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Opinion

Choosing love

TOWARDS JUSTICE - Emmeline Aglipay-Villar - The Philippine Star

Love comes naturally to humans, or at least the form of it expressed as attachment does. We see it with infants and their parents, with children and their favorite playmates and toys. While love carries its obligations, as an emotion it frees and lightens, it uplifts and it inspires.

Hatred is not an emotion that comes naturally to human beings. Hatred is a weighty burden, a constant drain, something that needs to be regularly and routinely fed. Hatred is a wound and like all wounds it heals with time – to be sustained it must be constantly and violently wrenched open and made to bleed.

And yet, for all that, why is it seemingly so much easier for hatred to make its mark on society at large?

Hate may be unnatural, but fear is not. Fear is part of our animal instinct, with us from the moment we emerge into this unfamiliar world, when at our most helpless we are forced to deal with others much larger and stronger than ourselves. Fear is what we feel when faced with the unknown and the different. Fear is what we feel when our self-esteem and sense of identity is threatened. And once that fear has seeped into our hearts, it becomes a pathway for other negative emotions.

The reason that so many people fall prey to movements of hate is because it’s easy to turn fear into hatred. All that needs to be done is to create a scapegoat: take a group of people that are different from us, that we find difficult to understand – and of course one which is weaker or less privileged than us – and blame them for our problems, let them embody our fears. Making a scapegoat ensures that we don’t need to take any responsibility for our problems, and that it makes the solution to our fears simple and easy: push the scapegoats down and eventually make them cease to exist.

It’s a plan that has been employed countless times, especially by those in power who seek a distraction from their own failures and injustices. It was the playbook of Nazis in their rise to power and has been employed by fascist and tyrannical governments throughout history. When we take a look at the hate that is spewed around the world, particularly against the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) community, and most especially in the West in recent times against trans individuals, we see the pattern emerge once again. It should come as no surprise that many extremist groups adopt and support the most virulent anti-trans language and oppose its removal from social discourse and media platforms.

Those with sexual orientations other than heterosexual (those attracted to the opposite sex) and with gender identities other than cisgender (those whose gender identities correspond to their birth sex) make for easy targets. Most people don’t experience a disconnect between how they see themselves and what their bodies actually are, or who they are attracted to and who society and tradition say they must be attracted to. For them, these are unquestioned and basic aspects of their identities – they did not have to wrestle with these, or hide who they were, or wonder if there was something fundamentally broken about them. For them, it was all so simple – and they mistake this simplicity for the natural order of things. There are many raised in old-fashioned or conservative households (this is a matter of upbringing and not solely a generational gap) that find the very idea of gender identities and a spectrum of orientations to be confusing and alien, who believe these to be unnecessary complications simply made up by decadent elements of society.

A look at the lives of LGBTQIA+ people throughout history puts a lie to that statement. They have always existed, and in pre-colonial Philippine society, there was a place for fluidity in gender concepts in certain indigenous communities. The lack of gendered pronouns in the Filipino language – which has become a contested battleground in Western discourse – in spite of the influence of the highly gendered Spanish language, has also been used to highlight a heritage that should not see as foreign non-binary gender concepts. As for the idea that these identities and orientations are made up or imaginary, it’s practically impossible to give that credence, especially in modern times. LGBTQIA+ people have consistently suffered hardship and marginalization (particularly in nations where the main religion disapproves) due to their gender identities and sexual orientations, and the fact that they do not simply “choose” to be cisgendered or homosexual to avoid this is clear evidence that this is plainly not a choice they can make. They cannot change who they are…

And they should not need to.

Hate takes root in our fears, and our fears of others are rooted in ignorance, particularly the apathetic refusal to put in the effort required to go beyond our own comfort zone. Is a world of non-binary gender identities and a spectrum of sexual orientations more complex than one which is cisgendered and heterosexual? Certainly, but no more complicated than the rules of a sport, or the lyrics of a song, or the continuity of a movie franchise. More importantly, the world we live in is not cisgendered and heterosexual – and it never was. It’s high time that we accept that, and the humanity and human rights of those who have been marginalized by so much of society.

There is much work to be done, and hopefully the swift and actual passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill will be one of the first steps to fighting against the tides of ignorance and hate. But even before such institutional action, in our own lives we must make the conscious choice to face down our fears, to eliminate the unknown by learning more about the lives and struggles of those different from us, even after the end of Pride Month.

Because to do otherwise is to allow fear into our hearts. To do otherwise is to leave the door open for hatred. And once we’ve learned to hate another for a difference in gender identity, it’s a small step to learning hatred because of another aspect of what makes people what they are – their race, their religion, their nationality, their accent.

Empathy is the only true protection against hatred, and empathy requires both knowledge and effort. Choosing to make that effort is the only way to side with love over hate.

LOVE

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