Essential But Not Essentialized
An Analysis of Sex and Gender Within Diasporic Filipinx/a/o Babaylan Discourse
In recent years babaylan have become a figure of decolonization and indigenization for diasporic Filipinx/a/o. Babaylan were, in simplest terms, healers, shamans, and medicine people, who had a prominent societal status during the pre-colonial era on the Philippine archipelago. However, Spanish Catholics eliminated this social standing during the colonial period and imposed a new sex-gender system with a lasting legacy: the introduction of a gender binary, biological gender essentialism, gender roles, and uneven gender relations. Using a queer gender lens, I analyze the legacy and normalization of this Hispano-Catholic sex-gender system as an unquestioned set of assumptions within the discourse of diasporic Babaylan Studies. I suggest future academic inquiries should employ greater attention to gender diversity in Babaylan Studies discourse as part of an intersectional, decolonial praxis.