Pride and our prejudices
The Metro Manila Pride March is always a time that’s part celebration, part call to action. It’s also a friendly gathering, and an educational and political platform.
This year it comes as the fight for same-sex marriage is on the news, and days after the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on the issue. The theme for the year is “Rise Up Together” — a more political theme than last year’s, calling not just for acceptance but for change, for policies that are more just and intersectional.
For friends and family of LGBTQIA+, it’s a time for reflection. Social media was lit with the story of a gay Twitter user whose father found himself at the Pride march, prompting an emotional exchange with his son about acceptance and solidarity. “I wondered,” the father said, “if you have ever gone to sleep with an empty heart thinking I have lost my love for you.” Then the assurance: “Your fight is mine.”
For those of us who have never thought of ourselves as prejudiced — for us millennials who have never lived in a world when a Pride march was unthinkable — it’s also a time to reflect: Are we doing our best to foster a culture that’s not just tolerant or accepting, but loving? Do we treat our friends’ sexuality as character flaws?
We’re working on eradicating traces of rape culture by calling out its manifestations in daily life and, in particular, in our use of language. We point out rape jokes, we publicize and condemn instances of catcalling and harassment in everyday situations. For those of us who aren’t already, it’s also time to challenge the “gay” language we use.
Our language is peppered with pejoratives like “bakla,” which has evolved from describing a gay individual into someone demeaned as weak, silly, effeminate or crass. I also grew up as part of a millennial generation that comfortably uses the words “That’s so gay!” to describe something ostentatious, flamboyant; and since so many gay icons and gay friends seemed to celebrate these qualities, I had never questioned my use of the words.
But “gay” used in this fashion is actually the most common form of homophobic language, and means anything from “lame” to “annoying.” The website NoHomophobes.com found that “so gay” is used on average over 10,000 times a day.
There’s also the famous “Sayang si John” and its variations. We’ve become used to saying this about anyone whom we think might do well in a heterosexual relationship. Ignorant and presumptuous as the comment might be, even those of us who have thought of ourselves as “accepting” are guilty of it. Not to mention the way we treat speculation about people’s sexualities as an acceptable conversation topic.
Homophobic, biphobic or transphobic language — because this is what it is — is dismissed as harmless, because it is supposedly not intentionally hurtful, especially when spoken by people who don’t otherwise behave in prejudiced ways. But Stonewall, the largest LGBT rights organization in the world, has made it clear that homophobic language, when unchallenged, has an impact on people’s self-esteem and even promotes bullying: Schools where teachers don’t challenge homophobic pejoratives are found to have higher rates of homophobic bullying.
Our culture is often thought of as one that “celebrates” gay culture. We held the first Pride parade in Asia. But until we stop normalizing antiqueer pejoratives in our language, until we stop thinking of things as entertaining just because they are “gay,” our acceptance is superficial as best.
We need to respect pronouns. We need to learn nuances, and to exchange certain words for others, like “sexual orientation” for “sexual preference” as the latter implies sexuality is a choice; and to avoid some altogether, like “gay” or “homosexual lifestyle,” which lumps together all the diverse ways that lesbians, gay men and bisexuals live their lives into something that sounds, by default, careless or promiscuous or reckless.
I hope that, in the decades since the Pride March started in the Philippines, our message has changed. It isn’t that “it gets better” for them. We are supposed to make it better.