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In the Philippines, a baklâ (pronounced [bɑklɑ̆]) or bayot (Cebuano) is an assigned male at birth person who is usually exclusively attracted to men. Baklâ are often considered a third gender. Many, but not all, baklas have feminine mannerisms and dress as women. Some actually self-identify as women.
Bakla are socially and economically integrated into Filipino society. The stereotype of a baklâ is a parlorista–a flamboyant, camp cross-dresser who works in a beauty salon. Some Filipinos disapprove of baklas, usually on religious grounds or related social reasons.
In modern Filipino, the term means either “effeminate man” or “homosexual”  but the word itself has been used for centuries albeit in different context. Tagalog poet Francisco Balagtas used the word "bacla" in reference to "a temporary lack of resolve", as seen in his popular works Florante at Laura and Orosman at Zafira. There is also a passage in the religious epic poem "Casaysayan nang Pasiong Mahal ni Jesucristong Panginoon Natin na Sucat Ipag-alab nang Puso nang Sinomang Babasa" (The History of the Passion of Jesus Christ Our Lord that Surely Shall Ignite the Heart of Whosoever Readeth), which is often read during Holy Week, that says "Si Cristo'y nabacla" (Christ was confused, referring to the Agony in the Garden). During Balagtas' time, when the Philippines was colonized by Spain, homsexual men were called "binabae" or "bayogin". Meanwhile, pre-World War II Tagalog refers to bakla as "fearful" or "weakened".
It has often been mistaken that baklas was derived from the ancient Baybayin script used to write Tagalog until the 16th century, where the characters "ba" and "la" are said to represent the words for "female" and "male" (babae and lalaki in modern orthography), respectively.
Bakla generally dress and act like women, grow their hair long, having breast implants, taking hormone pills and make other changes to look more feminine. Some go so far as to undergo sex reassignment surgery, but this is uncommon.
Bakla are sometimes considered a third sex. J. Neil C. García recalls a children's rhyme that begins by listing four distinct genders: "girl, boy, bakla, tomboy" (In the Philippines, tomboy explicitly refers to a lesbian).
In the second edition of the now-defunct gay lifestyle magazine Icon Magazine, editor Richie Villarin quoted one of the magazine's advertisers as saying "We cannot remain oblivious to your market".
Baklas have been instrumental in the opening of several night clubs in the Philippines.
Miss Gay Philippines is a national beauty pageant for baklas. The participants model swimsuits and dresses, as in other beauty pageants worldwide. Many of the baklas that participate in this contest actually resemble female models that participate in non-gay beauty contests.
Baklas have created a special language that they use with each other, called swardspeak, and is used by both masculine and feminine baklas. Swardspeak incorporates elements from Filipino, Philippine English and Spanish, and is spoken with a hyper-feminised inflection. It was widespread and popular until the 1990s, but is now considered unfashionable in most parts of Manila.
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Same-sex marriage is not recognised in the Philippines, preventing many baklas from getting married. Legislation attempting to legalise same-sex marriage in the Philippines has been presented to Congress, but none have passed thus far.
In Pre-colonial Philippines, The bakla, especially those who crossdress, were once religious leaders in the society called Babaylan which is a healer, scholar and a shaman that are only done by female and male transvestites. Babaylan is considered a respectful being in the society as well as a person of a higher status next to the royalty and nobility. Gender roles were pretty limited back then as all genders shared the same work, status and benefit as long as they contribute something within the society. Although a lot of times, men dominate the population on the military, same as the women, the bakla and the tomboy can join military and serve their community as protectors and soldiers. When Spanish Colonization, along with American Colonization, and other western influences came to the Philippines, things in the society started to change. Forced assigning of gender roles were expanded to a greater length thus dividing all people according to sex, condemning the third-gender through strict religious reasons and gender bias was formed in the society in terms of power, benefits, and roles.
Although Filipinos had managed to deconstruct the standards of the gender role that was forced upon by western influences during and after colonization, the stigma that was put upon people who belong to the third gender lasted'til modern times but now in a less strict way.
Nowadays, in almost every city and town across the culturally diverse islands of the Philippines there is at least one bakla (in general many baklas) living a normal life, accepted (at least by some) as a member of the third sex. This general acceptance of the baklâ sexuality does not, however, imply that they are considered equal to the other genders. García states that the ordering "girl, boy, baklâ, tomboy" implies “[The differing gender’s] hierarchal positioning relative to each other”. Although Filipino society is surprisingly tolerant of baklâ, there is an implied superiority of the “traditional” sexes over the other two.
Despite this supposed “hierarchy of the sexes”, baklâ have not only become recognised and accepted by most of society but they have become an integral part it. There are successful ones, such as some parlorista who own or work at beauty salons and are considered more meticulous and detail-oriented than female peers. A few prominent social icons are also baklâ, such as television personality Boy Abunda, hairdresser and entrepreneur Ricky Reyes, actor-comedian Vice Ganda, Filipino fashion designer Michael Cinco and the world's first LGBT political party called Ladlad which means to "coming out".
The Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic; the Church officially tolerates persons with such orientations but condemns homosexual activity as "intrinsically disordered". This condemnation of homosexuality presents a problem for the baklâ because of the potential for discrimination in a Catholic-dominated society. Baklâ belonging to Catholic families–especially devout ones–often struggle to reconcile their feelings and religious beliefs throughout their whole adolescent lives. While some baklâ are told to abandon their homosexuality because of religion, others are encouraged by either parents or friends to embrace it, considering the baklâ to nonetheless be an important part of society.
While a significant minority, baklâ who are Protestant face varying degrees of acceptance based on the denomination to which they belong. The Philippine Independent Church, which is in full communion with the worldwide Anglican Communion, is known for its progressive stance, while various Evangelical churches and the Iglesia Ni Cristo are more fundamentalist, and thus strongly condemn homosexual acts and suppress such identities within their congregations.
Non-Christian Filipinos who profess Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other faiths also present a wide range of doctrinal views. Islam–the largest non-Christian minority faith professed by some 5% of the population–has similar views to the other Abrahamic Faiths in that homosexual acts are sinful on a doctrinal basis. There are some Filipino Muslims who do not accept homosexuals while some are as tolerant as the others. Hinduism and Buddhism on the other hand frown upon homosexuality but are tolerant as well.
- Aggleton, Peter (1999). Men who sell sex: international perspectives on male prostitution and HIV/AIDS. Temple University Press. p. 246. ISBN 1-56639-669-7. Retrieved 2010-06-05.
- Benedicto, Bobby (2008). "The Haunting of Gay Manila: Global Space-Time and the specter of Kabaklaan". GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 14 (2-3): 317–338. doi:10.1215/10642684-2007-035.
- "bakla". Tagalog Dictionary. 2004. Retrieved 2009-12-05.
- Garcia, J. Neil C. (2008). Philippine Gay Culture: Binabae to Bakla, Silahis to MSM. Manila, Philippines: UP Press. ISBN 9715425771. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
"Also, another semantic space that bakla occupies refers to a state of mental confusion and undecidedness. This may be used to bear a linguistic affinity to the way Tagalog poet Francisco Balagtas used the word bakla in the context of a temporary lack of resolve, an emotional wavering in several scenes in at least two of his best known works, the romance Florante at Laura and the play Orosman at Zafira; later, prewar Tagalog writers used bakla to mean fearful and weakened.
- de Veyra, Lourd (24 October 2013). "HISTORY: MAY BAKLA NGA BA NA KASAPI SA KATIPUNAN?". News5 Everywhere. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
- LeiLani Dowell (2005-02-17). "New Peoples Army recognizes same-sex marriage". Workers World Party. Retrieved 2008-11-17.
- "Philippines". International Religious Freedom Report 2004. U.S. Department of State. 2004. Archived from the original on 13 July 2010. Retrieved 11 July 2010.
Over 81 percent of citizens claim membership in the Roman Catholic Church, according to the official 2000 census data on religious preference.
- Excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church