A Short, Incomplete Introduction to Gender Sensitivity

What does it mean to be truly gender sensitive? For one thing, it goes way beyond letting your date pick up the tab because she’s a feminist (and you’re a cheapskate). It also goes beyond bantering with your gay officemate then patting yourself on the back after for being so open minded. Gender sensitivity boils down to respecting others regardless of gender, and demanding for them the same basic human rights as the local demographic with the most privilege–the heterosexual Filipino man.

Sex and Gender

First thing’s first. What is the difference between sex and gender, and why is there such a big fuss over it? Simply put, sex is the set of genitals we are born with–male or female. Gender is what we choose to identify with, the most common types (so far) being heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transgender, and queer. Gender is fluid, decided on by the individual, and can change throughout the course of his or her life. So it’s perfectly possible for your gay cousin to start dating a woman but still identify as a gay man.

Gender Sensitivity

Why is gender sensitivity such a big deal? It all boils down to human rights. Heterosexual males, especially if they’re caucasian, have historically had the upper hand in almost all aspects of society. Even if we argue that Filipino society used to be gender equal, with babaylans being revered as human conduits to the spirit world, fact is things changed when the Spanish arrived, or in some parts, when Islam spread, and heterosexual men were forever after considered superior to everyone else, with other genders aside from male and female rendered nonexistent.

Women’s Rights

Women’s right is a fairly new thing. The Magna Carta of Women, a comprehensive women’s human rights law that seeks to eliminate discrimination through the recognition, protection, fulfillment and promotion of the rights of Filipino women, especially those belonging in the marginalized sectors of the society,’ didn’t become law until 2009. Though Filipinas may be a bit more well off than other countries in terms of treatment and pay scale, women still tend to earn less than men. There are also some behaviors that men take for granted that are actually sexist. These include:

Cat Calling – Yelling “Ang ganda mo naman” or wolf-whistling at a random stranger isn’t being friendly, it’s being creepy. You’re not complimenting a woman, you’re giving her unwanted attention which can make her feel uncomfortable.

“She was asking for it” – Guys, just because a woman wears certain clothes doesn’t mean she wants to have sex with you. Wearing a tube top, for example, doesn’t mean she’s ready to get hot and heavy–maybe she was just feeling warm because hey, summer. Just because a lady passes out drunk in front of you doesn’t give you license to assault her and put it on video. A woman’s bad life choices doesn’t give you automatic permission to take advantage of her–unless that’s what she wants, then by all means, go ahead.

“No actually means yes, if you push hard enough” – We all know the type–the pushy person who doesn’t take no for an answer, the one who will keep pushing and prodding you until you give the smallest, most noncommittal hint of a ‘maybe,’ which he or she will then take to mean ‘hell yes!’ then take it against you after when you complain. We all hate that person. Don’t be that person. If your lady’s (or man’s) answer isn’t an enthusiastic ‘Yes! Now na!’ or ‘Kiss me pa more!’ assume that she (or he) is uncomfortable with the situation and back away, or ask her how she feels before carrying on.

The Friend Zone – Many men complain about being locked in the friendzone, that sad place where folks with unrequited love for a friend languish. People in the friend zone ask to be pitied–here they are, doing everything for the object of their affection, only to be shunted to the side for someone else. Folks in the friend zone, here’s some news for you: the friend zone isn’t a cold, lonely, soulless place your friend has locked you into; it’s a cold, lonely soulless place you, and only you, decided to camp out in.

Anyone of any gender who places themselves in the friend zone is being unfair to him or herself, and to the person he or she wants to woo romantically. Being in the friend zone automatically means resentment to the other party for not noticing your existence. “I do everything for her, and yet she chooses that loser!” That statement, a common refrain from men in the friend zone, contains an underlying sentiment of a failed transaction–I did this but she didn’t do this. That isn’t love, that’s entitlement. Also, by not revealing your feelings, you miss the chance of the person you like feeling the same way; and he or she doesn’t, the chance to move on to someone who does.

Consent is king, or queen – With so many rules in place, how does anyone expect to get anywhere with the opposite sex? Here’s a radical suggestion: be straight and to the point with what you want, and proceed only when you’re sure she’s on board with the idea. A great side effect is that there’s also less drama this way.


Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender. What’s the big deal? Again, it comes down to basic human rights. Since society mostly sees things from a heterosexual point of view, the idea that someone can love someone of the same gender may seem baffling, even scary. But that doesn’t give you or anyone the right to treat them differently.

“Bakla/ tomboy kasi” – Every human being is different. Don’t ascribe stereotypical behavior to someone just because of their sexual orientation. For example, effeminate does not equal gay, and brusque does not equal lesbian or man-hater.

Address by gender – There has been some confusion as to how people in the LGBT community should be addressed, the most prominent case being that of Jennifer Laude, the trans woman killed by an American soldier stationed in Clark. Half the press used her real name, Jeffrey, while others used her chosen name and gender, Jennifer, and addressed her as a woman. Really guys, it’s simple: address the individual in the way he or she wants. If a trans woman wants to be addressed as she and miss, then do so.

Demand equal rights – Isn’t it unfair that people who identify as LGBT are, by law, required to pay taxes and yet ey can’t, by law, get married? Part of gender sensitivity is seeing everyone as equal, with equal rights and access to privileges. “But the Bible says homosexuality is a sin!” you say. True, but this doesn’t mean the church has to change its laws–there is such a thing as freedom of religion, after all. It means that the country should change its laws to grant equality to this significant part of its citizenry.

Men’s Rights

What about us men, you ask? This question has spawned a lot of ‘men’s right’ groups aimed at ‘taking back the power that men once held.’ If you believe this, I hope someone slaps you upside your head real soon. Folks who advocate for men’s rights aren’t seeing the bigger picture: that men have always held the upper hand. The ‘loss of power’ they feel isn’t because of an actual loss of cis (the ‘normal’) male rights, but because of the gaining of rights by other groups–women and LGBT. It can be weird and scary and life-altering, but instead of fighting or being asses about it, why not try embracing it at your own pace? After all, open-mindedness is the first step to becoming human.

This essay appeared in Garage magazine in 2015.


My friend Samie Carvalho, a trans woman, would like to clarify some things about trans folk in the essay:

“Simply put, assigned sex is the “sex” (because even the concept of sex is a social construction) that the society assigned us at birth based in the genitals we are born with–male or female, in a very binary framework that exclude for example intersex. People born with “ambiguous” genitals, or genitals that don’t fit in that pre-concepted binary idea of what sex suppose to be, instead of what is really is. Gender is what we identify ourselves with, regardless our genitals, based on biological and psycho-social factors, the most common types (so far) is being male or female. So, for example, if you were assigned as male at birth AND you identify as male, you are a CISGENDER male. But if you were assigned as female, BUT STILL identifying as male, you are a TRANSGENDER male.

“But gender can be very fluid, and new perceptions about gender can occur and can change throughout the course of his or her life. And gender isn’t the same of gender expression. Being “masculine” or “feminine” doesn’t makes anyone more or less gay, lesbian, straight, cis or trans. A cis straight women can be as masculine as she feels or wants to be. A trans woman can be very “butch” if she feels so, and this doesn’t make her less “womanly.”.

Sexual orientation is about who we feel attracted for based on our gender. So, if you are attracted to someone that is the opposite of your gender (again, regardless your genital), you are heterosexual. If is someone of the same gender, homosexual, and if both, bisexual. So, a men who feel attracted o a woman, even when she is transgender, still a heterosexual men. Even if this woman still have a penis. Gender and sexual orientation is between the ears, in the brain, not between the legs.

“Half the press used her ASSIGNED name, Jeffrey, while others used her chosen (and real) name and gender, Jennifer, and addressed her as a woman. Really guys, it’s simple: address the individual in the way he or she wants. If a trans woman wants to be addressed as she and miss, then do so.”



Yvette Natalie U. Tan is a multi-awarded author of horror fiction and the Agriculture section editor of Manila Bulletin.

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