|Image courtesy of Salon 1310|
IN DEFENSE OF THE PARLOR GAY
February 6, 2013 2:54pm
I’ve read numerous op-eds that have attempted to dispel so-called misconceptions about Filipino gay men. Inevitably, these pieces end up making a similar point: they claim that not all gay men act like parloristas. This is, of course, an empirical fact; for every contemporary manifestation of 80s-era Kuya Dick, you get a konyo gay bro in skinny jeans.
Nonetheless, I wonder why so many people within the gay community are hell-bent on distancing themselves from parlor gays, or, at the very least, creating distinctions between them and what some consider “modern” incarnations of the homosexual. This, to me, has always begged the question: what’s wrong with the parlor gay?
An intelligent, middle-class gay friend once told me that the parlorista is a barrier to the mainstreaming of LGBT rights. The parlorista, he explained, reflects a version of homosexuality that Philippine society finds hard to accept: he/she is loud and threatening to straight men (heaven forbid; nanggagapang ang mga yan at nagpapa-pera sa mga papa!).
More importantly, he added, he objected to the Pinoy bakla’s habit of acting like a girl. Gay men, apparently, should act like men. Otherwise, they can just become trannies. In this cosmology, Neil Patrick Harris—the gay man who plays a business douche—becomes the platonic ideal of modern male homosexuality.
Since my conversation with this friend, I’ve met other people who share his views (I also admit to harboring an instinctive, though unarticulated, version of this thinking when I was in high school).
The anti-parlorista logic is wonky. In effect, it says that ending discrimination against LGBTs should be premised on the creation of another kind of discrimination. The act of distancing one’s self from the parlor bakla— “I am not like the parlorista; I am not an effem bakla; I am just like those gays in Queer as Folk!”—easily transforms into a form of denigration. If we’ve learned anything from contemporary cultural theory, it’s that systematic discrimination and exclusion begins with the creation of “others.” The konyo gay man, it seems, has turned the lower class parlor gay into his other.
The leading scholar of queer Manila, Bobby Benedicto, argues that contemporary notions of homosexuality in the Philippines are premised on the exorcising of specters that haunt fantasies of gay modernity. The parlor bakla is not global; he/she is lower class and performs a backward homosexuality; he/she is a bothersome reminder of the fact that queerness in the Philippines is different from the desired queerness of the West.
The fantasy of the modern, Westenized gay man leading the LGBT movement in the Philippines needs to be dispelled. The gay agenda will not be won by the fashionable gay friend that gorgeous women use to cock-block fratmen. There is empirical evidence to prove this.
This year the LGBT partylist Ang Ladlad is running for congress. That you have the option to vote for them is already a success since a bigoted COMELEC once prevented them from running on “moral” grounds. But I’m hoping for more victories for this group. I am a loyal Akbayan member, so my vote goes to my party, but if I could vote twice (as some people do), my second vote would go to Ladlad.
Last week, I bumped into Ladlad’s second nominee, my former English professor Danton Remoto (he denied me an A on my report card, but I love him anyway). I asked a visibly exhausted yet enthusiastic Danton how his party’s campaign was going. He had just been to the parlors organizing their base, he told me. A lot of the campaign’s muscle, he explained, comes from poor baklas working in the country’s many parlors.
These parloristas, when they are not styling hair, are out on the streets, organizing for a party that seeks to end systematic discrimination against the LGBT community. They march for Ladlad, they donate their tips, and they make campaign paraphernalia. Although rich homosexuals do make donations and they also campaign, it is the lower class parlor network that Ladlad relies on. They make the party a genuine grassroots campaign. And it is the grassroots support that makes Ladlad a genuine force for progressive change.
The successes of the LGBT movement, as such, will be contingent on parlor baklas, not the burgis gays who write op-eds distancing themselves from them. It is, after all, the lower class, the grassroots, that has the biggest stake in making things better for the majority of Filipinos. That has always been the case in most, if not all, struggles for liberation. It will also be the case for the LGBT struggle.