R. Joseph Dazo
Joseph was born and raised in City of Talisay, Cebu. He writes short fiction in Binisaya and English. He finished his Master of Arts in Literature at Cebu Normal University in 2017. He was a fiction fellow of the 16th Iyas National Writers Workshop, and play writing fellow of the 17th San Agustin Writers Workshop. He is the co-editor of Libulan Binisayang Antolohiya sa Katitikang Queer (Cratos, 2018). He is also the author of a collection of gay short stories in Binisaya, Ubang Gabii sa Mango Avenue (Kasingkasing Press, 2019). Currently, the managing editor and fiction editor of Katitikan Literary Journal of the Philippine South (https://katitikan.com/), and he is teaching literature and creative writing to senior high school students in the City of Naga, Cebu.
A young queer (bayot) boy in Cebu awakens sexually in “Red Devil.” The awareness of desire and into the passions it may bring the mind and body is premised in play. The boy collects spiders sold by an older boy in the village. The latter befriends our protagonist, even hanging out in his place. One day they head out to the corn fields, in the guise of searching for the red devil, the rarest spider one’s collection would have. In the thicket of corn, older boy reveals the spider is found on his virile body, seducing the younger one to touch and hold it. This scene alternating in dread and exhilaration drives the queer boy running back to their place, where for days, trauma magnifies itself only to turn into the pleasure that the memory of another body gives to the one who finally learns one’s personhood is premised on desiring itself, as well as freedom from originary guilt.
Dazo’s stories, written in Binisaya (the Visayas and Mindanao variant of Sugbuanon or Cebuano) are stylistically different from each other: one is an organically unified “coming of age” tale (“Red Devil”), the other a jaggedly fragmented montage that uses cartography as an analogy for the meanderings of dissident desire (“Kon Mobasa Tas Mapa”). The workshop unanimously lauded the fully realized quality of the first story, given the tightness of its structure, the charm and economy of its language, the clarity of its characterization, and its overall “rootedness” in the local environs the bayot (local word for sissy or gay) child typically grows up in, in this part of the Philippine south. The second story was praised for its ambition, its structural derring-do: no mean feat, given the relative absence of experimental models in the tradition of Binisaya fiction, whose bulk remains formally and verbally conservative. Dazo was however encouraged to revise this story, whose disparate and incoherent elements he was urged to discipline into a more deliberate conceptual or narrative design. As written the story these elements constituted left the reader unmoved, being too loosely organized, “random,” and confusing. Even as the idea of this second story was deemed interesting and potentially generative, Dazo was asked to consider whether a more “modernist”—rather than “postmodernist”—treatment might be more effective in fleshing it out (especially given the successful evidence provided by his first, more felicitously shaped, piece).
In His Own Words: Where I Come From
At first, I felt a heap of fear and hesitation not to write gay-themed fiction which explores identity and sexuality in Binisaya, and at the same time, I tried to muster the strong desire to manifest protest and resistance to represent the nearly invisibility of queer writing in Cebuano Literature or Literature in Binisaya.
The first that I wrote for Manila Bulletin’s one of the oldest and longest running magazines in the Philippines, Bisaya Magasin, was a mubong sugilanon or short story which revolves around the homecoming of a transitioning gay man, John. The story was published in 2016, and little did I know that that story is one of the first stories in the magazine which has a queer character. This experience also gave birth to my first collection of eighteen works of gay short fiction in Binisaya, the Ubang Gabii sa Mango Avenue (Kasingkasing Press, 2019). The collection is a narrative sequence where there is a connection of each story: character to character, setting to setting, and theme to theme. Thus, in three years of writing queer fiction and as a gay who writes fiction, I have finally given LGBTQ writings a small spark of representation in the voluminous history of Cebuano literature.
According to Cebuano scholar and National Artist Resil Mojares, the Bag-ong Kusog or New Force, which is one of the magazines during American colonization period, provided a rule where the works must have moral value (which, of course, does not include works with homosexual themes) and with utility for workers, farmers, merchants, and people of the kind in order to be published. This rule transformed into themes which have been repeating for several generations in Cebuano publications.
I remember during the 1st BATHALAD-Sugbo Creative Writers Workshop which I served as one of the coordinators, there was one fellow who asked how to be judged by the society and especially to his family members if he will write LGBTQ poems and short stories.
I tried to explain to her my experience as someone who writes gay fiction. The fellow did not write LGBTQ literary works. He stopped writing.
Grindr guy: Uy, that’s so cool to know that you’re a writer.
Me: I don’t know. I guess so. Hehe
Grindr guy: What are you writing?
Me: Gay short stories.
Grindr guy: Is it English or Filipino?
Me: I write in Binisaya.
Grindr guy: Ah, ok.
Grindr guy: Nothing. Hey, I gotta go. Brb.
I have been teaching 21st Century Literature from the Philippines and the World, Creative Writing and Creative Nonfiction to Senior High school students since 2016. I introduced them to the LGBTQ works of J Neil Garcia, Danton Remoto, John Bengan, Shakira Sison, Ian Rosales Casocot, Ronald Baytan, and the list goes on.
I landed at dawn back in Cebu after a week-long LGBTQ writers workshop in University of the Philippines Diliman. Before I slept, I assured myself that I would continue to gay write. And gay teach. And gay live.