PROJECT GRACE-UP

NATIONAL LGBTQ+

WRITERS WORKSHOP

Ralph Jake Wabingga

Ralph is from Sulop, Davao del Sur. He recently finished his MA in Media Studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman and is currently a Senior High School teacher at the Schools Division of Davao Occidental. His works were published in Davao Harvest 3, Cotabato Literary Journal, and Cultural Center of the Philippines Encyclopedia of Philippine Art. He has been a fellow for fiction to the 2017 Davao Writers Workshop.

The Story

The story happens only within a few minutes of commute from the house to the workplace of the character in crisis, but the duration gives space to immense possibilities of exploring queer thought and emotion. The topography of Davao City and the traffic of vehicles and people traversing it provide the extensity from which a sentimental terrain is alternately thrilled and discouraged to remember and think through relations with a partner and best friend. This milieu is interpellated by a taxi driver who confides to his passenger his own stream of sentiments, including the confession of his gay son. The commute finally terminates with the news of the partner testing positive for HIV, and the character’s reaction fortunately deals with the condition only within the terms of love and compassion, revising the terms of tragedy fiction has always accorded to the revelation.

The Workshop

One of the first things the workshop noted is that the style of narration of Wabingga’s stories has been influenced by vernacular radio drama in the Visayas and Mindanao; nonetheless, it was also recognized that the kind of Filipino—the aborning “national language”—the story wishes to articulate remains refreshing. This is because the stories, while hewing to the narrative conventions of Philippine popular culture—exemplified best not only by teleseryes and telenovelas, but also by soap operas, which are still enjoyed by radio listeners in the rural parts of the archipelago—do something new or different: they earnestly emplot the lives of realistic queer characters—in this part of the country, the bayot—who are otherwise mostly absent in the public sphere. Inasmuch as Wabingga had already sought to tweak the old medium in order to make it bear a new message or theme—of queer visibility, among other things—he was encouraged to consider revising or tweaking his stories some more, particularly in regard to the heavyhanded moralizing gesture (about, among other things, the dangers of promiscuity) he had tended to make. In other words, in the project of affirming queer desire and queer identity within the context of the pious and the popular, Wabingga was cautioned against being merely reactionary, for this would be tantamount to the demonizing, even within the queer world, of perceived abjects and “others.” To be specific, he was reminded to be careful not to valorize one kind of queer life (the monogamous) at the expense of another (the nonmonogamous, or the polyamorous). Finally, Wabingga was asked to link up his fictional efforts to the growing body of Philippine HIV/AIDS literature, whose broadest project is to affirm and dignify the lives of Filipinos living with the virus.

Featured Work:

In His Own Words: Where I Come From

I never had a coming out story in my family. We never talked about my sexual orientation and identity at home. It’s taboo. As a child I mostly did what all “normal” young boys did.

            I was seven or eight years old when I developed a liking for reading. I started reading Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys stories. I liked the feeling of suspense while I was reading them. Because I found a sense of fulfillment in reading soon enough I started “mimicking” what I read, and wrote my own stories, all with very short dialogues.

            I received praises from my classmates and grade school teachers for writing stories but Papa told me to stop writing because writing was only for girls. He told me to spend my time outside, and play the games that “tough” boys played.

            My Papa was a sabungero and a sugarol.  And his friends would now and then warn me, “wag kang maging bading kasi astig yung tatay mo.” And so, I decided to be astig. I became a bully at school. I played for our baseball team, led the Boy Scout troop, and became an Altar Server in our parish. In and through all of these, I was sorrounded by boys. At the time I belived—or chose to believe—that I was straight. To prove the point, I had girlfriends.

            But there was this one time that I told myself that “oh shit, I’m gay!” There was a basketball court just outside our house, and every afternoon our young neighbors played there. Through a hole in our fence, I lovingly looked at our topless boy neighbors playing basketball. I especially liked it when I caught a glimpse of their underwear and abs. I was on my final year in highschool that time. But I never made any of this obvious. I was afraid.

            When I was young, I dreamt of becoming a priest (influenced by being in the church as an Altar Server). Later on, I convinced myself that I wanted to be a teacher in college and a writer as well. And so, I majored in English and then shifted to Mass Communication. My parents had wanted me to take up Nursing but I insisted on taking Liberal Arts, so that “I could proceed to Law School.” They accepted this logic and allowed me to do as I wanted.

            So, BA it was. I went to Davao City for college. I thought I was already free to do whatever I wanted. The probinsyano in me got excited to explore new and exciting things in the city. I was exposed to the colorful yet challenging gay life in the city because of my friends (who later on came out as queer). At 18, I met a discreet guy who became my first boyfriend. Now and then I thought that it was strange because I was studying in a Catholic school yet there I was, blissfully being gay and going against its teaching. I just pushed this thought aside and continued. A year later, I “came out” to my friends. They all responded, “alam na kaya namin, teh!” I enjoyed my college life because of the acceptance of my friends and also because I became a news writer for the college publication. I never had the chance to write fiction that time.

            After college, I was hired by ABS-CBN Davao as Writer/Segment Producer for a local telemagazine show. It was then that I thought I could write in a more creative way—far from the standards that the other disciplines imposed. I was assigned to a segment called “Misyon Makeover,” that gave free makeovers to deserving people with wonderful life stories. As a TV writer I learned how to research life stories—inside jeepneys, comfort rooms, the public market. But my favorite place to look for unique life stories to be featured was the beauty parlor.

            Around five years ago, I started to write short stories again. Back then, I wrote for myself, primarily. Only now and then would I allow others to read my works. Back then I thought that I didn’t really need readers in order to write. But my engagement with the craft and vocation of writing changed two years ago, when I was accepted as a fellow to a regional writers workshop in Davao. After the workshop, I looked at writing differently.

            The subjects of my short stories before were the “generic” ones—anything, actually, that caught my fancy, and spurred me to write. But when I went to UP Diliman, I was motivated to write more gay-themed stories because I met friends  there who wrote these kinds of fiction, and they were great! In UP, I took up an MA in Media Studies (Broadcast), but I as much as I could I tried to get electives relevant to writing—courses from the Creative Writing and Comparative Literatute programs, to be exact.

            I describe myself as a “lazy writer.” I envy friends who keep a strict writing schedule. What I do have is a list on my phone, which I call “Prospect Istorya.” This is a list of plotlines that are potential fictional projects.  To date, I have 14 stories yet to be written.

            I personally didn’t have a familial coming out story. It is through the stories I now write that I am able to come out. Today, as I’m a self-avowed gay man and teacher who advocates LGBTQ and Lumad rights, I understand that the writing of life stories is critical. I now understand that my writing cannot be separated from my identity as a confidently gay man.

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