News and Features

Whose Issue is It, Anyway? Laude and Her Forced Gender Discourse

 

Coming home the other day, my father greets me with: “You’ll never guess what sexist thing your kuya said.” When I ask, my father relays the common man’s understanding of the recent events happening in Olongapo. In a passing remark over dinner, my kuya states “Now we know what white dudes do when they find out their girls are guys.” This comment was said in light of recent events – the murder of Jennifer Laude. This comment affords us a glimpse into the unintentionally mysogynist and middle-class perception of a complex issue such as gender and gender violence. It encompasses the main issues surrounding the Jennifer Laude case. To clarify, Laude is a transgender Filipina. This means that she was born a man, but her gender identity is that of a woman. The fact that she identifies with women, through acting, dressing and even changing her body to be woman-like, means that she is, for the LGBTQI sensitive, a woman.

But then again, if I truly believed that Laude’s gender has nothing to do with her death, I would be lying to myself. Gender is a driving force in our society, that affects not only how we see ourselves, but how we interact with others. When people see Laude, the first thing they will think is ay, bakla iyan (oh, she’s gay).

As for the issues surrounding her case, the first issue concerns the treatment of her case. The suspect in Laude’s murder is a 19-year old US Marine (Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton) who was training on Philippine soil for joint exercises. The suspect is in the custody of the US navy, and not the Philippine National Police. Due to the current Philippine- US relations, there is a chance that the Laude case will be mishandled, and justice will not be served for the victim.  Second, the issue of gender comes to mind. There are two ways one can look at gender in this Laude case. The first is through the media’s perception of gender. What IS Laude? Is he a HE or a SHE? Who paints her as a woman, and are they right in their portrayal? We know one thing, various news sources are confused. The  Washington post  marks her as a man. The Subic Bay News, a local newspaper, states she is a homosexual and not a transgender, mislabeling her and changing her identity completely. The Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) calls her a man in one of their earlier articles on this case, yet change their tune and call her a “transgender.” The next is through legal issues, as the PDI by discusses sex change and its ramifications on legal decisions . One question I have on this issue is whether Laude’s gender (or the fact that she is a transgender woman) is relevant in this case. After all, murder is murder, and should be charged as such.

But then again, if I truly believed that Laude’s gender has nothing to do with her death, I would be lying to myself. Gender is a driving force in our society, that affects not only how we see ourselves, but how we interact with others. When people see Laude, the first thing they will think is ay, bakla iyan (oh, she’s gay). This may be because of how her sex, the third gender as we call them (meaning those who do not ascribe to the gender binary of male-female), are portrayed. it could be because of prevailing cultural stereotypes Filipinos have when dealing with the third sex. Think of all those times you’ve just met someone who isn’t exactly girly or manly, and suddenly become obsessed with finding out if the said person is a bakla (gay man) or tibo (tomboy). Think of all those times you’ve described a stranger as “yung medyo bakla gumalaw” (the one who moves like a gay man), or “yung tibo-tibo” (the tomboyish one). These identifications are relayed most to me when I speak with women and men from marginalised communities. They can’t help it, that’s what was taught to them. And yet, we are stuck with people from influential media sources who see Laude as a man, and who speculate that her death is a case of enacted revenge due to her “deception.”

But what deception was there if Laude was performing her true self? And is it up to the public to decide? We are now forced, once again, to ponder this issue of gender. As for Laude, this is a question she will never be able to answer.

We can say that the Laude case is indeed a gender issue. The fact that anything non-male in patriarchal societies are seen as the “other,” or the non-norm, means that gender really does affect one’s life. Gender creates divisions and marginalises those who are “not normal,” those who fall outside the gender binary (male-female) and into the gender spectrum (LGBTQI +++). What’s more concerning is the bleak reminder that being who you are may cost you your life. And even in a world where ideologies are deconstructed and issues are discussed, the very real fact of violence against women (note: Laude is a woman), happens. Violence against women happens when people (note men and women, though mostly men) see a woman and think that her womanhood is a crime. If a woman does not perform that society’s construction of woman in the way that is acceptable, she may be beaten, and even killed. When a woman isn’t woman enough (read: was a man before), the person she is with may feel deceived and take action because he was lied to. While this happens in the grassroots sector, my perception from my kuya shows me that no, this is not just something that happens in marginal communities. You can be educated and still think this kind of crime is somewhat justified because there was deception in what was happening.

But what deception was there if Laude was performing her true self? And is it up to the public to decide? We are now forced, once again, to ponder this issue of gender. As for Laude, this is a question she will never be able to answer.

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POLICE, US INVESTIGATORS SOLVE MALE HOMOSEXUAL’S DEATH « Subic Bay News. (n.d.). Subic Bay News. Retrieved October 17, 2014, from http://subicbaynews.net/?p=9994

Quismundo, T. (2014, October 15). Is Laude a he or a she? Even SC is confused. Inquirer Global Nation. Retrieved October 17, 2014, from http://globalnation.inquirer.net/112673/transgender-legal-status-sc-relies-on-nature-not-surgery-in-ruling-on-cases/
Whitlock, C. (2014, October 15). U.S. Marine accused in slaying in the Philippines, raising old tensions. Washington Post. Retrieved October 16, 2014, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-marine-accused-in-slaying-in-the-philippines-raising-old-tensions/2014/10/15/c3bfd588-5475-11e4-892e-602188e70e9c_story.html

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Leal is an unintended (yet proud) feminist who walks a fine line between the world of the humanities and the world of the social sciences. She is educator at heart and development worker in training. Her two worlds consist of the UP College of Social Work and Community Development, where she is finishing her masters in Women and Development, and Ateneo where she works as a student formator and lecturer of English. She spends her free time trying not to feel high emotions.