“Nakakahiya!” Between you and me, I’m sure we’ve both heard this word many times either from ourselves or from others. It’s a common expression used by a lot of Filipinos when it comes to a large amount of issues – whether it’s eating too much food at a party, talking too loud on public transportation, identifying one’s sexual orientation, or even talking about HIV. This is no surprise. After all, hiya or a sense of shame is a significant part of the mainstream Philippine view of society. The desire to fit in and be part of a family, a team, or a barkada is one value many Filipinos grew up in. So what happens when this sense of shame turns fellow Filipinos into an outsider?
The Department of Health (DOH) has kept its eye on the rates of HIV infections in the country and has reported an alarming fact: “In 2000, one HIV case was diagnosed every 3 days. In 2015, one case of HIV is detected every hour.” The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that in two years’ time, HIV will be an uncontrollable epidemic in the country. So how does shame play a role in this epidemic?
In 2000, one HIV case was diagnosed every 3 days. In 2015, one case of HIV is detected every hour.
In April 2014, a Pew Research Center survey found that 65% of Filipinos think homosexuality or any kind of gender deviance is immoral. As of February 2015, the DOH has tallied that 84% of new HIV infections from sexual contact are from men who have sex with men (MSM). It seems that while HIV occurs in both homosexual and heterosexual groups, there is an association with different sexual orientation with regards to HIV transmission.
Blame it on Catholic and Christian religious views, on Filipino culture, or on colonial mentality if you like but whatever it is, it’s a reality for most of us that the society we move in is one that places value on belongingness – of having the same perceived moral values. It’s this same act of shaming something perceived as “different” or “wrong” for the majority that truly fuels the increasing rates of infections in our country.
Maybe it’s the value of modesty that makes many shake their heads at the thought of any kind of sexual act. After all, the Reproductive Health Bill had a difficult time getting passed into law and contraception still carries a stigma. How many people do you know still giggle embarrassedly to themselves at the thought of buying a condom? The hiya that many of us stick onto sex and anything related to it is a value that creates many problems for fellow Filipinos: teenage pregnancies, HIV infections, but most importantly: HIV-related deaths.
While it is true that having HIV is no longer a death sentence – modern science has caught up to maintaining the quality of life of a person, or even preventing transmission by way of PrEP or Pre-exposure Prophylaxis – one of the main causes of deaths among groups of people living with HIV (PLHIV) is the stigma behind it. Because a lot of Filipinos still think being LGBT is immoral, HIV is seen as a disease of these groups, and many of us think sex should not be talked about, we create a situation that shames many of our own people into death.
Depression among PLHIVs is a more common occurrence than one might think. A lot of it is caused by the shame we place on this illness. The common stance of social isolation and shaming of Filipinos towards this group of people removes them from having the support of family and friends – it’s a lonely world for someone who isn’t lucky enough to be accepted by those around him. Let’s take a step back from the numbers and facts and really think about it for a second: what makes an epidemic last? It’s one thing for a virus to be highly contagious, that’s just the way viruses are made, but it’s another thing to have it persistently keep spreading among more and more Filipinos each day.
The common stance of social isolation and shaming of Filipinos towards this group of people removes them from having the support of family and friends.
We contribute to this epidemic every time we look at HIV and LGBT issues with the eyes of shame, every time we say “Ginusto mo ‘yan!” to someone living with this illness. Any kind of discrimination creates fear in Filipinos’ hearts. The more we discriminate, the more people think they have nowhere to turn to.
So let’s talk about hiya. What’s nakakahiya, even? If you ask me, it’s the fact that we are letting more and more people get sick because we think contraceptives and other preventative measures towards HIV and other STDs are shameful, that there’s something wrong with LGBT persons, and that people with HIV are dirty. That is what’s truly nakakahiya to the rest of the world.
Why don’t we change the way we see things and place emphasis on other Filipino values like katarungan and pakikisama – think about it: if someone you love is part of the LGBT community or may have HIV, wouldn’t you want them to feel supported? Does their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (SOGIE) and HIV status change the fact that they’re your sister or brother or uncle or friend or cousin? Should it?
~ Jacob Madjar-Walse Dominguez is a poet and activist living in the Bay Area. He writes & works on issues of LGBT rights as well as income & housing inequality. He lives with his husband and their imaginary dog. Find him on Twitter here.