Why do we hate effeminate men?
I hear it often in the form of a thoughtless compliment: "Lesbians are okay. Basta huwag lang bakla (Just not gay men)."
I once asked a classmate why. He said he couldn't stand effeminate men. "Gusto kong pagsasapakin (I want to maul them)," he said. Another man told me that whenever he sees a transgender female, he wants to pull off her earrings and tell her, "Umayos ka nga! (Go fix yourself!)"
Why the animosity? Why is there this vicious knee-jerk response of violence to someone who is simply breaking norms? We'd like to believe that gay men are a legitimate part of our society, and yet when attacks happen, it's usually directed at the more effeminate ones. What irks us about the feminine man?
The road to manhood
The road to manhood in the Philippines (and in many near-theocratic countries) is a difficult and restrictive journey for boys whose objective becomes the assertion of one's masculinity as often and as early as they can.
This is more common in developing countries where poverty makes men feel they have no control of their surroundings and finances. In search of power, they tend to dominate the men around them and restrict the role of women to assert their masculinity. In these environments, gender norms are so strong and the penalties for not fitting into the masculine model are severe, such as bullying and physical assault by one's own parents or peers, to name a few. Boys grow up policing each other, identifying and weeding out the weak, the not so manly, or "the girls."
Femininity is a step down
What is so reprehensible about femininity? Why is it such an unwanted behavior for a boy to exhibit a slight bend in the hand, an appreciation for fashion and style, or to play with other girls? What are we afraid of when a boy shows feminine qualities?
The hierarchy within the Filipino family is pretty firm, even with a rise in single mother households and alternative structures. To a man, adopting the role of a woman is a step down from being padre de familia (head of household) and is emasculating, because the traditional role of women is still to keep the home and care for children. The male figure is still the decision maker, often the breadwinner, and even if he does not bring home the bacon, the wife is often more than willing to take a step back to preserve her husband's "manhood." As such, a boy that exhibits female traits is often thought of as one who will be dominated by a man, cannot and will not make decisions, is frail and easily oppressed.
Who would want a life of subservience for their child? Except of course if she's already a girl, then it's fine, right?
With how boys are prized and men are revered in our society, it would definitely be disheartening to "lose" a son's manhood because a lot relies on a boy to carry on his father's masculinity, to lead the home after him, and then head a family of his own. Sociologically, we look for the presence of a man to judge if a particular family unit is strong and intact, and we make assumptions about its integrity when there is no masculine figure. Because traditional roles dictate that a man should protect and provide for his family, we assume there is no protector nor provider if there is no manly presence. Couldn't he do this if he had feminine qualities?
Except that the world (and even the Philippines) has progressed far past these ideas. Many a household have been lead by women, and even by gay men. Even the stereotypical parloristas have been known to support their entire families and make financial decisions the way their straight, ‘hard male’ counterparts could not. But in the end, when it comes down to respect, even if family members are grateful for the parlorista's financial support, they are very quick to qualify a flaw - "kahit na bakla siya (even if he's gay )" - as if femininity and providing for one's family are mutually exclusive.
Homophobia equals misogyny
It's hard not to feel that the hatred of effeminate men translates to a hatred of women. In a way, feminine qualities are associated with inferiority and not something to which one should aspire or be proud of. To wear mommy's dress is to be mommy - weak and subservient - and therefore, nothing like a 'real' man.
It is in the thought that women are by nature submissive, fickle, intellectually inferior and emotionally unpredictable that perpetuates this hatred when men show these qualities. It stirs in them lessons from youth that to be female is to be inferior, and will deserve ridicule or physical harm. Early on, boys learn that to be an effeminate man is to be someone's bitch, and only women deserve to be dominated by a man.
If a man is acting more feminine, men react to this because they despise the role they themselves give women, but it's totally fine if a woman has that role because they believe that's her place. A submissive woman affirms traditional masculinity and manhood, while an assertive woman or a feminine man challenges it.
A disgust for femininity
The next time we encounter our own adverse response to effeminate men, let's ask ourselves: What womanly trait do we see in them that we hate? What are the connotations of that gesture or act? Why doesn't it belong in a man? What happens if we allow it to flourish in a man? Why does it belong only in a woman?
When we equate gentleness, flamboyance, and beauty with inferiority; and when we take softness or eloquence as being emotional and irrational, we refuse to let our men have these traits. We limit these traits to women as negatives. When we make sure only ‘real men’ are heads of households, soldiers or police officers, does that mean we view female qualities as flaws?
The next time you feel these reactions, ask yourself: Why do we take such great measures to sway our sons away from femininity? Could it be that our girls have a certain place in society that we accept? It must be so bad that we are hell bent that our sons never step down to that sad place only women should take. We'd rather harm our sons by changing their ways, rather than see in them a female trait. - Rappler.com
Shakira Andrea Sison is a Palanca Award-winning essayist. She currently works in finance and spends her off-hours thinking too much in subway trains. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002. Follow her on Twitter: @shakirasison and on Facebook.com/sisonshakira.