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MeaningGender non-conforming male, effeminate gay man or trans woman
DefinitionQueer AMAB
ClassificationUmbrella term
Other terms
SynonymsBayot, agi, bayogin
Associated termsQueer, Hijra, Fakaleiti, Two-spirit, Trans woman, Akava'ine, Māhū
Regions with significant populations

In the Philippines, a baklâ (pronounced [bɐkˈlaʔ]), bayot (Cebuano) or agi (Hiligaynon) is a person who was assigned male at birth and have adopted a feminine gender expression.[1] They are often considered a third gender.[2] Many bakla are exclusively attracted to men, but are not necessarily gay.[3] Some are trans women.

In historical context, often they were called "bayogin". The root word comes from bai/bayi which in Philippine language family (e.g. babae 'female', babaylan 'shamaness', and Bay a noble title similar to 'Lady' or 'Princess') indicate "femininity" and suggests the meaning of the word "to make one into a female or feminine". Bayog also connotes certain idea of chastity and infertility (e.g. Tagalog word for infertility, 'ba-og') as attested in several historical and linguistic accounts (e.g. "namamayoguin an palay" "the rice crop cannot reproduce").[4]

Bakla are socially and economically integrated into Filipino society, having been accepted by society prior to Western colonization, many of which were held in high regard and performed the role of spiritual leaders known as babaylan, katalonan, and other shamans in pre-colonial Philippines. However, a minority group of Filipinos disapprove or reject the baklas, usually on religious grounds. The stereotype of a baklâ is a parlorista—a flamboyant, camp cross-dresser who works in a beauty salon; in reality, the bakla thrives in numerous sectors of society, from the lower to the upper levels.[5]

Historical Accounts[edit]

"The twelfth, bayoguin, signified a “cotquean,” a man whose nature inclined toward that of a woman."

Fr. Juan de Plasencia, Customs of the Tagalogs (1589) [6]

"Chap. XVI. Some peculiarities of the customs of the Subanos...Among this nation there is a class of men who profess celibacy and govern themselves by natural law, and they are very punctual and perfect in their observance of it; and such is the feeling of security in regard to them, that they are allowed to go about among the women without any fear or suspicion. Their dress is throughout like that of the women, with skirts of the same fashion. They do not use weapons, or engage in anything else that is peculiar to men, or communicate with them. They weave the mantas that are used here, which is the proper employment of women, and all their conversation is with women. Therefore, the purpose of life which they follow comes to be more extraordinary by its peculiarity and by its perils, considering both the nature of that country, and the little regard that they give to their dangers. So satisfied do they live, either from their own purpose or from their natural disposition, that they have never discredited their position with weaknesses. They were, so to speak, hermits of their religion, and were held in high esteem. And in fact the constancy of their life and modesty of their customs, obliged one to have respect for them. In a nation so barbarous and who knew not God, it appears a prodigy worthy of wonder that one of the special providences of His Divine Majesty, to place such examples of virtue in a country where vice had absolute control, so that the experience of the eyes causes them to esteem what God’s love did not obtain. I have known two of these men, and one of them I baptized, to my especial consolation, while visiting the coast of Siocon, which extends for twenty leguas from Samboangan toward Dapitan...Labia is the name they give to those of this profession. The name of this one was Tuto."

Fr. Francisco Combes, History of Mindanao, Sulu and Adjacent Islands (1667) [7]

"Retana (Pastells and Retana’s Combés, col. 786) derives “labia” from “labi” and “a” “he who advantages the others.” “Tuto” is said by Retana (ut supra, col. 790) to be equivalent to “tuud-tuud” meaning 'in real truth.'"

Blair and Robertson, The Philippine Islands Vol. XL, (1906) [8]

"Bayoguin- hombre cobarde que anda en trage de muger. Bayoguin ca cun di mo gauin ito!" (trans: "Bayoguin- a cowardly man who walks like a woman. (In Tagalog) 'You are cowardly if you do not do this!')

Dictionary entry "bayoguin", Noceda and Sanlucar, Vocabulario de Lengua Tagala (1860) [4]

Legal status[edit]

Same-sex marriage is not recognised in the Philippines, preventing many mga baklâ from getting married. Legislation attempting to legalise same-sex marriage in the Philippines has been presented to Congress, but none have passed thus far.[9]


The Philippines is predominantly Christian, with over 80% of Filipinos belonging to the Roman Catholic Church.[10] Church doctrine officially tolerates persons with such orientations but condemns homosexual activity as "intrinsically disordered".[11] This condemnation of homosexuality presents a problem for baklâ because of potential discrimination in a Catholic-dominated society. As a result, baklâ youth in particular are at a higher risk for suicide, depression and substance abuse than their heterosexual peers, with risk increasing as parental acceptance decreases.[12]

While a significant minority, baklâ adherents of Protestantism face varying degrees of acceptance based on the denomination to which they belong. The Philippine Independent Church, which is in full communion with the worldwide Anglican Communion, officially does not endorse homosexuality.[13] Various Evangelical churches and the Iglesia Ni Cristo are more fundamentalist in doctrine, and thus strongly condemn homosexual acts and suppress such identities within their congregations.

Non-Christian Filipinos who profess Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other faiths also present a wide range of doctrinal views. Islam, the second largest religion in the Philippines, comprises roughly 5.57% of the population.[14] Islam shares views with other Abrahamic Faiths in that homosexual acts are held to be sinful.[15] According to the Delhi High Court, Hinduism does not officially condemn homosexuality.[16] As for Buddhism, the Dalai Lama has maintained that homosexuality is "sexual misconduct" for Buddhist followers but does not condemn it for non-believers.[17]


In Pre-colonial Philippines, the bakla, especially those who crossdress (asog, bayoc or bayoquin in Spanish sources), were commonly shamans (babaylan), a role usually taken by women. Babaylan were highly respected members of the community who functioned as healers, keepers of oral histories, sorcerers, and as spirit mediums for communicating with ancestral and nature spirits (anito).[18][19][20]


In Cebuano, the term "baklâ" means "homosexual".[21] In modern Filipino, it can mean either "effeminate man" or "homosexual"[22] but the word itself has been used for centuries, albeit in different contexts. The Tagalog poet Francisco Balagtas used the word "bacla" in reference to "a temporary lack of resolve", as seen in his popular works Florante at Laura and Orosman at Zafira.[23]

They are also called bayot in Cebuano[citation needed] and agi in Hiligaynon/Ilonggo.

In narrating the Agony in the Garden, the traditional religious epic Casaysayan nang Pasiong Mahal ni Jesucristong Panginoon Natin na Sucat Ipag-alab nang Puso nang Sinomang Babasa (The History of the Passion of Jesus Christ Our Lord that Surely Shall Ignite the Heart of Whosoever Readeth), which is often chanted during Holy Week, has a passage that reads Si Cristo'y nabacla ("Christ was confused"). During Balagtas' time, when the Philippines was a Spanish colony, homosexual men were called "binabae" or "bayogin" like Alejandro Penunuri.[24] Pre-World War II Tagalog meanwhile used baklâ to mean "fearful" or "weakened".[23]

Baklâ is commonly believed to be a portmanteau of the words babae, meaning woman, and lalaki, meaning man.[25]


Bakla generally have feminine gender expression, grow their hair long, have breast implants, take hormone pills and make other changes to look more feminine. Some also undergo sex reassignment surgery, but this is uncommon.[26]

Baklâ are often considered a third gender.[2] J. Neil C. García recalls a children's rhyme that begins by listing four distinct genders: "girl, boy, baklâ, tomboy."[26] (In the Philippines, tomboy explicitly refers to a lesbian.)

Nowadays, in almost every city and town in the Philippines there is at least one baklâ (in general many baklâs) living a normal life, accepted (at least by some) as a member of the third sex. This general acceptance of the baklâ sexuality does not, however, imply that they are considered equal to the other genders.[according to whom?] García states that the ordering "girl, boy, baklâ, tomboy" implies "[The differing gender's] hierarchical positioning relative to each other".[26] Although Filipino society is tolerant of baklâ, there is an implied superiority of the "traditional" sexes over the other two.

Despite this supposed "hierarchy of the sexes," baklâ have become recognized and accepted by most of society; they have become an integral part it.[citation needed] There are successful ones, such as some parlorista who own or work at beauty salons and are considered more meticulous and detail-oriented than female peers. A few prominent social icons are also baklâ, such as television personality Boy Abunda, hairdresser and entrepreneur Ricky Reyes, actor-comedian Vice Ganda, Filipino fashion designer Michael Cinco and the world's first LGBT political party called Ladlad which means "coming out".


In the second edition of the now-defunct gay lifestyle magazine Icon Magazine, editor Richie Villarin quoted one of the magazine's advertisers as saying "We cannot remain oblivious to your market".[5]

Baklâs have been instrumental in the opening of bading clubs in the Philippines[5] and can also be found in service, retail, and both sexual and non-sexual entertainment industries. Despite their high visibility, acceptance of baklâs is limited, especially for gay professionals.[1]

Beauty pageants[edit]

Baklâ communities are renowned for beauty pageants,[5] with Miss Gay Philippines being a national beauty pageant for baklâs. The participants model swimsuits and dresses, as in other beauty pageants worldwide.


Baklâs have an argot, or secret language, called swardspeak. It is used by both masculine and feminine baklâs and incorporates elements from Filipino, Philippine English and Spanish, spoken with a hyper-feminised inflection.[5] It was widespread and popular until the 1990s, but is now considered unfashionable in most parts of Manila.[5] It has been argued that it is more appropriate to call modern swardspeak "gayspeak" instead; despite being strongly identifiable as gay lingo, it is also used by heterosexuals.[27]

Babaeng bakla[edit]

Heterosexual women who develop deep friendships or almost exclusively associate with the native bakla LGBT subculture are known as babaeng bakla (literally "a woman who is a bakla [gay man]"). They stereotypically acquire the mannerisms, campy sense of humor, lingo, and fashion sense of the bakla. They are also usually more extroverted and socially dominant. It is commonly perceived as a positive self-identification, and various prominent local celebrities (like Maricel Soriano and Rufa Mae Quinto) openly identify as babaeng bakla.[28][29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Tan, Michael L. (2001). "Survival Through Pluralism: Emerging Gay Communities in the Philippines". Journal of Homosexuality. 40 (3/4): 117–42. doi:10.1300/j082v40n03_07. PMID 11386330. S2CID 43819477.
  2. ^ a b Aggleton, Peter (1999). Men who sell sex: international perspectives on male prostitution and HIV/AIDS. Temple University Press. p. 246. ISBN 1-56639-669-7. Retrieved 5 June 2010.
  3. ^ "Being 'bakla' is NOT the same as being gay". Get Real Post. 12 July 2017. Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  4. ^ a b Noceda, Jose (1860). Vocabulario de la lengua tagala: compuesto por varios religiosos doctos y graves, y coordinado. Ramirez y Giraudier. p. 454. Retrieved 26 April 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Benedicto, Bobby (2008). "The Haunting of Gay Manila: Global Space-Time and the specter of Kabaklaan". GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. 14 (2–3): 317–338. doi:10.1215/10642684-2007-035. S2CID 143735570.
  6. ^ Blair, Emma (1906). The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898 Vol. 7. Arthur H. Clark Company. p. 186. Retrieved 26 April 2020.
  7. ^ Blair, Emma (1906). The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898 Vol. 40. Arthur H. Clark Company. pp. 161–162. Retrieved 26 April 2020.
  8. ^ Blair and Robertson2
  9. ^ LeiLani Dowell (17 February 2005). "New Peoples Army recognizes same-sex marriage". Workers World Party. Retrieved 17 November 2008.
  10. ^ "Philippines". International Religious Freedom Report 2004. U.S. Department of State. 2004. Retrieved 11 July 2010. Over 81 percent of citizens claim membership in the Roman Catholic Church, according to the official 2000 census data on religious preference.
  11. ^ "Excerpt". Catechism of the Catholic Church.
  12. ^ Reyes, Mark (2015). "Perceived Parental Support as a Protective Factor Against Suicidal Ideation of Self-identified Lesbian and Gay Filipino Adolescents". North American Journal of Psychology. 17 (2): 245–249.
  13. ^ "Anglican Communion Q&A" (PDF). Anglican Communion Home Page. Anglican Communion Office. Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  14. ^ "The Philippine Statistical Yearbook" (PDF). Philippine Statistics Authority. Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  15. ^ Burton, Richard. "The Qu'ran and Homosexuality". Fordham University. Fordham University. Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  16. ^ Rao, HS (3 July 2009). "Hinduism does not condemn homosexuality". Rediff. Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  17. ^ Harvey, Peter (2000). An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics: Foundations, Values and Issues (illustrated, reprint ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 432.
  18. ^ Scott, William Henry (1994). Barangay: Sixteenth Century Philippine Culture and Society. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press. ISBN 971-550-135-4.
  19. ^ Jose S. Buenconsejo (2013). Jennifer C. Post (ed.). Songs and Gifts at the Frontier. Current Research in Ethnomusicology: Outstanding Dissertations Volume 4. Routledge. p. 98–99. ISBN 9781136719806.
  20. ^ "6 Guidelines for Becoming a Filipino Shaman". The Aswang Project. Retrieved 12 May 2018.
  21. ^ Wolff, John U. (1972). "baklà". A Dictionary of Cebuano Visayan. 1. p. 86.
  22. ^ "bakla". Tagalog Dictionary. 2004. Retrieved 5 December 2009.
  23. ^ a b Garcia, J. Neil C. (2008). Philippine Gay Culture: Binabae to Bakla, Silahis to MSM. Manila, Philippines: UP Press. ISBN 978-9715425773. Retrieved 18 November 2013. "Also, another semantic space that bakla occupies refers to a state of mental confusion and undecidedness. This may be used to bear a linguistic affinity to the way Tagalog poet Francisco Balagtas used the word bakla in the context of a temporary lack of resolve, an emotional wavering in several scenes in at least two of his best known works, the romance Florante at Laura and the play Orosman at Zafira; later, prewar Tagalog writers used bakla to mean fearful and weakened.
  24. ^ de Veyra, Lourd (24 October 2013). "HISTORY: MAY BAKLA NGA BA NA KASAPI SA KATIPUNAN?". News5 Everywhere. Archived from the original on 5 March 2014. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  25. ^ Manalansan, Martin (2003). Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora (illustrated ed.). Durham: Duke University Press. p. 25.
  26. ^ a b c Garcia, J. Nelia C. (2000). "Performativity, the bakla and the orienting gaze". Inter-Asia Cultural Studies. 1 (2): 265–281. doi:10.1080/14649370050141140. S2CID 145490503.
  27. ^ Alba, Reinerio A. "In Focus: The Filipino Gayspeak (Filipino Gay Lingo)". In Focus: The Filipino Gayspeak (Filipino Gay Lingo). Republic of the Philippines National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
  28. ^ Torre, Beatriz A.; Manalastas, Eric Julian (2013). "Babaeng Bakla: Friendships between Women and Gay Men in the Philippines". Philippine Journal of Psychology. 46 (2): 149–163. S2CID 55833746.
  29. ^ Placente, Rommel (25 November 2019). "Rufa Mae not sure if she had a relationship with gay". Retrieved 25 February 2020.

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