The 1960s Gay Life in the Philippines: Discretion with Tolerance

By Foe, Jonathan | Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Annual 2014 | Go to article overview

The 1960s Gay Life in the Philippines: Discretion with Tolerance


Foe, Jonathan, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality


Introduction

Today, the international gay movement, coupled with AIDS prevention projects, has put male homosexuality into the public discourse in most South East Asian nations. This, along with the Internet, social networking and pornography sites, allow many Asian gays to see themselves as part of an international culture. Many heterosexuals are now aware that homosexuals want equal rights. Yet this was not the case in the 1960s Philippines. Back then homosexuality was not openly discussed. Despite a lack of a gay movement, gays were accorded much tolerance.

This issue has hardly been studied before. There have been only a few articles indicating that the Philippines was tolerant of gays in the 1960s and 1970s, that is, before the Stonewall rebellion in New York in 1969. For original research there are only two studies; Hart in1968 and Lopez in 2007. Hart's study was confined to a village, while Lopez's work focused on Tondo, a small district in Manila in the 1950s. Hence, by utilizing interviews of older gay Filipinos who recalled the 60s, this research uncovered a hidden past in an era and in a country untouched by strict homophobia.

Tolerance was indigenous

The evidence suggests that this relative tolerance of Philippine homosexuality was not the influence of either the Spanish or American colonizers. Instead the toleration was indigenous. Spain was, after all, home of the inquisition, and executed hundreds of males who were caught having sex with each other during the 1500s (Berco, 2008, p. 336); about the time when Magellan landed in the Philippines. Although strict enforcement of sexuality slowly died away, there was still a stigma attached to homosexuality in Spanish culture.

The Spanish model of homosexuality is different from the Philippine. Spain was a firmly patriarchal culture (Berco, 2008). The culture valorized males, including their sexual practices. Although homosexual relations were definitely stigmatized, a segment of the Spanish culture seemed to allow it (Berco, 2005). Tolerance was also dependent on the roles played by the participants in the act of homosexual sex itself.

Scholars of sex have called the Spanish model Mediterranean. It goes back at least as far as the ancient Greece. In this, the "top" or active partner in sex is the male, while the "bottom" or passive partner is the female. Since females were less regarded, the bottom is looked down upon more than his "male" partner (Sigal, 2003). The active male partner was in control, and for some, it might have increased his feeling of masculinity. The active would be perhaps married, a priest, or a man of high standing. He was termed machista meaning male or a real man.

The passive bottom partner often suffered more shame for being woman-like. He was frequently a slave, an adolescent boy, effeminate, or poor. The passive younger man was called maricon, an insulting term meaning sissy, faggot, callboy, or puto, meaning a callboy wishing to be penetrated. (Sigal, 2003a). Being called a puto was perceived as a horrendous fate. In this sense, the passive male was not being shunned not so much because he had sex with another male, but because he had allowed himself to be penetrated and thus was weak and feminine (Sigal, 2003b). Sexual morality of this sort followed the Spanish into its colonies in the New World.

America arrived in the Philippines in 1900. Strangely no law was passed prohibiting homosexuality (Carale, 1970); although during this time, the United States was beginning to actively prohibit homosexuality within its own shores. During their occupation of the colony, American gays were increasingly harassed (Kaiser, 1997), yet there seemed little impact overseas. In 1946, the Philippines declared independence, but the American influence remained strong, partly because of the shared experience in the liberation of the islands from the Japanese during World War 2.

The post-war brought the Cold War and McCarthy witch-hunts in America. …

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