Five Filipino LGBT writers took part in a panel discussion about their work as part of the Philippine International Literary Festival in Manila last Friday.
Writers Ian Casocot, Nerisa del Carmen Guevara, Ralph Semino Galan and Johanna Lynn Cruz answered questions about their work.
The panel was facilitated by J. Neil. C. Garcia, director of the University of Philippines Press, poet and author of Philippine Gay Culture (1996, republished by Hong Kong University Press 2009), which has become a classic of queer scholarship in Asia.
During the panel discussion poet Ralph Semino Galan read a poem about being an older man in a gay bar, which he described as ‘like a beauty pageant’.
Young writer Ian Casocot said reading the LadLad anthology of Filipino gay literature, which was edited and published by Garcia in 1994, inspired him as a writer.
‘To actually read gay experiences from a Philippine perspective was eye-opening,’ Casocot said. ‘So I started writing because of Ladlad.’
Casocot read an extract from My Name is Not Oscar Wilde, a short story about a college student working as a call boy.
Johanna Lynn Cruz author of Women Loving, which was going to be called Women Loving Women, said ‘the term lesbian has empowered my writing’ but she found it problematic when her personal life did not reflect the label. She now describes herself as bisexual.
‘LGBT terms for writers are paradoxically beneficial and personally liberating but can also be limiting,’ summarized Garcia.
Nerisa del Carmen Guevara spoke about her grief after her was shot. ‘Lesbians take grief more strongly because of codependency,’ she said. ‘And in a Catholic country lesbians do not receive condolence when their partner dies.’
‘We are writing against the grain of our culture,’ Garcia said about LGBT writers in the Philippines in an interview with Gay Star News after the event.
‘We come out through our writing so we risk being disowned by our families. In the case of all of the people on the panel, including myself, we were all hoping that none of the pieces we wrote would be read by our families. Luckily, because we’re mostly poets and poetry is not that easy to understand. They really didn’t get it.’