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Vol. V, No. 43      December 4 - 10, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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Writing Lesbian, Lesbian writing

As a struggling lesbian writer, where shall I find a literary mother? 


By Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz

Northern Dispatch

Posted by Bulatlat


A lesbian who does not reinvent the world is

a lesbian in the process of disappearing.

-- Nicole Brossard


The silence surrounding the lesbian in Philippine literary history is appalling. Anglo-European lesbian critics can at least complain about the negative images of lesbians in the works of both male and female writers; they can have a party decoding the works of Virginia Woolf or Emily Dickinson, but I have not found a lesbian tradition of writing in the Philippines.


J. Neil Garcia, in his groundbreaking book Philippine Gay Culture (1996), explains that “the lack of visible signs of female homosexuality redress, in the form of written textuality” is due to the accommodation of lesbians in a masculinist culture. That is, because lesbians identify with men; they are not considered as ‘abnormal’ as gay men who identify with women.  Thus, Garcia assures the lesbian reader that “sometimes a clean slate may be less heartbreaking than…lies.”


But I am not easily comforted. It is precisely Garcia’s framework of the “feminization of deviance” that contributes to the invisibility of lesbians in literature.  No matter how masculine a lesbian may try to be, she is still only a woman, and therefore, does not matter in a heteropatriarchal set-up. I myself would rather be vilified than plainly ignored.  Terry Castle is right in saying that “within the very imagery of negativity lies the possibility of recovery – a way of conjuring up, or bringing back into views, that which has been denied.”


As a struggling lesbian writer, where shall I find a literary mother? 


There is Leona Florentino who actually wrote love poems for women; but Ilocano literature scholars would not dare see the mother of Isabelo de los Reyes in such an “unflattering” light. The official story is that her poems like Para ken Carmen had been “commissioned” by men who wanted to impress the women they were courting. However, in her poem Nalpay a Namnama, Florentino talks about a love that is hopeless and doomed from the start because she loves a woman.  In line 10, she claims to love "iti maysa a imnas." The Filipino translation of Isagani R. Cruz uses musa for the word imnas, which suggests that it is a woman, but is still ambivalent.  My source, Clarita Gaoat of Vigan, Ilocos Sur, explains that imnas is actually a synonym for balasang,  dalaga in Filipino, maiden in English. How can we keep denying Leona Florentino's love for women when she herself has made it quite clear?


Another option is for me to personally “out” living women writers who remain in the closet, still victimized by their fear of a still homophobic community. But I do not want to lose my friends.


In 1993, the Women’s Press of Canada published a collection of stories by Filipina lesbian Nice Rodriguez.  Throw it to the River remains a landmark book, funny and tongue-in-cheek. However, I cannot see myself in most of her butch characters, as no matter what I do (even once shaving my head!) I really cannot be the type of lesbian who looks, thinks, and acts like a man. I would like to delude myself that I am in a class all my own. Furthermore, Rodriguez has become a privileged and hyphenated lesbian writer-in-exile who looks at the Philippine lesbian situation from too far away.  For example, in the story "G.I. Jane," Rodriguez describes a Pinay lesbian who, like so many heterosexual mail-order brides, uses her "exotic" characteristics to convince Puti, her white dyke pen pal, to marry her.  Rodriguez nobly conflates the issues of class, ethnicity, and sexual preference, but sadly ends up with a stereotypical depiction of what it means to be Pinay; that is, regardless of sexual preference, we must use our bodies to help our families rise above poverty.


And so I dare claim my own by writing my own stories.  Surely, women have always loved women, but “it has to be there in the writing.” My stories, regardless of my actual life choices, contribute to the (re)inscription of lesbian desire in Philippine contemporary literature. These are stories that need to be told and read in order to dispel the silence surrounding lesbianism in Philippine literature. Northern Dispatch/Posted by Bulatlat


If you are interested in these stories, please email me at jhoannalynn_cruz@yahoo.com)




© 2005 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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