That huge and unwieldy complication we shall refer to as SOGIE.

A good question from the Geeky Guide: Are we over-complicating the LGBT identity discussion?

I agree with some of the points Rocky raised in his entry but wanted to answer some of his questions. However, I ended up typing a really long reply, I decided I’d turn it to a blog post instead.

Are things like SOGIE and the Genderbread Person the best first steps for LGBT education in the country? Just looking at are still-rising rates of HIV infection in the country and one can’t help but feel that we’re more like early 1980’s America in terms of both HIV awareness and perhaps the state of LGBT rights and understanding. Is it arguable that concepts like SOGIE are too advanced? Or are we thinking too little of people?

Is SOGIE too advanced? Maybe. Are we thinking too little of people? Maybe not.

After all, people are what determined what those letters in LGBTIQ stand for. Specifically, we who identify ourselves within those letters. Except that, again and again, we’ll encounter situations when “LGBTIQ” becomes too limited or even too restrictive. Terms like “bakla” or “lesbiana” carries several connotations for different people, there is often more disagreement over the use of those terms rather than encouraging the understanding and acceptance these descriptive terms for gender should be bringing.

Real world example: In some urban poor areas in the country, the terms “lesbian” or “transman” are not accepted. Many of the butch women prefer the term “tomboy”, a concept that is sometimes a mix between butch lesbian and transman. Women who are girlfriends or wives of tomboys are not considered lesbians, either. They are seen more like straight women who happen to be in a relationship with a tomboy.

On the male side, a blogger named Dalumat once wrote about guys who are “tunay na lalaki”. These are men who get into relationships with very effeminate gay men or with transwomen. They are not gay, and the ladies who seek them do not wish to be in a relationship with “gay men”; they are referred to as “tunay na lalaki” (real men). Many will perhaps treat the relationship as money-based (the girlfriend will spend for these men), except that in some cases it isn’t. But they’re not gay, nor are they bi; they are straight men.

Crowd at Million People March

So there is a need to describe the variety within human gender and sexuality while using as few of the pre-existing neutral categories and terms as possible because in reality, terms like “gay” or “lesbian” are not enough to describe reality. While we may not need to put all attention on plotting the range of human sexuality against a SOGIE graph, some understanding of it can help remove the feeling of otherness of people who doesn’t fall within the existing categories we currently use.

Like the case for MSMs among HIV/AIDS and STI programs. The natural assumption of many of us is that men who engage in sex with other men are gay or bisexual, even though some of them will not us those terms (as I pointed out in “tunay na lalaki”). Gender identity and sexual behavious are actually two seperate things (hence the creation of the neutral term MSM: “men having sex with men”); understanding that idea can help health workers reach out critical MSM groups without giving those MSMs the discomfort of being labelled “gay”.

Wait a minute. Men who have sex with men but are not gay? Are we encouraging homophobia here? Maybe, maybe not. But it is a reality that some men engage in sex with other men not because of homosexual attraction. Instead of discussing which appropriate terms to us, it is more important to reach out to critical populations and assure them that they will not be judged to be one thing or another based on who they sleep with.

Little boys kissing

An even more important (I believe) application of SOGIE ideas is how it can be used by educators and guidance counselors in helping youths that are first coming into terms with their gender and sexuality. Or helping kids that are receiving negative attention for not acting within heteronormativy. This one sector within the LGBT population that is sadly given very little attention to. And yet, helping young people understand early the variety in gender and sexuality can help address other issues LGBTIQ populations face later in life: discrimination, depression, STIs, etc.

A few months back, my boyfriend (who was working on a campaign to make SOGIE simpler and more relatable — it wasn’t easy and we had to drop it) asked me why is it important for someone to learn SOGIE? How can it help someone’s daily experience? It’s a fair question, and something that should be asked more to people who advocate SOGIE understanding. I forgot how I answered my boyfriend and I don’t think I gave a good answer, either. I think understanding SOGIE and its implications can help us by underscoring these ideas:

1. Our actions and expressions are varied.
2. Some actions and expressions are just as valid as others.
3. How we express ourselves and how we act should not be the only basis for judging our and others’ worth as people.

So are we over-complicating the LGBTIQ identity discussion? Maybe. Except that the subject is already quite complicated to begin with. Should we include SOGIE in our discussions of LGBTIQ identity? Yes, we should. Gradually, just like how we are taught complex subjects in schools. We can’t avoid it. But we can lay the foundations to make it easier to understand.