By Catherine Orda | Banner Design by Samantha Palanca and Mavs Soriano
How to explain the dearth of Filipino LGBTQI+ literature? It seems an unfair question to even ask, as the country has a strong and rich queer literary history. But the question does provide us an occasion to assess the state of Filipino LGBTQI+ literature, specifically its readership. Perhaps we should ask, then: Why don’t a lot of Filipinos read local queer literature?
Besides its being historically overlooked and oppressed, the community’s lack of an audience can be chalked up to being at the fringes of a more general issue, that of a national reading culture that remains to be influenced by our colonial past, a monopoly of Western tastes and ideas—the dismantling thereof still considerably at its nascent phase. For many years now, to be a reader in the Philippines means to read foreign works. Our publishers and writers are doing the hard work of replacing a centuries-old West-centric literary canon with Filipino-authored and -published works, which necessarily entails championing voices from the LGBTQIA+ community.
Significant progress in the effort to break this tradition by “mainstreaming” queer Filipino literature can be traced to the early ‘90s, with the release of works like “Skin, Voices, Faces” (Anvil Publishing, 1991) by the novelist and essayist Danton Remoto, “Cubao 1980 at Iba pang mga Katha” (Cacho Publishing House, 1992) by the fictionist Tony Perez, and “Ladlad: An Anthology of Philippine Gay Writing” (Anvil Publishing, 1994), co-edited by Remoto and the poet and critic J. Neil Garcia.
These are works that, at the time in particular, were considered remarkable for talking about gay experiences from a Filipino perspective, opening up possibilities for a uniquely Filipino queer literature. “Ladlad,” for instance is considered an important work for many reasons, not in the least of which was that it encouraged many gay Filipino writers to put out their work. These were soon followed by the likes of “Woman to Woman: A Collection of Lesbian Reflections,” edited by Aida F. Santos and Ginay Villar (1995) and “Philippine Gay Culture” (UP Press, 1996) by Garcia. By 1997, publishers like Anvil were putting out a good number of queer Filipino titles every year.
The subsequent rise of self-published works and alternative publishing in the next decades, notably zines produced by young, creative communities, by way of eschewing both structural and thematic conventions helped imagine a democratic, diverse, and inclusive literary market. Still, to diagnose the state of Filipino LGBTQIA+ literature as one that is approaching prominence and even a leveled playing field would be naive—self-published works, even Filipino queer books backed up by commercial publishers, remain to be overlooked. Not to mention, the little attention afforded to queer Filipino works is mostly, if not completely, limited to writers from the national center, many of then writing in either English or Tagalog. Certain groups within the LGBTQIA+ community, too, such as trans and gender diverse people, are lacking the readership they deserve.
If we hope to work towards a more diverse and inclusive reading culture—one that answers first and foremost to every Filipino writer, publisher, and reader—a good first step would be to read works that don’t normally receive attention.
With that, we present a list of works by and about the LGBTQIA+ community. It is by no means a definitive list, but in selecting these works, we kept diversity in mind. While it is impossible to perfectly represent the vast range of queer experiences, let alone a uniquely queer Filipino condition, we made sure that there is variety—works unique from each other, each one worth visiting if only for the specificity of their voice. Universality, after all, is achieved through the particular. And so here you will find trans voices from outside the national center, immigrant stories, children’s stories, queer poetry, and stories that make a case for lesbian visibility, among others. We hope you take the time to read these works today, and even after Pride month.
By recommending a list of LGBTQIA+ titles, we are not simply celebrating Pride month by highlighting both old and new queer Filipino releases, we also do so believing that the paradox of these lists is that we need to keep making them until they are no longer necessary.
- BKL/Bikol Bakla: Anthology of Bikolnon Gay Trans Queer Writing, edited by Ryen Paul Sumayao and Jaya Jacobo (Naga Goldprint Inc., 2019)
Photo from bicolmail.net
With works by veteran queer writers Alvin Yapan and Danton Remoto, the country’s first anthology of Bikolnon gay, trans, and queer writing features 42 poems and 16 stories about longing and desire filtered through uniquely queer Bikol experiences and sensibilities.
This anthology features over 40 works by wlw (women loving women) writers responding to the question: “What makes you tingle as a lesbian?” Editor Jhoanna Lynn Cruz writes about the collection: “Here we are taking our stories of women loving women in our own hands and making ourselves visible on our own terms. When the initial thrill of desire is past, the tingle is ultimately the recognition that what we have found cannot remain in the dark—we must love and be loved in the light.”
- Kagay-an, At Isang Pag-Ibig Sa Panahon ng All-Out War by Stefani J. Alvarez (PSICOM Publishing Inc., 2020)
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Set in a reimagined postcolonial Philippines, Joel Donato Ching Jacob’s debut novel tells the coming-of-age story of Tuan, a sickly teenager whose life changes when he is apprenticed to Muhen, a charming barangay wiseman. But, as he delves deeper into the craft of a mambabarang and its applications in espionage, sabotage and assassination, the young apprentice is overcome by conflicting emotions that cause him to question his new life.
- Busilak: New LGBTQ Poetry from the Philippines, edited by J. Neil Garcia (University of the Philippines Press, 2020)
In his introduction for this collection—a book worth visiting if you want to get a sense of what some of the best young queer Filipino poets are writing today—the critic and poet J. Neil Garcia describes the poets in “Busilak” as ones who approach “the subject of sexual and gendered self-disclosure indirectly—through the use of personae and stories that do not so much represent or describe as evoke their identities as queer subjects.”
Independent feminist publisher Gantala Press just published a collection of lesbian writings described as works “on love, courage, and resistance.” To get a copy, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Based on his personal writings as well as on conversations with his closest friend and collaborator, Jorge Arago, National Artist for Film and cultural icon Ishmael Bernal started writing this anti-biography before his death in 1996. Filled with Bernal’s reflections on art, activism, politics, and celebrity culture, “Pro Bernal Anti Bio” is essential reading for anyone who wants to better understand queer culture in the Philippines.
Photo from press.up.edu.ph
This collection of 20 stand-alone essays, the first book of lesbian nonfiction published in the Philippines, details Cruz’s first ten years in Davao City, where she moved after her heterosexual marriage had failed. It is about her efforts to rebuild her life as a single mother to two children and her adventures in (re)fashioning herself as a writer and a lesbian in the face of her own false expectations.
9. My Family by Kata Garcia, illustrated by Borg Sinaban (Adarna House, 2018)
This split-page bilingual board book is designed to teach babies about the many forms a family can take.
10. Latay sa Laman by Melinda Babaran (2018)
The Taiwan-based writer and factory worker Melinda Babaran made headlines in 2018 when she won the Jury Award at the Taiwan Literature Award for Migrants for her article titled “Latay sa Laman.” Written as a monologue, the article details her strained relationship with her father, who isn’t accepting of her lesbianism.
11. Anong Pangalan Mo sa Gabi? edited by Tetay Mendoza, Joel Acebuche, and Claire De Leon (UP Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, 2019)
Photo from goodreads.com
The many crude, ignorant, and even offensive questions often asked to queer Filipinos are answered by different LGBTQIA+ respondents in this collection, which, through funny and thoughtful answers recounts real life accounts detailing the serious consequences of seemingly harmless questions. To get a copy, please contact the UP Center for Women’s and Gender Studies on Facebook, Instagram, or through email@example.com.
12. Dalawa ang Daddy ni Billy (Billy Has Two Daddies) by Michael P. De Guzman, with paintings by Daniel Palma Tayona (Tahanan Books, 2018)
The kids at Billy’s school bully him for having two dads. They say his family is “different.” With “Billy Has Two Daddies (Dalawa ang Daddy ni Billy),” Michael P. De Guzman and Daniel Palma Tayona have crafted a touching tale about how love and acceptance can triumph over prejudice. This groundbreaking bilingual picture book has been described as “…a child’s painless introduction to what being different is about” by writer and former NBDB Chair Neni Sta. Romana-Cruz.
13. Travelbook by Shane Carreon (University of the Philippines Press, 2013)
Photo from goodreads.com
14. Trans Pilipinas: An Anthology by Trans and Gender Diverse Filipinos, edited by Mikee Inton-Campbell, Brenda Alegre, and Jaya Jacobo (forthcoming)
The first collection of writings and creative works by trans and gender diverse Filipinos, “Trans Pilipinas” features trans people from all over the country reflecting on their experiences as trans people in the Philippines. Featuring short stories, poetry, and essays, the anthology is not only an important step towards better trans representation but also an overdue work that highlights the Filipino trans community’s diverse experiences.
15. Don’t Tell Anyone: Literary Smut by Ian Rosales Casocot and Shakira Sison (Anvil Publishing, 2017)
“Why do we fear the bastos?” Shakira Sison writes in her introduction to this collection of 12 erotic stories, which are unflinching in their portrayal of sex between two men and between two women. With sex still taboo in the Philippines and queer sex even more unspoken, this book takes on stigmas and misconceptions, and attempts to make a space for queer love in an almost exclusively heteronormative portrayal of human contact in Filipino media by providing a true and honest account of Filipino gay and lesbian loving.
Photo from anvilpublishing.com
This collection takes a look at the lives of queer people from various points in time, unraveling how the identity of the Filipino LGBTQIA+ community has changed and/or maintained its roots over time. With a foreword from the author and feminist scholar Mina Roces and featuring works by writers such as J. Neil Garcia and Raquel A. G. Reyes, “More Tomboy, More Bakla” focuses on political, cultural, and historical developments in the LGBTQIA+ community during the precolonial times.