Apologies to Dylan Thomas for re-appropriating that poetic line of his, but there's no other feeling to feel, really, but rage (so be enraged!) against the dying (or already dead?) open-mindedness of, um, academic freedom (?) in my beloved University of the Philippines, in this case the Diliman flagship campus. Snuff the lightbulb there Dylan, especially the French kind, for bigotry was, once again, proven to exist in my alma mater.
Insert sob here. Sing with me now: where have all the open-minded-yoopee-peeps-gone? Sorry, no flowers this time, folks.
To know what I'm talking about, this link at the UP Babaylan blog explains it all. Babaylan is the first university-based LGBT organization in the campus, in the country, and in Asia. And the discriminated one was one of them -- Ms. Hender. The gist of the case is, Hender identifies as a woman and she requested her French teacher to utilize feminine French pronouns in addressing her. But this was not approved by the teacher who said that part of this prof's reason was that "she is a Christian" and then the chair of their department agreed with this Christian prof and denied Hender's request as well, because this chair said Hender is still legally male regardless of her gender identity.
Insert tumbling flashback here! Like now na!
A good gay friend of mine, an ex-UP prof I should say (he had his own reasons for leaving), messaged me on FB to say that he also flashbacked to three-four years ago upon hearing of Hender's incident. And why is that? Because one UP prof also told me -- yes, moi! -- during that time that he cannot continue as my MA thesis adviser because I was writing about lesbian erotica fiction for my thesis and that "he is a Christian" as well. Read about my account of that in this POC article. Opo, pinagkakitaan ko na ang homophobia niya, bakit ba. Hmp!
Tell me why this incident is so wrong in so many levels. S'il vous plait.
Okay let me count the ways. Un, deux, trois...
1. It happened in UP? Where the society is supposed to be "godless" as they say? And where liberal thought is the highlight of each minute. Supposedly. Hm.
2. Professors, supposed purveyors of knowledge, purport bigotry, prejudice and homophobia instead. I wonder how one can teach with so much negativity? What kind of lessons are they imparting? Hm.
3. It's 2011, not 1911, not 2001, and definitely not 1986. Society should have since progressed. Even just a tad bit. Especially about dealing with often marginalized sectors like the LGBTQ community. Or maybe not. In the Philippines. Yet. Hm.
4. And Ms. French teacher, you know that what you did is not right. Ce n'est pas juste. Pramis, beki ka. Hm.
Sing with me now: Things that make you go hmmmmm...
To share my own thoughts about this, I have to cite a recent example -- a parallel one -- that happened in my class this semester. I have a student who looks, acts and is so like a girl, so I thought she was biologically a girl. Let's hide her using the name "Christian Santos." I made a booboo at the start of the semester with Christian when I was doing the roll call. Upon calling the obviously masculine-originated name of Christian, I looked up to see the face behind the name. When I saw a pretty girl raise her hand upon being called Christian, I did a double-take and said "Oh, you're Christian?" And she answered with a smile and answered demurely, "Yes ma'am." And I don't know why but I said "Oh, so a girl with a boy's name, huh. Cool." And then continued to call the roll.
A few meetings after, when Christian became active in the class discussions, it was only then that I realized that she was transgender. So siyempre, tumbing ang lola mo! How could have I missed that? I felt massively horrified that I made that first day of class mistake of cracking that name comment. So after that third class meeting, I called her outside the room and talked to her. I first apologized to her for saying that bit about the name double-take I did during our first day, and clarified if she identified as transpinay. She said she actually identifies more as a girl, really, and that's what she is comfortable with. Again, I apologized for not recognizing her gender identity immediately and she said it's okay and smiled. I then asked if she was a member of any org, and she said she is with UP Babaylan. We had some small talk about the upcoming Pride March then before parting. So that was cool. I was appeased and I was glad that I was able to correct that booboo of mine.
How I wish that French prof could have just done the same for Hender. Or if she needs some pointers, I could gladly sit with her and chat about this, prof to prof. That is, if her Christianity is not offended by my queerness. Which I highly doubt. Hm. Okay scrap that. Let her read the Bible na lang. For more enlightenment. Chos.
Imagine if this kind of I'm-a-Christian-and-you're-queer-so-you're-eeew bigotry in UP can happen to me before, a graduate student and a professor in the university as well, I could just imagine how queer undergrads are silenced by such prejudice on a daily basis. Oh my.
What do we do, then?
Its funny that I write this today, during the 25th anniversary of the EDSA 1 People Power revolution. Twenty-five years ago today, Filipinos got collectively tired of the suppression of a lot of freedoms one usually enjoys on this earth. Twenty-five years ago today, Filipinos got collectively courageous and stood for days in the middle of a highway and peacefully demanded to reclaim their rightful place in this country, their country, our country. Twenty-five years ago today, the world respected and recognized our move to be silent no more, to speak up against oppression openly, without fear or prejudice, without giving a damn to what will happen at that certain instant but only giving a damn about what future the country and the people would have if nothing was done back then. Like the anti-dictatorship slogan said: NEVER AGAIN!
So nuns and priests prayed on the sidewalks, mothers packed food to share with other rallyists they didn't know on the streets, children looked at tora-tora planes flying in the skies and the army tanks on the streets in awe, like they were in the middle of a live diorama of war, teenagers wore yellow shirts and head bands, musicians sang folk protest songs, and everyone else chimed in. And a few days later, the country underwent a drastic paradigm shift. And the rest, as they say, is l'histoire.
Twenty-five years ago, Miss Hender may not have been born yet. Twenty-five years ago, I was a twelve year old looking at the skies in awe of those tora-tora planes. Twenty-five years later, Hender is a student in UP Diliman learning the French language. Twenty-five years later, I have obtained my BA and MA and am currently teaching in UP Diliman. But twenty-five years later, for Hender and me, it still feels like an earlier 1986 for us -- before the rallies, before the prayers, before the fight against oppression.
Twenty-five years after 1986, people like Hender and I, we feel like we are still in a dictatorship, as powers that be tell us that we cannot freely and openly declare who we really are, laws and religious guidelines are crafted to curtail our human rights, and some people around us don't give a flying fuck as long as they could enjoy the daily privileges that are denied us in the first place -- the privilege to live freely and openly, the privilege to love who we want to love, the privilege to be with people we love, the privilege to be who we are.
What do we do, then?
To ask Dylan Thomas to wrap this up, we should continue doing what we did, and still do -- live, love, speak up, act up, work together, FIGHT! To all queer people out there who are continually being suppressed and oppressed, please, do not go gentle into that good night. And always rage against the dying of the light. Or better yet, do not let our torches of freedom be snuffed, for we do not want to be in the dark with these people from the Dark Ages.
Rage! And fight! Speak up! But as always -- while being fabulous. Because that's what we have and they don't have. Itsura lang teh!
Stop homophobia in UP. Prejudice against queers? I say NEVER AGAIN.
Teachers, learn your lessons, please. For real.
I -- thank you. Bow.