In the Philippines, a baklâ (pronounced [bɐkˈlaʔ]), bayot (Cebuano) or agi (Hiligaynon) is a person who was assigned male at birth and have adopted a feminine gender expression. They are often considered a third gender. Many bakla are exclusively attracted to men, but are not necessarily gay. Some are trans women.
Bakla are socially and economically integrated into Filipino society, having been accepted by society prior to Western colonization, many of which were held in high regard and performed the role of spiritual leaders known as babaylan, katalonan, and other shamans in pre-colonial Philippines. However, a minority group of Filipinos disapprove or reject the baklas, usually on religious grounds. The stereotype of a baklâ is a parlorista—a flamboyant, camp cross-dresser who works in a beauty salon; in reality, the bakla thrives in numerous sectors of society, from the lower to the upper levels.
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Same-sex marriage is not recognised in the Philippines, preventing many mga baklâ from getting married. Legislation attempting to legalise same-sex marriage in the Philippines has been presented to Congress, but none have passed thus far.
The Philippines is predominantly Christian, with over 80% of Filipinos belonging to the Roman Catholic Church. Church doctrine officially tolerates persons with such orientations but condemns homosexual activity as "intrinsically disordered". This condemnation of homosexuality presents a problem for baklâ because of potential discrimination in a Catholic-dominated society. As a result, baklâ youth in particular are at a higher risk for suicide, depression and substance abuse than their heterosexual peers, with risk increasing as parental acceptance decreases.
While a significant minority, baklâ adherents of Protestantism face varying degrees of acceptance based on the denomination to which they belong. The Philippine Independent Church, which is in full communion with the worldwide Anglican Communion, officially does not endorse homosexuality. Various Evangelical churches and the Iglesia Ni Cristo are more fundamentalist in doctrine, and thus strongly condemn homosexual acts and suppress such identities within their congregations.
Non-Christian Filipinos who profess Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other faiths also present a wide range of doctrinal views. Islam, the second largest religion in the Philippines, comprises roughly 5.57% of the population. Islam shares views with other Abrahamic Faiths in that homosexual acts are held to be sinful. According to the Delhi High Court, Hinduism does not officially condemn homosexuality. As for Buddhism, the Dalai Lama has maintained that homosexuality is "sexual misconduct" for Buddhist followers but does not condemn it for non-believers.
In Pre-colonial Philippines, the bakla, especially those who crossdress (asog, bayoc or bayoquin in Spanish sources), were commonly shamans (babaylan), a role usually taken by women. Babaylan were highly respected members of the community who functioned as healers, keepers of oral histories, sorcerers, and as spirit mediums for communicating with ancestral and nature spirits (anito).
In Cebuano, the term "baklâ" means "homosexual". In modern Filipino, it can mean either "effeminate man" or "homosexual" but the word itself has been used for centuries, albeit in different contexts. The Tagalog poet Francisco Balagtas used the word "bacla" in reference to "a temporary lack of resolve", as seen in his popular works Florante at Laura and Orosman at Zafira.
In narrating the Agony in the Garden, the traditional religious epic Casaysayan nang Pasiong Mahal ni Jesucristong Panginoon Natin na Sucat Ipag-alab nang Puso nang Sinomang Babasa (The History of the Passion of Jesus Christ Our Lord that Surely Shall Ignite the Heart of Whosoever Readeth), which is often chanted during Holy Week, has a passage that reads Si Cristo'y nabacla ("Christ was confused"). During Balagtas' time, when the Philippines was a Spanish colony, homosexual men were called "binabae" or "bayogin" like Alejandro Penunuri. Pre-World War II Tagalog meanwhile used baklâ to mean "fearful" or "weakened".
Bakla generally have feminine gender expression, grow their hair long, have breast implants, take hormone pills and make other changes to look more feminine. Some also undergo sex reassignment surgery, but this is uncommon.
Baklâ are often considered a third gender. J. Neil C. García recalls a children's rhyme that begins by listing four distinct genders: "girl, boy, baklâ, tomboy." (In the Philippines, tomboy explicitly refers to a lesbian.)
Nowadays, in almost every city and town in the Philippines there is at least one baklâ (in general many baklâs) living a normal life, accepted (at least by some) as a member of the third sex. This general acceptance of the baklâ sexuality does not, however, imply that they are considered equal to the other genders.[according to whom?] García states that the ordering "girl, boy, baklâ, tomboy" implies "[The differing gender's] hierarchical positioning relative to each other". Although Filipino society is tolerant of baklâ, there is an implied superiority of the "traditional" sexes over the other two.
Despite this supposed "hierarchy of the sexes," baklâ have become recognized and accepted by most of society; they have become an integral part it. There are successful ones, such as some parlorista who own or work at beauty salons and are considered more meticulous and detail-oriented than female peers. A few prominent social icons are also baklâ, such as television personality Boy Abunda, hairdresser and entrepreneur Ricky Reyes, actor-comedian Vice Ganda, Filipino fashion designer Michael Cinco and the world's first LGBT political party called Ladlad which means "coming out".
In the second edition of the now-defunct gay lifestyle magazine Icon Magazine, editor Richie Villarin quoted one of the magazine's advertisers as saying "We cannot remain oblivious to your market".
Baklâs have been instrumental in the opening of badong clubs in the Philippines and can also be found in service, retail, and both sexual and non-sexual entertainment industries. Despite their high visibility, acceptance of baklâs is limited, especially for gay professionals.
Baklâ communities are renowned for beauty pageants, with Miss Gay Philippines being a national beauty pageant for baklâs. The participants model swimsuits and dresses, as in other beauty pageants worldwide.
* Angela aka Jolina * Linuel aka Shedeng
Baklâs have an argot, or secret language, called swardspeak. It is used by both masculine and feminine baklâs and incorporates elements from Filipino, Philippine English and Spanish, spoken with a hyper-feminised inflection. It was widespread and popular until the 1990s, but is now considered unfashionable in most parts of Manila. It has been argued that it is more appropriate to call modern swardspeak "gayspeak" instead; despite being strongly identifiable as gay lingo, it is also used by heterosexuals.
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"Also, another semantic space that bakla occupies refers to a state of mental confusion and undecidedness. This may be used to bear a linguistic affinity to the way Tagalog poet Francisco Balagtas used the word bakla in the context of a temporary lack of resolve, an emotional wavering in several scenes in at least two of his best known works, the romance Florante at Laura and the play Orosman at Zafira; later, prewar Tagalog writers used bakla to mean fearful and weakened.
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