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Monday, June 29, 2015

The Problem With Tolerance

This past week saw two news items that, as the lingo goes, broke the internet. One was the SCOTUS' (Supreme Court of the United States) decision to uphold marriage equality, and the other was the UP (University of the Philippines) graduate and summa cum laude Tiffany Uy getting a near perfect GWA (Graded Weighted Average) at the country's premier learning institution.



Both of which highlighted a concept that may not be as obvious as it first seems: tolerance.

An interesting word, to be sure. The closest translation I can come up with using the vernacular would be tinitiis or sinisikmura when one says "I'm just tolerating you." Curiously, the first term alludes to suffering to the point of wanting to let go, and the second term refers to the stomach, also a reference to wondering how much one can stomach the person/situation being faced.

None of which are ideal situations, or at least not the kind of remark anyone can describe as being a positive note. What it conjures up is a threshold: one that will make me go over to the other side of the field. It comes across as a threat, a warning, or a dark foreboding. I can't imagine anyone feeling good about themselves or their self confidence should they hear the phrase, "tinitiis lang kita, malapit ka na." (I'm just tolerating you, you're nearing my breaking point.)

But it seems that many Filipinos have had enough, judging from the Facebook posts I've been seeing. Enough of those gays, abusado na sila sa gay rights nila. (abusive with their so-called gay rights) Enough of these Chinese Filipinos pero Instik na Intsik ang pangalan naman (but the name is so obviously Chinese) getting slots at UP which are for Filipinos ONLY and for the poor. If that is not homophobia or racism in full display, I don't know what is.

See, the problem with the word tolerance is that people who espouse this stance, whether with the LGBT community or immigrants, are more interested in finding reasons to drop their tolerance. Because, heaven knows, it is such a weight to appear less homophobic or racist in public. Any time one engages in pretense, there is sure to be an emotional cost (which often manifests itself physically). How can there not be? You are not being your true self, you have to keep up a facade, you cannot express how you really feel. So when a trigger like "two men can get married legally in the USA now" or "the best student in UP is a Tsinoy (Chinese Filipino)" it is a signal to loosen their grip on feigned acceptance.

That, to me, is what tolerance really is: feigned acceptance. Trying to appear accommodating when you are seething inside. Waiting for the right moment to bubble over.

In the book And Say Hi To Joyce, journalists Deb Price and Joyce Murdoch go over the hate letters they have received over the years as a lesbian couple and find striking similarities between those who exhibit misogynistic, racist and homophobic attitudes. In Jessica Joseph's piece on Huffington Post, its' title also draws the same observation: Homophobia And Racism: Similar Methodologies Of Dehumanization.

When the LGBT community gains the civil right to marriage - not in church or forcing any religion to officiate these unions - why is it treated as a threat, in particular to the Roman Catholic Church in this country? Will our local counterparts go the way of the American conservatives, some of whom have threatened to set themselves on fire, get divorced (now there's a concept: imposing religious values on others while threatening to break self-imposed rules) or moving to Canada, should marriage equality be upheld by their Supreme Court? (Many of those "threatening" are unaware Canada has had marriage equality for a decade now.) Will heterosexual couples suddenly turn into cockroaches because of this ruling, a civil, secular ruling that has absolutely no bearing on how any church is to conduct its' own wedding ceremonies?

When Tiffany puts in the hard work in order to achieve her near perfect final grade, does it stop other "mukhang Pinoy na Pinoy" (looks ethnically Filipino) Filipino students from achieving the same GWA? How does mere acceptance into UP ensure that she will get the GWA she graduated with? Is it fair to say (as some online comments have posited) that she had wealth to help her achieve her academic goal, disregarding the fact that several news items over the past years have highlighted those who have come from humble backgrounds (read: not rich) or even battling physical disabilities to become top of their class?

What will it take for our society to fully and wholeheartedly accept gay people or Tsinoys? When can we turn tolerance into acceptance?

It won't happen if we happen to keep invoking ancient texts to say "my holy book tells me they are an abomination." Or spreading ideas like "ang mga mukhang Instik dapat ipadeport sa Tsina! Alis!" (Those who look like ethnic Chinese should be deported immediately back to China! Away!)

It won't be a reality when we fallaciously equate same sex relationships with pedophilia or bestiality, as if children or animals could sign contracts and have legal standing.

Nor will it come to pass as long as we keep calling them Instik beho, or thinking that all people who look singkit only perform well in school because they are rich/had connections/"only" did the grunt work. As if hard work was something to scoff at. (Seriously, who would be a better role model: Tiffany with the 1.004 GWA or one of those gyrating dancers in barely nothing on our noontime shows?)

The best way to combat tolerance - and changing it to acceptance - is to actually know the person you thought you knew so much of, but have barely spoken to. (And in this, it takes both sides to make it work.) I have seen so much hatred and spitefulness hurled at both Tiffany and the LGBT community these last few days. One used the cloak of nationalism, the other one, of supposed moral uprightness.

News flash: bigotry wrapped in either of those things is still bigotry.

Your marriage is not devalued because Susan and Trixie tied the knot. You can still beat Tiffany's GWA - albeit it will be much harder, after she set the bar so high - even if you look Pinoy na Pinoy. Until we focus on how to better ourselves - individually - and to stop judging others for what they achieve in their own lives in order to feel superior, that is the best we can come up with.



  1. bravo, joey!

    love this.

    i would rather we celebrate differences rather than merely tolerate.

  2. i do know this is too much of a stretch for others. but would be great if we could aim for it.

    i ask myself though--could you CELEBRATE ignorance and hatred--knowing these are what set others apart? argh. haha..too hard. let me reach for 'tolerance' then.

    there is space for us all.