I had a column about transgender persons and a passing explanation of “LGBT” only recently, but I thought I should do another one because of a lecture that I attended.
Yesterday my vice chancellors, our university registrar and I had a gender sensitivity lecture conducted by our Diliman Gender Office (DGO). At one point Bernadette Neri, the DGO coordinator, flashed the acronym LGBT-QCI, which baffled most people in the room.
I’ve seen how the gender terminologies have evolved from the 1960s onward, especially in relation to what are sometimes called “sexual minorities,” or people on the margins because of their sexuality, but this was the first time I had seen the “C.”
Before the members of the “sexual majority” decide to turn away, let me give you some good news: that “C” gives you a place now in the spectrum of sexualities. But you have to read on to find out how.
In the beginning there was just the term “gay,” coming out of the gay rights movement of the 1960s, and at that time mainly referring to homosexual men. Then lesbians complained about the male bias, so the politically correct term became “lesbians and gays” (note the order of priority).
Then bisexuals spoke up: You forgot us. So, yes, indeed, there are women and men (biologically defined) who are sexually attracted to both women and men.
At this point I should explain that all these terms are coming in from the West, where the categories were first created in the 19th century when sexual orientation became a medical issue. “Homosexual” everyone knows, but “heterosexual” is still a fuzzy term in many nonwestern cultures. In the 1990s when I was working with a health NGO on sexuality education we were always getting misconceptions from people, including medical and nursing students, who thought “heterosexual” meant someone attracted to both sexes, simply because “homosexual” was someone attracted to the same sex!
So, to set the record straight, when it comes to sexual orientation you could have people attracted to the “other” sex—men to women, women to men—and that would be heterosexual. And there would be people attracted to the “same” sex—men to men and women to women—and that would be “homosexual.” And those who are attracted to both men and women would be “bisexual.”
I’ll tell you, though, that the world isn’t that simple. In a person’s lifetime there may be shifts. Many young people will find themselves attracted to both sexes, and then marry someone of the “other” sex, settle down, raise a family, and then in midlife might find the bisexual past returning, or even being attracted to a kumpare or kumare.
Some will find the attraction fleeting, others more compelling, as you’ve seen in TV series like “My Husband’s Lover,” and we’re not even talking about a midlife crisis.
But let’s get back now to our alphabet soup of sexuality. We’re finished with “L,” “G” and “B,” so let’s move on to “T,” or transsexual, for which I did a whole column two weeks ago. “Transsexual” and “transgender” are terms related, not to sexual orientation, but to gender identity, referring to someone who is in “transition” between male and female, mainly because they feel there is a mismatch between their biological body and their actual identity. So someone born a female may feel she should have been a he, and may want to live like a man in terms of clothing and body movements. That would be a “transman.” A “transwoman” would be someone born biologically male but feels he should have been a she.
Again, in the real world the categories are not always clearly fixed, and there will be variations across cultures. In the west, transgender persons may move to sexual reassignment (or “gender reaffirmation,” the more politically correct term) surgery, even paid for by the government.
In the Philippines, surgery may not be an option because of costs as well as personal religious beliefs. It’s fairly easy for transgender Filipinos to transition without surgery, dressing and even going to work in the gender category they want to belong to. At the same time, they do suffer from discrimination, are limited to particular professions, and are sometimes beaten up, or killed, as we saw with Jennifer Laude.
Now that we have LGBT complete, we have to tackle QCI. One of my vice-chancellors thought LGBT-QCI might have been some new organization based in Quezon City!
I’m going to reverse the order for our discussion, starting with “I,” which refers to “intersex categories,” a biomedical term. This is really complicated, with all kinds of conditions (for example, Turner’s Syndrome, Klinefelter’s Syndrome, and many more) and will require more than one column to explain. But let me just say this refers to about 1 percent of a population with disorders in sexual development.
For example, a child may be born and identified as a female because there is no visible penis but because “she” is actually chromosomally male (“XY”), the penis does not emerge until puberty.
There are many variations for intersex categories and the problem is that there may be a mismatch between biology and social upbringing. We have the case of athletes who grew up female, entered competitions as female, and then are medically examined and found to be male and are disqualified from athletics. Others may even be married when the couple discover that biologically, both of them are male.
Now for the “C,” which really stumped me. I was aware that LGBT had been expanded to QAI, not QCI, the “A” referring to—get hold of yourselves—“asexual” people. I’ve also written about this in a column and I don’t want to go into details except to say there’s growing recognition that there are people for whom sex just isn’t important. I know it’s hard for many readers to believe that there are asexual people, but they do exist, and they’re not limited to priests and nuns (many of whom are not asexual, mind you).
I’ve run out of space and we still haven’t discussed “Q” and “C,” which is just as well because I won’t have to worry about thinking of a column for Friday and because to explain “C” I will have to give you a crash course in chemistry. (Hint for chemistry majors and those who enjoyed their college chem courses: It has something to do with isomers.)
Let’s save a bit more of “A,” and the “Q” and “C” then for the next column, and I want to emphasize this isn’t just “good to know” information to use for quiz shows. LGBT-QCI (and A) is about ourselves and loved ones in our family, about work mates, about our political and religious leaders. So much prejudice comes from a lack of understanding of these differences. What is important is to recognize that there is a wide spectrum when it comes to sexualities.
Which is why Friday’s column won’t be entitled “LGBT-QCI-2,” but “SOGIE,” which I’ll explain as well.
* * *
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.