What is the view of trans men in India and the Philippines?
July 30, 2015 7:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm a white American project manager who works extensively with engineers in India and the Philippines (almost all male). All of them know me as female but I am going to come out as a trans man fairly soon. I have no idea how transgenderism (and specifically trans men) are viewed in Indian/Filipino culture. What might I expect? Should I handle the transition any differently with them than with American/Euro colleagues?

It's important to me that I keep a good working relationship with them. They do not report to me, but I do manage their projects and talk to them very frequently. I have never met them; our primary contact is email/chat but there are also regular conference calls. They are very polite and are good workers but I don't know them well at all. "Have a good weekend" is generally the extent of our small talk. Everyone is fairly fluent in English.

I imagine (hope) that my American coworkers will take my transition in stride. They can already see how I dress & what my body language is like. They have a cultural frame of reference because trans people are in the spotlight right now. They will either get used to it or HR will twist their arm and make them get used to it, but I have no idea what to expect from international colleagues who come from more patriarchal and religious countries.
posted by AFABulous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

These cultures are not at all the same. Fwiw I'm Indian American and work work with Indian programmers in India and feel enough culture shock with that, but honestly if your interaction with them is as light and work cordial as you say it is, I think everything will be ok, especially if they are your vendors. I can't speak to Filipino culture as that is entirely different and has little relation.
posted by sweetkid at 9:34 PM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

In relation to the Indians, it's hard to predict what they'll think. There is an established class/caste of hijras in India who are often thought of as transgender and who I think any Indian will know of. But there are some differences from the Western picture because hijras form a very particular social and economic culture and they may find it difficult to apply the concept to you as a Western individual outside that culture. There is also an active LGBT movement in India, with a lot of support from young people and young professionals. Trans rights, in particular, have been in the public eye because of a Supreme Court of India decision and some recent legislation. (Although, again, the focus has been on hijras as a defined socio-economic class rather than as individuals.) But the LGBT rights movement is less mainstream in India so you can't be sure your engineers have been paying attention to the issue.

So they might be more surprised/uncomfortable than your American colleagues, depending on their level of interest in social justice movements in India, but they may also be fine with it. That said, I think you have the right to expect them to keep their thoughts to themselves, whatever they are, and the light professional relationship you have should make that straightforward. Any culture shock/surprise is not really your problem to handle, provided that professional norms of behaviour are maintained (as they should be). It would be different if these coworkers were also close personal friends, but in the current set-up I think cool and impersonal statement of fact is the way to go.
posted by Aravis76 at 10:31 PM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I live/work in the US and have had 2 separate month-long assignments in India (Bangalore) as a Project Manager, consulting within large firms.

I'd expect similar experience in New Delhi and Mumbai, the other 2 major cities. There are no GLBT-venues though there are events. Talking with locals these events have issues finding a venue willing to host, with crossdressing specifically a problem. The event descriptions specifically say "no crossdressing". Based on that I'd say culturally it's not well-viewed.

However Indian corporate culture (and I have some experience with Philippine culture) highly respects hierarchy and professionalism, especially for expats and foreigners. I'd suggest begin correcting any changes in name, pronouns when you transition, in a matter-of-fact way, but don't address the transition explicitly. Defer any questions you're uncomfortable with. I think it will be fine and may not even be noticed.
posted by artificialard at 1:45 AM on July 31, 2015

Best answer: Honestly, odds are they don't know trans men exist (I'd contemplate taking this bet in the US, too, even with the recent cultural obsession), which works in your favor--if you're matter of fact about it, they'll likely just mirror that back.

Indian publications do tend to use 'transgender' and 'hijra' interchangeably, ignoring afab people entirely. (It's probably worth reading some Indian news stories here. Language or assumptions that I'd take as clearly transphobic from someone living in the US, I'd take a bit differently from someone living in India because trans stuff is framed really differently.)

I've got nothing specific for the Philippines, other than being fairly sure trans men are not on people's radars.
posted by hoyland at 2:05 AM on July 31, 2015

Someone who has lived and traveled in the Philippines would be better suited to answer this than me; but in my experience working with vendors and engineers from the Philippines I've found it to be a very culturally and politically diverse country. I've met folks far more liberal than me and radically conservative folks. Sometimes working for the same company on the same team.

I would not anticipate a consistent response.
posted by French Fry at 6:22 AM on July 31, 2015

Best answer: I can talk about Indians.

How they view trans men and how they would respond to you coming out as trans would be very different because Indians are very conscious of hierarchy and relationship type (personal/professional, friendly/romantic) and change responses accordingly. Also, they measure foreigners on a different scale than Indians.

Most likely scenario: They would be confused as to how to respond. You should just tell them the way you want them to address you and communicate. It would be confusing and they would make mistakes but, I doubt it would be out of an attempt to put you down or sneer at you. There might be some juvenile tittering reactions (if you are dealing with very young people who don't know how to behave professionally and they don't think you can hear them) or in rare case, if they feel you are approachable enough, couple of questions about why the change (which you can ignore or answer as per your choice). I doubt there would be anyone who would go to the extent of directly giving you a sermon or saying something negative when they believe you can hear them.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 8:07 AM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Couple comments removed. Folks, try and focus more on the question asked and not so much on sidebar discussions about whether you think the asker should come out or whether it's anybody's business.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:59 AM on July 31, 2015

Best answer: For the Philippines -- trans women (baklas) have a very different position from trans men. Trans women are kinda pop culture figures and generally accepted (although not so much in person in smaller communities, maybe). There are a lot of stereotypes about being flamboyant and very feminine. There is a lot of prostitution. But is is basically considered ok. (see what primalux said above).

Trans *men* are pretty much unheard of AFAIK. It would just be a completely foreign idea unless they are following world news coverage or something. I don't think anyone would be particularly *opposed* or negative, but surprised and confused is very likely. They will almost certainly ask if you are lesbian (tomboy in Tagalog).

Hope that background helps a tiny bit. Good luck!
posted by mkuhnell at 11:12 AM on July 31, 2015

(And they will be much more likely than the Indian coworkers to ask questions, I think!)
posted by mkuhnell at 11:14 AM on July 31, 2015

Best answer: Filipina-Canadian here. I grew up in Canada but I'm currently living in the Philippines, and I have experiences with LGBTQ grassroots communities in both countries.

In the Philippines, gender performance and orientation get conflated. "Bakla" both means gay and an effeminate man. They are still discriminated against but they are dominant in specific industries like media, hairdressing, and the wedding industrial complex. All make up artists who will do your face for your aunt's wedding are baklas without fail. Some of them are transwomen who had undergone a physical transition, but they are all still baklas, as generally they still use the slang ("becky") and cultural references of gay men. If you're curious to see what a bakla superstar looks like, Google Vice Ganda (Vice Beautiful).

As for transmen, that concept doesn't exist locally, and lesbians face some discrimination. They're stereotyped to be lower class, and street smart but irresponsible.

The attitudes of locals can be astoundingly
conservative, hateful, and discriminatory (which would be a good reason for me to leave this country... again), but some are more progressive due to having worked internationally or having been exposed to LGBTQ/social justice movements from the Internet. A lot of Filipinos in engineering or tech are on Reddit for better or for worse. You can ask your question on r/Philippines as an option.

As for you, your white background and relatively senior position would work for you. They'll probably assume that you're a lesbian, and they may make comments about it behind your back, but I really doubt they'd confront you in a hostile way.

Depending on work culture, you might have to field some playful but intrusive questions about your personal life. You can joke back just to show that you're on the same level, but you don't have to share anything you're not comfortable with. You're in a senior position and you're not part of their culture. You should be fine.
posted by Hawk V at 11:57 AM on August 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No one at all cared one bit. They immediately switched to my new name and never asked me one thing about it. This was true for both the people in my office and overseas. I apologize for thinking they'd treat me any differently than my American/European colleagues (who also didn't give a shit).
posted by AFABulous at 8:57 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

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