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Sunday, May 29, 2016

How the gay men and women played important roles in pre-colonial Philippines society—and still do

Time and again, the curious online have asked me how society in the Philippines look to the LGBTQ community. My answer is always the same: they are widely accepted, are considered strange by some, sneered at by others, but are part of the norm. One only has to look at the popular noon time shows to see that most of the hits are hosted by the transgenders the most and the least by the gay stars. In fact, it is assumed the shows, be they on television or the movies, are going to be hits if they are headlined by the most flamboyant and comedic gay man. 

Why is this you ask? The Philippines has a strong Catholic influence and if not Catholic, then Christian. So why is it that many encourage their sons to act flamboyantly on the hopes they get tapped by agents and become the next Vice Ganda?

The answer lies in the Philippine history, pre-colonial times. Before the Western world stamped their influence on the indigenous peoples and the tribes.

Image result for pre spanish period in the philippines
Back in the day before Magellan came sailing in, there were no degrees earned for those who practiced medicine. There were no priests either, but there were shamans. For those who were sick, they went to these gifted men and women who could communicate with the spirit world and thus pray for their health to be returned. These men and women were called the Babaylan in the Visayas where I hail from. In other provinces, they were called the Katulunan. 

The babaylan were not from the lower ranks in the village, rather they were from the prominent ones, those who had more influence over the villagers. There was no discrimination set to who donned the shroud of the babaylan, they could be men, women or the asog

The asog were the ones considered the most influential when it came to communicating with the spirit world for they straddled both sexes—male and female. They dressed and acted like women, their voices were higher pitched, their very physical characteristics more effeminate. They were beloved and adored.

Then the Spanish conquistadores came and things changed. Through their Western eyes and religious biases, they looked down on the asog who held more influence over the villages than they. This could not be tolerated. They described them as 

"…impotent men and deficient for the practice of matrimony, considered themselves more like women than men in their manner of living or going about, even in their occupations….” —1668, Historia de los Islas y Indios de Bisayas, Father Francisco Alcina

To further press their need to change how these asog were to be treated, the Boxer Codex was published sometime in the 16th century.  

“The bayog or bayoguin are priests dressed in female garb…… Almost all are impotent for the reproductive act, and thus they marry other males and sleep with them as man and wife and have carnal knowledge.”

Although the babaylan is no longer practiced, and the term asog now pertains to "masculine acting women," the tolerance and love for the homosexual male and female, as the modern dictionary now labels them, is still strong within the Filipino culture. Daily the Western culture fights this out through laws and other means, but somehow, they cannot penetrate the acceptance every Filipino somehow has for them. Some sneer, mimicking their Western-based beliefs, some tell of anti-gay jokes at the expense of the LGBTQ community, but they remain unsuccessful. 

The LGBTQ may not be legally accepted in the Philippines, again based on Western influences, but they are definitely a part of the culture and that, the Westerners can never remove. They have not been successful in the past six hundred years (give and take a few years as I am no mathematics genius). I don't think they'll succeed in the future, especially as the community is getting embraced by the Westerners themselves.


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