Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora / Edition 1

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Overview


A vivid ethnography of the global and transnational dimensions of gay identity as lived by Filipino immigrants in New York City, Global Divas challenges beliefs about the progressive development of a gay world and the eventual assimilation of all queer folks into gay modernity. Insisting that gay identity is not teleological but fraught with fissures, Martin Manalansan IV describes how Filipino gay immigrants, like many queers of color, are creating alternative paths to queer modernity and citizenship. He makes a compelling argument for the significance of diaspora and immigration as sites for investigating the complexities of gender, race, and sexuality.

Manalansan locates diasporic, transnational, and global dimensions of gay and other queer identities within a framework of quotidian struggles ranging from everyday domesticity to public engagements with racialized and gendered images to life-threatening situations involving AIDS. He reveals the gritty, mundane, and often contradictory deeds and utterances of Filipino gay men as key elements of queer globalization and transnationalism. Through careful and sensitive analysis of these men’s lives and rituals, he demonstrates that transnational gay identity is not merely a consumable product or lifestyle, but rather a pivotal element in the multiple, shifting relationships that queer immigrants of color mobilize as they confront the tribulations of a changing world.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A lively ethnography that brilliantly reveals how Filipino gay immigrants manipulate symbols and meanings in order to survive and even flourish within the racial, ethnic, class, and gendered spaces of America and a globalizing world. Global Divas is a must-read for all those interested in the intersections of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and immigration status.”—Yen Le Espiritu, author of Home Bound: Filipino American Lives across Cultures, Communities, and Countries

“Global Divas points toward a truly cross-cultural anthropology of queerness in rendering the lives of Filipino gay men in New York. Martin F. Manalansan IV breaks through mainstream ignorance and stereotyping to achieve a rich portrait of the rituals, attitudes, language, and travails of his immigrant subjects and by extension, of queer immigrant experience in general.”—Esther Newton, author of Margaret Mead Made Me Gay: Personal Essays, Public Ideas

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Martin F. Manalansan IV is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the editor of Cultural Compass: Ethnographic Explorations of Asian America and coeditor of Queer Globalizations: Citizenship and the Afterlife of Colonialism.

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Read an Excerpt

Global divas

Filipino gay men in the diaspora
By Martin F. Manalansan

Duke University Press


ISBN: 0-8223-3217-5


Chapter One

The Borders between Bakla and Gay

Immigration is typically rendered in terms of multiple modes of movement and mobility. Often, stories of immigration are told as a coming of age narrative or a bildungsroman. The plots of these narratives are constructed along the line of progression from an early point of innocent youthfulness to a mature self-realization. These teleological plots usually are framed in terms of contrastive pairs, such as youth to adulthood, traditional to modern, and (in this case) from bakla to gay. As I have previously discussed, bakla is not a premodern antecedent to gay but rather, in diasporic spaces, bakla is recuperated and becomes an alternative form of modernity (Ong and Nonini 1997). In this chapter, I map out the border between bakla and gay not in terms of self-contained modes of identity but as permeable boundaries of two coexisting yet oftentimes incommensurable cultural ideologies of gender and sexuality. This cartography in turn contextualizes the negotiations and experiences of Filipino gay men living in New York City that are featured in the next five chapters.

The Contours of Gay Identity

Barry Adam (1990) characterized the emergence of gay identity as part of a "modern homosexuality" that arose moredistinctly at the turn of the twentieth century and was formalized in the Stonewall Rebellion in New York City in 1969. This watershed historical moment, which marked this shift, consisted of a series of events precipitated by several weeks of police raids in several gay bars, one of which was the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. It culminated with confrontations between the police and groups of gay men. The features of this "modern gay" homosexuality are as follows:

1. Homosexual relations have been able to escape the structure of the dominant heterosexual kinship system. 2. Exclusive homosexuality, now possible for both partners, has become an alternative path to conventional family forms. 3. Same-sex bonds have developed new forms without being structured around particular age or gender categories. 4. People have come to discover each other and form large-scale social networks not only because of existing social relationships but also because of their homosexual interests. 5. Homosexuality has come to be a social formation unto itself, characterized by self-awareness and group identity. (Adam 1990: 24) The first emphasis of Adam's definition is the escape from the biological familial bond. This emphasis in fact exposes other kinds of ideas, such as individualism, that go beyond the same-sex practices that helped shape gay identity. In Habits of the Heart, Bellah and his cohort of scholars (1985) interviewed Americans (none of whom were identified as gay) and they noted that in American society the sense of self is predicated on issues of individuation, separation, and leaving home. While the first two, individuation and separation, are confronted by most human beings, "leaving home in its American sense is not universal" (ibid.: 57). The American cultural landscape, premised on this specific kind of cultural, physical, and emotional distancing from the family, is the same one in which gay identity is founded. I am not suggesting that gay identity is based on an anti-familial rhetoric. Rather, I am arguing that gay identity and the cultural practices around it heighten anxiety around family and kin, and this anxiety in turn is enhanced if not further validated by mainstream American cultural values around individualism and commitment.

This same anxiety fuels gay discourses where secrecy and the closet are paramount idioms. Coming out, a liberation from the closet, is founded on a kind of individuation that is separate from familial and kin bonds and obligations. This kind of individuation is also predicated on the use of verbal language as the medium in which selfhood can be expressed. More than anything, discourses on coming out are about verbal narratives and confrontations with friends, families, and significant others.

The other defining characteristic of gay identity is the focus on sexual object choice, or who you have sex with, as the primary and singular defining factor. In other allegedly antecedent forms such as those in Latin American and Asian countries, participation in same-sex acts is not the crucial standard for being labeled homosexual or identifying as gay; rather, gender performance (acting masculine or feminine) and/or one's role in the sex act (e.g., being anal inserter vs. insertee) form the standard.

Gay identity then is defined by a conscious acknowledgment of a "man" who desires to have sex with other "men." While gender and age-based homosexualities are often seen in scholarly and popular media as primordial phenomena, gay identity is a kind of liberation from these "anachronisms." Chauncey (1994) argued that the post-Stonewall era ushered in massive changes in the structure of gay life in New York City. Among such changes was the shift from a kind of gendered homosexuality to one that valorized the hypermasculine ideal.

More importantly, gay identity has become more than just homosexuality, same-sex desire, and sexual acts. In the three decades since Stonewall, it has become evident that gay identity has meant all these things and more. Gilbert Herdt and Andrew Boxer observed changes in the gay category after Stonewall and differentiated it from the homosexual category. They suggested that gay is perceived as "a distinct cultural category.... [Gay] represents more than a sexual act.... It signifies identity and role of course, but also a distinctive system of rules, norms, attitudes, and yes, beliefs from which the culture of gay men is made, a culture that sustains the social relations of same-sex desire" (Herdt and Boxer 1992: 5). The rise of cultural institutions, images, and practices has formed the idea of a singular gay culture that interfaces with other cultural systems in American society. These contradictions and anxieties about family, leaving home, and individuation are also dilemmas confronted by Filipino gay men, but as I would argue throughout the book, these dilemmas are articulated in terms of different cultural expressions and idioms, most notably within the semantic realm of the bakla.

Mapping the Space of the Bakla

By using the Tagalog term bakla, I do not assume that Tagalog adequately addresses the internal social and linguistic differences within Philippine society. However, Tagalog (or Pilipino, as it is officially designated) is spoken in most, if not all, of the islands (apart from English and the regional languages). Bakla has a wider circulation than terms from other Philippine languages owing to the popularity of Tagalog films. I submit that the bakla is an enduring social category for Filipinos. These linguistic and cultural realities justify formulating the discussion on the concept of the bakla. As the chapter on swardspeak will show, my usage of the term does not preclude any cross-fertilization between regional languages and cultures with Tagalog language and Manila-centric culture.

My non-usage of the transgender identity category is due to the dissonance it creates vis-a-vis the bakla, but also as I have mentioned before, cross-dressing and effeminacy, which are the conceptual core of the social construction of the bakla, are not necessarily encompassing realities for all my informants. The majority of my informants did not cross-dress, but they drew on the bakla as a social category and as a pool of meanings in analyzing everyday events in terms of the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality. In some situations, bakla symbolized Filipino queerness while gay symbolized white queerness.

In most instances, bakla is an emotionally laden as well as a potentially derogatory term. It does not have the political implications of gay as an identity, although scholars and writers have translated the term bakla as homosexual (Whitam and Mathy 1986), queer (Itiel 1989), and gay (Mathews 1987). This translation distorts the term's social dynamics. By understanding the social construction of the term, one is better able to understand the travails and struggles of the being called bakla.

Bakla is a problematic Tagalog term. Its etymology is popularly seen to be a result of the contraction of the first syllable of the word for woman (babae) and the first syllable of the word for man (lalaki). Tagalog dictionaries define bakla as hermaphrodite. In addition, it is also seen in terms of the in-between, or alanganin (which was also another term for Filipino male homosexuals in the 1950s and 1960s). The interstitial and epicene quality attributed to the bakla illuminates the social script. Indeed, while bakla conflates the categories of effeminacy, transvestism, and homosexuality and can mean one or all of these in different contexts, the main focus of the term is that of effeminate mannerism, feminine physical characteristics (i.e., small, frail bodies, delicate facial features, and so on), and cross-dressing.

Most of the discussions of the term construct it as non-condemnatory and descriptive (Hart 1968; Mathews 1987) except for a lone Filipino scholar who started her article by describing bakla as an emotionally charged word (Raquiza 1983). Phonetically, bakla ends with a glottal stop, which makes for the very abrupt and harsh pronunciation usually associated with disparaging words.

According to popular lore, the bakla possesses what is called the "female heart" (pusong babae). This idiom encapsulates what is perhaps the core of the social construction of the bakla-that of the male body with a female heart. The yearnings and needs of the bakla are seen to be similar to women's. This construction explains why some bakla, such as Arturo in the previous chapter, would say they are looking for a "real" man. By "real men," they mean straight (being married and having a girlfriend boost the masculinity of a man). There are very few reported cases of sexual relationships between baklas. It is seen as incestuous, unnatural, and weird. Some baklas view the act in cannibalistic terms (kumakain ng sariling laman-"eating one's flesh") or as lesbians doing it (lesbiyanahan-verb form of the word for lesbian). When a bakla discovers that his boyfriend is also a bakla, he is said to have been fooled or natanso (which literally means "bronzed" and is used to describe the treachery involved as opposed to "real" golden masculinity). The humorous saying goes that if a bakla has sex with one of his own kind, he will be hit by lightning (tatamaan ng kidlat), as if such an act goes against the divine order of things.

This idiom of the "female heart" is further elucidated by the problematic category of the "masculine" bakla. Indeed, there are baklas who do not cross-dress or exhibit effeminate mannerisms. The masculine bakla is the anomalous category in the Philippine taxonomy of sexual behavior. The popular notion about the bakla is that there is a "real" screaming queen beneath the masculine facade. While the Filipino public seems to be disinterested in the masculine bakla, it is because there is no social discourse by which to discuss these kinds of men. These baklas are met either with puzzlement or suspicion.

Thus unlike his American counterparts, the bakla's predilections are seen to be focused on the straight male population. This is manifested in a thriving tradition of male prostitution. Whitam (1990) suggests that about 80 percent of men from working- and lower-class origins have participated in some kind of prostitution with a bakla or baklas. The majority of gay bars in Manila and other tourist spots are hustler bars. It must be noted that outside Manila and the tourist areas there are no organized male prostitution rings. There are mostly informal transactions between baklas and seemingly straight males. The flow of money and gifts goes from the bakla to the call boy or boyfriend.

This preference for seemingly straight men is further clarified by the ideal type of male prostitute the bakla would interact with as opposed to the gay foreign tourist. Mathews's (1987) study of male prostitutes focused on those who catered to foreign tourists. Most of his informants presented effeminate mannerisms. In contrast, Filipino clientele of male prostitutes insist on masculine acting and looking men. Indeed, for the bakla, the male prostitute or the call boy should represent the paragon of masculinity. Call boy-bakla relationships are not the same as the Latin American activo and pasivo, which are based on the roles each are presumed to play in anal intercourse (Stephen Murray 1987). Actual sexual practices by both parties (bakla and call boy) can vary according to whim, negotiation, and the bargaining abilities of those involved. Despite being in a country where more than 80 percent of the people are living in poverty, it is expected that the bakla will fare better economically than the rest of the population. This is the social script of the bakla. In order to fulfill his inscribed role, a bakla has to slave away at work in order to survive and get what he is told he should desire-the "straight" macho man. He is told to suffer and not expect to have his needs filled. The ideological rationale for this situation is that, like a woman, he must suffer, but unlike a woman-being a pseudo-woman -he must pay. The complicated relationship of bakla to social class is discussed further below.

Coming Out and Coming Over: Do Closets Travel?

As a way of introducing the themes of the succeeding chapters and complicating the understanding around bakla and gay, I want to discuss two parallel issues that propel and situate these narratives, issues of coming out and the immigration/migration process. This discussion attempts to act as a bridge between the previous section, which dealt with describing the gay and the bakla, and the following discussion, which gestures to movement and crossings between these two categories.

The most pivotal rite of passage in the life cycle of a gay man is the coming out event. While most people realize that coming out is a process and not an isolated situation, the popular conception still remains that it is a singular moment. A gay man's life is turned from a life of secrecy and careful manipulation of behavior and images to one of a public avowal of identity. "I came out when ..." punctuates these stories with a sense of rebirth and transformation into a person endowed with the sensibilities and desires of being gay.

In many gay men's discussion groups in the United States, the coming out story is perhaps the most familiar topic. However, many Filipino men, even those who came here as children (the one point fivers), have problems with the notion of coming out. When I asked these men about coming out, they seemed to look at the practice of coming out as a particularly American idea and behavior. One of the informants said:

Iba ang mga afam 'day. Puro coming out ang drama nila. Noong nagaaral ako sa () wala nang pinagusapan ang mga bading kung hindi coming out. Siguro, ang mga pamilya nila masyadong malupit. Sa atin, queseho. Magagalit ang mga motherhood at fatherhood ... pagkatapos, wala na. Pero ang mga puti, diyusme, puro mga iyak, may-I-escape ang pamilya, Puro mga malulungkot ang story, please lang, itigil yan.... In short, mga puno ng crayola to death.

[The Americans are different, darling. Coming out is their drama. When I was studying at (a New England college) the queens had nothing better to talk about than coming out. Maybe their families were very cruel. Back home, who cared? But the whites, my God, shedding tears, leaving the family. The stories are always sad. Oh please, stop that. In short, (the stories were) tearjerkers.] (Continues...)



Excerpted from Global divas by Martin F. Manalansan Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction: Points of Departure 1
1 The Borders between Bakla and Gay 21
2 Speaking in Transit: Queer Language and Translated Lives 45
3 "Out There": The Topography of Race and Desire in the Global City 62
4 The Biyuti and Drama of Everyday Life 89
5 "To Play with the World": The Pageantry of Identities 126
6 Tita Aida: Intimate Geographies of Suffering 152
Conclusion: Locating the Diasporic Deviant/Diva 184
Notes 193
An Elusive Glossary 199
Works Cited 205
Index 219
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