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Tibo, Tivoli, Lesbiani: What Filipino Lesbians are Not

Tivo, Tivoli, Lesbiani: What Filipino Lesbians Are Not
By Danton Remoto
Remote Control

Ugly as sin

The stereotype is that lesbians turned “that way” because they have faces only their mothers could bear to love. They have coarse hair cut close to the scalp, they have bodies like Kelvinator refs, and they have legs more curved than any bows you could see. No man would court them, send them chocolates and roses, marry them and gift them with ten kids and a house with three SUVs in the suburbs.

Well, then, I’ve got some news for you. Many of the lesbians I’ve worked with are some of the prettiest, most charming souls on earth. I know of some who have long, silky, black hair – the kind of hair that Mother Ricky Reyes, the empress of Philippine hairdressing salons – would call “para kang nagpa-salon (like hair done in a beauty salon”). Others have 28-inch waistlines, and legs that could make heads turn. Without help from Vicky Belo and her smart-sharp-nip and tuck group of cosmetic surgeons.

Difficult to work with

The stereotype is that lesbians are difficult to work with because they are like bullies in the schoolyard. They look tough, they act tough, they hang tough. Step aside when they come, those elbows can dig a hole in your tummy. Do not engage them in debate or discussion – they will whip out their knives and turn your sides into faucets dripping blood. They only hang around with fellow lesbians like themselves, muttering about their deep and dark conspiracies.

Well – hindi, no, nada, nyet. Unlike other lesbian and gay groups in the world, the Filipino lesbians work together. True, the gays are louder, more intrusive with their jokes and puns and so-called one-liners. But the lesbians, they are always there to bring everybody back to earth. They’re the easiest person to work with in the world. Then and now, one of them would volunteer to be the secretary and write minutes of the meetings – a ploy to steer the meetings back to its course, when the gays begin to talk about their weekend full of romance and love.

Another would offer to be the marshall during Pride Marches – riding on her motorcycle that va-va-vooms on the street, clearing the lanes so that the beautiful could walk without any distractions.

Lethargic as molasses

Another stereotype is that since they think like men, they would form committees, hold endless meetings, bicker and dither hither and yon, and then arrive at no concrete action plans.

Think again. Some of the lesbians I’ve worked with are so decisive they would make the gills of my Management teachers in school turn green with envy. Yes, we meet but we do so only when we have clear agenda for discussion. Yes, we form committees and discuss, but not the whole day long and until the cows come home.

After the committee members have reported, there is updating before the group, then a consensus is formed. Leadership, after all, is after arriving at that golden moment when everybody – or almost everybody – has reached a point of common agreement. Only then would we map the action plans – specific, practical, do-able within a time-frame. So no time really for lethargy, for slowpokes, for endless committee meetings.

The lesbians and I know that words are worthless unless backed up with work. With this equation – words with work – do my lesbian friends and I walk down the merry path of LGBT advocacy.

Lack a sense of humor

The stereotype is that, like spinsters, lesbians have no sense of humor. Because they are ugly, they are dour, sour, and humorless. The comparison would be to that of vinegar.

But this vinegary quality is lacking among my lesbian friends. I’m always amazed at our meetings where the lesbians know the current gayspeak; where they act “more gay” than the gayest, most flaminco-pink denizen of Manila; where they could impersonate the latest hilarious character in the country’s endless gallery of lunatics – politicians, movie stars, or us.

I almost died laughing when one of them applied for a job as a stewardess in one of the country’s top airlines. She went through the rigmarole of the application and the interview Q & A like a beauty-pageant contestant. Another applied for a top job in a multinational firm in Makati – with her butch haircut and all. She did well in the exams and during the interview, the personnel director was flabbergasted.

The director asked, “Well, errr, hmmm. Are you a practising lesbian?” Our dear sister looked at the director straight in the eyes, then said: “Oh, I’m no longer practicing. I am good at it.” Naturally, she didn’t get the job, but scored some points at queer advocacy in the towering canyons of multinational Makati.

Unhappy people

The last stereotype I know is that they are unhappy people. Their affliction can be cured if a straight man courts them, has sex with them (eeewwww, I could hear squeaks from the lesbian gallery), marries them.

But tell me, baby, what does happiness mean? When I meet them in bookstores or conferences, my lesbian friends never fail to relate to me how they are amazed at the quickness with which gays meet and, well, mate. For them, I guess it’s a rather longer process that involves getting to know you, conversation and dates, movies and dinners, the works. “How could you?” one of them ask, “just meet somebody in the bathroom and have sex with them?”

“Ahh,” I answer, returning the illustrated Kama Sutra in its shelf in the bookstore. “I haven’t done that, I think, let me remember, no, I haven’t, but you know, that is just sex.”

“Precisely my point,” my lesbian friend answered, sounding like an interlocutor in a court of justice.

“I guess that we are still men, you know. With galloping gonads and as horny as hell.”

“Oh,” she said, a smile dawning on her face. I thought that was also the smile of recognition and acceptance.

Many lesbians I know are in relationships that have lasted for weeks, months, hey, even years. They’ve hurdled the petty jealousies and the small wars, wrestled with the lesbian bed death and other minor deaths. They live and lust and love together, focused on the horizon of their common dreams.


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