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Filipino Female Masculinity in Global Shipping

On Monday, 4/16, I attended the Feminist Colloquium which was presented by Kale Batingue Fajardo.

Kale B. Fajardo is a core faculty member in the Department of American Studies and an affiliated faculty member in the Asian American Studies Program. Fajardo completed a Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz in spring 2004 and joined the Department of American Studies in the fall of 2005. Fajardo's research interests include Filipino/Filipino American and Asian/Asian American seafaring; port cities (including for example, Manila, Oakland, Acapulco, and New Orleans); masculinities; globalizations; and queer of color cultural productions.
He read his article that will soon be publishsed in the GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. His essay was titled “Transportation: Translating Filipino Female Masculinity In and Through Global Shipping.

I must admit, as an undergrad at this talk, I did not understand some of the terminology or background that was assumed by the speaker. Past that, the essay was very interesting. The essay began with a personal experience while traveling on a ship with five other seamen. He utilizes the term seamen throughout the essay rather than the politically correct term ‘seafarer’ because that is the term used by the seafarers and within the shipping community. We begin by ‘seeing’ the group of seamen sitting around drinking vodka and watching CDVs from cock fights to soft-core porn. The level of community between the Filipino seamen was much higher than other nationalities on the ship. On the Prince, the German seamen would rather sit in their rooms than join the Filipino seamen for some drinking, talking, and CDVs. The main focus was on that of the tomboy within the shipping community. This concept of tomboy within the Philippines is very different than the American idea of tomboy. In discussion after the talk, one of the graduate students asked about the origin of the term tomboy since it was pronounced differently. Even though tomboy is spelled the same as in English, their meanings vary greatly. In the US, being a tomboy is something you grow out of as a teenager or you are just given the identity of ‘butch’ or ‘lesbian.’ Within the shipping community of the Filipinos, the term tomboy is utilized to describe a female masculinity. This is where the term becomes confusing. Many tomboys are either butch lesbians or are women who want to be men. Whether they are transgender or transsexual are included within the idea of tomboy. An interesting part of his voyage, was Fajardo’s identification as a tomboy and the seamen’s reaction. Because Fajardo could enter and maintain the masculine space of the ship, he was included into their community. As a result of this inclusion, the seamen were open to discussing the tomboys that they know or have in their family. The idea of tomboy is accepted within the shipping community and tomboys are viewed as masculine despite their ‘biological sex.’ Although the shipping community allows for the inclusion of tomboys, the Filipino government and normative society does not. Most tomboys are working class or poor and have to work abroad. Some jobs enforce a strict dress code based on biological sex, which would not allow for a tomboy existence. There is little room for their identity. An interesting aspect of those who study the tomboy is their forced identification of lesbian. Most tomboys are uncomfortable with the term lesbian (possibly since they do not identify as woman), yet many studies declare them as such. Tomboys, although they are accepted within the masculine space of the shipping community, they do not identify as man or woman. The same goes for the seamen; they do not use the term lesbian. In the Filipino language, the pronouns are not gender-specific so when a tomboy is being spoken to, there is no difference in speech. What I found most interesting about the essay presented, was how such a male-dominated area can be more open to gender queers than a government or society. I also appreciated the difference between the American vs. Filipino ideas of tomboy and what constitutes masculine.

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