The gender-fluid history of the Philippines | France Villarta

89,566 views

2020-04-03・ 4814    553


Visit http://TED.com to get our entire library of TED Talks, transcripts, translations, personalized talk recommendations and more. In much of the world, gender is viewed as binary: man or woman, each assigned characteristics and traits designated by biological sex. But that's not the case everywhere, says France Villarta. In a talk that's part cultural love letter, part history lesson, he details the legacy of gender fluidity and inclusivity in his native Philippines -- and emphasizes the universal beauty of all people, regardless of society's labels. The TED Talks channel features the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world's leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design -- plus science, business, global issues, the arts and more. You're welcome to link to or embed these videos, forward them to others and share these ideas with people you know. For more information on using TED for commercial purposes (e.g. employee learning, in a film or online course), submit a Media Request here: http://media-requests.TED.com Follow TED on Twitter: http://twitter.com/TEDTalks Like TED on Facebook: http://facebook.com/TED Subscribe to our channel: http://youtube.com/TED

Instruction

Double-click on the English captions to play the video from there.

00:13
I was an eight-year-old kid in the mid-1990s.
00:15
I grew up in southern Philippines.
00:18
At that age, you're young enough to be oblivious
00:20
about what society expects from each of us
00:22
but old enough to be aware of what's going on around you.
00:26
We lived in a one-bedroom house,
00:28
all five of us.
00:29
Our house was amongst clusters of houses
00:32
made mostly of wood and corrugated metal sheets.
00:36
These houses were built very close to each other
00:39
along unpaved roads.
00:41
There was little to no expectation of privacy.
00:44
Whenever an argument broke out next door,
00:47
you heard it all.
00:49
Or, if there was a little ... something something going on --
00:53
(Laughter)
00:55
you would probably hear that, too.
00:58
(Laughter)
00:59
Like any other kid, I learned what a family looked like.
01:03
It was a man, a woman, plus a child or children.
01:07
But I also learned it wasn't always that way.
01:09
There were other combinations that worked just as well.
01:12
There was this family of three who lived down the street.
01:15
The lady of the house was called Lenie.
01:18
Lenie had long black hair, often in a ponytail,
01:21
and manicured nails.
01:23
She always went out with a little makeup on
01:25
and her signature red lipstick.
01:28
Lenie's other half, I don't remember much about him
01:30
except that he had a thing for white sleeveless shirts
01:33
and gold chains around his neck.
01:36
Their daughter was a couple years younger than me.
01:39
Now, everybody in the village knew Lenie.
01:42
She owned and ran what was the most popular beauty salon
01:45
in our side of town.
01:46
Every time their family would walk down the roads,
01:49
they would always be greeted with smiles
01:51
and occasionally stopped for a little chitchat.
01:56
Now, the interesting thing about Lenie
01:58
is that she also happened to be a transgender woman.
02:03
She exemplified one of the Philippines' long-standing stories
02:07
about gender diversity.
02:10
Lenie was proof that oftentimes we think of something as strange
02:16
only because we're not familiar with it,
02:18
or we haven't taken enough time to try and understand.
02:23
In most cultures around the world,
02:26
gender is this man-woman dichotomy.
02:29
It's this immovable, nonnegotiable, distinct classes of individuals.
02:35
We assign characteristics and expectations
02:38
the moment a person's biological sex is determined.
02:42
But not all cultures are like that.
02:45
Not all cultures are as rigid.
02:47
Many cultures don't look at genitalia primarily
02:50
as basis for gender construction,
02:52
and some communities in North America, Africa, the Indian subcontinent
02:58
and the Pacific Islands, including the Philippines,
03:01
have a long history of cultural permissiveness
03:05
and accommodation of gender variances.
03:08
As you may know,
03:09
the people of the Philippines were under Spanish rule for over 300 years.
03:14
That's from 1565 to 1898.
03:17
This explains why everyday Filipino conversations
03:20
are peppered with Spanish words
03:22
and why so many of our last names, including mine, sound very Spanish.
03:28
This also explains the firmly entrenched influence of Catholicism.
03:34
But precolonial Philippine societies,
03:36
they were mostly animists.
03:39
They believed all things had a distinct spiritual essence:
03:45
plants, animals, rocks, rivers, places.
03:50
Power resided in the spirit.
03:53
Whoever was able to harness that spiritual power was highly revered.
03:59
Now, scholars who have studied the Spanish colonial archives
04:02
also tell us that these early societies were largely egalitarian.
04:08
Men did not necessarily have an advantage over women.
04:12
Wives were treated as companions, not slaves.
04:15
And family contracts were not done without their presence and approval.
04:20
In some ways, women had the upper hand.
04:23
A woman could divorce her husband and own property under her own name,
04:28
which she kept even after marriage.
04:30
She had the prerogative to have a baby or not
04:33
and then decide the baby's name.
04:36
But the real key to the power of the precolonial Filipino woman
04:41
was in her role as "babaylan,"
04:45
a collective term for shamans of various ethnic groups.
04:49
They were the community healers,
04:52
specialists in herbal and divine lore.
04:56
They delivered babies
04:57
and communicated with the spirit world.
05:00
They performed exorcisms
05:03
and occasionally, and in defense of their community,
05:07
they kicked some ass.
05:09
(Laughter)
05:11
And while the babaylan was a female role,
05:14
there were also, in fact, male practitioners in the spiritual realm.
05:18
Reports from early Spanish chroniclers contain several references
05:23
to male shamans who did not conform to normative Western masculine standards.
05:29
They cross-dressed
05:30
and appeared effeminate
05:33
or sexually ambiguous.
05:35
A Jesuit missionary named Francisco Alcina
05:37
said that one man he believed to be a shaman
05:40
was "so effeminate
05:42
that in every way he was more a woman than a man.
05:47
All the things the women did
05:49
he performed,
05:51
such as weaving blankets,
05:53
sewing clothes and making pots.
05:57
He danced also like they did,
06:00
never like a man,
06:02
whose dance is different.
06:04
In all, he appeared more a woman than a man."
06:10
Well, any other juicy details in the colonial archives?
06:16
Thought you'd never ask.
06:17
(Laughter)
06:19
As you may have deduced by now,
06:21
the manner in which these precolonial societies conducted themselves
06:25
didn't go over so well.
06:27
All the free-loving, gender-variant-permitting,
06:30
gender equality wokeness
06:32
clashed viciously with the European sensibilities at the time,
06:36
so much so that the Spanish missionaries spent the next 300 years
06:41
trying to enforce their two-sex, two-gender model.
06:44
Many Spanish friars also thought that the cross-dressing babaylan
06:49
were either celibates like themselves
06:53
or had deficient or malformed genitals.
06:56
But this was pure speculation.
06:58
Documents compiled between 1679 and 1685, called "The Bolinao Manuscript,"
07:04
mentions male shamans marrying women.
07:08
The Boxer Codex, circa 1590,
07:11
provide clues on the nature of the male babaylan sexuality.
07:16
It says, "Ordinarily they dress as women,
07:21
act like prudes
07:23
and are so effeminate
07:25
that one who does not know them would believe they are women.
07:29
Almost all are impotent for the reproductive act,
07:33
and thus they marry other males and sleep with them as man and wife
07:39
and have carnal knowledge."
07:42
Carnal knowledge, of course, meaning sex.
07:47
Now, there's an ongoing debate in contemporary society
07:50
about what constitutes gender and how it should be defined.
07:53
My country is no exception.
07:55
Some countries like Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Nepal and Canada
08:00
have begun introducing nonbinary options in their legal documents,
08:04
such as their passports and their permanent resident cards.
08:08
In all these discussions about gender,
08:10
I think it's important to keep in mind
08:12
that the prevailing notions of man and woman as static genders
08:16
anchored strictly on biological sex
08:19
are social constructs.
08:22
In my people's case, this social construct is an imposition.
08:28
It was hammered into their heads over hundreds of years
08:33
until they were convinced that their way of thinking was erroneous.
08:38
But the good thing about social constructs
08:42
is they can be reconstructed
08:44
to fit a time and age.
08:47
They can be reconstructed
08:49
to respond to communities that are becoming more diverse.
08:53
And they can be reconstructed
08:55
for a world that's starting to realize
08:58
we have so much to gain from learning and working through our differences.
09:04
When I think about this subject,
09:06
I think about the Filipino people
09:08
and an almost forgotten but important legacy
09:12
of gender equality and inclusivity.
09:15
I think about lovers who were some of the gentlest souls I had known
09:21
but could not be fully open.
09:23
I think about people who have made an impact in my life,
09:28
who showed me that integrity, kindness and strength of character
09:32
are far better measures of judgment,
09:35
far better than things that are beyond a person's control
09:38
such as their skin color, their age
09:42
or their gender.
09:44
As I stand here today, on the shoulders of people like Lenie,
09:49
I feel incredibly grateful for all who have come before me,
09:54
the ones courageous enough to put themselves out there,
09:59
who lived a life that was theirs
10:02
and in the process, made it a little easier for us to live our lives now.
10:07
Because being yourself is revolutionary.
10:12
And to anyone reeling from forces trying to knock you down
10:16
and cram you into these neat little boxes people have decided for you:
10:22
don't break.
10:24
I see you.
10:26
My ancestors see you.
10:28
Their blood runs through me as they run through so many of us.
10:33
You are valid, and you deserve rights and recognition
10:40
just like everyone else.
10:44
Thank you.
10:45
(Applause)
About this site

This site was created for the purpose of learning English through video.

Each video can be played with simultaneous captions in English and your native language.

Double-click on the English captions will play the video from there.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please contact us using this contact form.