex play, Diamond answered: “Nobody really taught us.”
Later that night, he reported the incident to his mother and father. His mother told him it was bad, while his father declared that he was happy he had a gay son.
Garnet, Opal, and Ruby were cross-dressing at an early age. They wore their sister’s clothes upon the orders of their mothers. Evidently in the 1950s, many boys got dressed up as girls by their moms who wanted them to stay at home. If they escaped out of the house, they would face teasing from the neighbors. However, Garnet, Opal and Ruby rather enjoyed dressing up as females. Eventually, their family and friends would accept their gender identity.
These stories of coming out in isolation will be discussed later under social construction and essentialism.
Prejudice was internalized
Although there was tolerance, there was bias as well. This anti gay attitude manifested itself both not only in the overt form in teasing and light bullying, but also in the self-hate perpetuated by the gays themselves. This was perhaps more damaging and insidious than the teasing they endured. For the victim, it is harder to cope with internalized discrimination. It is impossible for the victim to run away from the tyrant hiding inside himself.
All of the participants, except Diamond, acknowledged at least some reluctance in admitting to themselves and to the world that they were indeed homosexual. In some cases, not even the participant acknowledged their own self-hate during the interview. This reluctance or shame was perhaps behind the two potential participants who refused to be interviewed even when the researcher had arrived for the pre-scheduled interview. There was also Topaz, who refused to admit or let the researcher suggest that he was gay.
The most clear was the case of Crystal. Although he had earlier enjoyed watching boys masturbate, he said he was raped in the anus by an older cousin when he was six. The incident left some lingering mental scars. He expressed regret: “Lately, I realized that the reason why I turned out this way was because I was perhaps raped.” Crystal noted that this interview was the first time he had admitted to this rape. Regardless, he was interested in sex with his male classmates before and after the rape. But it did affect him. Crystal kept having self-doubts about himself as a gay. He remembered:
At first I was sad. I even wanted to kill myself. Why, why why I started flirting with the same sex? I wanted to, why why am I like this? Nobody would tell me. This is it. It’s like this, and one time I wanted to end my life until, I, I, I met these writers. They”re already dead. Comic strip writers Rico Bello Umagap, and Orlando Nadres, director already, ahh, Pablo S. Gomez, I met these writers who became really great writers with their stories. I started to unfold. . .When I heard some stories from these (writers) I started to. . . to love myself. There was a time when I hated myself, because I was very, very, very different from my cousins, from my friends.
Jade, the born-again, seemed to reject his gay side. Jade had felt victimized in his first sexual encounter with an older foreign pastor. He admitted:
“Up to now, I could not accept that I’m one hundred percent gay because I’m a professional. That’s why when you’re a professional; you should be able to control your emotions, your behavior. . We are Christian. So these things are taboo and the more that I have to be able to control myself.”
Onyx had a fear of disclosing himself to others. He said: “There was some sort of internal, ahh internal, what do you call that? Non-acceptance. . . there was some sort of fear in me.” This fear of approaching people also made him fearful of approaching males he was attracted to in high school and college. He recalled: “I never had the courage to approach or to propose to ahh, what do you call that, to. . .It wasn’t a fear of rejection. I felt ashamed!” Upon graduating from high school, a neighbor boy kissed and caressed him, but Onyx ran away. He was embarrassed. Onyx did not have any sexual experience until the age of 28. It might be difficult to find the source of this anxiety, but it may have been a fear of rejection or violence by males.
Pearl, from an old rich family in Bulacan, was not teased because of his family’s social status. He recalled: “But I was always afraid that they might tease me. Like calling me: bakla, bakla, bakla!!” Pearl would even take girls to parties in college, just to give himself a popular image. But by his third year, he had to face reality. He recalled: “I had to accept by the late third year that I was a homosexual.”
Garnet, as mentioned earlier, was quite effeminate in appearance and movement. He was noticeably gay. He said: “I tried to hide being gay in college, but even if I try to hide it, it’s obvious.”
Diamond, who was also quite effeminate, seemed open to accept himself as gay, unlike the others. He never gave a hint that he had any problems acknowledging that he was gay. At sixteen, he was servicing American soldiers for five dollars each without reluctance. Also, wartime made everyone desperate for cash. Upon moving to Manila, Diamond continued to support his family.
The participants did not report any police harassment or entrapment. There were no laws against cross-dressing as there were in America. This is also what Donn Hart found in the cities of Cebu and Davao in the 1960s. As Diamond would attest, he was regularly cross-dressing as a female prostitute targeting American sailors.
Diamond mentioned no allies to help gay victims during during an anti-gay prostitution campaign that a city mayor had started. The Church was not sympathetic; the communists thought that gay people were part of capitalist decadence; the feminist movement and human rights groups had not yet started. Like American gays, here was a story of a struggle in isolation, without allies. Gays then, suffered in silence, remote from each other and from the larger society.
Two participants recalled bullies from high school. Crystal had it quite difficult in his high school in a neighboring town in Leyte:
Some guys were teasing us (he and another gay boy named Antonio) because we are not really macho. They would say: ‘Ooooy, bayot! (Visayan for bakla).’ Even the girls would tease. We had to ignore them or we had to be quiet or else it would create a public disgrace. During breaks, we were supposed to go to the canteen but we would avoid going there because there are many guys there who would bully us or do whatever they want to do with us. I, I, I, fought, I fight with them. “Yeah, Antonio (his gay classmate), we have to quarrel to fight. No, no, you cannot afford to cry Antonio. No, no, no, you have to fight.” But then it was so obvious; obvious as a clear sun and a clear moon that we were gay.
The closest experience of another participant to Crystal’s tale of teasing would be Opal’s high school experiences in countryside north of Manila. Even though he received honors, he was verbally teased. “I was not physically manhandled, not like that. But they would imitate me like they would sway their hips.”
Crystal and Diamond claimed that back then “Warays (from the Eastern Visayas) are brave and masculine…they don’t back down in a conflict. And one thing they really don’t like is to have a gay son.” Diamond said that the reason why he was tolerated at home because his father was Ilongo, (from the Western Visayas) who he claimed always accepted gays,
Perhaps the more effeminate boys suffered less teasing than the male acting gay boys. Perhaps everyone already knew they were gay. Garnet, who seemed very lady-like, explained it like this: “If you are gay and you are too flirtatious, they will not respect you. They will call you names, insult you, they will tease you and everything. I’m the subdued type. It’s enough that they know I’m gay.”
Because of the media focus on America, a few of the participants did have an idea of what it was like to be gay in another place. It was felt the United States was less accepting of homosexuality during that time. The clearest comment came from Diamond, the prostitute. He recalled:
“If the American seaman discovers that you are gay, you will be beaten. ‘What you know that ahh, you beneboy!’ (Sailor slang for a Filipino effeminate homosexual) Ummm”! But if the Filipino customer found out they would just tease the gay.
Ruby had done research on the United States during the 1970s. He noted:
The fact that when you talk of America, it’s more liberated, then I had that in mind that they are freer there. But they don’t know that the Philippines is more of a paradise for gays! Than America. In America you might be imprisoned for being gay. But here in the Philippines no one is imprisoned for being gay! Here, it can only happen in gossip!
They wanted acceptance
It does not take an organized movement to gain tolerance. Ruby was probably the most audacious among the participants. In the late ‘60s, he formed an informal gay sorority in a large school in Manila. He recounted,“We have to go to Luneta (the central park of Manila). And walk like beautiful models! Whenever it’s Wednesday or whenever it’s Friday, all of us would model!”
Ruby felt that “the young gays, especially the college gays, were more courageous in coming out.” Around 1970, he organized a gay beauty pageant with about 75 contestants, all of who were college students.
Pearl, from upper class Bulacan, claimed that there were gay bars making their appearances in the late “60s in Manila. The greater toleration for gay men was attributed to First Lady Imelda Marcos, who promoted the beauty and the arts. He explained: “I mean at that time the gay revolution changed so much. It (gay sexuality) was beginning to be accepted, was the couturiers, the game wow! A household word.”
Although Garnet was a bit shy at first, he became a starlet. At V. Mapa High School, he was the partner of one of the notorious bad boys. In college, he was the unofficial muse of the basketball team, and a special member of a fraternity. Later, he performed as Bambi Araneta (a starlet at the time) in a Tondo basketball court.
Pearl claimed there was very little teasing of gays at his college. The gays would not allow ridicule. They would confront the teasers. They made it a point to give a lesson to the ones who were teasing the gays. They challenged: “Excuse me! We are more intelligent than you and we will earn more than you will ever earn!”
It was interesting to see how the participants desired dignity. For heterosexuals, advertisements, family and friends encourage relationships, marriage and children. Yet no one encouraged the homosexuals, although they said that their families still loved them in spite of their gayness.
Today gays are more tolerated
In a general sense, a young gay male in the 1960s could be tolerated, if he carried himself with decorum, and acted decently. In comparison to today, it was a constrained life, with no societal institutions to support and encourage the gay. Perhaps a gay male knew that in comparison to the United States, the Philippines was tolerant of his identity and escapades. Yet the Church, media, and society ignored him, aside of course, from occasional gossip. If he was successful, it was in spite of the fact that he was gay.
Today gays are bolder and less secretive. Crystal recalled a time when, “We used to hide, like we were in a big prison. We were not allowed to be seen, we were not allowed to feel that we are gays. But now, in our town in Leyte, our city mayor is gay, gay, really gay . . .so very very gay!” Bloodstone recalled lecturing in class in a low voice, and only allowing his voice to go high when with friends. Otherwise, he tried to blend in. “But now, gays are much more flamboyant, and wear bright colors.” And there are now many open-minded families. Noted Topaz: “The parents are proud of their gay kid now. . .Gays are hardworking. Gays are workaholics. They can be welcomed in the family now.” Today, with the rise of the international gay rights movement, it seems that most Filipino gays are proud of themselves.
Being gay exhibits itself as an essential difference at a very early age. Only afterwards does social construction seem to play a role in developing a gay adult.
The early first encounter stories dovetail with the theory of essentialism. This idea states that human sexuality, like gender is an essential difference found in all human societies, past and present. In this sense, homosexuality bursts forth from the young boy. It cannot be a choice. Essentialists believe being gay has always exhibited itself as a sexual outlet for a minority of the population. For those males exhibiting a choice of the same sex, similarities will exist worldwide. These could include feminine body movements, the use of a higher pitch voice, or taking on some of the sex roles reserved for women. Homosexuals then will always be different than the rest of society. The Filipino term for homosexual, a “third sex” seems an unconscious application of essentialism.
Their gay sexuality seemed to burst forth in an essentialist manner in small isolated Philippine towns. Yet social construction was validated through how the participants molded their persona into that of a Philippine homosexual. Unlike typical modern American gays, most participants were effeminate. Nor, they claimed, were there manly type of gays in the Philippine gay culture back in the 1960s. Three of the participants said they were disgusted, angry at this type of masculine gay. (“Its like eating your own vagina!” in the words of Diamond.) Their sexual object choice was the “opposite sex”—males, specifically handsome young men.
Today though, probably through social construction, there are many gays who act masculine
Unlike essentialism, social construction states that sexuality, like racial and gender stereotypes, are constructed or invented by the society. Subcultures within society, and the group in power decide how their members will behave. Thus, Black Americans are encouraged to develop skills in basketball and in music, and women to become homemakers, and gays are pushed to take on some roles of the opposite sex. In another society, Blacks would be seen perhaps as excellent accountants, and women might be trusted pilots and drivers, and gays might be very masculine. All social roles are malleable, and can differ from one society to the next, and can evolve in society as well.
In fact, social constructionists believe that there could be a society where there is no marked psychological or social difference between a heterosexual and homosexual. Foucault went so far as to say that in the past, there might have been no labels defining a person on their sexual choice, that these labels are a modern invention. Thus, some males chose women, others chose fellow males as sexual partners, and some chose both, and few seemed to notice.
Social construction has become the dominant theory in “queer studies”. It has been found that there are very masculine males practicing homosexuality in New Guinea, unlike the effeminate gays of South East Asia. Thus, human culture does not have homosexuality, but homosexualities, and society constructs the role sexual minorities will take.
The implication of this small study is that essentialism must be the way gays originate. The sexual urges arose in isolation, without media influence, in small towns across the Philippines. Not one of the participants knew of another gay when they had their first stirrings of sexuality. They were still in elementary school, and did not even have terms for the feelings they had. With the exception perhaps of the quite effeminate Ruby, Diamond and Garnet, all of the participants were reluctant to acknowledge their sexuality when they were small boys. They just felt different from the other boys. They only accepted themselves as homosexuals hesitantly. For the participants, sexuality was never a choice.
If instead this study investigated heterosexual males, there would be no reluctance recorded, they would have easily accepted their sexuality as “normal.” The “real” boys would not even think of it as a choice. If it was not a choice for heterosexuals, then it could not have been a choice for homosexuals. Thus, like anatomical sexuality that divides males from females, I would suggest that homosexuality originates as an essential difference between people. It cannot be like the difference between those with curly or straight hair, or those of darker skin compared to lighter skin, but like anatomical gender, it is an essential difference between people. Homosexuality seems to originate innately and does define the sexual attraction of a minority of boys and girls. From there on, societies and individuals define the roles associated with that innate difference.
The Filipino idea that homosexuality is inborn, or God’s choice, meant that the boy who became gay was not to be blamed and this led to a greater tolerance of gays.
Hart noted this Filipino belief in Siaton (1968, p. 242). In 1969, Carballo wrote in a popular Manila newspaper article “Second Thoughts of the Third Sex” where she inferred that most Filipinos thought that gays were born that way as well. In spite of their exposure to Western science, the Philippine psychology students of the early 1970s seemed inclined to believe that homosexuality was not a mental illness (Sechrest, Fay, Zaidi, Flores, 1973). Sechrest and Flores (1969) noted that the common opinion in the Philippines is that homosexuality was inborn.
This has many implications. The boy who is born gay cannot be blamed for his sexual orientation. It might have been seen as unfortunate, but was not the fault of the boy. Nor could the gay boy be pushed to become a true male. Nor would there be many prohibitions on gay teachers, since they could not influence their students’ sexuality.
This is in marked contrast to Western science. As the Philippine college dean in the Carballo article pointed out, psychologists blamed homosexuality on the parents, primarily the mother, for causing the affliction. It was thought that exposure to other gays could affect boys. Many gays in developed countries in the 1950s and 60s sought help in counseling (Katz 1976, p.131), and had much self-hate.
This research does not suggest that Filipino gays were immune to this feeling of shame. Only the two very effeminate participants accepted their homosexuality without reservation. Jade and Topaz remained reluctantly gay. Probably also the two who backed out of the interview at the last minute were ashamed. Even the most politically aware, the most rebellious participants were not immune to this feeling. However, as someone who witnessed the condition in America, I think the shame was much less felt in the Philippines.
The Catholic Church may be a reason for a greater tolerance of Filipino gays.
Perhaps surprisingly, religion had little place in the interviews. No one mentioned the viewpoints of the Catholic Church. During the end of the interview with the born-again Jade there was a discussion between he and Bloodstone. The Catholic Bloodstone was stressing the overall message of love from Jesus, while Jade could quote verses that condemned homosexuality in the Bible.
For the researcher, this epitomized the feelings of many Filipino Catholics. The Church teachings are often ignored, and the message of the love of God is paramount. Jade, like America and much of Europe and Australia is Protestant. The Bible has a number of rather clear condemnations of homosexuality, and Protestants study the holy book more. Thus, they suffered more guilt and more ostracism.
Generally, there was tolerance for Filipino gays.
The term tolerance is used in the shallow sense of the word. Forbearance would be the synonym. The only participant that mentioned that their parents were happy they had a gay son was Diamond. For the rest of the participants, there was no affirmation of gayness. Parents probably would have preferred a heterosexual as a son.
But the tolerance given to Philippine gay men was deeper and more compassionate than the shallow classical definition of tolerance noted by Oberdiek: “Society cannot move beyond a grudging defense of toleration, beyond mere tolerance, for it sees tolerance as little more than forbearance, as putting up with what is disgusting, deplorable, or debased in order to establish a system of well-ordered political liberties that treats everyone evenhandedly” (2001, p. vi). None of the participants reported feeling a sense of disgust coming from their families or friends or workplaces. With the exception the stories of Crystal and Opal, the participants experienced silence, non-acknowledgment, light teasing, but nothing more hurtful.
Instead, Bergen’s classical, shallow level of tolerance seems more appropriate: “It involves recognition that a civil society must include a willingness to bear with people whose ideas and practices are not merely different, but believed to be wrong.”
In a general sense, a young gay male in the 1960s could be tolerated, if he carried himself with decorum, and acted decently. Pearl and Bloodstone used the adjectives “restricted” and “discretion.” In comparison to today, it was a constrained life, with no societal institutions to support and encourage the gay, and very few role models. The Church, the media, and society ignored or gossiped about him. If he became successful, it was in spite of the fact that he was gay.
The Spanish and American homosexualities did not seem to make much impact in the Philippines.
None of the stories of the participants seemed to parallel the concept of a maricon and machista found in Spanish sexuality. In spite of three hundred years of presence, the Spanish style of gay sexuality did not leave a mark. This would be another reason why Filipino attitudes on same sex desire were probably indigenous. Unlike Latin America, there were not enough Spanish in the Philippines to leave a mark on homosexual culture.
Any American influence must have been negative, but it is difficult to trace. From the researcher’s own experience, the Philippine situation was much more tolerant than his experience in Seattle, a rather liberal 1960s environment. In that city, the fear of physical abuse was a real worry at school. Nor were there any other open gay males to turn to for solace.
If the relative tolerance did not come from either of the two colonizers, it must have come from the Philippines itself. Although this is sheer speculation since there are no written sources, it would seem that this relative tolerance must have come from come pre-colonial culture.
Before there was a gay movement, individuals wanted acceptance.
Although the researcher is not trained in psychology, it would seem that the participants compensated for being gay. This compensation was done in a positive manner. Crystal strove to become a great writer, movie director and city councilman, Diamond to bring home much money for the family, Bloodstone a well loved teacher, Garnet, a successful OCW, Pearl, a great designer, and Opal, a respected advisor to high school youth and Topaz the nation’s most celebrated talent scout and TV showman. Crystal claimed that gays were more intelligent, and hardworking than their male peers. Possibly, the gay of the 1960s desired to be accepted in spite of his sexuality, and strove hard to make money and gain respect.
Today gays are more tolerated.
The Filipino gay today is still not fully accepted. Few openly admit that they are gay. There are many gay professionals, or those who hold regular jobs, but many, if not most, have a reluctance to admit that they are gay. They remain concealed for fear of ridicule and social ostracism. They do not talk about the issue with family members. In this sense, the situation today remains stuck in the 1960s.
Many heterosexual Filipinos today would like the issue to remain at arms length. They do not want a gay brother or sister. It might reflect badly on their family. A group of male schoolmates would not want an obvious gay in their group, because their own masculinity might be suspect. Even today, a successful gay male is admired in spite of his sexuality. In contrast to heterosexuality, homosexuality is never an asset.
On the other hand, there are some public figures that are now openly gay, and many gay males are well known to be hard workers and as students high achievers. They have a recognized role in many fields, such as the beauty, entertainment industries and teaching professions. This reflects a generalized tolerance for gays in the Philippines.
This tolerance perhaps originated in the pre-colonial era. The two colonizers of the Philippines, the Spanish and the Americans, would have only a dampening effect on this tolerance. And this tolerance existed prior to any influence of the gay rights movement that arose in America with the Stonewall riots in 1969. Still, it was uneasy tolerance, and gay male Filipinos could not expect assistance from any cultural institution. It was an uneasy tolerance, so Filipino gay men had to carry themselves with decorum and not make too much noise.
The lives of the participants, and the lives of gays now departed, created a space of tolerance for the present generation of gays. To honor their lives, Filipino gays must continue to work for the full acceptance of the upcoming generations of gays.
There needs to be more study.
This research paper has only scratched the surface of the issue, uncovering only a few of the hidden lives of millions of Filipino homosexuals. Much more needs to be done. The print media has never been catalogued. Further research could be done using other media sources. Included in the study could be government resolutions, bills, and laws dealing with homosexuality. Documentation of police and court records, parish files of special reports to Rome, Madrid, and Mexico City on homosexuality would be of great help for historical researchers. Also, another set of interviews should be done, that would have a wider geographical scope, with participants from a more varied socio-economic backgrounds.
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