Babaeng Bakla: Friendships between Women and ...

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Full-text (PDF) | In Philippine culture, babaeng bakla refers to women who associate with and develop close friendships ...


Philippine Journal of Psychology, 2013, 46(2), 149-163 Copyright @ 2013 Psychological Association of the Philippines

Babaeng Bakla: Friendships between Women and Gay Men in the Philippines Beatriz A. Torre Eric Julian Manalastas University of the Philippines Diliman

In Philippine culture, babaeng bakla refers to women who associate with and develop close friendships with gay men and participate in gay cultural activities. This paper discusses a research investigation that examines the “babaeng bakla” phenomenon in the Philippines from the perspective of personality trait psychology. Using both imported and indigenous personality measures, we tested the hypothesis that women who are “babaeng bakla” might differ from other women along certain trait dimensions. Based on our findings, we developed a tentative model which suggests that Filipino women with certain personality characteristics form a reciprocal attraction with gay men. This leads them to develop close friendships with gay men and in turn fashion a “babaeng bakla” identity within Filipino gay culture. Keywords: cross-orientation friendships, gay men’s friendships, women’s friendships, personality traits

Women who form close friendships with gay men and participate in gay cultural activities — sometimes referred to in Western gay culture as “fag hags,” and in the Philippines as “babaeng bakla” — are often depicted in popular representations as having particular characteristics, or traits, that set them apart from other women. These range from stereotypes of “fag hag” women as being overly emotional, unstable, and having low self-esteem (Bartlett et al., 2009), to perceptions of Filipino celebrities who are identified as “babaeng bakla” as having the capacity for campy humor as well as katarayan Correspondence regarding this paper may be sent to Bea Torre, Department of Psychology, Palma Hall Annex, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City 1101. Email: [email protected]


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or “haughtiness” (Casocot, 2010) . Although such socially shared stereotypes about various groups do not necessarily reflect actual characteristics of group members, previous research on friendships informed by personality trait theory has demonstrated that particular traits, such as extraversion and agreeableness, can indeed play a role in friendship selection processes (Hamm, 2000; Selfhout et al., 2010). In this paper, we utilize imported and indigenous personality measures to test these popular representations of the characteristics shared by “babaeng bakla” women that set them apart from non-“babaeng bakla” women, and which could possibly play a role in their friendship processes. The research discussed in this paper addresses questions about the accuracy of popular stereotypes and representations of women who have close friendships with gay men. In addition, these studies seek to contribute to our understanding of close relationships between LGBT and non-LGBT individuals, an area which has received somewhat less attention in LGBT psychology research. Previously, much of the local and international research in this growing subfield of psychology has focused either on heterosexuals' views of LGBT targets (as in the case of anti-LGBT prejudice) or on the subjective realities of LGBT individuals (as in the case of coming out research). While the research on these topics has led to a greater understanding of a number of LGBT experiences, there is also a need for empirical research on interactions and relationships between LGBT and non-LGBT individuals that explores and analyzes experiences both within and across sexualities and sexual identities. In recent years, the significance of friendships between straight women and gay men has been increasingly recognized in popular culture and in empirical research (Bartlett et al., 2009; Grigoriou, 2004; Russell et al., 2013; Shepperd, Coyle, & Hegarty, 2010). Close friendships between straight women and gay men have been represented in a number of Western television shows and Hollywood films such as The Next Best Thing and Will & Grace (Quimby, 2005), as well as in Filipino films like Ellen Ongkeko Marfil’s (2005) Mga Pusang Gala and Joel Lamangan’s (2004) So Happy Together. These representations of straight woman-gay man friendships often depict the women involved as a particular social category, the aforementioned

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“fag hag”. Using discursive analysis of interviews with gay and bisexual North American men, Moon (1995) developed a definition of the term “fag hag” as “a woman who associates with gay men and participates in gay cultural activities”. Bartlett and colleagues (2009) point out that this social categorization appears to be cross-culturally robust, translating to various terms such as the French “soeurettes” (little sisters) and the German “Schwulen-Muttis” (gay moms). In urban Metro Manila culture, the most widely used term is babaeng bakla, a lexical construction that puts together babae (woman) and bakla (gay man) — literally “a woman who is a gay man.” A number of popular celebrities, including Maricel Soriano and Tessa PrietoValdez, have been commonly identified by the Filipino gay community as babaeng bakla (Casocot, 2010). In some instances, these women have also spoken extensively of their close relationships with gay men and even “come out” as babaeng bakla themselves, publicly presenting a social identity that endears them to many Filipino gay men and seals their membership in a community that extends beyond the confines of traditional notions of gender and sexual orientation. Recent Euro-American empirical investigations of the phenomenon of straight woman-gay man friendships suggest that, at least in some cultural contexts, these friendships are associated with positive outcomes for both straight women and gay men. In Grigoriou's (2004) research using in-depth interviews with London-based straight woman-gay man friendship dyads, gay men reported that their women friends provided support regarding their stigmatized sexual identities and relationships while straight women reported valuing their friendships with gay men as a safe space in which they felt comfortable talking about anything. Muraco's (2006) research on intentional family ties in cross-gender and cross-sexual orientation friendships, which utilized in-depth interviews with US-based friendship dyads (including both gay man-straight woman and lesbian-straight man dyads), showed that these friendships can become so important to the dyad members involved that they identify each other as family and perform functions traditionally associated with biolegal family, such as emotional and even financial support, for each other. Quantitative research also suggests positive outcomes of gay man-straight woman friendships: a study about the relation between women's


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body esteem and friendships with gay men, which was conducted with a predominantly Canadian sample, found that increased body esteem was positively associated with women's reported number of friendships with gay men (Bartlett et al., 2009). Friendships between straight women and gay men may also have cognitive benefits; in a study by Galupo, Cartwright, and Savage (2010), North American university students' cross-category friendships (including friendships across gender and across sexual orientation) were associated with higher levels of post-formal thought. However, more constructivist approaches have pointed out that dominant discourses often construct these friendships and even the individuals who are involved as somehow deficient (Moon, 1995; Shepperd, Coyle, & Hegarty, 2010). Popular media in EuroAmerican cultures, such as women's magazines and TV shows, have problematized women's close interactions with gay men as a possible pathway to becoming unattractive to heterosexual men (Shepperd, Coyle, & Hegarty, 2010). Women who associate with gay men are often stereotyped as lonely women who seek out the company of gay men to compensate for their low confidence about their ability to attract heterosexual men; or as Moon (1995) puts it, women who “fail to perpetuate the sexist, heterosexual ideal.” On the other hand, “fag hags” have also been described as “open-minded” and “not hung up on sexuality” (Moon, 1995). Although previous findings have challenged stereotypes about “fag hag” women's low body esteem and feelings of unattractiveness (Bartlett et al., 2009), they do not touch on other characteristics — negative as well as positive — commonly attributed to women who associate with gay men. Furthermore, because the studies on straight women-gay men's friendships cited above were conducted in Western countries, their findings might not reflect the characteristics and experiences of “babaeng bakla” women within the context of Filipino cultural constructions of gender and sexuality. This paper describes two quantitative studies that test popular assumptions about the “babaeng bakla” phenomenon from a personality trait perspective. This approach involves the use of systematically developed and validated instruments to measure traits — individual and group differences in consistent patterns of behavior,

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affect, and cognition (Larsen & Buss, 2002). Trait approaches have been useful in studying a variety of social phenomena, including attitudes towards sexual minorities (Ekehammar & Akrami, 2003; Shackleford & Besser, 2007) and friendship processes (Asendorpf & Wilpers, 1998; Selfhout et al., 2009). However, little is known about the role of traits in friendships across gender and sexual orientation. The two studies presented in this paper utilize a trait perspective to determine whether “babaeng bakla” women share certain personality characteristics that set them apart from other women, as suggested by popular media representations and cultural stereotypes. STUDY 1: TRAITS OF BABAENG BAKLA WOMEN ASSESSED USING AN IMPORTED MEASURE Method Participants were straight-identified “babaeng bakla” women recruited through snowball sampling and referral of gay men. Researchers identified potential “babaeng bakla” women within their own social networks, and also asked gay men within their social networks to refer women whom they considered to be “babaeng bakla”. Potential participants were asked to fill up a questionnaire composed of five items that were intended to assess whether they were “babaeng bakla” (including Likert-scaled items such as 'I consider myself a fag hag or “babaeng bakla”' and 'I find that I have adopted some of the expressions and/or mannerisms that my gay male friends use' , as well as open-ended questions such as 'How many close male friends do you have?' and 'Among your close male friends, how many are gay?') In order to qualify as a participant, women had to fulfill at least three out of the following inclusion criteria: (1) self-identification as a “babaeng bakla” (2) nomination by others as a “babaeng bakla” (3) majority (at least 60%) of close male friends are gay (4) self-reported use of verbal expressions commonly identified with gay men Thirty-nine women who were identified as “babaeng bakla” using this process then answered an “imported” personality measure,


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the Filipino NEO Personality Inventory – Revised (FNEO-PI-R), developed originally by McCrae & Costa (1999) and translated into Filipino and validated for use in Filipino settings (McCrae, Costa, del Pilar, Rolland, & Parker, 1998). This 240-item inventory measures 35 different personality traits and is based on the Five-Factor Model of human personality. According to the FFM, there are five crossculturally robust broad dimensions in the personality structure, namely Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Previous research using the FNEOPI-R (Church et al., 2011) has yielded Cronbach alpha reliabilities (α) ranging from .46 to .66 for the Openness scale, .52 to .75 for the Conscientiousness scale, .49 to .73 for the Extraversion scale, .57 to .68 for the Agreeableness scale, and .44 to .77 for the Neuroticism scale. Normative data from Filipino women were used to conduct a mean comparisons analysis. Results Statistical analysis showed that “babaeng bakla” women were significantly different compared to other women on a number of personality dimensions. “Babaeng bakla” women had higher scores in the domain Openness , t(308) = 2.19, p
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