Category: sexuality

ishmael bernal would have loved jun lana’s Die Beautiful

thanks to cinema one i finally got to watch Die Beautiful (2016) and i must say it deserves all the awards and rave reviews.  buong buo ang loob ng pelikula — walang takot, walang hiya, walang patawad — kudos to director jun lana who also wrote the script with rody vera.  a very complex story told in zigzagging flashbacks, no particular order, framed only by a week’s wake that sees trisha in death transforming nightly into a favorite persona, last run kumbaga.  and, yes, brimming with stereotypical stuff, but mere nods to, not lingering, much less wallowing in the cutting slices of macho oppression.  rather, sashaying on, bravely, and beautifully.

perfect casting, too.  paolo ballesteros more than carries off the transgender trisha role, s/he runs with it (as does christian bables aka best friend barbs)!  it helps of course that we know ballesteros as the eat bulaga co-host who transforms himself and impersonates iconic beauties a la drag queens of the sixties (her julia roberts is awesome).  even better, he is a seriously good actor pala and his trisha is both funny and sad, and very much her own person on that rocky road to transformation.  that his man-size makes her a big woman works in her favor, making trisha larger than life, and difficult to ignore and forget.

i love how trisha and barbs address each other “bakla,” fondly, lovingly, embracing and transforming what was once meant (by the macho world) to hurt and put-down into a term of endearment, warm, soothing, malambing.  way to level-up, mga bakla, mabuhay kayo!

i’m reminded, of course, of national artist ishmael bernal’s (1938-1996) dream films, one on juan luna’s crime of passion and brother antonio the general, one on emilio aguinaldo and felipe buencamino, and the one closest to her heart, on filipino homosexuality.

but of course ishma and writer jorge arago (1943-2011) were off on a totally different take in a super wayward world.  bernal was thinking a series of gags a la Working Girls 2, but outstripping it.

JORGE.  We talked as much about the gay film as about the Luna project and it is difficult to say which one had faced bigger impediments. In the case of the gay film, one interior battle had created an inescapable contradiction. It was going to be truly gay, Bernal knew, an unending string of hilarious “misadventures” in which all gay roles – and there was nothing else to be sure – were to be played by non-gay actors, none of whom was to behave like the stereotyped sissy that Philippine machismo was constantly wishing away and factoring in. [“ISHMAEL BERNAL Last Full Show.” Manila Out. 1999 July.]

imagine if you will.  the “inescapable contradiction.”  

st. scho, inquirer, pugad baboy

on facebook i expressed dismayed surprise at  pol medina’s june 4 pugad baboy comic strip.  nagulat ako that he singled out st. scho, accused the nuns of condoning lesbianism among students, even, of probably being lesbians themselves.  i thought he went too far, i wondered what his experience of st. scho was — baka na-busted ng isang pretty kulasa who had a girlfriend?    i was glad when @inquirerdotnet tweeted that “pending investigation” inquirer was “pulling out” pugad baboy.

but except for a very few fb friends who quietly “liked” my statuses, most internet peeps turned out to be big fans of pugad baboy and were screaming censorship! and demanding freedom of speech! for the artist, many saying it’s-true-naman, others insisting it’s-just-an-urban-legend, but mostly agreeing that st. scho and inquirer over-reacted.

fortunately u.p. prof. neil garcia, who’s into queer studies, saw fit to weigh in:

the simple truth is that the comic strip in question isn’t so much poking fun at an urban legend, as expressing the popular but rarely rigorously articulated understanding that all exclusive schools, whether for girls or for boys, are eminently liable to the ‘homo’ charge since, well, they really are ‘homo’ environments, after all…

the question, then, is: just how closely does ‘homosociality’–the same-sexual bonding, interest-sharing and identity building that the exclusive school system, as well as institutions like fraternities, sororities, seminaries, and exclusive gender-coded clubs, requires and promotes–come close to the homosexuality that so many in this country supposedly notionally tolerate (when formally interviewed or asked to answer a questionnaire) but are simply all too ready to lose sleep or go ballistic over, when the issue comes close to home or turns particularly personal (such as when it’s one’s own children or parents that are involved, or when it’s been ‘insinuated’ that one’s own beloved alma mater is a fertile breeding ground–a veritable ‘finishing school’–for lesbians or gays)…

in other words, what really differentiates homosociality from homosexuality, other than the fact that the latter is abominated while the former, in patriarchal societies, is amply privileged and encouraged–the better for male supremacy to continue across generations unimpeded, since this system of exchange keeps the power in the hands of men, and reduces women to mere commodities being passed from one group of men (fathers) to another (husbands)? indeed, faced with this touchy issue, we simply need to ask the question of what makes homosocial bonding essentially different from homosexual love, when both are all about the same-sexual investment of emotions and the same-sexual promotion of mutual interests…

the most logical answer is, of course, the following: unlike in homosociality, in homosexuality same-sexual affection presumably becomes expressed in genital terms. this answer seems clear and self-evident enough, but once we remember the fact that–as psychology all too eagerly tells us–sexuality is more about individual feelings and personal fantasies or imaginings than actual behavior, then the situation becomes fuzzy and distressing, once again. indeed, we need to realize that, because sexuality is about the ‘inner truth’ of individuals, there’s absolutely no way we can tell whether homosexuality is present (or not present) anywhere. this is another way of saying that there’s really no way we can screen it out of any environment (least of all homosocial ones), short of policing its inhabitants’ most intimate thoughts, affects, and dreams. hence, as far as sexuality is concerned, the body’s genital activity isn’t even the most crucial aspect. rather, it is the body’s desire that’s the real game-changer (and, as we know, desire, as the index of our subjective agency, is by definition practically impossible to legislate or control).

and so, the bottom line isn’t that schools must avoid discriminating against lesbians or gays (as minorities). rather, they need to recognize the truth that lesbianism or gayness is simply part and parcel of all human potentiality. it is precisely for this reason that schools have no right to demonize or thwart homosexuality in their students, in the same way that they have no right to demonize or thwart their students’ individual aptitudes, talents and ‘differences.’

finally, all this forces us to ask the frankly urgent and all too practical question of: so what if st. scho or any other exclusive school has lesbians or gays amongst its students or faculty? why should this affect its essential character as an (excellent) educational institution? why should any of this matter at all?

me: if parents of st. scho students were all as sophisticated as this in their thinking and perception, i’d say, and they’d say, indeed, so what if st. scho or any other exclusive school has lesbians among its students and faculty. but the reality is that most parents, who have just invested in their kids education in st. scho for a new schoolyear, are far from sophisticated in their thinking on sexual matters, and that comic strip could only be causing them undue anxieties about their daughters’ sexualities-in-the-making, and the really conservative ones would be wondering where to transfer their daughters next year, thinking that st. scho must be the worst since it was singled out in that comic strip.

and what about the effect on the girls themselves, all this talk about lesbians among them.  the innocent ones will get curious, the knowing ones will feel affirmed, maybe before it’s time, before they’re ready.  i grew up in st. scho, kindergarten ’55 to highschool ’66, and, yes, in high school i knew of a few relationships that were more intense than best-friendships, but it’s much like kate natividad tells in her charice piece:

…recalling my days as a high-school student in an all-girls’ school, I do recall some of my friends hooking up with self-proclaimed “tomboys”. Back then tomboys didn’t really come across as all that too convincing. For one thing, not too many of them had the resources or wherewithal to take on the full lifestyle and look. For another, many of them were just plain and simple confused. That’s easy for me to say as hindsight comes in handy in those cases. I know now that many of these high school tomboys now pretty much lead straight ladies’ lives. Those friends of mine who were the “girls” in these “relationships” remain the girls in their relationships with their husbands and boyfriends today.

the good news is, the artist has come around and apologized, he was testing inquirer‘s limits, he overstepped the bounds of good taste, he regrets naming st. scho, he regrets using the word “condone.”  now all that’s left is for inquirer to share the results of its investigation: the strip had been rejected back in april when first submitted; why then was it archived rather than trashed?  and why, how, did it get past the paper’s editors?  whoever erred should be named and suspended, too, in fairness to medina.  then st. scho just might be appeased.