How the media sensationalized Mark Bautista’s coming out story

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Reactions to Mark Bautista's memoir, which include details of the singer-actor's sexuality and past relationships, reveal a trend in how same-sex experiences and LGBT stories are reported — sensationalism that could be damaging to the public’s perception of the community. Photos from MARK BAUTISTA/INSTAGRAM

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Even before the official release of singer-actor Mark Bautista’s new memoir, “Beyond the Mark,” news outlets are already talking about the book, particularly over leaked excerpts describing Bautista’s relationships and sexuality. As story after story pores over the “juiciest,” most “disturbing” details of the book, there seems to be a trend in how same-sex experiences and LGBT stories are reported — sensationalism to the point of being damaging, perhaps not to the subject himself, but to the public’s perception of the community.

It can be argued that the Philippines is more or less accepting, if not, tolerant of the LGBT community, but we still have a long way to go. Many LGBT youths still face discrimination and bullying in school, the Anti-Discrimination Bill has been in the back burner for nearly two decades, and talks of same-sex marriage are immediately shut down by Catholic groups and leaders.

And so with its power to reach and influence millions, it’s imperative that the media gets LGBT reportage right. But a stylebook on covering LGBT issues in the Philippines, published by Outrage Magazine and Rainbow Rights Project, states that most media outlets’ codes of ethics do not include guidelines on how to deal with issues regarding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE). With no one to impose strict measures, it’s easy for any LGBT-related news to turn into fodder for tabloid-esque reporting.

In Ricky Lo’s column on the leaked excerpts, headlined “Mark Confesses: I love both sexes!” he describes parts of Bautista’s “confessions” as "meaty" portions, enumerating stories like his first same-sex romance, his experiences in dating women, and the “bromance” that, in Bautista’s words, “lead to intimacy.” For a nation of seemingly progressive attitudes towards LGBTs, it’s curious how same-sex narratives are still published as juicy gossip.

The bromance is the most popular story, retold almost like a smut piece on, and in another piece, used as a vehicle to question the sexual orientation of another actor, who has been plagued by rumors and calls to come out of the closet for years.

“Outing” is defined as “when people are forced to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity.” According to the stylebook by Outrage and Rainbow Rights Project, “Outing a person in the absence of a compelling justification is a violation of his or her right to privacy, and should be avoided.”

Another problem in the article is the use of the term “sexual preference,” which most style guides state to never use in place of “sexual orientation,” for it implies that sexuality is a matter of choice.

Lo ends his column by saying that “Mark should have no fear that his revelation will have a negative impact on his person and his career. On the contrary, the purity of his ‘confession’ will surely endear him all the more to his fans and friends,” falling into the trappings of respectability politics, inadvertently suggesting a right way and a wrong way to come out, and seemingly justifying that negative (homophobic) backlash is just an inevitable result of choosing the wrong way.

As a person in the public eye, Mark Bautista’s decision to be candid and honest about his sexuality is a step towards increased LGBT representation in the media. Hopefully, more people with his kind of power and influence can follow suit when they feel ready. But, if the manner of reporting remains the same, if writers continue to make choices that misrepresent or distort LGBT experiences and narratives, and reinforce certain stereotypes and biases, we could be stuck in the same one-step-forward-two-steps-back dance for a while.