In the Philippines, LGBTIQ+ representations in the media rarely skew from the views of gender roles, highlighting the general lack of understanding of sexual orientations and gender identities. The UNDP report showed stereotyped portrayals of LGBTIQ+ people in media dominate, with gay men usually only covering entertainment shows in tabloid format, further rooting the position of gay men in Filipino society – bound to occupational niches within the entertainment and beauty industries. Ultimately, this leads to the problematic caricature of what author, J.N.C Garcia describes as “effeminate, cross-dressing men swishing down streets and squealing on television programme with flaming impunity.”
Garcia comments on the concept of tolerance, saying: “To equate Philippine society’s tolerance for public displays of transvestism with wholesale approval of homosexual behavior is naive, if not downright foolish.”
In Australia, queer people of diverse backgrounds not only have to operate in a heteronormative world but also forced to navigate through a predominately white queer community.
Divina has experienced first-hand the disconnect between people of colour and white people in the queer community, speaking of how the intersection of gender comes into play. As a queer woman of colour, she has encountered the fetishisation of her race and sexuality, by the white community, queer and non-queer.
“I’ve heard a white woman tell me she “feels like milk chocolate tonight” as her friend asked if she “used chopsticks to mix my tapioca pudding”
“Meanwhile, I’ve often been invited for threesomes with white men who presume all lesbians want penis and all Asians are passive,” she said.
In contrast, Adolfo hasn’t faced much discrimination based on his ethnicity nor his sexual orientation. He does however recognise the problems frequently faced.
“It’s in the day-to-day that oppression is most felt: microaggressions, hateful language, differential treatment. It’s more discreet, more insidious, but it’s there—and it’s very damaging.”
The prejudices minority groups face is also largely reflected in the lack of diversity found in Australian media, politics and sport. For intersectional queer individuals who often get ignored by both the LGBTIQ+ and wider-Australian community, the results can be damaging.
“Because there’s a severe lack of queer Filipino-Australians in my life and in Western media, to me being a queer Filipino-Australian is forging my own path in a world that doesn’t at all represent me,” said Divina.
While there have been setbacks in developing a fair and equal social environment for LGBTIQ+ Filipinos, with Philippines’ President Duterte constantly associating the word “gay” with weak, and boxing Champion Manny Pacquio declaring same-sex attracted individuals “worse than animals” – progress is being made. Notably, the passing of anti-discrimination ordinances (ADO) in more local government units, the election of Geraldine Roman – the first trans woman to enter Congress, the evolution of representation in media and the on-going support of LGBTIQ+ activists and leaders in Congress. At length, this progress manifests from the very qualities that influence the actions of Filipinos around the world – community, hard-work and resilience.
Divina notes “the strong sense of family and community that Filipinos have” played a role in shaping her identity as a queer person and her place in the queer community. Despite coming out as the first openly queer person in her devout Catholic family, from a small village in Quezon Province, Divina’s parents eventually accepted her for who she is.
She feels her religious background has given her “the privilege of understanding how important religion and spirituality is in a person’s life”and has taught her “to have respect for each person’s beliefs as long that respect is reciprocated.”
For Adolfo, a spoken-word poet and dancer, amongst other things, performance seems to be at the heart of what it means to be Filipino. “We love to sing, dance and act, and have a good ol’ party … my mum also often made me sing and play piano at family gatherings during my childhood.”
Queer Filipino-Australians formulate their own idiosyncratic identities, constantly navigating through two contrasting cultures. Potentially shaped by the prejudices instilled in the societal pressures of the Philippines and Australia, they ultimately persevere in their unique understanding of the world, granted by the wanted and unwanted values of their predecessors.
In terms of how Adolfo is performing his identity, he would say: “I’m queer and always queering.”