‘I’ column - Olivia Cantor

... on how sexual rights affect one personally, and how they are affirmed and/or violated in one's local cultural setting. 

I live in Metro Manila where indirect heckling occurs in most Filipino circles, especially during drinking sessions among friends. Sadly, LGBT people are always the target or subject of these hecklers. Yes, discrimination is very much alive in the Philippines despite the active LGBT presence and movement in our patriarchal society. And Filipinos love to show this discrimination by inventing new words of bigotry or using bigoted and condescending word associations.

I have always maintained that I will not let hecklers get to me. Sometimes, this is hard, especially if the one they’re teasing is someone I love. But if they tease me, I’m okay with that. I’ll just ignore them, plain and simple. 

Lately, I experienced a different kind of heckling, and a different kind of defense of this heckling. Never in my ten years of being a lesbian have I experienced this sort of defense – defense by the woman I love.

Recently, my girlfriend and I went to say hi to her group of male friends who were having their regular Friday night drinking session outside their friend’s neighborhood eatery. Weekend drinking sessions were a fixture in that neighborhood, and everybody supposedly treated everybody fairly, meaning any neighborhood friend belonging to any gender and sexual orientation could join the drinking session. Gender and sexuality never mattered overtly to them as long as people could hold their liquor. Well, there is a small irony there: sexuality is, in fact, an issue. But like any other sensitive issue in Philippine society, the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy (or rather, don’t discuss even if they know) prevails.

Upon arriving, my girlfriend’s male friends saw us together. They were already familiar with me as she had already introduced me as her girlfriend to most of her friends. Upon disembarking from her motorcycle, I headed to the eatery counter to order food while she headed to the bunch of male friends drinking on the other side. 

Because my girlfriend looks very feminine (despite the fact that she is known in their neighborhood as a sporty, strongwilled single mother who rides a motorcycle), most of her male friends discount the fact that she is bisexual. They never fully realized the scope of her sexuality earlier because her previous girlfriend never made the effort to get to know these neighborhood friends.

It was indeed a revelation to them when these friends saw me and I was introduced as her new girlfriend. I still get weird stares every now and then, even if most of the neighborhood already welcomed me as the newest addition. 

Lately, I have been sporting shorter hair and wearing comfortable clothing (simple shirt and jeans), making me look a bit on the butch side. My girlfriend doesn’t really mind, until I was heckled as someone who ‘looks like Aiza’.

Aiza is Aiza Seguerra, a famous young TV/movie actor/ musician who had her own fair share of negativity as she grew up in the public’s eye (she started as a child actor) and grew up to be a lesbian – a very butch-looking lesbian at that. Now, she is out and proud, and still accepted by her movie, TV and music fans. Aiza’s name became synonymous with being a lesbian much like Ellen Degeneres’ name became synonymous with lesbianism in the US, and it was not the first time I heard Aiza’s name used in reference to a Filipina lesbian’s sexuality.

My girlfriend doesn’t mind the usual macho men heckling; neither do I. However, there was this particular heckling that she frowned upon. When one of her macho men friends told her in jest ‘O, nasaan si Aiza? (Hey, where’s Aiza?), my girlfriend took a stand. It’s one thing to banter about one’s sexuality between close friends but it’s another thing to use names for a demeaning heckling. Obviously, the ‘joke’ was taken as offensive by my girlfriend since the joker was a known sexist bigot.

Being an avowed feminist, my girlfriend has shot down this bigot’s sexist remarks in the past. But she shot down harder this time, because, as she told me, I was the one being targetted by the condescending remark. In the end, the bigot shut up and remained that way until my girlfriend and I left the scene.

As an out and proud lesbian, this is the first time I had a girlfriend defending me outwardly, and proudly protecting me as her loved one. That moment of tandem discrimination-defense was something new for me. As I looked at her, I was more convinced that I made the right decision of choosing her, and loving her as well. And by her actions, I would say she feels the same way about me, too. 

Olivia (Libay) Linsangan Cantor is Faculty member and Head of Academic Programs & Research Division, University of the Philippines Film Institute, College of Mass Communication in Quezon City, The Philippines.