Gay Literature in the Philippines

(My last requirement for my Undergraduate life. It’s nothing profound, really)

A discussion of Homosexual Literature in the Philippines must begin with the current situation of the discourse of homosexuality in the country. J Niel Garcia describes a dominant node of Coming Out and staying in of the bakla, and thus the dominant role of the binary opposition of loob/labas in the discourse. In a predominantly macho society, the bakla is either compelled to “stay in” and be closeted, or “come out” and let the society know his gender.
It is in this context that Danton Remoto describes Gay Literature in the country.
In a speech delivered before the CEGP in 2006, Remoto began by describing the dearth of Gay literature prior to the release of the Gay Anthology Ladlad, which he edited with J Niel Garcia. He observed that there was nothing about Homosexuality in any library he searched – not even in the Occult section, he joked. And so he initiated the effort to come up with Ladlad.
But he described the difficulty of the process, pointing out the negative connotations of gay literature prevalent in the Philippine discourse. He knew many writers who wrote gay literature, but they were all hesitant to send their stories in, fearing that their reputations will be tarnished. But eventually they agreed, and the anthology was complete. With its completion, Gay literature now occupies an important position in the country’s literary heritage.
Remoto described three themes common in the collection, and we could say that these themes are representative of Gay literature in the country in general.
The first theme is Life in the Closet. Remoto described this part as “living in a coffin,” and he characterizes this with a sense of utter longing. The second theme is the Coming Out, which he clarifies is not one event but a gradual process. The final theme is that of Living the Life of a gay person, which chronicles the daily tribulations inherent in a homosexual way of life.
Perhaps most characteristic of the first phase, and even Remoto cites this piece, is Ronaldo Baytan’s poem “He who sleeps in my lap.” Such works describe the gay person’s agony in trying to deal with emotions that have to do with an unsuspecting, or perhaps knowing but unresponsive love interest. It may also deal with how a closeted gay person feels at the face of the Macho society’s demands on men.
Jhoanna Lyn Cruz’ “Christmas Lights” could, to some extent, be described as belonging to the Second phase. There is little doubt that the narrator fully accepts her being a lesbian. In fact it is even requited. But we must take into consideration the fact that gender is more than just a sexual preference also a social role. As such, the narrator may have found Lesbian fulfillment, but she is yet to embrace her social role. The story ends with this acceptance, beautifully symbolized in her whipping the mist on her bathroom mirror.
If it is to be interpreted as a gay poem, Jaime Ann Lim’s “Short Time” is very much a work in the third phase. The poem describes the gay person’s struggle against loneliness in a largely heterosexual world. But this does not mean Gay literature is all about failure. Remoto cites Rody Vera’s poem “Tip sa Panghahagip,” which gives tips to gay readers on how to arouse the interest of an object of desire.
And yet I must here add, to voice in behalf of my gay friend Glyd, that the struggle of coming out has largely been stained with the continued roles of female and male. We return to J Niel Garcia, who, in his study on Philippine Gay culture, takes issue with Vicente Rafael’s declaration that the bakla parodies gender differences by stressing their performative aspects. Garcia argues that the homosexual roles in the Philippines, the bakla and the tomboy, are still largely characterized by femininity (the bakla) and masculinity (the tomboy). He describes these as pale imitations of the original, with the bakla nothing more than “a poor copy of femininity.”
We can venture to say then that the underlying struggle for self identity in Gay Literature is what motivates the largely sexual focus of texts. The lesbian into which the narrator of “Christmas Lights” comes out to is far from the butch tomboy being portrayed by popular culture. With these portrayals, Gay Literature is beginning to reshape the image of the Filipino gay, presenting not that inferior imitation of heterosexual gender roles, but a gender role in and of itself.

Shuffling Souls Will Anger Them

(A critique of a teaching method prevalent in the Ateneo)

On the Index Card System as Threat to Intellectualism and Education

With the most sardonic nonchalance conceivable, the Inquisitor shuffles the souls of the wretches on her hand and randomly draws one. A sigh of miserable relief comes from the momentarily fortunate who were not called, but the one whom fate betrayed braces himself for the Holocaust that is about to happen. Then, like some shaman of a barbarically ritualized Cult, the Inquisitor slaughters the unfortunate wretch’s dignity as a tribute to the god of Shame.

The Spanish Inquisition, The Judgment Day, The Classroom: what’s the difference?

The Index Card System, a teaching method many teachers in the Ateneo use is dehumanizing, Orwellian, ineffective, alienating and it feeds the fires of Cultural Revolution. No, this is not just a complaining article, this is a warning.
This favorite method of teachers is dehumanizing because it reduces the students’ very being to index cards. In my opinion, it is worse than the dehumanization Marx says is caused by Capitalism, because at least dehumanized workers get wages. For a student, all he or she gets for the murder of his or her identity is an insult to the dignity (“insult” here is meant medically) and low grades. The very act of shuffling those index cards and choosing by random also literally makes their fate a game of chance, no different from the fate of the survivors (and victims) of Auschwitz.

Auschwitz, the classroom: what’s the difference?

Then there’s also something Orwellian about the method. Before I continue with this, I’ll explain what “Orwellian” means for those who don’t know. The word is derived from the name of British Novelist George Orwell, whose novel Nineteen Eighty-Four demonstrated the concept. In the novel, an autocratic government controls the people’s very thoughts by many methods, from the “Thought Police” who torture subversive thinkers to the concept of “doublethink,” which makes citizens believe and not believe at the same time a government-stated truth.
What makes the ICS Orwellian is the fact that it is used to teach. With it, you make your students accept a lesson’s truth not by careful explanation but with coercion, thus making fear the basis of their belief. This forces them to doublethink: “I think what ma’am is saying is wrong but I’ll believe it na lang because I’d get low grades if I don’t.”

Big Brother’s Oceania, the classroom: what’s the difference?
If these features of the ICS may seem “childish” to some teachers (adults think everything the youth does is childish), then let’s go to the realm of practicality. The ICS is ineffective in teaching your students and it poses the danger of alienating them from Education. It may even feed the fire for a Cultural Revolution.
Why do I say the ICS (or any authoritarian system for that matter) is ineffective when it’s “been done back then and it worked for you, the oldies?” Though I am tempted, I won’t go back to history and mention the blunders these immaculate and “well educated” oldies have done in the past. Instead, I’ll ask: When Marcos put the Philippines under his iron rule, did you learn from what he was trying to teach you? Regardless of whether his official motivations were sincerely declared or not, you did not believe them. And if you allow me to interpret your experience for you, I say that before any other reason, you rejected the truth he was imposing because it was coercive truth.
The victims of Martial law of all people should know that anything forced, no matter how beneficial, is still forced. You hated Imelda’s guts even though she tried to develop Philippine culture because the development was forced. Similarly, if you force us to study, force us to learn, we will hold whatever we learned, be they true or not, with a grudge.
The coercive, threatening nature of the ICS alienates the student from true learning, and it makes the process of education not only an unpleasant experience, but also a useless one. With the fear of not being able to answer when his or her card is chosen, the student’s mode of studying is reduced to memorization. He or she “memorizes” everything regardless of whether he or she understood what was memorized or not, because that is what the ICS demands: answer based on the assigned text. Then, after the dreaded experience passes, the student has all the justified reason to forget whatever he or she memorized. Instead of making the student learn, the ICS just gave the lesson a bad image.

The coercive nature of ICS also adds to the growing alienation of Juan dela Cruz to Intellectualism and Education. Education, in its most primal sense, should not be a different aspect from everyday life but a special part of it. A true educational experience is indistinguishable from everyday experience. But Formal Education (Education given institutionally and, well, formally) has already been reduced to “schooling,” a term I will associate with the most negative of connotations because of the imperative nature Modern living has given it. But the ICS with its coercion adds unpalatable aversion to the forced disinterest of the student, further distancing him from Education the institution is giving. If back then the average Filipino only jokingly makes fun of his or her discomfort with anything (or anyone) intellectual by expressing the concept of “nosebleed,” now he does this with a touch of irritation, because intellectualism has become unpleasant for him or her.
But if this gap between the Average Filipino and the intellectualism our Educational systems are trying to represent widen, the dangers of a Cultural Revolution like that of Maoist China are actually made more possible.
In the Cultural Revolution, the Proletariat Maoists, fed up with the elitist coercion the intelligentsia were imposing, waged war not only against the intellectuals but against intellectualism itself. They destroyed anything that hinted culture and, the Chinese culture being highly intellectualized, anything that hinted learning. Schools and books were burned and scholars and craftsmen were executed before mindlessly jeering mobs.
If coercive teaching methods like the ICS continue to give Education a negative image, then a Philippine Cultural Revolution might spark. The people, fed up with the Education system, might start uprisings, and “nosebleed,” today a term used casually, might just be as grave an accusation as treason. It might even be worse than the Maoist Cultural Revolution, because in our context the people really will hate Intellectualism while in China they only hated the intellectuals!
The Index Card System makes the classroom mirror the Spanish Inquisition’s persecuting nature, Nazi Auschwitz’s dehumanization and the Orwellian coercion of Big Brother’s Oceania. But if we allow it and other “terror-based” teaching methods to continue causing the alienation of Juan dela Cruz from Intellectualism and Education, we might provoke him to destroy his own culture.

A Spectacle at the Bay

(An unpublished poem)

In the comfort
Of this house by the shore
I behold:

the bay,
still, as if a stage,
bathing in the blending lights
of the waning moon to the right
and the emerging sun to the left;

the backdrop sky,
mauve with tinges of pink,
and studded with diamonds
while the cobwebs
of cirrus cloud that lace it
set a paranormal tone
to this stage;

mist – barely curtains
hiding detail behind blurred vision
and hovering heavier above
like some ghostly teaser;

the mainland right wing
with its tormentor
of autumn red woods
and the lonely, left wing peninsula
whose tormentor
is of evergreen pine;

the center stage
still as a mirror
with only ripples
that gently kiss the proscenium shore,
humming this morning’s soft overture;

that mild largo moves towards allegro.
And the spectacle begins

from the depths of that still bay
the main character emerges …

Davao’s Inferno

(something I wrote when I was in first year college. Yes, I had a hell of a time in college! The setting may be context bound, but it can be imagined by pretty much everybody. Enjoy!)

It was with great hesitation that I entered the accursed vortex. A nauseating kick of week-old urine allowed to dry on the floor was what greeted my dumbfounded nose.

As I climbed up, I desperately looked around, trying to find any hellish puddle of who-knows-what to avoid.

Though I was watching out for urine, the God of Putridity felt generous enough as to give me something of a greater caliber, for on the floor, just above me by the left, was a puddle of what was definitely human vomit. It was that of a human, definitely, unless dogs have begun drinking Generoso too, for the disgusting substance was reeking of alcohol. It was pink, horribly, horribly pink, and here and there were bits of white grains, perhaps the remains of boiled Oryza sativa babies that man has affectionately called “Rice.” There were also brown little details that might have been the cooked remains of slaughtered animals and what horrendously looked like two cigarette butts. It was like Hello Kitty melted and all the things she ate showed up.

As I go on, an old man was squatting by the stairs, a hand reaching out. He was supposed to be a beggar, but whoever the casting director was chose the wrong guy, for this old dude wasn’t begging at all: he was swearing, Quote: “Maluoy na mo ba, mga litse mo!” (roughly, “have mercy already, you asses!”) He wasn’t very convincing at all, so I went pass him. Heck, if he was convincing, I’d still ignore him. But there’s more! As I walk pass the rat carcasses decaying proudly on the floor, a little boy approaches me and quotes: “Kuya, gai ko baynte, pang snack lang.” (“kuya, give me 20 pesos, I want a snack”) Son of a gun! Before my head exploded out of irony, I went ahead, ignoring him.

Then, my sense of respect for human dignity was literally obliterated. I passed by a large pile of human feces, yellow and repulsively flamboyant like some newly opened flower from Gehenna. It was disgusting, very, very, very disgusting, and wouldn’t stop boasting that fact.

But surprisingly, a boy was sleeping on the wet floor across it. The little urchin was pathetic, and I was made to think that he was dead, slowly decaying and sinking into the floor, itself a large piece of rotting flesh.

The Cerberus of the accursed portal was this absurd pseudo-beggar who was begging while listening to an mp3 player with earphones.

The whole place was Hell. It smelled like all the worst things ever: urine, vomit, feces, rotting flesh, rags. It even had an exceptional cast of beggars that didn’t make the place any better.

Indeed, if tourism was the topic being disgust, I mean, discussed, foreigners should see all sides of Davao city, even the bad, horribly unsanitary side. They should visit that legendary Overpass near Victoria.

Fifth Floor

(My latest blitz story, written on paper with pen and without edit)

“Fifth” was the first word I heard from her after 5 years. Accordingly, the elevator operator pressed the “5” button, and the elevator closed.

Her voice had changed, I must say. From the shrill little girl’s soprano with which she fondly yelled at my silence, it has now become a womanly contralto.

I could not forget how she annoyed me on that day. We were in 6th grade, and she just said that her family was moving to Davao. I was in such great shock that I couldn’t give her an answer. But she kept bugging me to speak, crying with that shrill voice, before finally giving up without a word.

Now, in this elevator, I could wish for nothing but for that same shrill voice to bug me again.

When I first saw her last year in the Ateneo, her more pronounced beauty was the first thing I noticed. She was definitely a far cry now from the pale little girl with thick glasses that I confessed to in 4th grade by scribbling on a book in the library. And I could say it more so now: she was wearing makeup, probably a requirement in their OJT.

Looking at her up close, I could see how beautiful her figure is. Her waist was perfect. Surely three, maybe four guys have held that waist while kissing that beautiful neck. I don’t know. That was what even the most unattractive people in Kidapawan did back in High School, so surely someone as beautiful as her would get into that…

No, I’m sure she did that. What else would make her this lovely? Surely not more walks under the mahoganies while talking of Anne Boleyn and the metaphors, like what we did back then! No, she has definitely done it.

For unlike me, she seemed to have gone ahead. She did not have the echoes of a shrill voice weeping, demanding an explanation for indifference, to hold her back.

I, on the other hand had been left behind. Her voiced echoed in the emptiness she left behind, and the echoes echoed thereafter. When nothing of her voice remained – yes, when nothing remained, I myself uttered her question of condemnation, and I continued to be left behind.

I did not have much intimacy with others from then on. It was partly because the echoes constantly remind me that fate seems to will every relationship I form to crumble at my touch. But it was mostly to punish myself, to punish myself for not ending those three years with her properly. Yes, I punished myself by keeping my love for her.

I’m a sad state now, so I’m somehow thankful she didn’t look back to notice me.

The elevator opened when we came to the fifth floor. Then, for just one split moment, she remained standing and said, “thank you.” Then she stepped out into Finster Hall, and the elevator closed.

And I realized that I had suffered enough to atone for my sin. I have suffered enough. Drying my tears, I wondered half humorously who she thanked before stepping out.

But definitely, I realized, it was time to head up to the next floor.

Something random

You hate the stars for they shine like my eyes, you hate the flowers I gave you because their petals are as delicate as my lips, you hate the wind because its warm coldness reminds you of my cruel caress – you hate the world, cheri, for I am in it, and you believe I live in it without you! But your wrath makes me perfectly happy! For I know you cannot hate if you do not love! Hate me, cheri, hate me! For it assures me that I matter to you!

Hope by Karen Dicdican: an Analysis

(this time let me share a poem I didn’t write, but something I’m still very proud of. It’s by Karen Dicdican, a dear friend and daughter-figure of mine, and it’s her first published work! What follows is my reading of the poem, in which I use the combination of the formalism and stylistics I have been accustomed to using in making literary readings. )

sat down
alone, here
Beneath the threads of
Silver linings, pins of stars

sought to string
these stars together
But the beads would not budge.

found Fate,
bound as a knot.

The main image of the poem is the personification of Hope, and it is that personification’s narrative which dominates the poem. The narrative is parsed into three scenes, each one allotted a stanza. Each stanza (and thus each scene) begins with the word “hope,” and the tendency to “begin with hope” in things is implied. With the word evoking its meaning, the reader is invited to feel hope upon reading the word “hope” at the beginning of each stanza.

The first stanza establishes the personification when hope is given the action “sat down” in the second line, an action only attributed to humans – with the first two lines the “magic” which Don Pagusara argues is the essence of good poetry happens, the reader’s expectation of an abstract concept is set aside for the unexpected personification. The third line has existential connotations: solitude and there-being. The “hope” character can thus also be a human being, one who has hope as she is contextualized as an individual in a particular here. The “here” being referred to is further qualified by describing it as “beneath the threads of silver linings,” a metaphor that demands the reader to go to the symbolic level. First off,  we need to paint the picture: the character is sitting beneath the threads of silver linings, and the image that comes to our mind is a meteor shower, with the contrails of the meteors forming thread-like images.  Then, we need to point out that “silver linings” is allusive to the common proverb “behind every cloud is a silver lining,” thus lending the phrase “silver lining” the meaning of hope and opportunity. In this sense, “hope,” or rather the subject which is hoping, is sitting under threads of silver linings, i.e., sitting beneath the given-ness of a hopeful disposition. Ere we delve too deep into this meaning, the poem returns us to the literal image with “pins of stars,” but does so by kicking off to another metaphor.

And that metaphor is developed in the second stanza. Hope is portrayed as seeking to “string these stars together,” an image strengthened if we were to see the stars as pins. Though it is not explicitly stated, the “threads of silver linings” could readily be used to string these stars – every image is woven together (pardon the pun)! Here I contend is the most poetic part of the poem, for the reader is forced to depart from literal meaning by the semantic deviation involved and compelled to be writerly as a reader and imagine a deeper meaning in the statement. Stars have historically been said to influence the course of events (hence such occult endeavors as astrology). In that sense then seeking to “string the stars together” means being able to take control of events. Again, we must return to the emphasis of hope, and we can further add that it is the hopefulness of the individual which seeks to take control. And being hopeful, this part of the poem feels highly optimistic and dynamic, emphasized by the flowing characteristic of the oft repeated /s/ sound, which is a sibilant. the repetition also mimics the rythmic fluidity of the act of stringing. But this fluid flow is immediately stopped by the end of the stanza “but the beads would not budge.” The act of stringing was interrupted, and the flowing /s/ is interrupted by the plosive quality of the repeated/b/.

The third stanza is the climax of the poem. This is first emphasized by a break from the established parallel structure of “hope verbed,”  when the word “frustrated,” an adjective, followed instead. There is a repetition of the fricative /f/ sound, which also sounds fluid like  /s/ but not as fluid because of its labiodental nature (the lower lip covers the mouth, making for less air in articulation). This mimics the semi-fluidity in an attempt to unbound a knot. But the poem ends first with another /b/ in “bound,” then finally with the plosive /t/, which is not even aspirated because it is at the end, making for even less air and this less fluidity. The knot that gets in the way of trying to “string the stars together  ” (take control of events) is Fate.

The poem, both on the literal and on the stylistic level, is a very fatalistic poem.