¶ … Bright Lights, Bobby Benedicto describes the urban gay subculture in Manila within the context of the "global scene." The points Benedicto makes in Under Bright Lights can be applied to variety of issues related to race, class, gender, and social power. Benedicto provides a sociological analysis of gay Manila primarily through a Marxist lens. The author endeavors to show how the "gay scene" has built itself unconsciously upon a pedestal of ironic privilege. With access to wealth and relative power, the urban gay comprise an "elite" that is contrary to the "laborer" lifestyle lived by most of their compatriots. When gay Philippino men travel abroad, they often do so on the trans-national network of "gay globality," the major urban centers with thriving gay subcultures. Benedicto claims that the gay subculture is reinforcing a class-based divide, an observation that may not be immediately apparent but which has a strong impact on social justice issues.
Manila provides a tremendous opportunity for examining the intersections of race, class, gender, and power. As Benedicto points out, the city is a massive urban sprawl with many nodes or hubs, rather than one central "gay" community. In this regard, Manila is unlike other urban hubs in which there may be at least one "gayborhood." Benedicto observes, "This is a scene that appears only in the form of nodes scattered across the megacity, including transient nodes, as in the case of the circuit parties," (p. 25). Because of the spread-out nature of urban Manila's gay scene, only those with access to automobiles tend to have an "in" with the gay community, leaving behind the vast majority of those who cannot afford automobiles. While Benedicto's research precludes him from analyzing the gay subcultures in rural Philippines or in more impoverished regions of the capital, the suggestion is that in these areas or in poor communities of Manila, gay men do not have any access to the global community. Benedicto focuses exclusively on the urban gay male subculture. Moreover, the author remains focused exclusively on the urban gay male subculture and does not delve much into the lesbian scene because it is outside of the province of his experience.
Omitting his observations of lesbian global culture does not necessarily mean that Benedicto ignores matters related to gender and related social class status issues. For example, in one anecdote offered in the introduction of the book, Benedicto notices "a group of men standing in a circle outside a club, trading stories in perfect American English" and "the awkward silence caused by the sudden appearance of a middle-aged woman in tattered clothes, a baby strapped to her chest, a hand stretched out for loose change," (Kindle Edition). Here, the author draws the reader's attention to the main premise of the book: inadvertently, gay men from developing nations are becoming the new "straight." They are becoming "straight" because they are reinforcing the social hierarchies, structures, and institutions that create problems like sexism, homophobia, and economic disparity. There can be no "privileged" class without there being an underprivileged class. In other words, gay men are as patriarchal as their heterosexual counterparts. Benedicto avoids applying feminist discourse to his analysis, though. It is almost as if Benedicto writes from within this very same patriarchal viewpoint in omitting the opinions, voices, and concerns of straight, gay, or undifferentiated women.
The focus of Benedicto's work is primarily on power structures within societies: the stratifications that create and reflect income and other types of disparity. Those types of structural inequalities are most visible in developing nations like the Philippines but they also exist in wealthy countries like the United States, Canada, and Britain. Structural inequalities exist between the "haves and have nots" but also between other binaries such as men/women and gay/straight. Benedicto shows how ironic it is that the gay subculture in the Philippines subverts the gay/straight hierarchy. Typically gays are the underclass versus the dominant straight culture. In the context of developing nations, the gays become associated or linked with the upper class and therefore the gay community participates in the preservation of status quo social hierarchies. Benedicto also shows how the structural inequities are more pronounced in a country in which those hierarchies reveal stark differences between the classes, such as by describing the slums versus the posh nightclubs in Manila. What Benedicto fails do achieve is a cogent explication of the way the male/female binary also reflects an important social hierarchy, and how the gay subculture fails to subvert this binary as well. Just as gay subculture in the Philippines reinforces existing social stratifications related to socio-economic class, gay subculture also reinforces existing social stratifications related...
After all, the gay male subculture is still male and masculine. It presumes authority and dominance, rather than assuming gender neutrality.
Lucal's (1999) experiences with "gender blending" offers a rich point of comparison and contrast with Benedicto's experience in the Philippines. Whereas Benedicto does not fully realize his male privilege, Lucal (1999) absolutely does recognize the ways she is treated with more "respect" and "fairness" when she is perceived as male (p. 788). As someone in the position of commenting on what it is like to be treated as both male and female, Lucal (1999) is in a better position to comment about gender hierarchies than Benedicto. Benedicto does not totally avoid discussing matters related to transgender/cisgender binaries or gender bending/gender blending. Yet the author would do well to discuss the social stratification issues within a broader gender studies perspective. Faust-Sterling (2000) points out the difficulties that individuals face when they do not conform to standard roles and norms of their gender. Those difficulties are experienced often as severe psychological or social trauma. The Philippines as a predominantly Catholic nation professes the "idealized, Platonic, biological world" propagated by the Christian bible in which "human beings are divided into two kinds," (Fausto-Sterling, 2000, p. 19). Those who fail to fit into these two kinds are ostracized, occasionally even from the gay community itself. As Diamond (2002) clearly explicates, there is a huge difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. They are connected topics because both gender identity and sexual orientations have normative and deviant categories and classification systems.
In Under Bright Lights, Benedicto discusses mainly the issue of sexual orientation but not gender. However, gender fluidity is linked to the gay community in tangible ways, as Benedicto shows. Not only are gender genders and queers joined together by their belonging to the same exclusive categories, but they are also connected by their shared experiences of stigma and isolation. Throughout the world, the LGBT community shares a renewed self-empowerment that Benedicto at once celebrates and critiques. Therefore, the book can be viewed through the different lenses of gender research including research on transgender issues. As with issues related to race, those who can "pass" for cisgender will have an easier time traveling between worlds. They can keep a corporate job or even never come out to their families, but those who cannot "pass" are destined to feel the stigma and potentially remain labeled as "deviant" and thus barred access to social and cultural capital. The LGBT subculture provides an alternative "nation" or identity. As with other trans-national identities, the LGBT community offers solace and support for those who do not fit into either the cisgender or heteronormative worlds.
Benedicto shows how the global gay community and its trans-national network offers a set of alternative rules and norms, welcoming those who do not buy into or validate cisgender or heteronormativity. Beyond that, though, the international gay community should look inward and focus on how it can better promote social justice in a broader context. By becoming more aware and critical of male privilege and patriarchy, the global gay village can help promote gender equity throughout the world instead of simply creating a privileged enclave. Likewise, by becoming more aware of the cisgender privilege many gay men enjoy, the LGBT community worldwide can help promote the "five genders" concept or the "gender blending" concepts that Fausto-Sterling (2000) and Lucal (1999) discuss, respectively. A sequel to Under Bright Lights might help explore these important topics, paving the way for more productive discourse about the intersections between race, class, gender, and power.
With marriage equality becoming normative in many Western European and American countries, the cisgender and heteronormative constructs that have dominated these societies is starting to dismantle. The result might be improved social justice for all people. Readings and research in the multidisciplinary fields of gender studies and human sexuality show that it is important to apply a Marxist and structuralist framework because this type of sociological analysis encourages insight into status and hierarchy. Without the Marxist framework, it becomes too easy to overlook the types and levels of "privilege" bestowed to people who might otherwise be considered underclass. For example, Philippino men are non-white and therefore do not have access to white privilege but they do have access to other types of privilege including male privilege and…
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