“In a time of great political upheaval, the LGBT community must strive for meaningful and holistic tellings of our stories, and that firstly requires having a comprehensive outlook of our struggle.”
By BERNADETTE ANNE MORALES
Warning: There are triggering contents in this article. All sensitive information was written and included with the interviewee’s full consent. Reader’s discretion is advised.
“Surviving is not the same as living… there’s no rainbow in sight for the LGBT during the pandemic,” said non-binary writer and playwright Carlo Paulo Pacolor.
They and many other members of the LGBTQIA+ community seek for their voices to be heard—and their narratives to be clarified in mainstream media representation.
Trying to break away from the glitz and glamor of the big screen, where the LGBT has recently found refuge, what has life really been like for the Filipino LGBT amidst the pandemic?
There’s no doubt that the year 2020 and 2021 saw a boom on LGBT representation in the media.
With the rising demand for online content during lockdown, a not-so-new but very much welcomed genre of entertainment emerged – the BL (Boys’ Love) genre. Generally, positive LGBT representation in Asian media is a fairly recent phenomenon. The BL genre took over Southeast Asia by storm and the craze was felt in the Philippines.
Released in 2020, the world-famous BL 2gether: The Series from Thailand is set for a movie franchise this year.
The BL series Gameboys, released in May 2020, popularized the genre in the country, while the first Filipino GL (Girls’ Love) series, Pearl Next Door, launched also last year, sought to satisfy the demand for female LGBT stories.
As of this writing, around a hundred new LGBT-themed films, series and media content are available in the Philippines including pre-pandemic productions from as far back as 2015. As of June 2021, around 50 new BL series have been created in the country, both released and those that are still in development. That’s a significant number considering the gravity of the negative impact of the lockdown on the entertainment industry.
The problem with mainstream LGBT ‘representation’: then and now
Gay people have a certain are stereotype in showbusiness, but recently, LGBT-centric content are giving gay people a new face on how they are to be portrayed.
For some in the LGBT+ community, this is a welcome change, even, a “landmark” development. However, there are still issues to be addressed with this phenomenon — many of which is rooted in the previous forms of representation of the community.
For queer writer and filmmaker Gio Potes, LGBT in the media wasn’t always this way. He feels that both new and older forms of representation should be critiqued.
“I don’t prescribe to mainstream films nowadays, but when I was growing up, comedic representations in mainstream films affected how we saw queer individuals, usually queers are expected to be funny and sissy,” Gio said.
This LGBT portrayal in the media added to the burden of closeted teenage gays like Gio in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
“My mother didn’t accept me right away when I came out when I was just 14 years old. She said it was just a phase and that she was not expecting me to grow up as gay because I will only grow up to be sad,” Gio shared.
Gio said that there is a danger of prescription and of creating a certain standard image for LGBTQIA++ in the media, even if the newer narratives are supposedly ‘owned by’ or ‘centered around’ the LGBT individual.
“The BL trend may have shone a spotlight on love between men but it had certain tendencies of featuring only masculine expressions that further marginalizes femme gays and even queer males,” Gio said.
“Where are the films that feature love between queers or femmes?” Gio asked.
He believes that there must be a move to diversify representations and not to be stuck on trends and stereotypes that is already the tendency that cisheteronormative media is criticized of.
“Queer media must always be defiant, never settling on certain standards and tropes. I mean that’s also why it’s called “queer”,” Gio mused assertively, certain that queerness shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all.
True to his words, Gio has been striving to provide profound queer representation in his films even before the rise of BL in the Philippines. One such testament of his efforts is his 2018 film Mark & Lenny.
He hopes that the current LGBTQIA++ visibility in the media would inspire fellow LGBTs to not necessarily copy a certain elitist, pink money lifestyle being prescribed by mainstream media, but to find everyone’s own narrative in the diversity of queerness.
Meanwhile, non-binary writer and playwright Carlo Paulo Pacolor has a lot to say about recent LGBT representation and stereotypes in the media. They said that seeing one of the new 2021 Pride Month publicity material gave them a kind of ‘queer anxiety’.
“It was a checkerboard of glossy LGBTQIA++ individuals in various media, all represented as one glamorous front… I got anxious because it felt like it was prescribing for me a kind of queer ideal that I have also consciously rejected, and unabashedly molded my own queerness outside of,” Carlo continued.
“Visibility in a time of smooth surveillance technologies has molded all of us somewhat to act and present ourselves always in good behaviour, stunning, fierce–that is: palatable and family friendly, that is: harmless,” Carlo mused.
Like Gio’s perception of queerness, Carlo wanted to remain defiant with how they identified themselves. They did not want to box themselves even with the newer, ‘shinier’ representations offered by the BL’s and the media.
“But I have been a misbehaving queer all my life. And not because I am deliberate about it: that is who I am. I am who I am–and also who I am not–24/7. I am that messy-ass hoe,” Carlo ended with a meaningful look in their eyes.
The reality of being LGBTQIA++ in the Philippines
In contrast to the rose-colored BL series and movies, things have been looking grim for the LGBTQIA++ community since last year. Their plight was exacerbated by the pandemic, and the community is in urgent need of help.
For the community, a lot of things presented by the BL’s and the media can’t fully capture the hardships they have to go through everyday during the pandemic. One of them is Egay Marie (not her real name), a closeted young transwoman journalist.
“Since the lockdowns were mounted, I was forced to return to my parent’s house, where for years I had tried to escape. It has been difficult for me to fully express my individuality as a gay person in our household since I’m not also out to my family,” Egay Marie shared.
Egay Marie has also had her fair share of discrimination from schools and offices. She recalls the continuing difficulties she experienced while working during the pandemic.
“I got my second job as a journalist weeks ahead of the pandemic. Before I received my work contract, I was told by one of my bosses that I need to cut my hair – at that time I was sporting shoulder-length hair – since they prefer that “male” reporters have their hair cut and clean,” Egay Marie shared.
“I just complied with that since it’s somewhat tied to my employment,” Egay Marie continued.
For a transwoman like Egay Marie who hasn’t transitioned or is not as conventionally feminine-looking as the media stereotype of transwomen, hair is an important part of her SOGIE.
The times were already hard enough, and she says she can’t afford to lose her job— even if it meant suppressing herself and her SOGIE.
Another one of these stories is about non-binary writer and theater creative Allen Joy ‘Ligaya’ Marquez.
“Because of my name, I’m often mistaken for a ‘Sir’ or ‘Mr.’, which could’ve been okay if it was someone I’m close with that’s referring to me as such since I identify as a non-binary individual,” Ligaya said.
Coming out at work is still very much a privilege, and prior experiences of discrimination plus the impersonal environment of working remotely has pushed her to hide her SOGIE from her colleagues.
“Throughout my work, I already had three encounters of being misgendered… [I was] facing [the instances] with fear of correcting the authority because there’s a possibility that whoever I was conversing with didn’t read my name or my message thoroughly. Or worse, they might not even notice or respond to my clarifications,” Ligaya bared.
Despite the many challenges that the LGBTQIA++ community is facing, measures from the national government. like the Anti-Discrimination Bill that could potentially protect employees like Egay Marie and Ligaya, is still not a priority and has been pending for more than 20 years.
Aside from these stories of work-related discrimination, the plight of LGBTQIA++ Filipinos is really in an alarming state. Stories of senseless deaths and violence add to the anxieties of members of the LGBTQIA++ community who are already suffering from the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, together with the rest of the world.
Rey Valmores-Salinas, a transwoman scientist and activist, says that the COVID-19 pandemic has not only exposed the ‘rottenness’ of the Philippine healthcare system, but has also pushed the LGBT community into further marginalization.
“Under Duterte’s lockdown, many LGBT youth have been forced into abusive homes, and some young queer persons, as a result of the economic crisis and difficulty in sustaining expensive online classes, have been forced to sell nudes online to make ends meet,” she added.
Rey also noted that queer couples have been denied the already lacking and anomalous economic aid from the government because the state does not recognize LGBT unions – except in Pasig City.
“Very recently, two Filipino transgender youth have been murdered in brutal hate crimes,” Rey said solemnly. The two transgender youths are Ebeng Mayor and Junjie Bangkiao, both barely in their 20’s.
According to Rey, numerous human rights violations against the LGBT by state actors have also been reported, from sexual harassment and molestation of young LGBT quarantine violators, to trumped-up charges against LGBT organizers, particularly in highly militarized areas in the country like Negros Island.
Rey herself is one of the LGBTQIA++ activists detained last year by police forces during a Pride March protest by Bahaghari in Manila.
Rey, who is also Bahaghari’s spokesperson, revealed the intense discrimination she suffered as a trans woman and was nearly thrown in with the male detainees.
“I experienced sexual harassment in the form of catcalling and lewd comments from the police, and we witnessed acts of lasciviousness when a police officer masturbated while watching us,” Rey recalled painfully.
Eventually, the charges against Rey and 19 other activists and colleagues were dismissed. Rey and her camp are currently pursuing countercharges against the Manila Police District.
Reconciling mainstream ‘representation’ and genuine liberation
One thing common with Rey and the rest of the stories is the desire for genuine freedom and liberation for the LGBTQIA++ community.
“Representation [in the media] is a key manifestation of, but is not equivalent to, liberation. In a time of great political upheaval, the LGBT community must strive for meaningful and holistic tellings of our stories, and that firstly requires having a comprehensive outlook of our struggle,” explained Rey.
Rey noted that plenty of queer stories are already centered around the emotional rollercoaster of coming out—which is a necessary and critical to discuss, but has many times been written exclusively with a middle-class lens.
“When will we hear stories about, say, LGBT workers? LGBT farmers? Urban poor LGBT? Indigenous LGBT? These are the kinds of stories we need to hear more of—and fortunately, these stories are already ripe for the telling,” Rey added with an air of wishfulness.
According to Rey, all that’s left to do is to seek out the bearers of these stories in the communities, in the factories, and in the countryside.
Lastly, Ligaya says that she wants to come out in a world where there will eventually be no need for coming out, since the status quo has already been shaken.
“If we, as a community, are already content with the scraps of representation within the status quo while majority of the people are being killed, starved and silenced, then unfortunately our community will never be truly peaceful nor liberated,” Ligaya said.