06 May 2010
Why 89: Equality to Party [4 of 7*]
Ah, to go out and party, mingle, be with friends or celebrate moments with new acquaintances. Manila is a very nice place to party, especially if you like going out at night. You can go to any establishment and dance the night away or have meaningful conversations over cocktail drinks. You can do that safely and securely anywhere in Metro Manila... if you are straight.
What if you are not?
Since the 1990s, there was only one way lesbians could dance the night away in a club-like atmosphere, and that was to attend so-called "exclusive parties for women" which take place in a bar-restaurant with dancing facilities. What happens here is that there is a party organizer that rents an establishment for the night, puts up a banner that says the party is an "exclusive for ladies only" dance party, and they charge tickets at the door. The organizers are lesbians, and I don't know how this practice really began. I learned about it by word of mouth -- lesbians and bisexual women pass the word along to each other in the community. Since the parties can take place in a different bar every time, the organizers also get your contact numbers so they could alert you where the next party is going to be held. Parties like these happened every other weekend. These days, there is practically one that happens every weekend.
When I saw the first exclusive party I went to, I was amazed at the diversity of faces I saw in the bar and on the dance floor. I thought wow, where did all these lesbians come from? I thought I already knew a lot of lesbians in my circle, but I continue discovering many more in these parties. This goes to prove that there are indeed so many lesbians in Manila; they just don't mingle much.
Another thing that struck me is that in such parties, you really feel safe, meaning you can dance with another girl without a stupid guy ogling at you, or you don't get harassed when guys see you dancing with another girl, or fellow women won't look at you with disgust when you dance with another woman. Yes, those are safe spaces for us.
But it also hit me: why do we need to have a safe space at all? Shouldn't people be free to party anywhere they want, do as they please (without breaking any law, of course) without being harassed by others? Sadly, you can't do that here in the country, in this very macho and patriarchal country.
Even in terms of partying, we get discriminated often. Lucky for us that we lesbians have this exclusive party things and the gay guys have their clubs where they could dance the night away, like Bed Bar. I haven't heard of a bar where transgender women go to for partying, but their horror story of partying is more horrific than our stories of discrimination.
Imagine a very beautiful, feminine and elegant transgender woman wearing a pretty dress and high-heeled shoes, all made up and all dolled up. If a straight woman were to be dressed the same way, she would easily be accommodated inside any establishment she would want to enter, even those with strict dress code restrictions. Usually, when you say "dress code," that means you can't enter an establishment wearing shabby clothes like sleeveless basketball jerseys, shorts, slippers or anything that would somehow make the establishment look shabby. Understandable.
But such a place once barred a transgender woman from entering their premises. The TV comedian Inday Garutay entered Aruba Bar and its security people wanted to eject her immediately because she wasn't wearing the proper dress code, they said. By that, they meant they saw Inday as a cross-dressing man, and they only wanted men who wore presentable pants and clothes inside their place. It didn't matter to Aruba that Inday was elegantly dressed, very presentable and decent. They merely saw, as John Leguizamo said in To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar, "just a boy in a dress."
It's one thing to say a transgender woman is violating a dress code, but it's another to brazenly dismiss them because you assume they are prostitutes. Club Havana in Makati is guilty of that one.
A few years ago, a group of transgender women entered Club Havana, a bar-restaurant with a spacious area for dancing. They wanted to have a few drinks because they were also there the night before for dinner. But for some reason, they were asked to leave, and the bar's people cited that they are violating the dress code. But several similar incidents revealed the true nature of their dress code ban: the people who run the place automatically assume that transgender women are there to pick up men because they are prostitutes. So I guess the straight women who frequent that place solely to be picked up by men and get paid afterward are not, um, violating any dress code, but they're okay to be there, while the transgender women who are not prostitutes should leave?
This is not an isolated incident. Aside from Aruba and Club Havana, there are also other places in Makati that practice the same discriminatory stance. And just a few days ago, another incident: a few transgender women merely wanted to pass by an area of Greenbelt, and they were blatantly told they are not allowed to enter the premises at all. Oh man, when will this stop?
It's a good thing these incidents are being publicized by the individuals directly affected by the circumstances. It's just too bad for the Ayala Group and Havana people that the women they discriminated are advocates, people who will stand up to injustice and fight for their rights. I'm sure these incidents also happen to other LGBTs out there, but sadly, they might have just chosen to ignore it, and not fight.
Well, one thing's for sure. We're all tired of ignoring it. We want to party, and we want to be treated like everyone else in straight society when we party. We don't want to be banned, ejected or singled out. We don't want to be ogled at, and we don't want to be harassed when we want to have a good time with our friends and loved ones.
This is why I am voting for Ang Ladlad; this group knows how it's like to be discriminated against just because of who you are. If you're tired of being discriminated against like us, and if you are fed up of people spoiling the fun because your friend or colleague gets barred from an establishment, then please let's send a message to this patriarchal society that their machismo has to end -- now.
*Why 89: 4 of 7 is the fourth of a seven-part series of creative nonfiction narratives I am writing as a countdown to the upcoming May 10 elections in support of my partylist, Ang Ladlad.
Part 1 of 7 - The Benefit(s) of Recognition
Part 2 of 7 - The Career Closet
Part 3 of 7 - Medical Maladies, Malpractices and Mistrust
All photos by libay linsangan cantor (1) corner of orosa and nakpil, makati after pride march 2008 (3) at the CCP july 2009 except (2) publicity poster for exclusive party 2008 and (4) from Ang Ladlad's campaign materials.
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