Category Archives: Queer Pop

A conversation about the dangers of mainstreaming (Part 1 of 2) Cross-post from The Philippine Online Chronicles

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View the original here.

 

This article is a response to the Bench campaign about #100HappyGays which can be viewed here. I was having a conversation with my friend and I thought it might be nice to write an article about how both of our respective blood pressures went up while reading through the campaign. Yes, we know as of the time of this article’s writing, only half of the campaign has been released. Still we thought the first two parts actually give a good precedent for the rest of the campaign so here it goes:

Mikee: Can I just start with a loud and clear, “What the FUCK?”

Jiggs: I know! I can call stupid when I see it, but really? Seriously?

M: Ok so, they’re calling it a campaign for Pride March, but I’m not quite sure what it’s for? Is it to glamorize the ‘success’ of queer people? What success? I don’t see anything here but class politics and economic elitism. Let’s forget for a moment that they lumped all the queer people under the term ‘gay’; I’d like to know what my trans* sisters and lesbian friends think about that. Gay hegemony rears its ugly head yet again, but this time in “designer” clothing.

J: There are so many issues with this campaign; I don’t know where to begin. But if there’s one thing I know, it’s this: I have never seen a more self-defeating campaign. If this truly was a campaign for Gay Pride/Pride Month/Pride March, then why are there quotes that reaffirm the oldest, if not the most inane arguments anti-LGBT people have been using to undermine the LGBT movement?! The contradiction is really so silly, it’s almost laughable. But really, how can you laugh when you are so frustrated by how much of a missed opprtunity all of this is?

Class Politics

M: I know it’s Bench. I know it’s probably one of those big companies that make huge profits out of unfair labor practices. I also know that it’s using queer people for its profit-making agenda. What I don’t get is why these people wouldn’t challenge that, or why queer people would agree to be used in this way. It’s Neoliberal politics at its finest. The campaign is less a celebration of gender and sexual diversity, than it is a celebration of capitalism and consumerist culture.

The whole campaign talks about a “gay community” and then proceeds to put up barriers about what it means to be part of that community – you have to be a rebel, you have to stick out, you have to be an outcast – but you also have to be rich enough to actually be able to afford the things that make you that. The whole thing just reeks of class privilege. I mean fine, I also benefit a lot from being middle class and being (relatively) well-educated, but I won’t go around shoving it into other people’s faces. And I don’t run a campaign that on the surface attempts to promote gender and sexual equality, but actually just promotes class hierarchies.

J: PAK! I’m not really surprised that Bench wanted to capitalize on “gays” now being mainstream. Hey, at the end of the day, their motivation is to sell, so it’s not like I expected much from them (actually I kinda do. Hello, anyone heard of corporate social responsibility?). I did however, expect more – so much more from those featured in this campaign. Come on, they’ve been given an excellent platform to talk about the real issues the community is facing. But no, not only did someone said that being gay is “a choice”, one even reduced us to an accessory, by saying that “gay today is a totes must”. Seriously.

That leads me to thinking: are most of the quotes in this article so shallow and senseless because the people chosen to speak on behalf of the LGBT community belong to the “sheltered” class? And do we put the blame then on Bench because they did not try to diversify their so-called 100 happy gays? I would think that featuring LGBT Pride, there would be at least talk of struggle, challenges, and pain at the very least because isn’t that what we should be proud of? The fact that we endure despite of all the ugly things we’ve been through? Divine Lee actually touched on this, but I wish there was more.

Bench should’ve chosen real LGBT heroes, those who have toiled and sacrificed for the movement, used their personal stories and said something like: “the brave and proud wear Bench”. (There, I just fixed this campaign – you’re welcome.)

Identity and Politics: Who are these people?

(View the rest of the article here, please.)

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Rap and the Martyrology of the Bakla

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Last week, a group of students reported on representations of Gender in the Media. One of their chosen media texts was Gloc-9’s Sirena. Their analysis of the video was quite impressive, but I do have some additions to their reading.

When the video first came out several weeks ago, it was posted and shared on Facebook by several of my friends touting it as progressive and positive for its depiction of the bakla and the violence we are forced to endure. They also seemed to enjoy the last part of the video that shows several prominent LGBT people, which included members of the Ladlad Partylist, several authors, and Boy Abunda. While I am hesitant to criticize these people for appearing in the video, I cannot help but question their motivations for doing so. Publicity, perhaps? Or did they genuinely want to show how the bakla can rise above oppressive situations and become empowered themselves? Do they fully endorse the video and the song? Did they not find anything problematic with the text’s depiction of the bakla? I do applaud the artist for bringing the issue of violence against the bakla into mainstream media discourse, however, I am left with the  above-mentioned questions as well as several others regarding the video/song’s portrayal of the bakla.

For one, the song treats the bakla as rooted in effeminacy and womanhood. There is nothing wrong with this image as, classically, the bakla is considered a woman-hearted male-bodied person. My contention is that in the video effeminacy is treated as superficial, comic, and trivial (refer to 2:10 of the video). Although alternate readings may code this as a semblance of empowerment: despite the violence the bakla suffers, our ganda remains intact. This is an important facet in the bakla identity. I am not saying that we are shallow and superficial, I am saying that the bakla’s kagandahan is an important source of the bakla’s socio-cultural power. Without the bakla, our world would be dreary and bleak and fall into dismal ugliness. As such, this is a bakla facet that should not be so easily brushed off and dismissed as it was in the video.

My primary problem with the video and the song is that while it shows the violence suffered by the bakla – an arguably common image in Philippine media – it does nothing to challenge this violence. In the video, while the macho father dunks his bakla son into a drum filled with water, no one attempts to help the bakla. No one even flinches; they all stand by and watch in amusement as the bakla is punished for not conforming to the binary of babae and lalake. The bakla is forced to endure years of this kind of physical and emotional abuse: he is forced by familial ties to remain with the ailing abuser in an apparent attempt to win him over and gain his acceptance. It’s incredibly Freudian, and also incredibly ludicrous. The bakla becomes powerless because his very sense of self is rooted in his father’s acceptance of his kabaklaan, and is unable to divorce himself from this abusive relationship because of this. At the end of the video, the bakla gains his father’s acceptance and is able to empower himself. This is a rather dated model for parent-child relationships and should be guarded against. Why would anyone want to stay in an abusive relationship? Why not just up and leave and find love and acceptance elsewhere?

The video also purges the bakla of his sexuality. His object of desire is the lalake (refer to 3:50 in the video), but he is frustrated when the lalake still chooses the babae over him. This frustration is, again, treated in the video as comic and funny. The lyrics also say that all his siblings have married and gone off to raise their respective families while the bakla remains single and celibate to take care of the elderly father. The bakla becomes a martyr, the classic tragic character, an echo of the disempowered woman from ages past.

One also has to question the role of the babae in this text. She is virtually invisible, peripheral, unimportant. Perhaps this is because the text is incredibly patriarchal and reinforces misogynistic beliefs. In the video’s introduction, a group of men call out to the father and the bakla saying: “Nag-aaway yung mag-ina!” The text justifies the violence against the bakla by equating the bakla with womanhood – and any  performance of femininity in a masculine body must be punished.

One also has to question if this kind of misogyny and the reinforcement of patriarchal standards is a matter of genre. Traditionally, rap is not a genre that the bakla will touch with a ten-foot pole. There are, of course, exceptions: Hip-hop artist Frank Ocean recently came out. However, locally, the genre is rife with stereotypical portrayals of the bakla, and as far as I know, there are no bakla rappers either, which leads me to question the motives behind Gloc-9’s choice of subject. Can an evidently straight artist properly give voice to an oppressed other without exoticizing him? Gloc-9 fails in this test. He even says, “I think this is the first time that a song about a gay man is presented in a first person’s point of view…” But my question is, by what right can he claim to give a voice to the bakla? Is he bakla himself? Was he subjected to the same kind of oppression that the bakla were in his song? If he is bakla and was subjected to this kind of abuse, why does this kind of abuse go unchallenged in his song? Why create a martyr of the bakla? Why not empower him, divorce him from abusive relationships, allow him to shine outside of patriarchal standards? All of these questions cannot possibly be answered by a person who was not, himself, subjected to the abuse and oppression that the bakla are forced to endure. It’s classic Orientalism, except this time in the area of gender representation. I digress.

If you look at wider musical phenomena, the bakla has only very rarely been depicted and when they are, it is often a negative stereotype. Blackjack’s “Modelong Charing” makes fun of the bakla and warns against being deceived by scheming, gold-digging cross-dressers and transsexuals and justifies violence toward them. Michael V’s “Hindi ako bakla” pokes fun at failed attempts to conceal effeminacy in favor of masculinity. Dagtang Lason’s misogynistic “Nagmamahal ako ng bakla” treats the bakla as an alternative to women but also the emphasizes the oppressive economic relations between the lalake and the bakla. It also calls the bakla “pangit” and “karumaldumal” – an attempt to take away the bakla’s ganda and therefore his power. Finally, Eraserheads’ “Hey Jay“, arguably the least offensive of these songs, advises the bakla to “ipagdasal na lang natin na balang araw ay… everything’s gonna be okay” and “kailangan ay magtiis ka.” Although at least the song questions why homophobes are “puno ng galit ang isipan… walang galang sa kapwa tao.”

Gloc-9’s Sirena ends with “minsan mas lalake pa sa lalake ang bakla” and simply reinforces patriarchal models of behavior by elevating the lalake as the standard against which other genders are compared. All of these things lead me to wonder if Harvey Fierstein’s motto (“Visibility at any cost!”) is still applicable. Can we still use that as a mantra if the images we consume are so highly problematic and if these images simply reinforce patriarchal control over other identities?

A guide to throwing tantrums

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As a modern incarnation of divas of the past (ie. Maria Callas, Nellie Melba, Kathleen Battle – all famous for throwing hissy fits worthy of three-year-olds), I have thrown my own share of tantrums over the years. Here now is my own personal guide to throwing tantrums properly.

First, make sure that everyone knows you are throwing a tantrum, otherwise what’s the point? Go ahead and raise your voice, loudly exclaim that you are a diva and you refuse to be treated like a commoner. For example, at one performance at the CCP, I had to pick up a few laggard friends outside the theater and hand them their tickets. I burst out of the theater doors, tickets clenched in my up-raised fists and loudly proclaimed: “I have never been late to the theater!” I then proceeded to hand out the tickets to my friends. I considered dramatically throwing the tickets on the floor for my friends to pick up, but I thought that would make me look like too much of a diva. On hindsight, perhaps I should have.

Remember that the silent treatment does not work. You are diva, you do not suffer in silence like those understudies (who, if you perform your diva-hood correctly, will never be able take the stage away from you). Be loud, comment on everything, be sarcastic (all the time!). And most importantly, only speak in English. If you can muster an old rich American-British accent a la Norma Desmond, your tantrums will become even more effective.

Second, work on your facial expressions. Pout, scowl. Channel the roles of Medea, Abigaille, and Amneris when throwing tantrums. I was raised by an overbearing mother who always told me, Makuha ka sa tingin.” So today, I practice what my mother taught me and I make sure that people will know I am throwing a tantrum just by looking at them. Now augment this rabid, enraged look with loudly enunciated statements like, “I am far too important to be standing in line!” or “If this event involves more than ten people, I refuse to participate!” and your tantrum will have achieved its intended effect.

A tantrum works best when you wear heavy eye make-up.

Third, learn the art of the diva walk out. Puff out your chest, hold your head high. Make sure you look properly enraged. Pause for a dramatic effect. Fluidly walk out and never look back.

Finally, throw a tantrum regardless of who you’re with. Close friends, family members, acquaintances, students, random people standing on the platform waiting for the next train. Strangers most especially, since these people do not know who you are, you must tell them that you are a diva with a fiery temperament not to be reckoned with. You must announce your divahood to the world.

This is what a proper tantrum should look like.

Talackova (aka. What is a ‘natural’ woman?)

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So the Miss Universe Organization is changing its rules to allow transgender women to compete in it. I wanted to write this article just to put in my two cents.

As of right now, I still have mixed feelings about this change.

Being transgender myself, I know people would expect me to think highly positively about this change. But I have my reservations. I also have a friend who is an avid fan of the pageant circuit, to say the least, and I asked him his opinion on the change. He’s gay, so I expected him to say that it was a good thing. However, he pointed out that there are other pageants out there for transwomen, why not leave Miss Universe to biological women? He has a point, but there lies the difference in our reasons for not liking the change: Biology.

My main reason for not liking the change is that I don’t think the Miss Universe pageant is the right avenue for pushing transgender rights. (But then again, what is the right avenue for this?!) Ok, news like this is great for getting transgender awareness out there. And while I appreciate the value of spectacle and artifice as espoused by the pageant circuit, I am also very much aware of the deep-seated hegemonies and misogynistic discourses perpetuated by such pageants. For one, instead of celebrating the whole range of womanhood and the diverse experiences of “being” a woman, these pageants celebrate only one phase: the Virgin phase. (Insert Ancient Greek models of womanhood: Virgin, Matron, Crone.) The rules of the Miss Universe pageant are openly misogynistic: a woman must be of a certain age (no older than 27), must have never borne children, must have never been married, and the winner must remain unmarried until the end of her reign.  And second, these pageants create an oppressive model of womanhood – one that is unachievable by ‘ordinary’, lower/middle class, biological women, let alone transgender women. My take on beauty pageants is this: go pageant crazy for a few weeks a year, then move on with my life and forget who won the title. I can always refer to my friend for his expertise on this topic.

On the other hand, this change openly challenges our preconceived notions of what being woman/female is. Is it a mere question of biology, and if it is, which body part makes a woman, a woman. Is it genitalia? Is it the brain? Is it a chemical thing, hormones, chromosomes? Or is womanhood, as with anything we have been conditioned to accept as natural, simply a social construction, which Butler argues is created and reinforced based on the repetitive performance of actions coded as male/female (masculine/feminine) (heterosexual/homosexual) and the policing of actions which transgress these poles? Allowing transgenders (post op transsexuals) to compete in the pageant for ‘natural-born’ women exposes the superficiality of the naturalized category of Woman – that is, I think, why people have been so aggressively arguing against the change. Just read the comments section of the article I posted above and see how powerfully negative most of them are.

By undoing the naturalness of the sex/gender categories of male/female, masculine/feminine we basically destroy the world and its purported sense of order. If we get rid of these categories – and the subsequent hegemonies brought about by these categories – then we get rid of discrimination and social imbalance based on sex/gender/sexuality. Now imagine that: a world with no gender. Of course, I digress.

Jenna Talackova’s bid to run against ‘natural’ born women in Miss Universe Canada is courageous, yes. But it also gives her, and other future transgender contestants, an unfair advantage over other contestants. If not for anything, her story has already given her quite a lot of press leverage: if she doesn’t make it to at least the semi-finals, the organizers will be accosted for being transphobic. And we all know how affirmative action isn’t really affirmative. Also, allowing only post-op transsexuals compete in such pageants simply reinforces heteronormative/heterosexual discourses: as if to say that even within the transgender community, post-op transsexuals occupy the higher rungs of the hierarchy with pre-ops and non-ops occupying the lower levels. Talackova is opening doors for other transgenders, yes. But one might have to ask if she’s opening the right doors. When so many transgender women are denied access to medical care, education, legal protection, and other human rights, is joining a beauty pageant enough for our advocacy? The obvious answer is no. It’s a good start, it challenges people’s preconceptions of womanhood, and is a great medium for transgender awareness and education. But it shouldn’t stop here. There is a long way to go.

 

PS.

Coincidentally, Talackova’s name is perfect for Filipino Gay Lingo: Swardspeak. The Tagalog word ‘talak’ means to nag, to scold, or to verbally abuse. Used in a sentence: Shutanginmez! Na-Talackova na naman ako ni mudrakelles!

A defense of today’s Gay Icons?

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It’s been a while since I posted on here, so here goes. I read this article the other day, and got to thinking about today’s new gay icons. Basically, the article is about how today’s gays don’t appreciate (or even know) the pioneers of gay iconography and how little they value the history behind these icons.

But how does one create a gay icon? When I was brainstorming for thesis topics, I actually proposed one that centers on how the media create gay icons, or rather how audiences create queer subtexts out of non-queer texts. Way too difficult, so I went in another direction. Nevertheless, when I was doing research for that topic, I  read that St. Sebastian was technically the first gay icon. And he was literally an icon. Renaissance masters used the saint to code queer subtexts into religious iconography by integrating his image with that of Apollo, twink god of light, emphasizing his suffering while glorifying the beauty of young male virility at the same time.

Flash forward to the early 20th century and we get Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, played by the glorious Judy Garland. I’m not going to lie – the first time I saw the movie, I was already taking my MA and I was totally freaked out by the munchkins and Glinda’s perky sadistic smile. I totally didn’t get the whole queer thing from it. Except for the part where she sings Over the Rainbow. You see, today’s queer people live in a very different social climate – and I’m one of those people who firmly believe that in order to fully understand the meaning of a certain phenomenon, you must be able to correctly situate what you’re trying to understand in its proper setting. In the early 1940s, the gay rights movement was virtually non-existent. People barely talked about sex, let alone deviant forms of sexual behavior (which was very heavily policed). So, if you look at the lyrics of the song, it’s basically a metaphor for a better place, hence the queer subtext. It was then that gay men started referring to each other as friends of Dorothy – pity the straight man who actually had a friend named Dorothy.

This gave rise to the tragic Gay Icon: the diva who was fabulous in public and a total wreck in private, which mirrored how gay men felt about their own lives. If you were a gay man during these times, you had to do everything you could to keep your sex life secret, which I would imagine, lead to a great amount of depression and perhaps even suicides. The tragic diva gave gay men and outlet on which to project the tragedy of their own lives: Maria Callas, Edith Piaf, Judy Garland, and today Amy Winehouse, Britney Spears, and Whitney Houston.

Enter the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s and the new millennium and we get Barbra, Cher, Madonna, Mariah, Celine, the Spice Girls, and (as much as I hate her) Lady Gaga. So what happened? We jumped from tragedy to pure spectacle. Granted, I know how important spectacle, pretense, superficiality, glitter and camp are to queer culture. If you grow up queer, you understand the importance of artifice. But I also understand that we live in a very different time from when we first started diva worship. Today the world is more tolerant, perhaps even more accepting. And today’s gay icons reflect that.

Of course in this pantheon of Divas and gay icons, some stand out more than others. Barbra for her looks and also for her incredible voice, Cher is an exercise in superficiality and the powers of modern science, and Madonna for her uncanny ability to change her image and be effortlessly subversive. As for the others, well, I really don’t like Lady Gaga forcing herself into becoming a gay icon. Camp must be unintentional, not crafted – Katy Perry is also guilty of this, although I do think she pulls it off better than Gaga. And while Gaga’s music is relatively good (I wanna take a ride on your disco stick – bwahahahahaha!), I don’t like the way that Born This Way has become the New Gay Anthem and supplanted Over the Rainbow. Call me old-fashioned.

Today’s gay icon blurs the line between entertainment and politics. Lady Gaga forcibly pushes the Gay Agenda by arguing that we are born this way – an exercise in faulty logic and essentialism, granted, but it does have more political leverage than performativity, which argues that being is nothing more than a function doing (and if that is so, once you stop doing, than you stop being). Madonna’s new album critiques religious persecution and vilification of  sexual practice by reveling in (non-heteronormative) sexuality instead of shunning it, and challenging the concept of Sin (I’m a sinner, I like it that way).

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with today’s spectacle-based (content-lacking?) diva worship, it is of prime importance that we (at the very least) learn about divas of decades past. Even today, the Barbra-Cher fanbase is growing smaller, and fewer and fewer  baby fags are getting to know these great divas (perhaps they’re a little too busy with One Direction? – not that I blame them, Harry Styles is adorable). Of course, the tradition of the tragic diva is well and alive. We call her Adele. And she’s brilliant.

Isang trak ng bakla.

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A friend recently posted this video on Facebook.

It’s a short feature from a gag show called Wow Mali! They basically get a truckload of gays/transgenders/transsexuals and have them attack random men in public. With their battle cry of, “Ay! Lalake!” they grab hold of random men and excitedly call them “papa!” while screaming and shrieking.

Yes, it’s a funny phenomenon. Imagine a dozen effeminate gays shrieking at men, while they try helplessly to get away. A few of them even try running away, but to no avail.

However, it’s images on mainstream media like this that reinforce or create homophobic panics. Already, many heterosexual men feel uncomfortable with gays/transgenders because they think that ours is an identity based solely on sex – that all we think of is sex, and that all we do, we do for sex. Granted a fair amount of sex is involved in our lifestyles (then again, everyone should embrace and claim their respective sexualities), but being gay or transgender is more than just the sex. What the media do is exploit this aspect of the queer identity and make it seem that our very lives center around the practice of sexuality.

By coding the bakla as a sexual predator (watch the video and see just how predatory these gays are), Wow Mali tells its viewers, specifically its male audience, to be careful of the bakla, because we are sexual beings out to get them. This predisposes them to homophobic feelings, which may lead to acts of violence and hate, which further engenders the Filipino LGBT community because we have no Hate Crime legislation in this country.

I’m not saying that all the men who watch this video will go out and go gay-bashing after. Media effects don’t work like that. All I’m saying is that the media should be more careful in their portrayal of gendered identities, and that audiences must be more critical of what they see on tv or in the movies.

I’ll end here, but you can actually watch the clip and analyze the hell out of it further. For example, the bakla in the video also attack a straight couple, and separate the man from the woman – an indicator of the bakla‘s supposed need to supplant the babae? The men’s facial reactions which range from utter bewilderment to annoyance to anger, indicators perhaps of already extant homophobic tendencies?

On Naming Ourselves

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I recently saw a former student post something on her Facebook timeline asking her friends to like a link, saying “Tungkol siya sa Gender Inequality at Third Sex Discrimination na laganap sa Pilipinas.”

So I commented how inappropriate it is for people to refer to all LGBTs as the Third Sex. For one thing, it’s like saying that people are Male, Female, and Others. Clumping non-heteronormative identities together is discriminatory, even if the original post was done in a effort to promote gender equality. Calling us the Third Sex is also like ranking us as last in the hierarchy of genders. And which, exactly, is the First Sex? Maleness, because God created Adam before Eve? Or do we go with the old adage, “Ladies first”?

A friend of hers commented that this is the layman’s term, and that no discrimination was intended. I grant her that; but then, remember that layman’s terms are often rife with discrimination. Remember that it was once common to refer to African Americans using the n word.

I suppose the point is that people should never underestimate the power of words, or the privilege of being able to name yourself. In the Philippines, for example, we’ve adopted the Western (American?) labels for our own itinerant sexual and gender identities, the result is the abjection of endemic labels and identities. The bakla label for example, has been shunned by many wealthy, urban, Filipino gay men because it is a label that is tied to questions of lower class status and effeminacy. Many transgender women (my STRAP sisters included) also shun the label bakla because it’s tied with male-bodied identities; they prefer, instead to name themselves Transpinays. So what has become of the bakla?

But I digress.

This is the problem with labels – they are restrictive and essentialist. And people get too caught up in them. Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders, Assexuals, Intersex people, Queers, Girl, Boy, Bakla, Tomboy, Tops and Bottoms, Butches and Femmes. All these labels will set restrictions on your identity – is there any way for any one to be both bakla and transgender at the same time? Or am I the only one who identifies as such?

This is why I find performativity so attractive. It questions the power of labels and exposes their inaccuracies by dismissing all of them as functions of doing rather than being. Of course, this mindset is much too postmodern, and its real-world significance is almost impossible to apply in the Philippine setting.

So until that time, I suppose we should be content with politically correct labels.

I am such a nerd.