Yesterday when I consulted Dr. Ronald Baytan about my opening remarks on today’s graduate research forum, he reminded me not to talk about myself for I am not important. Since I’m very afraid of him I just answered, “Yes, Ateng I promise not to talk about myself.”
Of course promises are made to be broken just like the 20 peso per kilo of rice or the Tallano gold. Now that I have the floor, or the screen, and Dr. Baytan cannot do anything to stop me now without creating a scandal in Zoom, I will talk about myself. Aftell all, the topic is queerness. When we talk of gay writing and queer studies here at De La Salle University, how can I not talk about myself? For talking about queer studies in La Salle, I will be talking about Ronald Baytan and since Ronald Baytan is my Ateng, it only follows that I will also be talking about myself. It’s a family affair, duh. And besides, kakaunti lang naman kami ang mga willing magladlad dito sa La Salle. Of course maraming pamintang durog pero kakaunti ang willing magsulat about their gayness. So brace yourself and stop your eyebrows from arching too much. The Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC) Dr. Tiny Arogo said I have one hour for my opening remarks!
Isa pa, our invited resource person today, Dr. J. Neil C. Garcia, is already famous and need no introduction. It is safe to assume everyone here have read his work—be it a poem or critical essay. So why should I waste time talking about him? I call Dr. Garcia, “Mama Neil” because I decided to become a gay writer after reading and rereading Ladlad 1 from cover to cover the whole night a long time ago in Antique when I was still a virgin. So imagine the effect to my body and soul of that book! Kayâ naman sa Ladlad 2 kasama na ang mga bastos kong tula. Whether Mama Neil like it or not, he became my literary mother. Neil and Ronald are BFFs. I’m related to both of them. So I have all the right to talk about myself in this opening remarks.
Ganito kasi iyon. Kasama ako sa unang batch ng Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing noong 1996. Fresh from the farm and seashore ako ng Antique. Unang Holy Week ko dito sa La Salle, na huwag nating kalimutan ay isang Catholic university, Lunes Santo, ang itinatanghal ng Harlequin Theatre Guild ay trilogy ng gay one act plays. It was there that I saw the young Wanggo Gallaga taking a bath on stage naked. Br. Andrew Gonzalez was the University President then. Isang linguist at literary person kayâ siguro malaya ang sining at pagsusulat sa kampus. Sabi ko noon sa sarili ko, bongga ang La Salle. This is the perfect university for me.
Sa Playwriting Class namin kay Isagani R. Cruz pabonggahan ng pagiging mahalay sa mga dula namin. May kaklase kaming ang bida sa dula ay isang baklang nakikipagsex sa pedicab driver sa loob mismo ng pedicab na nasa ilalim ng LRT. Sa workshop, pinagtulungan namin ang may-akda kasi sabi namin paano naman ‘yan i-stage kung ang kangkangan ay nasa loob ng pedikab? Yes, we use the word “kangkangan” in front of The Isagani R. Cruz! May kaklase kaming crush na crush ko (at in love pa yata ako) na ang bida sa dula niya ay isang Lasallian student leader na sa isang retreat nila ay hinada niya ang co-student leader niya at biglang nagpakita si Mother Mary na umiiyak at nagsasabing, “Why are you doing this, my son? You are hurting me, my son.” Ugh, speaking of Catholic guilt! Sabi ng mataray kong kaklase sa akin, “Sige baklang taga-Antique, ipagtanggol mo ang dula niya at sasampalin kita.” Yung sa dula ko naman, baklang pilay na naka-wheel chair ang bida na nakipagtalik sa half-brother niya at nag-suicide ang tatay nang maaktuhan mismo na nagsi-sex ang dalawang anak. Pinagtulungan din ako ng mga bakla sa klase. Sabi nila, double murder case ang ginawa mo! Bakla na pilantod pa!
Iyon din ang panahon na isinumite ni Dr. Baytan and thesis niya tungkol sa dissident desires in Philippine gay poetry. Ako lang ang estudyanteng binigyan ni Cirilo F. Bautista ng karapatan na gamitin ang mesa niya sa Department kapag wala siya. Minsan isang gabi habang nagbabasa ako lumapit sa akin si Ateng. Hindi ko pa siya kilala noon. “Bakla, anong ginagawa mo?” tanong niya. Sabi ko, “Nagbabasa po.” At sabi niya, “Halika tulungan mo akong i-sort out ang photocopy ng thesis ko at papakainin kita mamaya.” Mahirap na estudyante lang ako noon at umuo kaagad ako dahil sa libreng hapunan. Siyempre, pinahugas muna niya ako ng kamay at pinagamit ng alcohol bago ko mahawakan ang kaniyang thesis na as if naman malinis at banal ang paksang tinalakay niya. Nang gabing iyon, at wala pang Google noon, kinunsulta ko ang dictionary kung anong ibig sabihin ng dissident. Nang panahon ding iyon itinuturo na ni Ateng ang Gay and Lesbian Literature dito sa La Salle, may isa o dalawang taon pagkatapos umpisahang ituro ni Mama Neil ang Philippine Gay Writing sa UP Diliman.
Ang forum na ito ay bahagi ng Rainbow Initiative ng Department of Literature. Ayon sa poster ng forum, “The DLSU Asia-Pacific Rainbow Initiative Established in 2017 by the Department of Literature. This initiative aims to discuss the latest developments, theories, and issues in LGBTQIS studies; and to provide perspectives on concerns and problems affecting LGBTQIA communities in the country and in the region.”
Meaning, and I would like to underscore this, for those of you graduate students of the Department of Literature who would like to write your thesis or dissertation on queerness, whether critical or creative, you are in a good place here in our sad, sad archipelago. La Salle is a friendly environment for you young queer scholars and writers.
On behalf of the Department of Literature and the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center, I would like to formally welcome you all to this graduate research forum, “Philippine Queer Studies: Problems and Perspectives” featuring our beloved J. Neil C. Garcia, and our very own Ronald Baytan and Johann Espiritu.
Now on to my second task this afternoon—to introduce our main speaker—my Mama Neil. But before that, I would also like to give a very brief introduction to our very own queer studies scholars. In her email last Monday to remind me about this forum, Dr. Arogo requested me to also give a brief introduction to Dr. Baytan and Dr. Espiritu. My thought bubble was, Baket? Why would I introduce them? They are not important. Well, that is quoting Dr. Baytan himself on his theory on importance and non-importance. But since I am also afraid of our GPC, I will do the task.
Dr. Baytan is the director of the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center. As proof of his queerness, he authored two shamelessly gay books entitled The Queen Sings the Blues (a poetry collection) and The Queen Lives Alone: Personal Essays. Now you know why in the Literature Department the highest royal title I can aspire for is for me to be a princess because we already have a queen. Which I don’t really mind because in fairy tales, the princess would always look younger and more beautiful than the queen!
Dr. Johann Vladimir Espiritu, despite his macho-war freak (You know, Ukraine and Russia) and very spiritual sounding name wrote a dissertation on Philippine gay music. Gay na music pa. As one of the young fairies in the Department, he is already making a name for himself as a queer studies expert. In fact he recieved recently the St. Miguel Febres Cordero Research Award for Outstanding Published Scholarly Article in Filipino for guess what, a paper on gay OPM (not oh promise me but original Filipino music) in Diliman Review. In spite of his achievements, paborito pa rin namin ni Ateng na i-bully si Johann. Of course I’m not endorsing bullying here. It is a major offense here in La Salle. But you have to understand that in our alternate rainbow universe, the queen and the princess have the divine right to bully a commoner. (We love you Johann. 😅✌️)
[Then I ended my speech reading a prepared brief bio of Mama Neil published in the FB announcement of the forum.]