One of the defining features of the Duterte regime is a dehumanizing rhetoric that expresses virulence, seething hate, and an incitement to violence and an obsessive compulsion to portray its targets as unworthy of respect.
Recently, Gretchen Diez, a transwoman, was severely mistreated by the staff of Farmers Market for using the female comfort room. She was handcuffed, dragged to the administration office and maligned like anything. Gretchen was smart and brave enough to have documented the whole sordid affair on Facebook live.
It was an enraging picture of reality: working class Filipino men and women maligning and criminalizing a transwoman for accessing a facility that was meant not only for her but for everyone who may need it. What do I mean by “everyone?” I will explain that in a bit.
At this point, it is important to raise the alarm on this recent statement made by the former chief of police who championed the brutal mass killings in the name of the war on drugs. After all, now that he is in the Senate, progressive bills signed into law such as a protection against discrimination may likely be dismissed, scrapped or distorted with impunity.
Clearly, Bato incites hate and violence in asserting that transwomen are actually male sex offenders who demand access to female CRs. As a former chief of police, Bato will certainly not find evidence for this claim. There is no record of sexual offence whose victims are women or young girls that is perpetrated by a transwoman. Female survivors of rape, incest, sexual harassment were violated by male perpetrators.
Meanwhile, we have not forgotten the extreme violence that a Filipino transwoman suffered in the hands of another man-in-uniform, Bato’s superior, United States Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton. The case of Jennifer Laude (I wrote on it here https://bit.ly/2TLfyZZ). Telling the world that transwomen are actually male maniacs dressing up like women to inflict violence on women is baseless, dehumanizing, and outrageously inciting hate and violence.
A good number of women have shared this very same meme (Abante featuring Bato), expressing their sincere and candid misgivings about sharing CRs with transwomen, “aren’t they biologically male?” Trans people are the first ones to recognize the factor of biology. Yet becoming a gendered subject is a process that we have all gone through. Trans people make de-naturalizes that process, which poses a challenge on heteronormativity. But, too, transwomen, in particular, have been criticized for normalizing a bourgeois process of transition. Have you ever heard of a transwoman claiming to have transitioned from being male to an oppressed woman peasant or an exploited woman and worker?
A dear transwoman friend of mine confides that transitioning is an expensive process, and one needs economic power to fully transition. I do observe that the process also involves an embrace of mostly stereotypical corporeal feminine characteristics. It involves an arsenal of merch–make-up, clothes, bags, jewelry and a disciplinary regime of control over the body– the tyranny of slenderness, an internalized patriarchal gaze that ensures and draws attraction.
But what is wrong with that? Do we expect trans people to transition from where they are to an identity with an inherent revolutionary proletarian character? Are the TERFS kidding? Don’t we all struggle with the same sexist and racist prescriptions?
How and why would anyone transition to being an exploited and oppressed woman when transwomen could hardly get employed? This is why byucons (beauty contest/pageants) are very popular in the Filipino trans community. Behind what others judge as frivolity and pettiness is the struggle of transwomen for an income in the absence of wages and labor force participation. Besides, the condition of being exploited and oppressed has never been part of the liberation movement’s aspiration.
Activists like myself are always being criticized for wanting to change the world while looking “normal” and engaging in activities like going to school, to the gym, dining out, buying stuff at the grocery, and other self-sustaining everyday stuff of life. These people share with TERFS an unreasonable expectation from people who affirm change in various forms. They want us to make a leap from where we are and be the mutants that they expect us to be in an oppressive and exploitative system. They label us hypocrites for not joining the New People’s Army in their armed revolutionary struggle in the countryside. They want us invisible and silent while we are here in the mainstream.
Guess what? We shall make more noise. And with my lefty, queer and trans squad, we shall never get tired of saying that the male and female comfort room arrangement is a recent invention that came with the patriarchal “separate spheres” doctrine. It claims that gendered differences are innate. The separate spheres theory has been rendered obsolete in modern times on account capitalism’s inclusion of women workers in production while maintaining the wage gap and other sexist practices that serves the interest of profit accumulation.The separate spheres ideology also has a profound impact on culture, and therefore on mindsets, that it has normalized gendered restrictions in the use of public toilets.
My students in a course on Diversity of Perspectives in Gender and Sexuality are always fascinated and enraged to find out why they must go to female and male comfort rooms. And it is all because women, despite winning the struggle for the right to economic participation and therefore a place in the public sphere, are still viewed as the weaker sex. Since this ideology falsely deems women as weak, prone to unruly behavior, and unpredictable workers, they deserve lesser wages and a space, other than the production site, that is exclusively their own, the female CR.
That women are still viewed as weak and vulnerable to this day has everything to do with the material conditions in spaces where women create value — workplace and home. If as a woman, you think female CRs are indeed spaces of comfort, then realize that their construction is anchored on a history that perennially puts women in their place on account of their presumed weakness.
The idea of the existence of CRs can only materialize in a society where presumption of women’s inferiority is no longer a source of capitalist profit. We want to work towards that future. In the meantime, stick with the facts: no transwoman has ever sexually violated her fellow woman–not in social gatherings, parties, literary workshops, academic conferences, classrooms, dormitories, and comfort rooms. One last but important fact: there no good reason to believe in someone like Senator Bato.
Sarah Raymundo is a full-time faculty at the University of the Philippines-Diliman Center for International Studies. She is engaged in activist work in BAYAN (The New Patriotic Alliance), the International League of Peoples’ Struggles, and Chair of the Philippines-Bolivarian Venezuela Friendship Association. She is a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal for Labor and Society (LANDS) and Interface: Journal of/and for Social Movements.