(SPOT.ph) Every Pride Month, we hear of many letters and terms about gender and sexuality: SOGIE or SOGIESC; LGBT, LGBTQ+, LGBTQ, or LGBTTQQIAAP (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, pansexual). And as a society that grew up with the myth of Malakas and Maganda, we only identify two sexes: lalaki at babae, man or woman, male or female. But as our understanding of human sexuality continues to evolve, we realize that we’re not just limited to this binary—the concept has always been there, we just didn’t have names for them, until today. In this short explainer, we attempt to lay down a foundation for how we understand sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual characteristics, otherwise known as SOGIESC.
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Here’s a quick 101 on what SOGIE is and why we need the SOGIE Bill:
What SOGIESC Means
SOGIESC, or more commonly known as SOGIE, celebrates and recognizes the diversity of an individual’s gender and sexuality. “It's often used in human rights discussions to describe 'yong aspects ng pagkatao ng mga tao. [These have something] to do with how they express themselves, who they love or how they connect with other people, or how they live their truths,” explained Ivanka Custodio, an LGBTIQ+ rights activist from the organization Camp Queer, in an interview with SPOT.ph. SOGIESC stands for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Gender Expression, and Sexual Characteristics.
“What SOGIE is not about is forcing people to become LGBTIQ. If anything, it's us LGBTIQ people who are forced to subscribe to what is deemed as the 'normal' way of being. The whole conversation about SOGIE is really about bringing awareness to the fact that people should be respected and have the right to live and to thrive regardless of their SOGIE,” they added.
The Letters of SOGIESC
Sexual characteristics, or sex, is an attribute related to a person’s biological traits, including genitals and chromosome patterns. When babies are born, the first thing that a doctor looks at is whatever’s between their legs: penis for male and vagina for female. This is why sex is also sometimes identified as “sex assigned at birth,” as identified by a medical professional and recorded in an infant’s Certificate of Live Birth. Chromosomes also play a role in determining the Sex of a person: XY for male and XX for female; as well as sex hormones present in the body: testorone for male and estrogen for female.
But some babies are born with sex characteristics that don’t fit the binary notions of male or female bodies: the intersex. They can have both genitals, or a sex hormone that doesn’t match their genitals, or the presence of both types of chromosomes in their bodies. Currently, especially in the Philippine setting, intersex has yet to be identified as a valid sex characteristic in legal forms.
Unlike sexual characteristics—which are biological attributions—gender identity is a personal and psychological concept of self. It starts with how an individual identifies: man, woman, neither/either. When someone’s gender identity aligns with sex assigned at birth, then that person is a cisgender; while a transgender person has non-alignment of gender identity and sex. Additionally, a queer individual identifies as neither man or woman or both as man or woman—or, in other words, doesn’t fit the binary notions of being a man or a woman. Queer is also sometimes used as an umbrella term to describe gender identities, gender expressions, or sexual orientations other than that of a cisgender heterosexual person.
While sex is biological and gender identity is personal or psychological, gender expression works within a cultural context. It relates to a person's behavior, mannerisms, interests, and appearances associated with how a society sees categories of femininity or masculinity. Gender expression is best presented as a spectrum where you have manly or masculine on one end, neutral or androgynous at the center, and womanly or feminine on the other end. For example, because a society associates dresses with femininity, a person who frequently wears a dress may have a feminine gender expression.
Finally, sexual orientation is associated with whom a person desires emotionally, romantically, and sexually. Attraction may be oriented towards someone of the same sex (homosexual), either of the two sexes—but not at the same time (bisexual), or the opposite sex (heterosexual). Homesexual individuals can be lesbians, meaning someone who identifies (gender identity) as a woman falls in love with someone who identifies as a woman; or gay, meaning someone who identifies as a man falls in love with someone who identifies as a man, too. A pansexual is someone who's emotionally, romantically, and sexually attracted to people regardless of gender. They often see gender identity as non-binary. In the acronym LGBTQ+, the first three letters (lesbian, gay, bisexual) correspond to a person’s sexual orientation. T, or transgender, relates to a gender identity.
Asexuality and aromanticism make up the A in the LGBTQIA+ acronym, but they're only two of the "a-spec" (asexual spectrum) identities in the continuum. An asexual is someone who is not sexually attracted to anyone, but they may or may not be romantically attracted to someone—in this sense, sexual attraction may be distinct from romantic attraction. There's also gray-asexuality and gray-romanticism, which falls in an area between being asexual and sexual, or aromantic and romantic; demisexual or demiromantic, which refers to people who do not experience primary attraction (first impression), but do experience secondary attraction (develops over time); and so on.
The Genderbread Person
To better explain SOGIESC, artist and activist Sam Killermann came up with the Genderbread Person. Uncopyrighted since 2013, the Genderbread Person is a visual model for understanding and teaching gender and sexual diversity. It has been translated into over a dozen languages. It presents a person as a genderbread, a play on our favorite gingerbread cookie; and emphasizes that gender identity is not equal to gender expression is not equal to sex and not equal to orientation.
It associates gender identity with the brain, meaning it's personal or psychological as previously mentioned; sexual orientation to the heart, since it's related to attraction; gender expression to a dotted line surrounding the genderbread, which signifies that it's an outward attribute; and sex, which points to that area between the genderbread's legs.
The Genderbread Person also presents all four elements as continuums. "The schema used here to map out gender (the '-ness' model) allows individuals to plot where they identify along both continue to represent varying degrees of alignment with the traditional binary elements of each aspect of gender, resulting in infinite possibilities of 'gender' for a person," Killermann explained in his website.
Another way to articulate SOGIESC is through the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce’s 4Ws SOGIESC. The Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce is an inter-industry organization of businesses of, by, and for the LGBTQ+ in the Philippines. They sometimes give SOGIESC seminars to CEOs in an effort to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
“[The 4Ws] is really a simple and efficient introduction to the global gender landscape. We usually develop this for leaders in organizations and communities so they better understand what SOGIESC is," explained Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce's Angel Romero to SPOT.ph.
The 4Ws are: what parts you have (sexual characteristics), who you are attracted to (sexual orientation), which gender you are or how you identify yourself (gender identity), and way you are or how you express yourselves (gender expression).
The “Third Sex”
Most survey forms and legal documents ask us about our sex (male or female), which is also the sex we’re assigned to at birth and printed in our birth certificates. But some forms mistakenly put “gender,” instead of sex—probably because of the connotation of the word sex as the verb for sexual act. Aside from being grammatically incorrect, it also dangerously blurs the distinction of sex and gender identity as being different aspects. Again, sex or sexual characteristic is biological, while gender identity is personal or psychological.
Some institutions claim to be more inclusive by putting a third box on sex: male, female, and third sex. But putting in “third” sex just propagates the idea of hierarchy among the sexes—with male at the top. Sometimes, they don’t even intend to identify intersex as the third box, but probably thinking of the other sexual orientations and gender identities.
Everyone Has SOGIESC
The discourse on SOGIESC has many misconceptions. “Ang pinakauna talagang [misconception] is kala ng mga tao special lang 'yong SOGIESC to the community or the LGBTQIA community, but it is not. Lahat tayo may SOGIESC,” explained Romero.
“Everyone has their own SOGIE because everyone has a way of expressing themselves in a gendered sense. Everyone has their own way of connecting to people. And everyone needs to be able to live in a way that feels authentic to who they are,” Custodio added.
Senator Tito Sotto, one of the opponents of the long-languishing SOGIE Equality Bill, once said in 2019 that the passage of the bill is "against women's rights." Another opposing argument is that the bill is made only for the members of the LGBTQ+ community. But if one fully understands SOGIESC, then you can identify how the bill is clearly aligned with protecting everyone from being discriminated against just because they look, love, think, and dress up “differently.”
For example, a cisgender woman—"cis" meaning she was assigned a woman at birth for having female organs and also identifies as a woman (gender identity)—who happens to like men (making her a heterosexual, sexual orientation), and likes to wear pants (gender expression)—has her own SOGIE (as cited). This means that if you’re a cisgender woman who was scolded at work for not wearing a dress (a.k.a. discrimination on the basis of your SOGIE, particularly gender expression), you have the SOGIE Equality Bill to back you up.
Labels and Visibility
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t even be talking about SOGIESC. We wouldn’t even have to identify as one or the other or have people proclaiming to the world that they’re this or that. But as a society that’s predominantly patriarchal (and, in effect, binary), we have yet to grasp the idea that human sexuality is diverse.
“While everyone has a SOGIE, we have to understand that this is an important human rights issue precisely because people face discrimination on the basis of their SOGIE. We're talking about trans people getting brutally murdered. We're also talking about trans and queer people who get fired because of anti-crossdressing policies, lesbian women remaining unemployed because companies do not want to hire them because of their sexual orientation, gay people who are discriminated when they try to access health services. We're also talking about LGBTIQ children who face harm even doon sa spaces na dapat pinoprotektahan sila at inalagaan sila at minamahal sila. These include 'yong schools where they can get expelled or punished because of who they are or sometimes they drop out of schools kasi binu-bully sila,” Custodio explained.
In this sense, labels make the society aware that an individual’s sexuality is not clear-cut. A sexual characteristic that goes beyond male or female reminds us that intersex individuals exist, gender identity doesn’t always follow our sex assigned at birth, gender expression isn’t always being masculine or feminine, and people aren’t always attracted to people of the opposite sex. And SOGIE makes society aware that you exist—no matter how “different” you are. By identifying this existence, maybe—just maybe—discrimination would stop.
What Pronouns to Use
With the many permutations in SOGIESC, it’s important to never assume. You may see someone sporting a masculine look (gender expression), but that doesn't necessarily mean that the person identifies as male (gender identity).
"You ask the person, how do you identify yourself? Do not assume. Kasi minsan nakikita lang natin ’yong panlabas, that’s the gender expression; but iba ’yong identity rin, iba rin ’yong orientation. Hindi sya makakabit, [they’re] totally different facets of a person. The simplest and the easiest way to actually know the SOGIESC of that person is to ask, especially the gender identity," Romero explained. It's also polite to ask a person's pronoun, especially if you're going to refer to that person frequently (such as writing in an article or introducing someone in public).
"It's not rude [to ask]; it's actually very essential to ask for someone's pronouns," Custodio added. They also touched on the phrase "preferred pronouns," which is a no-no when identifying someone's pronouns on paper. “Prefer” implies choice, but gender identity is clearly not a choice. "Hindi naman siya pine-prefer, they're actually their pronouns," they explained.
However, asking for someone’s pronouns may inadvertently out a person. In these kinds of situations, it’s best to gauge the reason why you’re asking, the urgency and necessity of having to know that person’s pronouns, and maybe even the extent of your relationship.
Tolerance vs. Acceptance
The Philippines is said to be an LGBTQ+-friendly country, ranking 10th in a study conducted by Pew Research Center in 2013, where 73% of adult Filipinos surveyed agreed that “homosexuality should be accepted by society.” Comparatively, this has some level of truth especially when compared to neighboring countries, where being LGBTQ+ is a crime. However, we still we hear of transgender women being prohibited from using the ladies' room, lesbians being raped by the men in their family, or gay kids being bullied in school.
"The experiences of LGBTIQ people that we hear every day, their experiences of discrimination and violence—[those] point to the fact that while there is a level of tolerance for LGBTIQ, we're still not equal, we're still very much vulnerable when it comes to exercising our rights—even just our right to live," Custodio explained.
"Ang problem kasi natin: Sometimes we say 'we love' or 'we accept but,' there's always a 'but.' We're using the norms, religion, conservatism, para lang i-defend ’yong biases natin or stereotypes. I guess in the Philippines, it's more of tolerance pa rin; it's not acceptance, because there's always a 'but' in there. It [should] really be all about respect. No matter how different your views or opinions are, it boils down to respecting a person and accepting them for who they are and what they are,” Romero added.
Educate, Not Hate
Our understanding of sexuality is continuously evolving. There was a time when we only knew of the Filipino words “bakla” and “tomboy,” which we later found out to be just a couple of labels in the many permutations in the SOGIESC. There was a time when we limited ourselves to gender binaries. There was a time when the singular ‘they’ confused media outlets.
According to Romero, the best way to respect people’s SOGIESC is to “educate and not hate.” Acceptance is a two-way street; and, sometimes, we just have to accept that some people might really not understand all these acronyms and diversity.
"Number one is checking with the person, kung ano talaga ’yong pronouns nila. I-normalize natin ’yong use of pronouns, even in e-mails and social media para people will know how you identify yourself. Second, is really making sure that you talk to experts. Ako, I'm not an expert, but ’yong experience ko and the things I've learned, and I'm still learning is through community interaction, immersion, and talking to a lot of people who have different experiences. Very fluid kasi ang gender e. Minsan may bago na naman. May mga bagong terms na talagang hindi mo malalaman, pero syempre if—as an ally—you try to reach out to people and ask them and talk to them, it would help. Minsan kasi nag-aasume lang tayo e,” Romero added.
These are just some of the things you need to know about SOGIESC, but at the end of the day, it’s really about making sure that you come from a place of respect.
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