(Allow me to share with you this work of Ianree Raquel, my intellectual amiga in the university. I was there when this “Sayamedy” happened, and I was squirming in my seat. Right there and then, I decided to write on this outrage. But Aian wrote about it instead, and I could not have done a better job. Read on… )
“You want to find yourself? Try humor.”
WITH ANDREI, a four-year-old boy I have come to call my own son, I entered through the side door of the Teatro. Seeing the Teatro filled with students gave me a nostalgic feeling, reminding me of not-so-long-ago when I performed, debated, rehearsed, or simply acted as a good audience in this hall, famed for its egg-tray sound-proofing. “Say, ‘May I pass’,” I told Andrei as we made our way through the crowd. I have earlier asked one of my students to reserve front seats for us. “I’ll be with my son. I need a good view,” I pleaded.
Andrei, perhaps bedazzled by the crowd, grabbed my shirt, as if asking for a fatherly assurance that everything was fine. I held his hand and led him to the front seats.
It was the last day of the Intramurals and the student leaders thought of an innovative concept for the closing event. I learned that each college would present a dance comedy. They called it Sayamedy, a combination of saya and comedy, and I thought, “This has to be funny.”
I felt proud being with Andrei. He has been with me for almost a year already and he has been a good son. I have found in him an assurance that I can be “responsible,” that I can love and be a good father despite my choice not to father biologically.
When I took him under my care, I promised that I would give him the world – letting him experience every bit of it. In that way he will have everything, good or bad, and so he will not grow blind to the realities of this life. I wish for him a good life.
I thought bringing him to the University occasionally would be a bit of experience. After all, the University is where I learned my best lessons, found my long lost “self,” and found a second home. I thought bringing him to events where he could see stage performances would open his eyes to the arts – be a performer himself, or perhaps be a good critic, or at least be a good audience. “You can do a lot of things,” I always tell him.
I eagerly waited for the show to start. I have witnessed countless performances before but I was excited because this was Andrei’s first time to see a show at Teatro. I have been telling him stories of how beautiful dances are in the University.
And so the presentations were staged one after the other. Everybody was laughing. Everybody was happy, I assumed.
Male students, with rouged faces and wigs, came out dancing, teasing the audience into laughter. They gyrated; they cartwheeled; they did acrobatics. With their exaggerated antics they seemed to proclaim victory, freedom from all that was sad. One after the other men in drag came out dancing, lip-synching songs as if belting out all the happiness in world. And indeed, everyone was laughing.
It felt odd.
I found myself between the stage – where the performers seemed to effortlessly make the audience laugh – and the audience – cheering, applauding, and laughing out loud. I looked up the stage and found a part of me. I looked at the crowd and I saw faces as if wearing the thespians’ happy masks.
Andrei, leaning on my lap, timid and already sluggish, asked, “Pa, sino po sila? Estudyante mo po ba sila? Tinuruan mo po sila? Bakla po ba sila?”
Startled by the series of naïve questions, my inner ghosts were awakened. “Bakla po ba sila?”
I found myself silenced amidst all the riot. Andrei, my son, was on my lap, eagerly waiting for my words. “Bakla sila, Pa?”
It was called Sayamedy. It was funny. And they were laughing…at me.
THIS, OF COURSE, is merely fictionalization. More specifically, it is a sketchy attempt to illustrate in narrative how it felt like bringing my foster son to an activity where the “bakla” was once again staged as a “laughable” individual. And, of course, this is not everyone’s story. And, I assume, not everybody might find it appealing not only in form but, more relevantly, in content.
But this is my story. And it is true in all its suggestions. I felt bad being with my son that day. I didn’t know how to teach him not to laugh at “individuals,” especially the bakla, in that afternoon when I found him with me in the middle of a social agreement that the bakla is funny. I want Andrei to have a better idea of fun.
While many believe that the bakla is inherently funny (I grew up with remarks like “You are indeed gay!”), I have struggled teaching my students not to assign certain qualities to individuals: the woman as a mother, the man as strong (physical or emotional), the teacher as always upright and uptight, the priest as holy and virginal. It has been a struggle to fight social constructs. In my case, it has been a struggle to make the world know that we can do better than plain dichotomies, that to be a laughing stock is hurtful, that what the world has been doing is a simplistic underestimation of individuals whose footfalls have resounded in all of human history.
Many scholars have tried to explain why the bakla has been perceived as such. J. Neil Garcia, a renowned Filipino poet and scholar on queer studies, wrote that the present image of the bakla was constructed just recently – in the last three decades or so. His discussions suggest that the media played a significant role in the process. People who lived in the seventies might recall Mars Ravelo and Dolphy characters like Fasifica Falayfay, Fefita Fofonggay and Gorgonya. These, Garcia argues, are the first of many media characters that would build the bakla as an image of laughter, building a stereotype that haunts us up to this day.
Dolphy films are funny, alright. He has played a variety of roles: bakla or not, and he has proven that indeed, he is a good comic. Garcia presents an idea that Doplhy, a straight, masculine man was funny in his portrayals of the bakla because his roles exhibited mimicry, a sense of unbecoming. It must have been thrilling for an audience to watch an “idol” transform into a swishing manicurista, who, in real life, always ended up with the most beautiful women. Also, I have learned that pioneering gay activists during the Facifica Falayfay era found Dolphy movies offensive because they collectively delegated the bakla into a “confused man” who ended up resolving confusion by marrying a real woman, further contending that the Dolphy has relegated, assigned, or perhaps entrapped the bakla into the parlorista occupation. That might also explain why most beauticians are – or, (in common consciousness) must be bakla.
Psychoanalysis offers another view on the sensational comic appeal of the bakla. We all have subversive tendencies. Psychoanalysts say that laughing at things we want to disown is one. “Humor always hits at the unconscious,” my psychology professor once said. Perhaps our greatest fear is that we might be what we are seeing. And so when it is presented to us (like a stammering speaker at a forum), we laugh because laughter dispels, even catharsizes, tension. Perhaps the audience during the Sayamedy feared becoming a bakla (or feared having one as a brother, father, what not). After all, who would want to be stereotyped? Who would want to be part of a minority? Who would want to be laughed at? And so the laughing went on.
This article has been an attempt to explain why many of us have found a sense of “happiness” in the personhood of the bakla. Some “thinkers” might dismiss these thoughts as incomplete, unscientific assumptions but I am wishful that giving myself a chance to express in writing thoughts that have been within me for a long time might enlighten readers to think in a different light about why most of us find in people like me a sense of “happiness.”
I was honestly disappointed with the kind of numbers presented by students during the Sayamedy contest. However, I honestly feel that it is not the students’ fault. We are born uninstructed of what to do that is why, sometimes, we wander. That is why we ask our peers for advice. That is why we go to school. That is why we are in the University.
At the end of the day, I still believe in the nobility of the academe. I am here because I have high beliefs in the academe’s rationality, humility, and fairness, including its ability to perform good humour by not assigning individuals to simplistic, stereotypical characters.
I am not proposing that we intellectualize our performances, in effect turning student and faculty presentations during events highly cerebral. What we should always remember is to construct carefully whatever messages we are to convey, especially to a mass audience. It should be our goal as egalitarians to live up to our freedom and make everyone feel that they are treated fairly. If we settle for humour which is demeaning, hurtful and purposeless, then we are doomed. Including our sons and daughters.