I was an eight-year-old kid in the mid-1990s.
90 年代中期时，我才 8 岁，
I grew up in southern Philippines.
At that age, you're young enough to be oblivious
about what society expects from each of us
but old enough to be aware of what's going on around you.
We lived in a one-bedroom house,
all five of us.
Our house was amongst clusters of houses
made mostly of wood and corrugated metal sheets.
These houses were built very close to each other
along unpaved roads.
There was little to no expectation of privacy.
Whenever an argument broke out next door,
you heard it all.
Or, if there was a little ... something something going on --
you would probably hear that, too.
Like any other kid, I learned what a family looked like.
It was a man, a woman, plus a child or children.
But I also learned it wasn't always that way.
There were other combinations that worked just as well.
There was this family of three who lived down the street.
The lady of the house was called Lenie.
Lenie had long black hair, often in a ponytail,
and manicured nails.
She always went out with a little makeup on
and her signature red lipstick.
Lenie's other half, I don't remember much about him
except that he had a thing for white sleeveless shirts
and gold chains around his neck.
Their daughter was a couple years younger than me.
Now, everybody in the village knew Lenie.
She owned and ran what was the most popular beauty salon
in our side of town.
Every time their family would walk down the roads,
they would always be greeted with smiles
and occasionally stopped for a little chitchat.
Now, the interesting thing about Lenie
is that she also happened to be a transgender woman.
She exemplified one of the Philippines' long-standing stories
about gender diversity.
Lenie was proof that oftentimes we think of something as strange
only because we're not familiar with it,
or we haven't taken enough time to try and understand.
In most cultures around the world,
gender is this man-woman dichotomy.
It's this immovable, nonnegotiable, distinct classes of individuals.
We assign characteristics and expectations
the moment a person's biological sex is determined.
But not all cultures are like that.
Not all cultures are as rigid.
Many cultures don't look at genitalia primarily
as basis for gender construction,
and some communities in North America, Africa, the Indian subcontinent
and the Pacific Islands, including the Philippines,
have a long history of cultural permissiveness
and accommodation of gender variances.
the people of the Philippines were under Spanish rule for over 300 years.
菲律宾人民被西班牙 统治了 300 多年。
That's from 1565 to 1898.
那是在 1565 年到 1898 年之间。
This explains why everyday Filipino conversations
are peppered with Spanish words
and why so many of our last names, including mine, sound very Spanish.
This also explains the firmly entrenched influence of Catholicism.
But precolonial Philippine societies,
they were mostly animists.
They believed all things had a distinct spiritual essence:
plants, animals, rocks, rivers, places.
Power resided in the spirit.
Whoever was able to harness that spiritual power was highly revered.
Now, scholars who have studied the Spanish colonial archives
also tell us that these early societies were largely egalitarian.
Men did not necessarily have an advantage over women.
Wives were treated as companions, not slaves.
And family contracts were not done without their presence and approval.
In some ways, women had the upper hand.
A woman could divorce her husband and own property under her own name,
which she kept even after marriage.
She had the prerogative to have a baby or not
and then decide the baby's name.
But the real key to the power of the precolonial Filipino woman
was in her role as "babaylan,"
a collective term for shamans of various ethnic groups.
They were the community healers,
specialists in herbal and divine lore.
They delivered babies
and communicated with the spirit world.
They performed exorcisms
and occasionally, and in defense of their community,
they kicked some ass.
And while the babaylan was a female role,
there were also, in fact, male practitioners in the spiritual realm.
Reports from early Spanish chroniclers contain several references
to male shamans who did not conform to normative Western masculine standards.
and appeared effeminate
or sexually ambiguous.
A Jesuit missionary named Francisco Alcina
一位名叫弗朗西斯科·阿尔西纳 （Francisco Alcina）的耶稣会传教士说，
said that one man he believed to be a shaman
was "so effeminate
that in every way he was more a woman than a man.
All the things the women did
such as weaving blankets,
sewing clothes and making pots.
He danced also like they did,
never like a man,
whose dance is different.
In all, he appeared more a woman than a man."
Well, any other juicy details in the colonial archives?
Thought you'd never ask.
As you may have deduced by now,
the manner in which these precolonial societies conducted themselves
didn't go over so well.
All the free-loving, gender-variant-permitting,
gender equality wokeness
clashed viciously with the European sensibilities at the time,
so much so that the Spanish missionaries spent the next 300 years
导致西班牙传教士 在接下来的 300 年里，
trying to enforce their two-sex, two-gender model.
Many Spanish friars also thought that the cross-dressing babaylan
were either celibates like themselves
or had deficient or malformed genitals.
But this was pure speculation.
Documents compiled between 1679 and 1685, called "The Bolinao Manuscript,"
1679 年至 1685 年间 编纂的文件《波里瑙手稿》中
mentions male shamans marrying women.
The Boxer Codex, circa 1590,
约 1590 年编写的《谟区查抄本》 （又名《马尼拉手稿》）
provide clues on the nature of the male babaylan sexuality.
It says, "Ordinarily they dress as women,
and are so effeminate
that one who does know them would believe they are women.
Almost all are impotent for the reproductive act,
and thus they marry other males and sleep with them as man and wife
and have carnal knowledge."
Carnal knowledge, of course, meaning sex.
Now, there's an ongoing debate in contemporary society
about what constitutes gender and how it should be defined.
My country is no exception.
Some countries like Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Nepal and Canada
have begun introducing nonbinary options in their legal documents,
such as their passports and their permanent resident cards.
In all these discussions about gender,
I think it's important to keep in mind
that the prevailing notions of man and woman as static genders
anchored strictly on biological sex
are social constructs.
In my people's case, this social construct is an imposition.
It was hammered into their heads over hundreds of years
until they were convinced that their way of thinking was erroneous.
But the good thing about social constructs
is they can be reconstructed
to fit a time and age.
They can be reconstructed
to respond to communities that are becoming more diverse.
And they can be reconstructed
for a world that's starting to realize
we have so much to gain from learning and working through our differences.
When I think about this subject,
I think about the Filipino people
and an almost forgotten but important legacy
of gender equality and inclusivity.
I think about lovers who were some of the gentlest souls I had known
but could not be fully open.
I think about people who have made an impact in my life,
who showed me that integrity, kindness and strength of character
are far better measures of judgment,
far better than things that are beyond a person's control
such as their skin color, their age
As I stand here today, on the shoulders of people like Lenie,
I feel incredibly grateful for all who have come before me,
the ones courageous enough to put themselves out there,
who lived a life that was theirs
and in the process, made it a little easier for us to live our lives now.
Because being yourself is revolutionary.
And to anyone reeling from forces trying to knock you down
and cram you into these neat little boxes people have decided for you:
My ancestors see you.
Their blood runs through me as they run through so many of us.
You are valid, and you deserve rights and recognition
just like everyone else.