A Place Where the Feminine and Masculine Connect


A Place Where the Feminine and Masculine Connect


November 2006


I wore my hair short in the Philippines, and it grew fast, so I needed a master’s cut every six weeks—a trim to brush, fluff, and go. This led me through a circle of stylists at a handful of Iba salons where I lived, situated in Zambales province on Luzon, the archipelago’s largest island.

            After trying five hair salons, I was unimpressed and discouraged, but I walked everywhere in town and noted signage and remodeling for a new hair shop. Arriving for my appointment, a woman at the front left to go get the stylist, Peter Uy. A man, who I presumed was the owner, appeared in a woman's garb with breasts and a ponytail, and a deeper voice that spoke with an authority few Filipinas used. 

            I didn’t want another unsatisfying cut and asked, “You’ll do a good job, won’t you?”

            “I don’t like the question, so I won’t answer.”

            Maybe forgoing cuts altogether or tying my hair back was a better idea. This process was wearing and I needed my energy more elsewhere. I was a Peace Corps volunteer, overwhelmed by a water project and writing and delivering business start-up talks. Still, it felt unfriendly to sit for an hour and not speak.

            The shop was airy with light colored walls and windows at the front. I was the only customer and sat in his one sturdy, serviceable styling chair. He was formal and methodical, and it pleased me to think I was helping someone build a business. Maybe he wondered why a woman wanted such a practical cut, a rarity here, but it suited the demands of my work and the

shape of my face.

He hadn’t told me his name. I spoke several times without mentioning it and that felt uncomfortable. “What’s your name?” 

“Peter Uy.”                           

The line between genders here was different, more blurred than in America. I didn’t know how stylists preferred to be addressed because so many cross-dressed. There were also mixed messages of hairstyles and cuts, makeup, gestures, and voice tones that seemed affected. I waited until the hairdressers introduced themselves to understand their leaning, but some didn’t.

I’d learned long ago that no one had control over her or his gender or anatomy. How we are formed is nature’s preference to add variety to human biology, as it has done with all living things on the planet. American culture made those lines more distinct, with a wariness toward anything beyond two genders. The Philippines were more advanced. This was impressive, a better way to live, healthier. Or could it be that English has too few words beyond America’s insistence on duality? I was seeking a clue about duality or triality to avoid offending.

As Peter invited me to the wash station, I slid into his other comfortable chair, and he

gave my shaggy locks a deep shampoo. Laying a towel snug at my neck, we walked back to the thicker-cushioned seat, where he quickly sectioned off my hair and started with the scissors at the crown.

            Peter’s expression, through his clothing choices, led me to think about the Tagalog word

bakla. Tagalog is the national language of the Philippines. I’d overheard bakla at a social gathering and had understood that it was taken to mean gay. When Filipinos migrated to Western countries, English muddied bakla’s reality, thus cutting away English speakers’ grasp of its richer indigenous meaning. Many Tagalog words don’t translate well.

Another at that gathering said, no, that was a misinterpreted contemporary meaning that had lost its historic connection. I wanted to understand the word’s origin. Ancient Tagalog was spoken and written here eons before the Spanish stole the islands from the indigenous in 1565.

I knew how to break down Tagalog words from endless hours of language study. The ba in bakla encompasses the complete feminine. “Babae” means woman in the language. The la defines masculine. “Lalake” is Tagalog’s word for man. At the center of bakla, the k/ka is a pronoun that indicates identity (he, she, it, you). As a root word, ka can become part of many other words, designating connection.

While few Philippine documents written in Tagalog script exist, I found the word bakla in Paul Morrow’s “Baybayin, the Ancient Script of the Philippines.”


                                                           ba                k              la


            The crossbar of k’s symbol is a place where the feminine and masculine connect. Both

genders exist in one person who is endowed with a broader world view because of this

combination. Bakla is the word for those recognized as a third gender in indigenous history.

Peter arranged my hair at the sides of my face to check the length and turned the chair to start clipping the nape of my neck. From there, he cut less close as he moved upward to the crown, shaping the back into a wedge, and giving me fuller breadth at eye height. He was doing it right.

But bakla means more than this. The child born as female or male learned the lessons and

duties of that gender to contribute to the community. Time would tell if the child would develop cerebral and emotional characteristics of a second gender, and if so, then the pre-teen would learn the duties of that gender, and gradually grasp the perspectives of who both genders were and how they fit into the community. The youngster would know self as slightly different from the other genders. This brought the youth to a broader worldview, and this wisdom—thoughtful, precise, less common—evolved into a spirituality, an ability to heal, to converse (during trance) with the people’s ancient divine spirits, and to change garb appropriate to whatever work needed doing. The bakla became revered through indigenous communities across millennia.

The islanders have known multiple genders and fluidity from time immemorial, unlike America. This familiarity and acceptance are at the heart of Philippine perspective, even if it’s not known, forgotten, or is misunderstood. The Philippine bakla is similar to American Indians’ two-spirit members and East Indians’ hijras.

Peter finished the styling of the cut and brought out his teeth-thinning shears that would slim down my hair’s density. Then his short-edged razor appeared, which would eliminate any stray hair at my nape giving the whole cut a seamless effect. Finally, he checked all angles and ran his fingers through my hair to assess if any portion was left too long or out of balance. I appreciated this post-styling care that made me feel clean and beautified and smart looking, all

excess cut away. 

He handed me a mirror so I could look at the back. He seemed tense in his silence.

            “It’s sleek and elegant. I do like it, well-done. For the first time, it’s what I wanted.”

            “I’m so glad,” he said, sounding reassured.

We parted with mutual respect and after that cut I returned to his shop often.


Eugénie de Rosier


Eugénie de Rosier has published work in the Huffington Post, Antioch Review, Big Muddy, Two Serious Ladies, Hurricane Alice, Sojourners, and her commentaries have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere. Eleven years as a State of Minnesota writer brought her numerous first-place awards from the National Association of Government Communicators. A former Norcroft writers’ resident, de Rosier has been a member of the Loft Literary Center, Minneapolis, for decades. Her short story collection was a finalist, one of six among 65 entries, in Holy Cow! Press’ first/only collection contest, 2018. She holds a BA and MA, is pursuing a publisher for an essay collection and a short story manuscript.



Morrow, Paul. “Baybayin, The Ancient Script of the Philippines,” 2002, paulmorrow.ca/

bayeng1.htm. 2002.

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