The perfect queer person is nondescript, polite, and entertaining — but only at the right times.
They have mastered the distinctive ability to disappear when surroundings dictate.
For most of their life, they are made to believe that the LGBTQIA+ community is accepted, but they understand too well that they cannot be “too much.” They must not be like the others. Their behavior is limited to what is acceptable, and they must negotiate this identity daily. Their existence must always be prefaced by an invitation. By permission.
And for this, they will be rewarded.
They will be given a good education, a perfectly respectable job, and maybe even a promotion. They will be able to safely go out and do groceries, eat in restaurants, and drink in bars. They will be allowed to enter and take space in rooms reserved for all of society – and only perfect queer people.
Those who live up to standards are allowed in- but then there are the others.
The perfect queer person does not dress in drag, wear a full face of makeup, imitate Jesus, and sing a remixed version of “Ama Namin.” That is certainly not allowed.
The queer person who does this is “offensive” and “disgusting.” Drag queen Pura Luka Vega has ostensibly committed a mortal sin — not just against the Catholic faith, but against her very own LGBTQIA+ community. Her failure to abide by the ideal is said to endanger not only herself, but all others in the community.
Rep. Geraldine Roman, herself a stalwart member, has proclaimed that Vega’s act has given the community a “bad name.”
She expressed sadness that Vega’s mistake is ascribed to the entire community, but went on to chastise every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer person in a Facebook post: “everyone [sic] of us carries the rainbow flag” and you must all be on your best behavior. “Umayos tayo.”
In a separate interview with CNN Philippines, she then assured the public that the SOGIE Bill will not legalize bad behavior. She hopes that lawmakers understand this.
Roman’s fear is clear: if the community does not live up to the standards set by a heteronormative society, their basic rights will likely never be recognized. And this fear is not unfounded. Replies on Twitter reveal as much:
But the SOGIE Equality Bill advances recognition of very basic rights. Its aim is to provide equal access to education, training, employment, health and public services, facilities and accommodations. The simple wish is for LGBTQIA+ people to participate in society the way other people do.
It is dangerous to support the narrative that queer people need to be perfectly respectable or risk being continuously denied these basic rights.
It places the burden of creating institutional change on the already marginalized individual, when the responsibility for enacting laws for their protection lies with lawmakers. It is from them that change must be demanded. Imposing the expectation of a perfectly respectable queer person — a model fit neatly into a mold and therefore worthy — also affirms the negative view that those who lie outside deserve to be disrespected, excluded, and treated unequally.
Dismantling systemic discrimination cannot be hinged on respectability, especially based on standards set by the very majority responsible for discrimination. To concede this is to say that the worth of LGBTQIA+ people is up for others’ judgment.
"Imposing the expectation of a perfectly respectable queer person — a model fit neatly into a mold and therefore worthy — also affirms the negative view that those who lie outside deserve to be disrespected, excluded, and treated unequally."
This is not to say that an individual should not be held accountable for their actions and mistakes. Indeed, people are free to express personal disgust and offense at Vega’s act. To be sure, some lawyers have expressed doubt that her acts violated any criminal law.
This is only to say that in the fight to end LGBTQIA+ discrimination, we must not lose sight of the individuals who make up those letters, and their intrinsic worthiness to take space.
The perfect queer person does not exist. The perfect human being doesn’t either. The right to be treated as a human being is not earned, and no one should need to be perfect to enjoy the rights contained in the SOGIE Equality Bill. To support a contrary narrative would be an even bigger sin.
Pura Luka Vega performed as drag Jesus to a lively crowd of queer people, many of whom were likely raised Catholic and told all their lives that they were “intrinsically disordered,” as a “form of healing from the exclusion.”
To those who may have been quick to police Vega’s actions and distance themselves, I ask, who are you performing for?