As we transition into an era where gender and sexuality are openly discussed, these conversations are often intersected with ethnicity and cultural dynamics. The gender binary norms that currently exist today in the United States are a result of European colonization. Traces of this influence can be found in the Philippines as well, when the islands were under Spanish colonial rule.
Tagalog, the most commonly spoken dialect in the Philippines, is a gender neutral language, meaning none of the words are associated with a gender. However, in other languages such as Spanish, there are masculine and feminine words. For example, “el pueblo,” or “the town,” is masculine, while “la playa,” or “the beach,” is feminine. Generally, words that end in -o are masculine, while words that end in -a are feminine.
In Tagalog, there aren’t any gender-specific pronouns. Aside from words such as “ate/kuya” for sister/brother, the rest of the language is spoken without association to gender. However, many Filipino-Americans have used the terms “Filipino” for men of Filipino descent, “Filipina” for women of Filipino descent, and the more modern “Filipinx” for those who do not fit within the gender binary.
The variations have sparked numerous discussions online. FIERCE (Filipinx In Education Reaffirming Community Empowerment), says that “The term ‘Filipino’ is masculine because it ends with -o; its feminine counterpart is ‘Filipina,' which ends with -a... Although unintended, the use of the term ‘Filipino’ can be harmful to genderqueer-identified people because it assumes that there are only two genders.”
The discussion reached platforms such as Twitter and Reddit, where many Filipino-Americans have expressed the contrary. One Twitter user tweets, “Learn the vernaculars first and stop using us for your neutrality narrative. Our language has always been neutral for every sex/gender. Use Filipino/Pilipino. Stop using ‘Filipinx.’”
The word “Filipino” may naturally come across as a masculine term in the U.S., since many people know that -o words are masculine and -a words are feminine. The term “Filipinx” wasn’t created with intentions to stray away from the natural language, but gender and language patterns have such a huge influence and impact on people that some folks are more comfortable with that term. Likewise, there are some people who use just “Filipino/Pilipino,” and there are some that use “Filipino/Filipina.” In the end, it’s about what makes you comfortable, and how you express your gender identity.
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Chopsticks Alley Intern
Ashley is a landscape architecture student and freelance illustrator based in the Bay Area. She hopes to explore more about her own Southeast Asian culture, and also encourages others to do the same. Ashley believes that creativity and culture go hand in hand. When she is not working on her creative projects, she enjoys swimming, gardening, and baking.