Mar 16, 2009

BB Gandanghari and reinforcing stereotypes

The transformation of hunky Rustom Padilla to the beautiful BB Gandanghari is one admirable thing deserving of praise. Finally, Rustom became true to himself about how he felt and became a she. (Too bad for Carmina.) I can imagine it was hard for Rustom to grow up in a homophobic environment, what with a commanding father and brusko brothers like Robin at his side. I guess living far away in the liberal parts of the United States did him good.

However, as admirable as Rustom’s coming out and subsequent reinvention into BB may be, I fear that this episode will only reinforce stereotypes about non-heterosexual guys and possibly strengthen the stigma and ridicule against non-effeminate gay guys.

Philippine society as a whole has quite a backward view on non-straight people. Most Filipinos view gay guys as men who feel that they are women trapped in a guy’s body. This is reinforced by the plenty of out gay guys in showbiz, the sashaying gays that populate beauty parlors and salons (hence "parlorista" gays), and the numerous gay beauty contests in every town in the Philippines (see the movie The Thank You Girls and even Sagwan for a representation of this propensity for gay beauty pageants). With another example in the form of Rustom Padilla, especially since Filipinos knew him before as this macho leading-man actor in plenty of action films, I can see his transsexual/transgendered state—the terms can be pretty bewildering—as further raising confusion in Philippine society regarding people who aren’t straight.

I think the root of the problem is that there is widespread misunderstanding regarding the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. The former is concerned with what gender you are sexually attracted to while the latter is about what gender you identify with. (Of course, it’s not as simple as this, but it suffices for the sake of discussion.) A man can still identify as a man and behave in a masculine manner but still be primarily attracted to other men. Sounds familiar?

So, I hate it when people automatically ascribe effeminate or female qualities to guys who just happen to be attracted to other guys. Just because the traditional role of females is to be attracted to males does not mean that men who are attracted to other men wants to become females or hope to take on feminine roles.

So what do you think? Do you agree with my observations? How do you think we can help Philippine society understand the colorful PLU world?


Knoxxy wrote on March 16, 2009 at 1:31 PM:

Totally agree with you.

Tristan Tan wrote on March 16, 2009 at 1:59 PM:

As much as I love Rustom, I cannot help but cringe every time I see BB on TV. She may be a nice person and all but I just feel that her transformation brought us back to the pre-clay dough gay stereotype era. But that's just my two cents.

TerRENCE wrote on March 16, 2009 at 3:34 PM:

Sad as it is, it’s what we have to bear with. As if how society perceives us is not enough, our own affiliate PLU (hmm, redundant b?) seem not to grasp the idea as well. I have this impression from another blog that maintaining one’s masculine behavior despite being attracted to other men is a major crime or felony to the unwritten code of PLUs. Having this frame of mind amongst us, I’m not surprised at all that the wider society sticks to stereotyping non-heterosexual guys in agreement to your point that this only reinforces the stigma and ridicule towards the more “behave” class. So your question of how we can help the Philippine society to understand our world should start with our own kind.

Joaqui wrote on March 16, 2009 at 4:53 PM:

I agree.

I just hope we will have another Rustom who will educate the Philippine society about another version of homosexuality i.e., the guys who love to be guys but also love guys.

Do we see any potential among our current roster of celebrties? hehehe

Mugen wrote on March 17, 2009 at 3:45 AM:

I say let Rustom/BB be. It's his life after all. Kung saan siya masaya dun siya.

As for us straight-acting guys, let's just stick to our own affairs. Acceptance is inevitable.

Anonymous wrote on March 18, 2009 at 7:39 AM:

Being attracted to other men but at the same time not wanting to be a woman gave me a lot of confusion growing up. I believe by being on both fronts simplifies life for most PLUs.I think a masculine gay is more threatening for most people.

Anonymous wrote on March 18, 2009 at 11:01 AM:

A butch gay guy's strength is also his weakness in this case. His ability to blend in and be one of the boys. How many butch (or some people would call straight acting, though I contest that term) do you know are out of the closet?

Those who are unable to blend in with the straights, ie. the effeminate, have no choice because they can't hide their "broken wrists" so most of them, as an empowerment unto themselves, own it.

This of course is a vicious cycle. Butch gay men don't want to be seen as similar to their effeminate counterparts which drives them further down to hiding (the term PLU is a perfect example of this layer of hiding).

So what can one do? You try to educate people one at a time until you reach a cultural tipping point. Just last week I went out with my straight best bud and by chance I was able to introduce to him two gay men who, by his words, broke his stereotypes.

Vince wrote on March 20, 2009 at 12:51 AM:

Knoxxy, thanks!

Tristan, I know that feeling.

TerRENCE, true. I get that form of discrimination occasionally. But straight-acting gay guys also discriminate against effeminate gays. I guess greater understanding between the two sides are in order.

Joaqui, I am hoping for such a situation as well. Candidates? I'm sure most PLUs are thinking of the same person. Hehehe.

Vince wrote on March 20, 2009 at 12:57 AM:

Mugen, I'm actually happy for Rustom; I'm just worried about the greater societal impact brought about by BB's coming out. I must stress that this impact is totally not her fault.

Anon, maybe. But why would a masculine gay be threatening? I can't think of anything about our society that would explain it; I think Filipinos as a whole are just ignorant.

Tony, yup. I also view it as a chicken-and-egg problem. And I agree that the solution is to educate people one person at a time, starting with ones social circle. But I'm not at all eager to educate my family yet. :-P

Anonymous wrote on October 6, 2010 at 11:43 AM:

yeah... the beautious rustom can enjoy his new found identity ( is he really ?) , but for the rest of the gaydom its kinda moving backwards as most of the people thinks now that every gay guy will soon be the next BB gandanghari .... as early as now , they predicted piolo p to be the next candidate for such ... whews ..