Beauty and Power: Transgendering and Cultural Transformation in the Southern Philippines

Beauty and Power: Transgendering and Cultural Transformation in the Southern Philippines

Beauty and Power: Transgendering and Cultural Transformation in the Southern Philippines

Beauty and Power: Transgendering and Cultural Transformation in the Southern Philippines

Synopsis

This compelling study of gender and sexual diversity in the Southern Philippines addresses general questions about the relationship between the making of gender and sexualities, the politics of national and ethnic identities and processes of cultural transformation in a world of contract labourers and transnational consumers. The book focuses, in particular, on the meaning and experience of local 'gays' -- transvestite/transgender-homosexual men -- who are at once celebrated as purveyors of beauty (defined in terms of a global American otherness) and valorized as impotent men and defiled women. In short, America functions both as a sign of their abjected status and as a space for imagining and reformulating various gendered identities.This innovative work -- one of the first ethnographic studies to be published in the aftermath of the region's civil unrest -- will be of interest to anyone working on gender, the body and sexuality. Not only does it extend the boundaries of cross-cultural studies of non-mainstream genders and sexualities by directly engaging the entanglement of local sensibilities with global images and discourse, but it also demonstrates that there is nothing ambiguous about ambiguity -- gendered, sexual or otherwise. Rather, this ambiguity is the specific product of different historical relations of power through which various cultural subjects are created and re-create themselves.

Excerpt

Like the serendipitous circumstances of fieldwork with which I began and which lead one into the surprising and unexpected, the trope of first arrival is often, as Abu-Lughod (1993: xv) notes, part of the regular repertoire of ethnographic representations. However, I did not arrive in the Philippines as a first-time visitor. Rather I was returning to an area in the southern Philippines where I had previously lived as a child with my parents, who had, from 1968 up until the time I began fieldwork, been working there as Protestant missionaries with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. I note this here because while it is not a primary or even secondary focus of my ethnography, it is nevertheless part of the background to my interest in the culture and people living in this part of the world, and impinges on both my experiences and the locations of fieldwork.

I made an initial survey trip with my father from Manila to Zamboanga, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi in November 1990 and was joined in the Philippines the following month by my wife Heidi and our two sons Eliott (then 4) and David (then 2). Most of the research on which this book is based was carried out over an approximately eighteen-month period from January 1991 to July 1992. About the time of our arrival, my parents had been transferred to Manila, and our family moved into their flat in Zamboanga City, where I spent the first six months language- learning and doing initial surveys of household consumption practises in the small, mainly Muslim Tausug and Sama community of Paniran. More importantly, it was during this time that I became interested in transgenderally identified men, largely owing to the influence of my language assistants, who took me along to several gay beauty contests.

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