Monday, June 11, 2012

Biological Essentialism

So, I’ve been trying to do some research into what bakla means back in the Philippines (since I live in the diaspora). One article I’ve read (of a few):

Winter, Sam, Sass Rogando-Sasot, and Mark King. 2007. “Transgendered Women of the Philippines.” International Journal of Transgenderism 10:2: 79-90.

Now, if you decide that you want to dig up the article and read it yourself, be warned that it uses some outdated terminology (can you tell from the title? ‘Transgendered,’ blech!). Now, the first author is a white cis dude, as far as I’m able to tell, but the second author is a bakla woman. In any case, they surveyed a bunch of bakla/bayot in the Philippines and recorded some interested data.

One very, very interesting response was what the participants attributed their gender/sexuality to, 73.5% of the respondents checked that it was a result of biology (87). Now. You could immediately try to argue that one reason they were ‘mistaken’ about this was/is ignorance or a lack of education (since, it is true that the Philippines has a great deal of poverty and many people cannot access education). But, 70.1% of the participants had some level of post-secondary education, much higher than the 30% national average (87).

So, if we can’t quite attribute this belief in the biological origins of being bakla to ignorance or a lack of education, are they wrong?

I’m generally bored with the (seemingly endless) white trans* discussion over biology, since I personally don’t really care about the cause of my gender/sexuality. However, I know enough of the discussion to know that they’d be quick to swoop down on these bakla and chastise them for bringing biology into what they view as a social construction.

This is in part because part of how the trans* identity is legitimized in the west is by decoupling it from biology. Of course, the other hand are the transsexual people who attempt to legitimize their identities by grounding their genders in biology (I remember some recent study about brains or whatever).

Again. I’m not personally invested in this debate because I don’t care...

What I do care about is thinking about gender beyond the colonial, hegemonic discourse of the trans* community. So. As far as I’m concerned, biology is a perfectly reasonable explanation for why we are bakla.

I also think the second most frequently chosen answer, God’s Will, is also entirely and completely valid (even though I’m an atheist). But this is also something that rarely enters into the white discourse on gender. For those of us raised in religious/spiritual cultures, as many PoC are, where are the discussions, posts, books, classes, that discuss this as the cause for our genders?

(And, no, the exoticising of Two Spirit identities by white trans* people does not count. At all. I do see this aspect discussed by some of the TPoC folk whose work I read/follow. But it doesn’t often come from any white trans* people.)

All of this is to say, again, how many narratives aren’t being heard because of this need to claim authority over the discourse?