Consequently, Filipinos now believe sexuality and gender are completely determined through binary terms. Cis-males attracted to men, are known as ‘bakla’ and are assumed to want to be women. In the same way, lesbians, referred to as ‘tomboys’ are perceived as having the desire to be men.
Michael Dela Cruz Tan, Filipino born Editor-in-Chief of Outrage Magazine – the only LGBTIQ+ publication in the Philippines – expressed his astonishment when he was exposed to the Western identifications of sex and gender while studying at the University of Newcastle, studying a B.A (Communication studies). Michael fondly recalls clubbing in Sydney’s Oxford St, and joining rallies that called for the protection of LGBTIQ+ rights and the intersectionalities of LGBTIQ+ issues.
Growing up, his gender was always misconstrued as people would assume he wanted to be a woman for being attracted to men. In his online bio, Michael mentioned that he “really, really came out in Sydney.” His time spent in Australia opened his eyes to the LGBTIQ+ community “not just as a social organisation, but also as a political force.” Michael also notes his establishment of Outrage Magazine was born out of his encounter with the Australian LGBTIQ+ community.
“Growing up, I didn’t have even the concept that you can be gay, yet masculine. If you go outside Metro Manila even now, this still holds true in many places in the Philippines,” he said.
Failing to recognise sexual and gender identity of individuals on a national level can leave LGBTIQ+ members feeling isolated and discriminated against, with deliberate misgendering being a common problem. A study conducted by the Health Information Action Network explored on the identities of homesexual men, and found the term “transgender” is not a widely used category in the Philippines. The study also suggested not even those who fit the description of transgender were informed on the category.
This misunderstanding is currently being tackled by Outrage Magazine. According to Michael, the publication “helmed the writing of a journalistic stylebook on LGBTIQ+ terminology,” informing media personnel, journalists and schools – in an attempt to provide clarity, and avoid problems habitually caused by confusion.
The 2014 ‘Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippines Country Report’ conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), reviewed and analysed the legal and social environment for LGBTIQ+ individuals and society. The report suggest LGBTIQ+ Filipinos are only accepted if they stay bound by the shackles of the preconditioned moulds and stereotypes society deem fit.
Earlier this year, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) encouraged Filipinos from the LGBTIQ+ community to join the military service. Unsuspectingly perceived as a step forward, LGBTIQ+ members serving in the military are expected to “act and behave with dignity”.
The AFP Code of Ethics states military personnel can be recommended for discharge/separation for failing to adhere to their accepted ethical and moral standards of behaviour – including homosexuality. Essentially, LGBTIQ+ members will only be tolerated in the military if their gender expression conforms with their assigned sex at birth, and their sexuality is hidden.
Adolfo shared as a child he would jokingly say everything would’ve been better it he were a girl. “My parents would laugh it off, but I know now that they had an unspoken, visceral moment of dread, every time, that may I would ‘turn into’ a ‘bakla’.”
The fear Adolfo and Divina described in their parents is a reiterated anecdote throughout Outrage Magazine – where Michael says their interviews are abound with “how family members are okay with having a gay son … as long as that son ‘acts like a man’.”