Lodestar for the elections

by Prof. Danton Remoto
Remote Control

Lodestar for the Elections

The following is my introduction to Ladlad 3: An Anthology of Philippine Gay Writing, edited by J. Neil Garcia and myself (Anvil Publishing). It is now flying off the shelves of National Book Store and Power Books.

Three days of the week, I teach English at the Ateneo, telling my students “sematary” should be “cemetery,” “high school” is spelled two words, and that even if I wrote an erotic poem in their Filipino textbook Hulagpos, I was not, am not, and will never be the persona sitting on another man’s lap in that scandalous poem. I am also taking my last three exams for my Ph.D. in English at the University of the Philippines. And once a week, I have my political meetings.

It is on a day like this, on a fine Saturday afternoon, that I am going to the Manila Yacht Club for my next political meeting. When Ang Ladlad, our lesbian-gay-transgender-bisexual (LGBT) political party filed our papers for accreditation in the party-list elections for May 14, 2007, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) blanched and said “No, you didn’t have enough people for a national constituency.” Yeah, right. To paraphrase the Pussycats, “And don’t cha!” Don’t cha say that without checking, too, the membership roster – with real names and addresses – of the many other party lists of dubious provenance that were allowed to run in the last, super-messy elections.

My reading was that the powers-that-be were threatened by Ang Ladlad. They must have thought that if we got at least two seats – and surveys said we would – that would be two seats against the administration. But how did they know about that? We only had two political statements arrived at through a consensus: 1) No to Charter change and yes to a Constitution Convention of duly elected members; and 2) A stop to political killings of activists and journalists. That was all. Nothing about impeachment, resignation, and such for the sitting President. When I learned of this and actually read a memo that allegedly came from the powers-that-be, I smiled: the political party that began with a book has become a force to reckon with. And why not? Of the 45 million Filipino voters, 4.5 million would belong to the LGBT voters’ niche, if cross-country studies are to be believed. Why do you think politicians fell all over themselves endorsing Ladlad for party-list accreditation in the last elections? I grant them good will, of course, but also I grant them shrewdness and political acumen. They sniffed the wind, and what they sniffed was this: the Pink Vote has arrived. Were you there among the throngs of people registering for voters in the last elections? If you were, did you ask the transgenders why they were signing up? Who were they voting for in the party-list elections? Ask them, and ye shall know.

The uber-origin, of course, of this political party is the book you are now holding in your hands. Our first anthology came out in April of 1994. By June of that year – and appropriately enough, the Pride Month of the LGBT movement – all 2,000 copies of Ladlad were sold out. Salesgirls at National Book Store would tell me of gays stud-looking enough to qualify for Ginoong Pilipinas asking, in their deepest, lowest voices: “Miss, saan ang Ladlad?”

The second installment of Ladlad came in 1996, and together with the first outing, the two books with pink covers became permanent fixtures in the Philippine Books section of National Book Store. I was helping NBS and Power Books then, dispensing free advice on book-selling, and I suggested that they change the word “Filipiniana” into “Philippine Books,” for certainly, when you entered Barnes and Nobles in LA you do not see a section called “Americana.” They complied. And then I also said that Philippine books ought to have pride of place and displayed prominently, on the first shelves, of the Books Section. So any book-lover who enters the store would see the books at first blush, and come near, and open the pages, and inhale the very words of his or her own writers. To their credit, NBS also did that.

And so now, when you go to the more than 50 branches of National Book Store all over the country, you would see the Ladlad series of gay anthologies – as well as the other books of J. Neil Garcia and myself – there on the first shelves. Standing tall, breasts thrust out, bottoms pointed up, and one foot forward.

The anthology gave free mileage to the Ang Ladlad political party, especially in the urban areas where the students congregate and where – as studies show – gay men eventually come out, because of the liberal education in the schools, the company of peers, and the books that are now out there, for them to hold and to cherish.

We also have to give credit to Mrs. Lourdes Vidal, my former English teacher at the Ateneo, who published her romance novels in Tagalog, and gave me thousands and thousands of free copies to give away. Marked with “Donated by Ang Ladlad,” these freebies went around the country, were read avidly and passed from hand to hand, and added to the word-of-mouth campaign that we were waging.

There was also the Internet, where we have a huge and colorful presence, with our website and discussion groups and e-mail exchanges. Our alliances with more than 30 LGBT groups nationwide also bolstered our ranks, as well as the support of straight people – brothers and sisters of LGBT Filipinos, friends and relatives and such – who rallied around our cause. I also appeared countless times in the tri-media of television, radio and print, and toured the Bicol Region – my bailiwick – for a whole month in the summer of 2006, talking to students, teachers, market vendors, farmers, fisher folk, government officials, and priests. In short, from 2004-2007, we worked on our pre-election campaign strategy, and I swear to Nefertiti, we did work our butts off.

But the Comelec – as stodgy and as ancient as their wooden building that later burnt down – would not, could not, budge. To their eternal discredit, because it soon gave way to the mess in the accreditation of the party-list groups, the madness that was the elections, the lunacy of the counting that was slower, slower than a snail climbing Mount Fuji.

The day after the elections I felt so relieved. I got my copy of Elizabeth Jennings’s book of poems, Extending the Territory (Carcanet Press, 1985) and began to read. For many months, the book had languished on the table beside my bed. I felt sad during the campaign season for one simple reason: I could not read anymore. Every day I would go home, tired beyond belief, my feet aching from the day-long sortie, my hands sore from all that shaking, my face painful from all that smiling. The moment my back rested on my bed it was nirvana: I would wake up the next morning, only to campaign once more. Erwin Oliva of the Inquirer online edition asked me what I missed most during the campaign and I told him, “The time to read.” He said he would do a survey of the books the politicians read before the campaign, and I told him, “Good luck, my friend.”

And so I was relieved because I could read again, and return to my old life as an absent-minded professor with what my students called “a fearsome” reputation (translation: I made them read books without movie versions). I began my post-election life by reading Elizabeth Jennings’s Extending the Territory, which Douglas Dunn, writing for the Glasgow Herald, called “poems outstanding . . . [for their] wisdom, hard-earned from grief and religious faith.”

Even so on a day like this I have another political meeting. I am happy because after the meeting, I would go to Makati to buy books. The person I am meeting had sent over his chauffeur-driven SUV, shinier and bigger than my library, to pick me up and bring me to Manila. I said I could take the LRT 2, get off at the Recto station, and then take a cab to the Manila Yacht Club on Roxas Boulevard. But he said that is a “no-no for our senatorial candidate in 2010. You are an important cargo and you have to be handled very carefully.”

“Uh-oh,” I think to myself now as I remember his exact words. Most of the time, I feel like a speck of moissanite, but these guys make me feel as if I were a ring of diamond. Invariably, they are all kind and polite. I must remind them so much of their stern English teacher in college. But today, the sun shines brightly. Our SUV flies over the Katipunan overpass, down to C-5, circling Makati, seemingly gliding on air. Smooth as silk, as the airline ads would put it, with a blast of cool and subtly perfumed air that makes me forget I am in sweltering Manila.

The person I am meeting is a pleasant man, whom I had met twice, and he is asking me to join them in the 2010 presidential elections. He is not the candidate, but one of the assistants of the candidate. He suggests that I draw up a budget for my own campaign, and he would show it to his boss for approval. I tell him he is the third person I am meeting after I lost in the May 14 elections, with the same agenda for discussion, and I ask him, “Why do you really want me to join your group?”

He says, “Because you have no skeletons in the closet. It’s easy to campaign for you.”

I answer, “Oh, I have no more skeletons in the closet. In fact, I am now out of the closet.” The man nearly chokes in his callos and laughs.The memory of his laughter makes me smile now as his SUV drives me to Makati. After his laughter that broke the cavernous silence of the Yacht Club, he said, “That’s why we like you. You’re quick on the take. You don’t have to memorize your answers. By the way, who’s your speech writer?”

This time it was my turn to laugh. I told him my campaign is too poor to hire a speech writer, and I just make things up as I go along. “I’ve been teaching English,” I tell him, “for 21 years. You survive those students, you can survive anything.”

Then he turned serious and asked me: “Professor Remoto, we admire your bravery and your work. What, really, makes you tick?”

It made me feel like a clock – or a time bomb about to explode – but this question burns in my mind now as I write this Foreword. What makes me “tick” is the knowledge that what I am doing is right. It is the thing to be done, right here and right now. Some say that books are mere vessels and words have no bones. But revolutions have been waged, and countries liberated, because of mere books, simple words. As the famous text message every New Year puts it, we should be like birds always poised forward into the future: we should leave behind all regret and bitterness and pain.

It is in this spirit that we are offering you Ladlad 3. The pieces in this book show that, especially the pieces that throw a new light, give a new angle, to gay writing in the Philippines. Alex Gregorio rewrites Alice in Wonderland into a poem. Ian Rosales Casocot gives us a gay children’s story called “The Different Rabbit.” Honorio Bartolome de Dios shows us a beauty-parlor worker who is part of the underground movement – a link, you could say, to another story by Rands Catalan in Ladlad 1. Ino Manalo gives us gay characters that have the delicacy and strength of the pineapple fibers in his story. Michael Andrada gives us the many different kinds of male bonding in “Boy Scouting,” while Zack Linmark shows us that Hawaii is no, never, blue. Paul del Rosario’s character beats up a bully and Neil Garcia, of course, tells us of another, creative use for the razor blade.

Goethe once said that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. We have come, as National Artist Jose Garcia Villa said, and we are here. Brandishing Ladlad and our many other books, waving our words like flames in the wind, we will you see you again in 2010. And that’s a promise we intend to keep.


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