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The high cost of dying

When news of Jennifer Laude’s murder in the hands of an American marine broke out, I knew it wasn’t going to be a simple matter. After all, Jennifer was a transgender woman and her alleged murderer Joseph Scott Pemberton was in the country as part of the VFA-EDCA contingent. The news coverage of ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol was particularly cringe-worthy. For days, the reporters and newscasters kept on using Jennifer’s birth name and insisted on referring to her as a man. The same was true for print media. To compound the matter, the police’s speculation that Jennifer was a prostitute (their words, not mine) who might have attempted to rob the American, hence that gruesome death. And in the age of social media. when everyone’s opinion (mo matter how idiotic and ignorant) can be broadcast in the internet, many people soon joined in the discussion and threw in their two-cents’ worth into the matter.

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Browsing through the thread of comments on websites like Rappler will give you a glimpse of how far we have really gone as a society when it comes to diversity. My Facebook news feed alone gave me an insightful, yet sometimes un-welcome look into the attitudes of my Facebook friends to non-straight people. I saw new aspects of my Facebook friends’ attitudes in their comments on the case. And I didn’t like what I saw in some. So much so that I asked myself, “Why am I friends with this person?” In fact, because of these status updates and comments, I have un-friended and blocked 2 of my Facebook friends.

Jennifer Laude’s murder has become the Litmus Paper Test for our attitude towards sexual diversity. And the result is alarming. Personally, my biggest realization is that transphobia is distinct from homophobia. They are cut from the same cloth, but they are different. I had always thought that these things either went hand-in-hand or were one and the same. But this changed after I read some comments from friends, who are also gay, which dismayed me. I was also disheartened by the comments of some members of my family. I had thought that by coming out to them, that they have gained at least some form of sensitivity to gender and sexual identity.

I remember growing up, many Filipino movies I’ve seen (both comedy or drama) often featured a scene or a situation where the male character falls for an amazonian woman whose beauty is exaggerated–a wink to the audience that something is afoot, and when they go somewhere private, it is revealed that the woman was, in fact, a man. The situation is then played for laughs, even if the “woman” is subjected to verbal and physical abuse from the “deceived” man, nobody objected because everyone knew and believed he or she had it coming.

Many people seem to think that Jennifer somehow deserved to be murdered because (a) she could be prostitute who probably attempted to rob her “client”; (b) she was unfaithful to her German fiance; (c) she deceived Pemberton into believing she was a “real” woman; and so on. First of all, since when is it permissible to murder sex workers? Second, who are we to judge Jennifer’s fidelity? We are not privy to the intricacies of Jennifer’s relationship with her fiancee. It is possible that theirs is an open relationship. Third, how sure are we that there was deception? The used condoms prove that sex occurred. We’re not even sure who was the active and passive partner between Jennifer and Pemberton.

There is no justification to murder someone that will fully satisfy my conscience. It’s just very strange for a society like ours, who purportedly defends the right of the unborn child to live, to harbor this way of thinking towards someone like Jennifer

Is the life of a transgender person of less value?

To add insult to the injury, our government leaders’ reaction to the case has been consistently late and inappropriate. To have the highest official of the country saying he doesn’t go to funeral wakes of people he doesn’t know is a very obvious manifestation of his arrogance or the severe ineptitude of his public relations team. Neither of which is acceptable. Why waste time and effort on deporting Jennifer’s fiancee for a minor infraction when they should be focusing on building the case against the accused?

This posthumous bashing escalated as new things about Jennifer came to light. Even the left (the source of the edited image in this post) has joined the fray by using Jennifer’s murder as the latest rallying point in calling for the scrapping of the VFA-EDCA–an agreement between the Philippines and the US. This makes me uncomfortable because. while it seems that the LGBT advocacy has found an ally in the left to get justice for Jennifer, the case is also being used to bolster their political agenda. There are many cases of violence against LGBT people, but the left has kept quiet about it until this happened. So what gives?

I hope that, in the coming months, people will not lose sight of the basic and most important aspect of this case: that Jennifer was murdered. Crime of passion or hate crime, the distinction is probably less important than uncovering the truth as to what happened that fateful night and then punishing the guilty, regardless of the perpetrator’s nationality and the political context surrounding the case.

And for the advocates, Jennifer Laude’s murder shows us that the long road to gender and sexual identity equality is before us, and getting there will require so much more from all of us. It’s true that we have made great strides but the fact is there’s also much more to be done.

This Gay-Straight Thing

I was working the whole of Sunday but in the afternoon, as I was spending a few precious moments away from the glare of the computer monitor, I caught the segment of “The Buzz” on the recent break-up of gay celebrity Vice Ganda from his unidentified boyfriend. The identity of said boyfriend has been the subject of speculation for a long time and the end of the relationship only seemed to fuel the speculation further. I think this is also largely due to Vice Ganda himself, for tweeting cyptic messages that, based on one’s interpretation, obviously alluded to a particular man, who is also known to be one of Vice Ganda’s friends.

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image courtesy of rappler.com

Terrence Romeo, the man allegedly alluded to, who recently transitioned from varsity to professional basketball player, allowed himself to be interviewed and, again depending on one’s interpretation, got manipulated into issuing a denial of his alleged relationship with Vice Ganda. Adding un-necessary fuel to the fire is his father, who stated that his son couldn’t possibly be involved in a relationship with a gay man because he “raised his children properly”.

Boy Abunda, the gay host of the show and self-declared LGBT advocate, latched on to the father’s statement and started to go into a lecture of sexual diversity until one of his female co-hosts interjected–probably at the behest of the producers of the show. “The Buzz’, after all, is an entertainment talk show and probably not the best venue for disseminating sexual and gender diversity information.

I’m not surprised that while certain people acknowledge that LGBTs have gained a lot socially in the past years, many of the old prejudices remain. It’s true that gay representations in media have increased a lot and improved a bit. But I believe that at its core, many families still find it okay to have a gay son or daughter, as long as it’s not their own family. And God forbid that their son or daughter gets seduced by gays and lesbians.

The advocates’ work is far from over. Sexual diversity can be conceptually complicated, especially when taken alongside our existing cultural and religious biases. But it’s fairly simple on a practical level, especially if one views it behind the lens of respect to others. The process might be long and circuitous but I believe that gender-blindness is attainable.

Because in that ideal world, the identity of Vice Ganda’s lover should only be an issue because he’s a public figure and not because he’s gay. Terrence Romeo, regardless of his relationship with Vice, shouldn’t feel the need to clarify anything for fear of negatively affecting his masculine image and budding basketball career. And we the public shouldn’t have to care about a gay-straight relationship, no matter how much we are teased to do so.

Gays, Geeks, and Games

In the last 3 weeks two movies with “Game” in their titles were shown two weeks apart. The first was the sequel to “The Hunger Games”, which I hadn’t seen. Before going to the cinema, I downloaded the first film and watched it at home. It was okay; a bit predictable as far as dystopian stories went but it was entertaining and enjoyable, largely due to Jennifer Lawrence and Lenny Kravitz. The sequel, “Catching Fire” was even better, in my opinion. I didn’t expect to like it very much, but I did. Francis Lawrence seemed to have found his stride, in terms of balancing his storytelling with the visual flourishes that he likes to use in music videos and in films. Jennifer Lawrence and Lenny Kravitz are still great, and so are the other stars like Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks in her Alexander McQueen threads.

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I saw the trailer for “Ender’s Game” when I saw “Catching Fire” and I immediately asked myself why the title seemed so familiar. The film appeared to be based on yet another work of juvenalia. Its cast, both young and old, was impressive. When I got home I realized that this film was the subject of a boycott call by a group of gay geeks (which I like to think I’m part of) because its author, Orson Scott Card, is a proud homophobe. A board member of Geeks OUT wrote an op-ed published by Advocate magazine to elaborate on the matter.

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Of course, the people behind the film tried to do damage control by saying that Card won’t make a single centavo from the film’s earnings aside from the $1.5 million he already made when the film was optioned. The director and lead star Harrison Ford defended the adaptation and tried to distance it from the author. Through all these, Card remained silent. And unapologetic. The effects of the bad media generated extended to DC Comics, which hired Card to write a story as part of a new series on Superman. The illustrator assigned to the story quit because of Card’s participation and stores promised not to stock the issue if Card remained an author.

Card made it to The Advocate's list of the Biggest Homophobes of 2013

Card made it to The Advocate’s list of the Biggest Homophobes of 2013

So did I watch “Ender’s Game”? No, I didn’t. I can respect Mr Card’s views on LGBT, even if it were detrimental to me, on the basic principle that everyone is entitled to his own opinions and beliefs. I can also separate Mr Card the bigot from Mr Card the writer of great stories. People are complex; I get that. However, I think that it’s only fair and right that Mr Card doesn’t make any money from the people that he vilifies and undermines with every chance he gets. People like me. I have never read any of his books and I won’t start anytime soon.

By the way, “Ender’s Game” earned 60 million of its 110 million dollar budget in its theatrical run, killing the would-be franchise. Reviews were mixed. Hollywood insiders are still speculating how much Geeks OUT’s campaign affected its lackluster performance at the box office.

I say, “Queer Geeks, the force is with us!”

*with thanks to The Advocate on-line

Have you embraced your inner bigot today?

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. described bigotry this way: “The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour upon it, the more it will contract.”

That sums up right away the way I feel for those who harbor prejudices against anyone or anything. A kind of resigned acceptance, even tolerance–the same things that they cannot find within themselves. I don’t try to change them; I just make sure that our paths cross as minimally as possible. However, there are times when this becomes difficult to do, especially when bigots find a platform to stand on and a channel to broadcast their bigotry to the rest of the world.

I was prepared to contain my reaction to Christine Babao’s parenting column article within a single tweet because I felt it deserved nothing more. Many have reacted to the article and there have been far more eloquent responses and reactions than mine would have been. One such reaction here, from a lesbian and another from a developmental psychologist provide insight based on critical and scientific thinking instead of pseudo-psychology and moralistic and polite shaming.

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However, just the other night, as I was having coffee with a close friend (who’s also gay), this topic found its way into our conversation wherein he told me that he wasn’t really bothered by Ms Babao’s pronouncements on parenting (possibly LGBT) children. Because he felt that, as a parent, she was entitled to think that way and to act according to what she thought was good for her own children. He had a point, I had to agree.

Therein, I thought, lies the deeper problem. Ms Babao’s comments are a reflection of parents’ lack of knowledge and understanding of human sexuality. The fact that she talked about looking for ‘early signs of homosexuality’ is a clear indicator that she and the so-called expert she quoted view homosexuality (and other variations of sexual preference) as a disease or a disorder of some sort. She also displayed a complete ignorance of the differences between sex and gender, which further affects her views on sexuality.

For someone who’s in the mass media, one might express surprise at her old-fashioned dated views on human sexuality. However, she’s not really alone in this. Ms Babao is not the first and she won’t be the last. I know for certain a number of female celebrities who are surrounded by gay men & women colleagues and friends who will find it inconceivable to accept should her son/ daughter grow up gay. When this hugely popular actress had a talk show, I remember cringing upon hearing her prejudices against gays, which she let slip discretely beneath her very nice and polite demeanor. And just last night, in a talent show, while judging a young male contestant who might’ve danced too gracefully (like a “girl”) so as to arouse doubts on the boy’s sexuality, its out-spoken female judge said that if it were one of her sons (who acted like that), she would probably die.

Bigotry is a tricky thing. Not many will admit to having prejudices but we all have it, in varying degrees. Like I said, my problem is when bigots find a platform to stand on and a channel to broadcast their bigotry to the world. Ms Babao tweeted some sort of apology that reeks of arrogance and self-righteousness. She even relayed the same kind of apology, presumably from the pseudo-psychologist that she substantially quoted in her article.

I thought, my God, has she really deluded herself on her so-called expertise on parenting? Having a child does not make one an expert on parenting; it’s like regarding yourself a mathematician after learning just to add and subtract. In these times, Ms Babao, parenting is already challenging as it is. So please don’t muddle the issue by imposing your prejudices on other concerned parents and disguising them thinly as your simplistic disclaimer. Good thing somebody gave an insightful response, here.

The television wields so much transformative power over the psyche of people. It has the great potential to broaden minds and mitigate the impact of bigotry and discrimination. Unfortunately, these potential and power are largely ignored by many of its practitioners, choosing instead to provide entertainment that panders to instead of uplifting the minds of viewers, to highlight opinions that espouse shallowness of thought instead of critical thinking and acting, and to emphasize ideas that deepen materialism and greed instead of equality and equity.

ADDENDUM:

I just finished watching Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho’s segment on raising LGBT children and I would just like to congratulate the show for its factual and sensitive treatment of the issue. The two case studies were both presented without a touch of sensationalism that lesser shows would normally succumb to. The resource person spoke simply but effectively, unlike that Dr. Camille. It was touching and uplifting, even in its most tragic moments. Best quote of the segment: “Homosexuality is a normal variant of sexual preferences.” As it was just proven, there is hope after all for Philippine television on being an agent of change.