Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Stunting of Juan Bakla

“All Filipino gays are transsexuals.” ALL Filipino gays are transsexuals. I cringed. I cringe.

My Armenian hair stylist declared the cliché as he deftly shaped the overgrown hedge on my head. He knew that we were all trans since he hangs out with a Filipino male who loves dressing up as a woman. And he goes out a lot.

Unfortunately such stereotypes persist. The effeminate gay male. The geisha Asian man-boy. The Filipino she-male. In the Philippines, media and society encourage the hackneyed concept. A day or so after my haircut, a friend posted on Facebook a video trailer of Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah, a Filipino superhero movie. At first it got me rolling on the floor but as I learned more about its storyline, I stopped laughing.

As Wikipedia explains
Zaturnnah, a powerful and voluptuous female with large red hair and a muscular physique (why she is a Caucasian red head is another discussion), is reminiscent of the DC Comics character Wonder Woman and the classic Filipino superhero Darna. The distinct difference is the sexuality of her alter ego Ada, who is an effeminate homosexual male. The proprietor of a small town beauty salon, Ada receives a huge spiky stone that, when ingested, physically transforms him into Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah.

Ada seeks to prove to himself and his parents that he can make a decent living as a beautician, while remaining haunted by the memory of his father as well as a failed relationship marked by violence. His father vehemently disapproved of Ada's homosexuality, even going as far as dipping Ada's head in wet pig feed to emphasize his disgust. His life experience prompted him to turn inward, seemingly cold and unfeeling, while rebuilding his life from the point of his parents' deaths. Ada's previous relationship with a man named Lester ended dismally, with a punch to Ada's face which seemed to disconnect his jaw.

It was in a small town where Ada rented a space owned by Aling Britney, and set up shop. With his assistant Didi, Ada was on his way to what he believed to be a normal life. That is, until a strange pink stone fell from the sky, granting Ada the ability to transform into a superhuman woman whenever he ingests it and shouts the word "Zaturnnah!" (which was etched on the stone). Didi proudly names the new hero Zsazsa Zaturnnah.
Effeminate homosexual male. Beautician. Who becomes a woman. Who gets the (heterosexual) man.

Let me be straight. I have nothing against effeminate males or beauticians. However, I am so tired of the generalization. But this seems to be the only way Filipinos can tolerate gays. So long as we fit the mold, can be laughed at, and occasionally beaten when machismo needs to be displayed. The worse part is that some Filipino gays buy into the idea or think there is no other option than fey. A few have made careers of selling the concept. It took me a while, but I have come to realize that we don’t need to be caricatures. We can just be who we are, neither camp nor butch.

Infuriatingly, the stultifying model of male homosexuality lives on. Consider a recent “well acclaimed” gay-themed Filipino movie, The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros. The title alone makes my skin crawl. Its synopsis goes like this:
Maxi is a 12-year-old effeminate gay boy who lives in the slums with his father and brothers who are petty thieves. The story primarily revolves around the conflict between his love for handsome young police officer Victor, and his family's illegal livelihood. Neo-realist in orientation, the film is a tale of lost innocence and redemption amidst the poverty of Manila's slums.

Maxi behaves like a girl, wearing clips in his hair and bangles on his wrists and even wearing lipstick. He is teased by neighbors and former school friends. His sexuality is, however, fully accepted by his two brothers and by his father. One night he is accosted by two men who attempt to molest him, but is saved by the appearance of Victor. Victor does not have a girlfriend, and his sexuality is never revealed. He rebuffs Maxi's advances, only affectionately stoking Maxi's head even when the boy steals a kiss.

After Maxi's father is killed by Victor's boss, Maxi resists Victor's attempts to renew their friendship. The closing scene shows Maxi walking past Victor who has parked by the roadside on Maxi's way to school. He ignores Victor as he passes him, hesitates momentarily as he crosses the road, then goes on his way.
Neo-realist? There are millions of us in the world. Not all of us want to look like women or be women. And no, not all of us pine for the love and protection of a virile straight man. Sorry dudes.

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