Baklâ, Bayot or Agî is a term from the Philippines referring to a person who was assigned male at birth and has adopted a feminine gender expression. It's considered a form of third gender. Many bakla are exclusively attracted to men, but do not necessarily identify as gay, some may also be heterosexual or bisexual. The term is sometimes incorrectly applied to trans women.
Bakla are socially and economically integrated into Filipino society, having been accepted by society prior to Western colonization, many of which were held in high regard and performed the role of spiritual leaders known as babaylan, katalonan, and other shamans in pre-colonial Philippines. However, a minority group of Filipinos disapprove or reject the baklas, usually on religious grounds. The stereotype of a baklâ is a parlorista—a flamboyant, camp cross-dresser who works in a beauty salon; in reality, the bakla thrives in numerous sectors of society, from the lower to the upper levels.
In modern Filipino and Cebuano, the term "baklâ" is usually used to mean either "effeminate man" or "homosexual". However, the word itself has been used for centuries different contexts.
There are numerous accounts of feminine men in early Spanish records. They were described as being dressed as women, worked in traditionally female roles, and were treated as women by the community. They were considered as comparable to biological women aside from their incapability to give birth to children. They were even recorded as being married to men, though some also married women.
Due to their association to the feminine, they were regarded as having greater powers of intercession with the anito (ancestral and nature spirits) and thus commonly became shamans. Shamans were highly respected members of the community who functioned as healers, keepers of oral histories, sorcerers, and as spirit mediums for communicating with ancestral and nature spirits.
During the three centuries of Spanish colonization (1565–1898), the Roman Catholic church introduced harsh measures to suppress shamans. Under the Spanish Empire, shamans were maligned and falsely accused as witches and "priests of the devil" and were persecuted harshly by the Spanish clergy. The most strongly affected by this religious shift to Abrahamic religions were the baklâ shamans. Baklâ shamans were leaders of several revolts against Spanish rule from the 17th century to the 18th century.
Feminized men were also persecuted harshly in the Islamized ethnic groups in Mindanao. This was followed by the American colonization (1898–1946), which though secular, introduced the idea that homosexuality and effiminacy was a "sickness". Despite this, the colonization of the Philippines did not fully erase the traditional equivocal views of Filipinos with regards to queer and liminal sexual and gender identities. Though there are still problem areas, Filipino culture as a whole remains relatively accepting of non-heteronormative identities like the bakla.
By Pre-World War II 20th century, the term baklâ had evolved to mean "fearful" or "weakened" in Tagalog, and it became a derogatory term for effeminate men. It wasn't until the 1990s when more positive mainstream discourse on queer and gay identities became more common that baklâ lost its original derogatory connotation.