Girls & boys & girlish boys

5 Jul

Ms Gay Gubat 2012 was fabulous (read FAB-U-LOUS!!!). The dresses were so much more spectacular than Ms Gubat, the makeup much more fierce, the bikinis more than a little bit skimpy and the question and answer section camper than Sydney Mardi Gras. You would think in a town like Gubat, with a population half the size of my home in Melbourne, many of whom are living well below the line, a beauty pageant with a cast of 8 beautiful gays would be the last thing on the agenda. But Ms Gay Gubat is a cultural institution here and symbolic of the role of gays in Philippines in general.

If it weren’t for that sign up the back, who could tell these are boys??

It might seem weird that I am using the term “gays” as a collective noun for a particular segment of the population. In Australia, very un-PC. But in Philippines, it isn’t uncommon to have someone described to you or introduced to you followed by “he’s a gay”… interesting turn of phrase. The most visible segment of the gay community here in Philippines is the bakla, which I suppose in Australia you would liken to a drag queen. These guys are just as sexy as women, and in some instances, sure do look like women and get poor unassuming men into trouble (or sometimes assuming? or sometimes forced into it by a friend…).

So sexy! Does this look like a boy to you??

What is most interesting here, though not uncommon in Asian countries, is that “you don’t have to be a gay to have sex with a gay”. In a country with overpopulation, poverty and a very powerful church banning all forms of contraception, men here will “do whatever it takes to get the job done” (credit to my guy for that quote). Yes, men want to have sex here, so they will have sex with a bakla, or just any gay, to have sex. Married men and women often practice celibacy so as not to add to a brood and divorce here is not an option, so men will have sex with a gay without threat to the family structure nor to his own standing in the community.

Gays in Philippines, used to describe gay guys, are an accepted and deeply entrenched part of the culture. However, lesbians are not really accepted. Women would be punished for extra-marital affairs. Walk around and see men playing basketball and drinking in the streets with not a woman in sight and in my surf group, there is one local girl who’s 14, and whose lola told her she is only allowed to surf until she gets boobs. After that, no way. In my own opinion (like everything in this blog please note), it is not necessarily a sign of lack of opportunities for women. Indeed I know many women who have been to college and who are working in professional roles and have hobbies. But the fact that an unmarried woman over 30 is called an old spinster is a sure sign of the expectation of women in this culture. Get married sure, make babies, definitely. But not too many and when there are enough, hubby will find his fix elsewhere and she will look in the other direction.

The surfers, known as the mandarigma (warriors) in these parts. Giane is there, but not for too much longer if her lola has anything to do with it

I’ve found this somewhat difficult to deal with as a Filipino-Australian. I don’t have the luxury of people looking at me and passing off my un-Filipino behaviour as Australian. When I’ve finished surfing and am walking up to the street with my bikini soaking through my clothes, I am looked on with disapproval. There’s a lot of whispering when a male friend and I hang out. And people thought it was very strange that my guy was here cooking for me while I was working. But I am hoping even though I am a woman here not displaying what are currently accepted as feminine behaviours, I will display that I am respectful and hardworking and successful, and maybe that will change perspectives. I think provincial Philippines could use a bit of gentle shaking up…

Side note: The gays loved my guy. We went out one night to a fiesta in my Barangay and at least half the guys (girls?) there were bakla and they sure were undressing him with their eyes. Could have made a lot of money pimping him out…. Next time.

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