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.

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