Wednesday, June 20, 2012

All shapes and sizes

published 20 July 2012, MST page 5

Two twentysomething male foreigners conducted an experiment to see how accepting—or not—of “others” Filipinos were. They made big posters saying “Free Hug!” and brought these to a mall in Marikina City. Both walked around the mall bearing the posters—and one of them dressed as a transgender. They wanted to know how people would react.

They did not actually look that foreign. The “straight” guy was Indonesian and the one who had put on a dress, a ribbon, and a lot of make-up was Cambodian.

A third member of the all-male group, a Sri Lankan, hovered in the background taking a cell phone video of people’s reactions.

The findings were mixed.

Both guys bearing the posters were met with curious stares all over the mall. Some people pretended not to see them. Others acted as though they had lost their minds.

An old man poked the stomach of the “transgender” and stared at “her” menacingly. A female store vendor walked away from the duo, waving not one but two middle fingers in the air.

But some did respond to the hug request. The pair noticed that women tended to hug the “transgender” first before they did the “straight” man—if they even hugged the second one at all.

The pair did the same at the busy quadrangle of a Quezon City university. What they noticed was that the students were generally kinder and more receptive to the hugs request.

The experiment was by no means a strictly scientific one and the observations may or may not indicate a trend among Filipinos in general. It does pose interesting questions. For instance, can we say that more educated people are less prone to discriminate? Are old people inclined to be narrow-minded and intolerant?

Or are Filipinos accepting—they just don’t like giving indiscriminate hugs to strangers who ask for them?

Is discrimination an act of impulse and is it mitigated by conscious acts? For example, we may initially be shocked or curious at seeing a transgender asking for a hug—but get over it and hug away, anyway.

Last week we heard about an incident at a bar inside a Makati hotel. The manager turned away a group of transgenders because the house rules said men in women’s clothes were not allowed. Later, the manager said that the group wasn’t allowed in because they were not on the guest list, and that the bar allowed transgenders on “a case-to-case” basis. Could it be that the discrimination was one of class, rather than of gender?

When we move away from suspicious-looking men inside public buses, for instance, or keep an eye on them for fear that they may be robbers just because they look the part, isn’t that discrimination, as well?

Sometimes the fears and the biases come as a result of upbringing, culture, or previous experiences. Sure, the idea is to champion a world free of discrimination. It seems to be the politically-correct idea. But we must also not hold it against those who struggle with their own built-in biases. Some people are born and raised to be more tolerant than others are. Why not show more charity to the intolerant?

The charity should end, however, when they start acting on these impulses. For instance, that old man did not have any right to poke the “transgender,” as much as the vendor was wrong to flash her middle fingers. We draw the line when some people speak cruel words, ridicule, humiliate or lecture on those who act and believe differently from them.

Bigotry deserves no charity.

***

Last Sunday was Fathers’ Day and I was happy to receive greetings from a number of friends paying tribute to mothers who act as fathers at the same time.

It is, after all, 2012. Men and women do not anymore have distinct and mutually exclusive roles within the family. Indeed men’s and women’s functions now overlap—and I say that’s healthy. Wives and mothers now earn money and make big decisions while husbands and fathers cook, clean and care for the children.

In today’s dynamic world, lines are blurred and parents—male, female or otherwise—are appreciated for what they are at the core: people who work hard to enable their children to realize their potential and become self-actualizing individuals and productive members of the community.

adellechua@gmail.com

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