Skip to main content

Gay universe

LODESTAR By Danton Remoto
Philippine STAR
Monday, April 14, 2008

Aside from Ladlad 3: An Anthology of Philippine Gay Writing that Neil Garcia and I just published, two new titles show the strength of the gay universe. One comes from the tower of academe; the other from the street corner sangfroid of a beauty parlor.

Ronald Baytan has finally collected his poems in The Queen Sings the Blues (Poems 1992-2002), published by Anvil, the Manila Critics Circle National Book Award winner for Publisher of the Year. In these 47 poems, Baytan show the arc swinging from desire to doom, love to loss, beginning to ending. It is “a decade’s musings on the catwalks of desire . . . from bathhouses to bars, from trains to rooms, from the closet to the stage. . .”

Lest my readers from the Catholic Women’s League and the Opus Dei berate me again for destroying their Monday mornings, let me just quote for you the less “scandalous lines” from this book. For truly, Baytan belongs squarely (pun intended) to that school that produces “raw poetry” as opposed to “cooked,” poetry that is “confessional” as opposed to “cerebralized.” This was a school that gained headway in the 1960s, when the likes of Robert Graves and Philip Booth, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath trawled the subterranean depths of their private pain and private glories to produce gemstones of words that still shimmer to this day.

It’s a word sharp with longing, as in the poem “He Who Sleeps in My Lap,” which was first published in our bestselling and ground-breaking Ladlad 1 anthology. Listen: “My friend/ who sleeps in my lap/ loves someone else./ He says he is a man/ and a man needs a woman/ and I disagree./ We argue until he grows/ tired of talking/ and sleeps in my lap/ on this chilly night./ And I sigh,/ knowing he loves/ someone else/ but still sleeps/ gently in my lap,/ innocent, not knowing/ that I am here/ slaughtering/ one wicked wish/ that when he wakes up/ I shall be his dream.”

Mercifully, our wonderful persona has moved from falling in love with a straight man to falling in love with another gay man. It is a world of plenty, a virtual cornucopia, as in the poem “Seafood.” This luxuriant poem catalogues the many pleasures in a carnal paradise, using the world of the marine kingdom as encompassing metaphor. It’s a poem salty with desire, and it ends like this: “Tonight we go/ Home heavy, and I kinship know:/ Tomorrow will serve another catch/ Of love we could never have enough,/ Of victuals we simply could never love/ Enough.”

To that we say, as the Speedy Gonzales of our childhood TV cartoon days would put it: “Arriva, arriva, andale, andale!”

Pain limns some of the poems, as in “Confession Or, to Mama and Papa Reading Chimera.” In the interest of full disclosure, Chimera was a glossy literary journal that I used to help edit in the late 1990s. One of the controversial works we published was Baytan’s poem, “Bottom.” This new poem was written in reaction to the poet’s parents reading the poem. “As your eyes travel through/ My poem’s pauses, I flinch,/ I swallow/ the hemlock/ of your silence.”

I don’t know how it is now, but during our time in the 1990s, we never told our parents about our gayness. Like many Filipino families, the silence of the lambs was the name of the game. My parents only “knew” when my atrevida sister gave them a copy of Ladlad. My father, who was with the military, said: ‘At least they used white book paper for the book!” And my mother, retired Music teacher, chimed in: “Oo nga!”

In another poem called “Distance,” Baytan writes about an affair that is separated by oceans and time zones. The poet seems to be a non-believer in long-distance relationships. Oh, we have all tried to forge them, to make these long-distance affairs last, but as Baytan wisely observes: “In my mind, you are present/ In all things. But the bed/ Betrays me: It remains half-full./ The quilt of your voice/ Stretches across the continents/ But it cannot keep me warm enough./ Love is all proximity/ And nothing, not even the thought/ You are thinking of me, can/ Equal your return.”

And the silk, satin, and sequins of syllables sparkle in the shimmering poem “Queen,” as well as in an “Elegy for Benjie,” the Queen of Africa. “Yes, Benjie,/ Life is one long drag, one long pageantry,/ But nothing is ever foolish/ Because no queen ever forgets,/ Or is ever forgotten.”

The reigning queen of the beauty parlor is also the topic of Mga Kuwentong Parlor ni Wanda Ilusyonada, published by Psi Com. The writer is anonymous, and it’s a witty and comic romp using gayspeak. “Ang librong ito ay Rated PG. Pa-Gurl. Ito ay koleksyon ng mga kwentong popular tungkol sa pakikipagsapalaran ni Wanda Ilusyonda sa mundong in need for a total makeover. Sa gitna ng mga split ends at patay na kuko ay mga eksenang kabaklaan at paggu-good time, mga pang-o-okray at mga chenelyn bangungot sa buhay. Pwede kang matuwa, pwede ka ring mag-inarte. Pero chikka lang. Ganyan si Wanda, ang pink sheep ng pamilya. Saving the world one chakka at a time bago man lang rumampa.”

The tone is cheeky, the attitude is lighthearted, and the book is funny. It is a far cry from the song “Luhod” of Joey de Leon in his so-called CD that still makes fun of gays as mere denizens of beauty parlors, reducing us to our sexual orientation. I like Joey generally, and once even served as a judge in their Super Sireyna gay beauty contest in Eat Bulaga, but I cannot let pass his recent, condescending attack on gay men. It is just so painfully obsolete. Maybe our good comedian has to overhaul his considerable cache of comic verbal tricks to capture again a younger audience that no longer makes fun of gay me.

Like in this book, whose pulse is set firmly in popular culture and the contemporary world. “Akez si Magdalena, si Mulan. Si Zsa Zsa Zaturnah, si Valentina, si Sailor Moon at lahat ng karakter sa TV, sine, at komiks na pangarap naming magsuot ng costume. . . Akez ay isa sa mga anonymous names sa chatroom, naghahanap ng booking and/or relasyon.”

Or how does one come out to one’s parents? “Sabi daw nung vehykla na bet nang mag-out. ‘Nay, pakiabot naman ng ketchup sa nag-iisang bakla sa mesang it.’ Tapos inabot ng nanay niya ‘yung ketchup . . . sa Tatay nila!

There are many other laugh-out- loud episodes in this book of vignettes, and you’ve got to read them to believe them. Enjoy!


Red Moon said…
And let's not forget that Joey De Leon has made a killing off of his "bakla" roles from Barbie Maid in the Philippines to his long-running character in Nuts Entertainment. Even his son Kempee has been able to revive his showbiz career by portraying stereotypical gay characters in various GMA 7 shows. So what gives? Why is Joey De Leon biting the hand that feeds him and his son?
WalaLang said…
Hi Danton - I got a copy of the third Ladlad anthology a few weeks ago - I was actually excited to read it.

Not to put a damper on your day, though, I honestly did not enjoy it as much as the first two. I guess I missed the light-heartedness of the first two. Medyo somber yung dating nung third. Maybe you were taking the anthology to a new direction, I can only guess.

Anyhow, I'll still be looking out for the next Ladlad anthologies when they hit the bookstores.

Best regards
The Blue Throat said…
Hi Danton!

Rhandee Garlitos here. I've learned that Ladlad 3 is now out in the bookstores. I'm dying to get my own compli copy (di ba we're entitled to get as contributors? hehehe)

Anyway, all I can say is that it looks fabulous and the quality of the paper used for the bookpaper edition is good. I congratulate you and Neil for coming up with Ladlad 3 despite the odds and years.

Hope you keep in touch, kapatid! You may contact me through details below.


Rhandee Garlitos

Popular posts from this blog

The Heart of Summer, a short story

On the first day of April, we moved to a row house in a subdivision carved out of the Antipolo hills. A row house is a nice word for houses that somehow managed to fit into 120-square-meter lots. They looked like matchboxes, really, built near the riverbank. The larger houses, of course, stood grandly at the center of the village, in front of the chapel. We’d be renting the house from the mayor’s mistress, one of three houses she owned there.

The living room of the house spilled over into the kitchen. The house only had two tiny rooms, but it was enough for us. The owner of the apartment we had been renting in Project 4 wrote to us (in pink stationery with the letterhead “Dr. Antonina Raquiza, Ph. D.”) to say that she’d raise the monthly rent to five thousand. If we couldn’t agree to her new terms, we’d have two months to leave. Mama glared at the letter, then said something obscene about our landlady’s father. A day later, she began poring over the ads, looking for cheaper rent in …

A teacher's tales

by Danton Remoto
Remote Control

I’ve been teaching for 22 years – the longest job I’ve had. This will be my last year of teaching. I will take sabbatical leave beginning April 2009 – a paid leave for one year that senior professors take every seven years, to sleep the sleep of the and come back to school fully energized. But in my case, I will not just sleep and read and gain weight. I will spend my sabbatical leave organizing Ang Ladlad’s campaign, and my own political campaign, for the May 2010 elections.

But because I stayed here longest, that means I love this job. I admire those who’ve spent 30, 40 years teaching without repeating themselves. They’ve taught for 30, 40 different years, not just one year repeated 30, 40 times. Teachers like the now-departed Dr. Doreen G. Fernandez and the retired, but still teaching, Professor Emmanuel “Eric” Torres come to mind. Both have taught with us at the English Department of the Ateneo de Manila University.

Doreen and Eric …

Review of "Pulotgata" The Love Poems"

This is a review of my book that I just read in the Internet today. It was written by Ralph Semino Galan of UST and was published in the Inquirer. It comes in two parts.

Honeymooning with Words, Part I
by Ralph Semino Galan

Love is a favorite subject among Filipino poets, regardless of gender. For despite the influx of modern and postmodern ideologies, the pervasive influence of the Romantic spirit is still prevalent in Philippine literature, especially in poetry. It therefore comes as no surprise that even a gay-identified writer like Danton Remoto has composed extensively verses expressing the intricacies of love and lust, desire and devotion, passion and compassion.

In his third book of poetry aptly titled "Pulotgata: The Love Poems" (Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, Inc, 2004, 88 pages), Remoto delves the depths of the human heart through lyrics in English and Filipino that sing of the anxiety and the excitement, the agony and the ecstasy which accompany the act of love.

The …