Bakla

As we have moved through readings and articles, we have learned of various relationships cultures share with the transgender community. Although the terms and definitions often times may overlap, they still maintain distinct details. In this way, we can look at what is regarded as filipino queerness, known as the “Bakla”. This term has particular perceived meanings, depending on what culture’s scope you are looking through.  The term “Bakla” is born from the marriage of two Tagalog words. The first, “babae” translated to english as “woman”, joins together with “lakaki”, translated as “man” to create “Bakla”. Filipino lore claims a bakla is one who posses both a male body and female heart. There are similar categories bakla spreads through and slightly different definitions of the word like hermaphrodite, transvestite, and homosexual but at the center of each variation are feminine-characteristics within a male and cross-dressing. The word represents a social category for Filipino’s. At times, some have used “Bakla” to represent Filipino “queerness” and “gay” to represent white queerness but by translating to homosexual, we loose the social implications the word bakla forces upon those who fall into its category. By being a bakla, the filipino culture places you into a specific social and economic rankings. Baklas are perceived to desire the macho man, and to do whatever it takes to get the desired subject. In this way, they have predispositions placed upon them. Their desires are dictated to them by people around them, not realized by one’s self. The Philippines have a booming prostitution industry and it is estimated that 80 percent of the population of working and lower class men have participated in sexual acts with a bakla. This caters directly to the bakla, and as a result, the bakla will prosper economically above the majority who live in poverty. Manalansan suggests “This is the social script of the bakla. In order to fulfill his inscribed roll, a bakla has to slave away at work in order to survive and get what he is told he should desire- the ‘straight’ macho man.” (Manalansan, 26) He goes on to claim the bakla, being woman must suffer  and “pseudo-woman”, their male identity, must pay.

The culture that is the bakla is just one of the many relationships a culture shares with their trans community. The bakla sheds light on a more public, yet less controversial trans community. In Manalansan’s article, he describes listening to a discussion between Ron and Rodel in which they make a point that I believe encompass’s the basis of the bakla. When Rodel asks Ron if he were going to attend the gay rights parade in New York, Ron simply replies “Why would I do that? Besides, why do people do that? What do they (these gay men) have to prove?” (Manalansan 31) The United States gay men are looked at as loud, obnoxious, referred to as a “carnival”. For the most part, the bakla community is more modest, they aren’t trying to “prove” anything. In the Philippines, they do not have to “come-out” to their friends and family as the queer community is accustomed to in the U.S. They refer to it more as an unveiling, they have been this way their whole life, they have known it, the people in their lives know it and for the most part accept it as well. Rather than feeling trapped until they voice exactly who they are, who they have been hiding they are in the United States, the bakla almost grows into their true selves. The lack of social criticism that is placed on being trans in the filipino culture emphasizes the way other cultures interact, respect and support the transgender population in their own cultures.

Fajardo’s essay further supports the acceptance and tolerance for transgender filipino’s. As she converses with male shipmates, she learns of their relationships with filipino “tomboys” and the love and respect the men feel for them. They were viewed simply as friends and loved ones, regardless of their trans identity. After reading these articles, I realized there are so many ways cultures deal with the population that lie outside of the “norm”,really any norm, whether it be gender, sexual orientation, or simply the way in which you decide to dress yourself, it fascinates me to see how one population can group people together and completely accept and respect them while another populations group the same people together and criticize their choices and preferences.

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2 thoughts on “Bakla

  1. Erica articulated Bakla very well. She mentioned how America views gay men as loud, obnoxious and carnival. How Americans see Filipino culture is based on the media, the study of the laws, and ethnographic research. Valentine’s article also relates to Manalansan’s article because they are both talking about Trans prostitutes. The workers have their own culture and laws as well. Filipino’s leave no room for Bakla as individuals in society. They are pushed out and are seen as “others”. This relates to Meat Market Workers because society looks down upon them ie. Lower class status and a generalization for who the prostitutes are. Resources are not provided, an individual’s story is not taken into consideration and how society is affecting them. Meat Market Workers are discriminated inside the prostitution community, and discriminated against to the overall public. Bakla have the same issues because the government does not want to provide resources to help the community, and are instead trying to help themselves by catering to the client. Bakla are made up to strive for the best macho, and in comparison Meat Market Workers put themselves out there to show who runs the streets and get paid. Filipino’s want to be seen as masculine and Bakla are seen as bringing them down because of the female transition, and the same concept applies to the American prostitutes, which is motivated by fear. Any societal censorship is based out of fear to be seen as weak. Laws are put in place to stop the change in the country from happening and to keep the oppression in the lower class. If minorities are part of the lower class, there is a great chance no change will occur because the power lies in the one percent.

  2. Erica, I like your analysis of Mannalanslan’s piece on the “bakla” as it was clearly defined in terms of how a person is considered to be “bakla” and what this means for them individually. However, my impression from the reading was the emphasis on the social acceptance of the bakla and how their culture affects the definition of what it means to be bakla. For instance, it’s seen as a third gender in which the male represents female characteristics. The Bakla is highly accepted in Filipino culture and this is something that needs to be stressed as it differentiates bakla from being homosexual, which tends to be a common mistake in some people’s understanding. You mentioned they were difference between bakla of Filipino culture and homosexuals in western cultures but there’s huge emphasis on how they’re seen in society. For instance, in Filipino culture, the “bakla” doesn’t “come out” and there is no process of this. Whereas in American culture, this is highly recognized, as well as an important part of being homosexual.
    In the readings we analyzed this semester, a cluster gave primary focus on the influences of cultural norms and attitudes on identities and how we define gender. It’s important to recognize the idea that different cultures hold identities of those with specific characteristics; however, these may not be found in other cultures. Also, the same term could also have different connotations and meanings as we go from one culture to another. This was specifically explored in Fajardo’s essay, women who worked as seamen were not considered as male or female gender but as a “tomboy.” This emerged from a job which is specific to a culture, so therefore defining names of identities can emerge depending on era and geographic location. Although the use of the word “tomboy” explains the identity of these women, it doesn’t mean the same in other cultures. For instance, in western cultures, “tomboy” is seen as girls, usually younger who tend to adapt more masculine play, or don’t explore gender expectancies such as make up, or playing with dolls.

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