Queerness in Indigenous Filipino Mythology
By Danica Hooper, Guest Writer for VINTA Gallery
As we all know, the Philippines is an extremely Catholic nation as a result of the over 300 years of Spanish colonization. In those 300 years, we as Filipinos were forced to assimilate to Eurocentric beliefs and forget our Indigenous roots. Even now when we have resources to self-decolonize and learn about our Indigenous cultures, it’s still a challenge to pick a starting point. So let’s begin here. Did you know that the Philippines has a lot of queer symbolism, including deities and flora? As much as the Catholic church wants us to forget, we are actually a very queer nation. To be honest, many Indigenous cultures from around the world have queer symbolism and it’s about time we remember them!
The Philippines has thousands of islands and regions, therefore had many different spiritualities before Catholicism. Some deities overlapped between groups of people, but the overarching theme was equality and acceptance. Women held a high status in society and had the same rights and privileges as men. Virginity was not a virtue to be followed and unwed mothers were not shamed for their lack of a husband. Women could own wealth and land, name their children, keep their name, and get a divorce without their husband’s permission. Trans women were seen as spiritual beings and held power within a society as religious leaders. Gender was not a main focus in Filipino mythology, and even though many deities were assigned genders, those who were intersex, genderless, or genderfluid were more revered for their fluidity.
In the Tagalog region, Lakapati (depicted in the image above) is the goddess of fertility and agriculture. She is described as androgynous, intersex, and transgender, and was considered one of the kindest deities. Her being intersex and having both female and male reproductive parts was believed to be the depiction of the balance in everything. She was highly esteemed and Filipinos would offer sacrifices to her before planting a new field as a form of respect. After a long courtship, she married Mapulon, the god of seasons. Their marriage was symbolic to the ancient Tagalogs because “it referred to marriage as a mutual bond between two parties regardless of gender, which was common and an acceptable practice at the time.”
Amihan is the Tagalog deity of the wind and is genderless. Because of their non-binary status, they were often depicted as a golden bird. Other deities who are believed to be queer in modern retellings of their myth are Libulan (or Bulan, the boy moon), the male god of the moon, and Sidapa, the male god of death. Though their love story has recently been proven to be a work of fiction, it is still interesting how we, as humans, feel the need to connect to our ancestral roots in which same-sex relationships and gender were not controversial.
The conclusion of the most recent article debunking the love story between Libulan and Sidapa states: “So is it safe to call Libulan the patron deity of homosexuals? Not in a historical context, but as I said earlier, Philippine societies regarded their myths as containing psychological and archetypal truths. If modern Philippine society needs Libulan as a symbol for the LGBT movement, then that is his purpose for today. As a study of anthropology, history and the evolving realm of Philippine mythology, I’m okay with that — as should we all be.”
Queerness is not this new thing that some people believe it is, especially in the Philippines. Being non-binary is not new or just a trend. Trans people have existed for thousands of years. Queerness is in nature. It is natural and should be celebrated for its beauty.
In the 1500s when the Spanish arrived in Philippine soil, you can probably guess that queerness and our Indigenous cultures were immediately rejected and eradicated. After 300 years of colonization, Roman Catholicism is now the main accepted religion in the Philippines, but believe it or not, the Philippines has a 73% acceptance rate when it comes to LGBTQIA+ communities, according to a study done by Pew Research Centre in 2013 — the Philippines was one of the highest of 39 countries surveyed.
Even though prominent queer Filipinos are on the rise in mainstream media, with celebrities such as Bretman Rock, Manila Luzon, Jake Zyrus, and Issa Pressman to name a few, as well as advertisements showcasing queer love (see the recent McDonalds Philippines ad with sapphic love showcased at the forefront), same-sex marriage and any form of civil unions are still illegal and the government refuses to pass anti-discriminatory laws that would protect LGBTQIA+ folks. Queer people are “tolerated, but not accepted” in the eyes of the law and because of the extreme Catholicism across our homeland, it isn’t a surprise that queer folks still do not have the same rights as heterosexual people.
I wanted to write about queerness not only because it’s Pride Month, but also because growing up in the Philippines, I had to hide my true queer self from everyone including myself. It wasn’t until I left the Philippines did I finally accept my queerness and I realized that kissing girls at parties and having my favourite characters from TV and movies be queer or queer-coded were not heteronormative or ally things, but were in fact very gay things. Many Filipinos grew up with internalized homophobia due to the religious beliefs that were forced onto us whether we grew up Catholic or Christian — but that can be unlearned. Now that I live in Toronto and there is a huge advocacy for the LGBTQIA+ community, I’ve learned so much about sexuality and gender and I continue to learn more and more every single day. It isn’t such a taboo topic here; same-sex marriage is legal and queerness is highly accepted. Not having Catholicism and Christianity forced onto me helped a lot in my coming out.
Learning about queerness in Filipino mythology and having friends who are also part of the LGBTQIA+ community has taught me that the spectrum is wide and it’s freeing. There was never anything wrong with queerness — that ideology was forced onto Filipinos by colonialism and it’s time we fight. Decolonize yourself because we exist to love whoever the hell we want. If the gay agenda is to accept everyone regardless of gender or sexual orientation, then sign me up!
Happy Pride, everybody! I wish you all safety and happiness!
Danica Hooper (she/her) is VINTA Gallery’s Social Media and Events Manager, as well as a multidisciplinary artist located in Toronto, Canada. She graduated from Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University) with a degree in Fashion Communications. Having moved to Toronto from the Philippines for university, she has always aimed to represent her culture and the beauty of her homeland by self-decolonizing and interacting and surrounding herself with decolonized art. Now that she has become a child of the diaspora, it is even more paramount to her that she remembers her roots through a decolonized lens.
Almendral, Aurora. “A Transgender Paradox, and Platform, in the Philippines.” The New York Times, 29 Apr. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/04/29/world/asia/transgender-philippines-discrimination.html.
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