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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

entry arrow11:05 PM | The Questions We Are Asked

I was asked the question again this week when I was at a wake; I had come in the morning to avoid the usual night crowd of people in vigil. An elderly aunt of the friend who died sized me up in all my bearings of grief, and then pointedly asked, out of the blue: "So when are you getting married?" Lola, I wanted to say, I don't even know you. And then she suggested that perhaps I should return that evening, in the hopes that I'd meet a girl and I'd become a catch. I'm 40, I was with my boyfriend, and still this type of questions throw me. What do you say to that, given the intricate negotiations of what is acceptable in "polite" Filipino society? Lola, I can't marry. My kind of marriage is not legal in the Philippines. Lola, I'll marry when they come up with unicorns. Lola, I'm gay -- don't you see that? None works without upsetting the lola -- and in wakes, you tend to avoid unnecessary confrontation. Alas, I don't have the quick and witty repartees of my friend Patrick who typically answers this question with: "I'll get married kung mahuman ug bursa sa akong gown [... when the beading of my bridal gown is finished]." Another friend could be morbid in his usual reply: "I'll marry when you're dead, lola." I have no capacity for winking answers, nor the stomach for wishing the inquisitor dead. But it does serve to illustrate the landmines gay men and women have to negotiate with as friends and family come to terms with their sexuality, and ignorant of everything else about it, can ask the silliest and stupidest of questions. Which is why when the Center for Women's Studies of the University of the Philippines came out with a "picture book" titled Anong Pangalan Mo sa Gabi? at Iba Pang Tanong sa mga LGBT in 2013 (through project coordinator Eric Julian Manalastas, and edited by Tetay Mendoza and Joel Acebuche), it seemed rainbow-sent.

Here is a book that deftly combines photography and sociology. As a photographic project, reminiscent of Humans of New York, it does the service of visualising for the uninitiated the variety of looks of people who identify as gay or lesbian or queer (because, hey, we all don't look the same), and Rod Singh's black and white photographs are powerfully staged even when naturalistic: he makes stark profiles of people captured in ordinary time, which lends the whole thing an unmistakable humanity, as it should. Each one, of course, holds up a small blackboard on which is written, in chalk, questions of all sorts that the LGBT have learned to answer, or to dodge, or to take as mirrors for how our society perceives gay lives to be all about. The book tries to dissect these questions, of course, but the general take I have is that these are questions coming straight from shadowy shells of heteronormative ignorance and sometimes pure homophobia. But alas they do get asked of us. And the book tries to spin for funny answers -- and does so with such aplomb -- but eventually it does its job, too, of seriously taking apart the questions and giving an honest accounting of gay lives. Says Center for Women's Studies Director Dr. Sylvia Estrada Claudio of the project: "Sa sampling mga tanong at sampling mga sagot na nilalaman ng aklat na ito, madaling mauunawaan ng mambabasa ang pang-araw-araw na panglalait at diskriminasyong dinadaanan ng mga LGBT sa Pilipinas. Pasensyosong sinasagot ang mga tanong, na kahit walang masamang intention, ay masakit sa damdamin. Makikita ang dignidad, pagkatao, at paging tao ng nga LGBT sa mga sagot -- maging seryoso, nagpapatawa or pasaway man. Hindi makatao ang mga tanong, hindi makatao ang diskriminasyon laban sa mga LGBT. Salungat sa kabihasnan at culturing Pilipino ang mating di-makatao."

So for the title question -- "Anong pangalan mo sa gabi?" -- the book answers: "Bata pa lang ako tinatanong na ako dito. Hanggang dito ba naman? Kapag bakla ang isang tao, inaasahan ng iba na automatic na babae ang presentasyon nya sa kanyang sarili. Ang Rod sa umaga ay nagiging Rhoda sa gabi. Ang Karding sa umaga ay Carrie Bradshaw sa gabi. Puno nga yata ang mundo ng mga simplistic dichotomies: Lalake o Babae. Umaga o Gabi. Pagtanggap o Pangungutya."

There are other questions, such as...


... and it is the singular enjoyment of the book to peruse the answers offered, to laugh at the humour of the replies, but also to think hard afterwards about the things we eventually learn when facts come with the answers and they serve to shed light on the discrimination these questions imply.

For a copy of the book, please contact the UP Center for Women's Studies, Magsaysay Ave. cor. Ylanan Road, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City 1101.


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