PROJECT GRACE-UP

NATIONAL LGBTQ+

WRITERS WORKSHOP

Nimruz de Castro

Nimruz is a twenty-something gay man living in a small apartment in one of the Philippines’ richest cities. He is currently taking his master’s degree in Political Science in one of the country’s most expensive universities. These facts equate to his current reality of constant starvation and threats of being homeless as he has not had a decent job since January of 2019. Other than writing Poetry and Fiction, his abundant free time is used on writing academic papers required for his post-graduate studies. He does not know how to swim. The 2nd Philippine LGBTQ Writers Workshop is his third national writers workshop Fellowship. By some stroke of luck, some of his poems have appeared in both electronic and print formats. Though not much of a drinker, he tells as many people as possible to sip some giggle juice in the Tap Room of the Manila Hotel, especially between 6 and 8 PM as these are the bar’s happy hours. (Two drinks for the price of one, beybeh!) He has a small scar on the back of his head which he got when his mother struck him with a steel spatula for telling her that she’s an old bitch who eats too much sweets. He has recurring dreams of being a mafioso who revels in the removal of his enemies’ toenails. This fact disturbs him. He curses the day that Korean barbecue reached the garbage-littered shores of the Philippines. (Because damn, those strips of beef are yummy.) He likes hats, as these help hide his receding hairline.

The Story

Set in a mythical oriental empire and delightfully narrated in reverse, the story speculates on the biopolitical condition of women as mere wives and childbearers in a kingdom, framing their oppression by patriarchy in eco-critical terms: the women die after giving birth to a son and become tree mothers bearing flower-daughters to be married off to wealthy masters. Out of this structure of dispossession and the ornaments of its exposition, one flower-daughter foreseen to bear a son of great destiny is dedicated to become an imperial concubine but falls in love with her flower sister. In an act of defiance to this destiny, the woman burns the forest of tree mothers, her own clan; this act of genocide is her path to execution. In her forgotten grave, a bloom grows, signifying how her fragrant resistance can continue in the breed of new warrior women.

The Workshop

De Castro’s submissions are both works of speculative fiction, and one of the initial questions raised at the workshop had to do with asking the author to clarify to himself just why he chose the nonmimetic mode, especially when it was possible that a realistic approach might accomplish his intention better, precisely because it would not require him to distinguish his secondary world from the abundance of increasingly familiar secondary worlds in contemporary fantasy and sci-fi writing. This suggestion was specifically made in regard to his other story—titled “Prostitute”—in which the premise of a bibliophilic gay sex worker is already in and of itself interesting, and might not need to be futuristically worlded, and might best be treated in a more straightforward way. On the other hand, the world-making in the author’s other story, titled “Tales of Cho Fu Sa”—an Orientalist fantasy piece, whose intertexts are Akutagawa’s “In a Grove” and Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale”—was uniformly praised, even as its politics was interrogated. In particular, questions were raised in regard to the attempt to arrive at a feminist mythopoetic utopia, that ironically—some remarked, devastatingly—required the demonizing of patriarchally interpellated and “fallen” women, whose possession of a false consciousness seemingly justified their annihilation, at story’s end. The issue of cultural appropriation was also raised, for De Castro’s liberal use of Chinese mythic motifs betrayed a fetishizing and exoticizing attitude that some found troubling, especially given the heightened ethical imperatives (that should be) inherent in the very practice of LGBTQ creativity.

Featured Work:

In His Own Words: Where I Come From

           Silence, imposed by either society (as in The Tongueless Sister, a story of a child with the power of precognition but can only speak of prophecies of death whose tongue was physically removed) or the character themselves (as in Prostitute) or even both (as in Cho Fu Sa), is a common theme in my stories.

           In retrospect, perhaps this prevalence of silence is a reflection of how I feel silenced by the world or the sections of the larger world that I inhabit, and how this is further enforced by my decision to keep quiet (which mostly stems from feelings of intellectual inadequacy as an academic, and the belief that to offer my opinions to others is an imposition as an individual), even repressing the voice inside my head.

           I question myself at every opportunity, with exception to the act of writing Fiction.

           I write Fiction to make sense of the shapeless thoughts and nameless feelings that stem from constant self-censorship, with the worlds that I build possessing the violent characteristics that they do as a manifestation of the violence that accompanies the extrication, or perhaps liberation, from this black and nameless sea inside of me. Somewhat an inversion of writing Poetry, which is my attempt to understand others.

           The impetus of world creation begins with a dream or a nightmare. Cho Fu Sa began with the dream of a man, his back turned towards me, his arms wrapped around a pale tree, white trunk (perhaps even glowing), its leaves a sickly shade of lavender. He was whispering words of love to that tree. I wanted to know that world and thus began Cho Fu Sa, with the first story being Liu Xing’s arson of her village’s forest of pale trees. The man and the tree, which he perhaps writes love letters to, has become a drop in the ocean south of Cho Fu Sa. Much like how Liu Xing and her undeniable act of violence is just another page to the long history of this strange land.

           I hope that I can write more stories from this world, perhaps happier ones.

           The world the boy/man who prostitutes himself for books (an idea that is arguably a stretch of the imagination) is my reimagining of the world we inhabit, a place in the not so distant future with both science and magic, an empire after decades-old war that pitted all the children of Man against all Others. It is only in this kind of world that I could imagine someone who would place so little value in himself that he had to anchor his heart on something that the world he inhabits is ambivalent towards. Both expensive and worthless, for its antiquity and redundancy, the books the Prostitute collects serve as his connection to the other P/peoples, that which widens his divide from his family, allowing him some escape from his realities. It validates his existence and makes him forget that he is, as Liu Xing is a mere Son-birthing tool in the celestial land of Cho Fu Sa, a speck of dust in the expanse of Puso, another leaf in a forest.

           He attempts to deny his world and fears that he will fail but when presented with the possibility of possessing something more than his expensive but worthless collection, he retreats.

Liu Xing accepts Cho Fu Sa and surrenders but ensures that her pain will echo across seven generations.

           The idea of real-world politics permeating the dimensional divide between the actual and the imagined is something that does not cross my mind in my writings and writing. The sexuality of the characters that appear in my stories is incidental and does not necessarily affect the way they behave in the world they inhabit and how the world they move in interact with them.

           Their world is, and they are.

           This kind of contemplation is something I do not perform before, during, and even after I construct a story. Half of the time, I think of the worlds the characters move in, the laws of physics that their worlds obey and the laws of physics its inhabitants think that their worlds obey. The other half, I try to probe the characters thoughts about the worlds they live in. As residents of those worlds, they do not understand my examination, and thus, I guess and approximate. Each wrong guess is a stone I carry.

           Yes. Life, in whichever world, real or imagined, must be more than mere survival. But there are those that merely exist.

           Perhaps, writing Fiction is my way of convincing myself that I can become someone better than the Prostitute, better than Liu Xing, better than any of the people whose stories I tell. Perhaps, writing Fiction is my way of convincing myself that I am better than who and what I truly am.

That I can exist, survive, and perhaps, live.

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