How to Write About Being Gay in the Philippines
As a full-time, minimum wage worker, I tend to snap at any writing opportunities that come my way. Especially if it’s a paying opportunity. A few days ago I chanced upon the fanpage of the “St. John’s first LGBT magazine,” (the title of which is yet to be released). They have an open call for entries for their first issue. That immediately got me excited as I could talk about the politics and nuances of queerdom. That is, until I saw that they have a “World” section, where they’re asking for foreigners to compare gay life in their home country and their new one.
With the advent of numerous gay-themed blogs in the Philippines, namely, Manila Gay Guy, Brusko Pink, Pinoy Male Discreet, countless literotica and M2M stories, and, the one I’ve been affiliated with most recently, Bakliterati, plus the countless forums in pg4m and others, writing and problematizing about Pinoy queer culture has never been more outspoken, if not mainstream, the past few years. Discounting erotica, the most popular topics on these blogs range from coming out, gender discrimination, and the angst of being single.
While I am not all too comfortable with comparing cultures (as comparisons tend to say one thing is better than the other, instead of understanding that cultures are bound towards the political and historical setting of the country), I owed it upon myself as a Filipino writer living in Canada to show alternative views towards gender. So I sat down in front of my laptop, had a couple of smokes, opened up my word processor, thinking all the while, I am a homosexual man who lived in the Philippines for twenty-two years. Piece of cake.
And then I didn’t know what to write about.
That bothered me. My fingers hovered above the keyboard as I forced myself to think of a topic. Callboys? Malate? Vice Ganda? Sebastian Castro? Planet Romeo? Ako’y Isang Sirena? Ang Ladlad? Maximo Oliveros? CBCP? I would start to type-up a sentence that I would end up deleting.
Then it me. The reason I couldn’t write was because I have a major problem with how we problematize queer culture in the Philippines. On a short note, I felt that the portrayal of being gay in online media caters toward a claustrophobic depiction of a small, yet very specific cross-section of the LGBT culture, that of the intellectual middle class.
As a writer, I have shunned from being labelled a “gay writer.” Writing, as a craft, should not be subsumed by gender. The better term would be “a writer who happens to be gay,” where the highlighted fact is that I’m a writer, not because of, not in spite of, but regardless of who I want to sleep with at night. I have written works with gay themes, gay character, gay concerns, but those are not the be-all, end-all of my existence. Deelaytful has works that fly out of the realms of sexuality.
So, these online gay writers tend to problematize being homosexual first and use writing as a venue to explore those themes, rather than asserting that one is a writer first that uses gender as a device to bring the message across. I am not arguing that the latter is more superior than the former — call it a difference in aesthetics — but I would like to clearly delineate between the two.
The issue with most of those blgos is that the themes are too recurrent. I’ve been reading coming out stories since I was in high school — and, yes, they can only have two veins: an accepting family or a rejecting one. All posts are variations of either. They problematize discrimination, whether it be from passive ignorance of co-workers, teachers, and the like, or from institutions such as the government and the clergy. And, of course, the ever-present lonely angsty “wawa naman me, I’m single” post, which is not exclusive towards queer writing.
All those posts are all fine and dandy. Yet I am wondering if posts like these could encompass the spectra of LGBT culture in the Philippines or if they represent a certain generation of thinkiners. Perhaps to extend the metaphor, there are happier posts in LGBT blogs, mostly dealing with sex. An overview of Malate. How to deal with Grindr. How to be a bottom. Those are quite nice and well, and, yes, they are helpful for a specific set of gay men.
But what about the rest?
There is the tendency to look at queer culture in a continuum — on one end, mainstream portrayals of the vakla, transpeople, drag queens that romp around noontime television, and, on the other, online portrayals of the Westernized homosexual man, dancing in Malate, working in the corporate world, believing in the dichotomy of top and bottom.
But what about the rest?
I’d like to share a bit about myself here. I’m a discreet gay man. I knew I was gay since I was seven. I never came out of the closet (I never thought it was an issue.) I date men, I fuck men, and, yes, I write about it. (Because online writing is by nature self-indulgent. I never claimed to write solely about queer culture.) Yet, growing up, I had to deal with issues that are separate from being LGBT. I grew up as an impoverished Bicolano. I’ve been bullied, I’ve been called names. In college, as a Creative Writing major, I had to work and study at the same time. Most days, I walked to school and had to eat one meal a day.
For the most part, I felt that most (not all) of those topics did not speak to me. I was confident enough about my sexuality to care about coming out, my sex life’s too wonderful to start reading about tips and angst, and I know more than enough not to blame ignorant bigots who discriminate against me, but rather force the issue on the guilty institutions (the government, media, and clergy). And if my biggest problem was how to finish that article I was writing for a freelance job, because I need money to eat, then reading about Malate can wait.
I have been asserting that there’s too many gay people in the Philippines, a multitude of concerns for us to focus solely on the personal. We cannot write about how fun it is to be gay when people are dying in Sabah. We cannot have angst about our exes when effeminate boys in the slums get raped. We cannot claim to be a community of gay men when we do not actively engage people outside the intellectual metro circle, and speak to the parlorista, speak to the drag queen, speak to baklas in Sulu, in Tawi-Tawi, in Sabah, in Ifugao, speak to Muslim gay men, speak to Indigenous gay men, speak to battered sons, miserable husbands, raped children, AIDS victims, speak to the gay men living in slums who do not have access to computers needed to read us, speak to the gay man who needs food more than sexuality, speak to gay victims of war, speak to the sons of farmers.
One cannot simply claim to write about being gay and speak solely to the cosmopolitan elite, who sheds off his tie when he dances at Malate, or Ortigas, or Cubao, or Orosa, or Nakpil, or Timog, or Tomas Morato. You can claim to write for them, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but to claim to include all flavors of LGBT, involves shedding off that which makes us queer to begin with, and understand that gender is never unrelated to class, to race, to the economy, to politics, to religion, to hegemony, to education, to profession.
With the advent of online writing, everyone with two cents, a computer, and an internet connection can write. And that’s wonderful because those people can do so and write about themselves. But the whole saying ‘write about what you know’ is not equal to write solely about what has happened to you — rather it is a challenge to go out and know more stuff outside yourself so you could write about it. And, for that generation, giving voice to a minority in terms of class in a minority in terms of gender I believe should be of greater importance.
I hope this is not to be taken as an attack against online gay writers. I respect what you do. Some of you are talented writers in your own sphere. But queer culture is more than your world, honey.