On Ken

Screenshot from http://fckh8-tees.tumblr.com/post/67279559310
THE MOST FAKE THING ABOUT KEN IS NOT THAT HE’S PLASTIC. IT’S THAT HE’S “STRAIGHT.” Screenshot from http://fckh8-tees.tumblr.com/post/67279559310

Not all of our social constructs —like gender roles— are entirely digested and understood by even my most “enlightened” university friends (and not even by family). Here in the Philippines, being a male homosexual is almost always synonymous with being effeminate and vice-versa, mostly because of the existence and prevalent acceptance (if not understanding) of what some authors call the “third gender”, the bakla or bading. These people, who may be more correctly described as transgendered, transsexuals or transvestites depending on the case (rather than exclusively “gay men who dress up like girls”), are usually homosexual men who identify themselves as women, or who identify themselves as men who like acting like women, etc. [More readings here and here, and google it.]

And obviously there’s nothing wrong with that, just like the fact that there is nothing fake about Ken. Have you ever seen an episode of Barbie (TM) Life in the Dreamhouse on Youtube? There is literally no way that Ken cannot be in love with Barbie (obviously the degree of love and sexual attraction can’t be determined with a G-rated franchise, but…), with the things he does for her. And he’s canonically in a romantic relationship with her! So maybe he might not be fully straight —bisexual or pansexual or other— but he’s definitely in a relationship with Barbie. And yet a website against gay hate “wittily” misidentifies the character.
 But back to the point, which is the confusing and oft mixed-up understanding of gender identity vis-a-vis gender roles and gender stereotypes. It leads to many things that are problematic and incredibly common in our day-to-day lives:

[1] The negative connotation attached to bakla or bading. In fact, it’s even used as a derogatory term to men who are viewed as ‘weak’ and not macho. What does this achieve? Naturally it makes people feel inferior, since your very identity is contextualized as an adjective for weakness, cowardice, ineptness and so on. Most Filipinos are strong and self-aware enough not to fall for it, especially with the popularized culture of confident and loud socialite-like baklas, who are fine with their identity and usually don’t care about such things. But it’s still not fair to transform an identity from something lived to something meant to hurt, because it can affect the society and its members in several levels, by effecting hurt or imitation or sympathy or residual irritation. And most of all it can affect the number in society who haven’t accepted or realized who they are —and who might never do so.

[2] The idea that the pants go to guys has been eradicated long ago. Imagine if that was still the case, and women around the world had to hold their skirts together. This is at a level where equality isn’t necessarily the issue —i.e., guys should be able to wear what girls do, because girls can do the same— but rather an issue of mobility. Clothes and accessories do define our way of living. And what happens here is that you can’t wear what you want in fear of judgment. No matter how much you want to wear a skirt, you can’t. Because people will talk about it in school, prompt anxiety attacks, and basically turn the situation into a full-on non-functional setting. (And I’ve heard so many stories of how hard it is to cast a Juliet in an all boys’ school. Even art is hindered by the prevailing perception of gender roles.)

The inverse, magnification and broader perspective of this apparel limitation remains true. People of the younger generation still have to cater to the customs of the more conservative ones: women wearing feminine clothes, men wearing sharp suits. Because the visual cue of what we wear is so intrinsically linked to our identity and so our gender, and therefore our capacity to be subject to society’s (outdated) norms. This means that every time a person sees Ken, and judges him as gay, and not, say, a man who just likes looking awesome, Ken’s own identity, capability and non-deviancy is questioned. Everything else, as consequence, follows into the same shadow of doubt.

[3] It reinforces the idea of a cultural majority. The construction of an entirely two-gendered world is modern and recently propagated, and something that shouldn’t hold weight in many societies (but does). What does this mean? It means that the moment you encounter something as foreign (something that doesn’t fall into either a or b), it is immediately labelled as unnatural. This holds so many problems for not just third-gendered or non-gendered people, but for other minorities existing across the spectrum. Pansexuals and asexuals and transsexuals. Agnostics. Nomads.

What is more effective, then, would be the acceptance of a plurality of identities in the socio-cultural aspect. Or even in all aspects. Because when you realize that any other behavior is as valid as your own, rights and peace and all that happy combo have the opportunity to be actualized.

[4] These things combined together limit the social mobility of so many people. Being labelled or called out as gay, baklabading or homo, can fill us with enough fear to prompt silence and suppression. Or even a case of wrong identity. I’m gay, but I don’t identify as a female (so don’t call me bakla). My partner’s a transgender, not a gay man (so don’t call her a homosexual). I’m a woman, not a gay man in a dress (so don’t address me as sir). All sorts of things that are constantly lost in translation, because we don’t know how to

  • accept what we don’t understand and what we do understand
  • ask politely what they prefer to be called, or use non-gendered pronouns to be safe
  • stop assuming and judging accordingly
  • treat the identity of others as constructs that are as valid as your own
  • treat others as human beings

In short, really, it’s better to live without having the need to label people. Have a nice day!

/ugh labels, sometimes even don’t know what I’m saying anymore, sorry/

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