Makibeki, H‘wag Mashokot: Die Beautiful (2016) and the LGBTQI Struggle for #EqualityNow

The eve of the 17th of March 2018 marks the gathering of brave hearts to register the call and support for the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill.

The passage of the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) bill is not just about the LGBTQI community; it speaks about our humanity as living beings and the recognition that the struggle for freedom and equality is a never-ending task for as long as every human being suffers oppression and inequality.

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It is to every Filipino’s sense of humanity that we appeal to support the passage of the SOGIE bill, to end the discrimination, to end the hate, and usher-in equality now.

The problematic reality that the members of the LGBTQI community continue to bitterly endure until today are reflected in Jun Lana’s movie, Die Beautiful (2016). The film follows the life (and death) of gay Trisha Echevarria (Paolo Ballesteros) and her struggles to live out her life. Growing up well-acquainted and determined with her homosexuality, Trisha’s life is filled with the blunt force of violence and the transcendence of joy.

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Trisha suffers domestic violence from her father (Joel Torre), useless pity from her sister, Beth (Gladys Reyes), sexual violence from the likes of Migs (Albie Casiño), and social violence in the form of the bouncer’s refusal to let her use the female comfort room. Being a gay urban poor, she also suffers from the economic violence of having a precarious livelihood as a raketera make-up artist and a beauty pageant kontesera.

On the otherhand, the harshness of life is balanced by the intimacy of family and friendship she shares with her best friend, Barbs (Christian Bables) and daughter, Shirley Mae (Faye Alhambra/Inah de Belen), and with the hope of true love in the person of Jessie.

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Die Beautiful is a coming-out story of Philippine society-in-contradiction where the LGBTQI community is conditionally tolerated but never fully accepted and integrated. The film provides us with verifiable examples and reasons to support the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill.

First point: existing laws are not enough to address the violence and discrimination being experienced by Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders, Queers, and Intersex persons. These people are harassed, mocked, discriminated against, hated, murdered based on their identity. Of this definition, the closest word is Genocide: the systematic murder of peoples based on their culture, ethnicity, sexuality, faith—their very identity. Ironically, this large-scale murder can only be possible either by the active cooperation or passive consent of the majority as shown by the Jewish Holocaust under Nazi Germany, the persecution of Christians under Imperial Rome, and the murder of non-Christians like Hypatia of Alexandria who was killed by the city’s fanatic Christian mob.

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We have no specific laws with which to bring to justice men who abuse gays simply because of their attire and mannerisms, against men who deem it justified to sexually assault lesbians to “restore them to their femininity”. These crimes are committed based on the victim’s identity and existence and not just because of the innate malice and violence of the perpetrator.

In the film, Trisha is always treated harshly by her father who sees her as something unclean, something sub-human. This view is held by the likes of Manny Pacquaio and other religious fanatics who contribute to perpetrate this culture of toxic masculinity against the LGBTQI community. These Pharisees are so fixated with other people’s speck in the eye that they forget the beam before their faces.

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But before we continue, let us first establish this truth: The Philippines is not a “Christian” nation nor based on any other religion.

The Philippine Constitution is not based on the Bible. We have no state religion. Christians, either in their arrogance or ignorance, assert that “Almighty God” in the Preamble meant the Christian god. But if it did, it violates the Constitution’s provision on the Separation of the Church and the State by elevating nationally a divinity worshipped by one religious group.

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No. The phrase rather pays respect to the cultural belief in the divine by the various ethnolinguistic peoples of the Philippines. This religious tolerance can be perfectly seen in the enjoyment of Christians of the Islamic holidays.

Second point: the passage of the SOGIE Equality bill or even of the Same-Sex Marriage bill will not be detrimental to the institution of the family. This view exaggerates the virtues of male-female marital relations, glosses-over its failures, and underestimates the wholesomeness of non-heterosexual relationships. For even without the so-called threat of homosexuality, marriages have already suffered breakage from sexual promiscuity, infidelity, and violence.

Morality is not determined by sexuality.

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In the film, married man Luis falls in love with Trisha. Although it was a quest for redemption that initially leads him to follow Trisha, the authenticity of his feelings is later revealed. Opponents will be quick to point out the family-wrecking impact of Trisha’s presence without considering, at least in this case, that it was the straight man who showed intent and made the move to consummate it with the gay man. The film also shows us the capability of Trisha and Barbs to nurture a family life with Shirley Mae.

The so-called straight man is also a victim of toxic masculinity: pressured to conform to the machismo enforced by patriarchy and forced to live in fear of being ostracized, he denies the truth of his sexuality and submits passively to the dictates of heterosexuality. It is in this that we recall the heart-rending words of Elio’s father from André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name.

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Third point: the passage of the SOGIE Equality bill has nothing to do with faith or religion. The Philippines is a democratic, republican, secular state. Religious arguments for or against secular laws should not hold that much weight. We are already free from the tyranny of the established church. Our senators and representatives should be called out of order for basing their opposition on the Christian tradition because it privileges one religious group over other religious and non-religious persons.

What the LGBTQI community aims to secure is legal recognition of their rights as parents, as spouses, as property holders, and more importantly, as human beings that should enjoy the equal protection and privileges of the law. Consider in the film: Trisha is dead and yet her gay family is barred from claiming her body because of the technicality of the law, and this even though she has been disowned, abandoned by her birth family. The legal is not always moral. The humanitarian spirit should trump legalism.

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It is true that legislations should reflect the will of the majority but this is in response to the needs of the majority. Denying civil rights and privileges to a minority based on the majority’s religious bias is a form of tyranny. This is even absurd because a large part, if not most of the “majority” that voted for President Duterte are “Christians/Catholics”. And using the same religious bias as logic, a foul-mouthed, womanizer, violent man like Rodrigo Duterte does not do well to reflect the kind of leader that a “Christian” should be following. Enough with the double standards. Enough with the hypocrisy.

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Fight for Love, Fight for Equality: Fight for #EqualityNOW. Pass the SOGIE Equality Bill.


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Domar Balmes

Books | Religion | Culture & History |
Animé, Ramen, and everything Japanese

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