Rayji de Guia
Rayji is a writer and a visual artist. Her work can be found in DANAS: mga pag-aakda ng babae ngayon (Gantala Press), SCUM Magazine, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, MANILEÑO Magazine, harana poetry, The Literary Apprentice (Balangiga Press), Argot Magazine, and Riggwelter Press. She has also illustrated for Rogelio Braga’s Si Betchay at ang Sacred Circle (Balangiga Press). She was a fellow for fiction in the 1st IWP Alumni Writers Workshop (2016) and the 2nd Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio Writers Workshop (2017). In 2019, her collection, “Neither nothing nor forgotten,” received First Prize in the Poetry Category of the Gémino H. Abad Awards for Poetry and for Literary Criticism. Currently, she resides in an eighty-year-old ancestral house in Maragondon, Cavite with her family and some ghosts.
De Guia’s piece builds on the lives of women portrayed in the Nick Joaquin famous story, “Summer Solstice,” and shows us the prosaic possibilities of depicting women according to the terms women have laid out for themselves to be seen seeing each other. While it is told that Joaquin may have signalled ways in which women can already be liberated from within the male gaze that sympathizes and identifies with them in queer ways, it is also significant to be independent from such framework and inscribe one’s own regard of oneself and others from within herstory. Within this premise, the eros of the Tatarin cult that counterpoints to the proprieties of the devotion to John the Baptist is indeed finally overcome. In its stead, a community of women is established exclusively for its own sake, with its own professions of faith assembled around the divine feminine. The utopia that is created from the lesbian continuum prepares feminine eros to be framed in lesbian terms, masterfully narrated from a long history of friendship finally transformed with each woman now free to touch another: once friend, then sister, and finally lover.
De Guia’s stories emplot lives of lesbians as women-identified women: channeling the well-known treatise of Adrienne Rich, these are stories of women in whose lives other women play a central and even existentially defining role. Because one of the stories is about the estrangement of elderly sisters—whose love for one another finally proves more substantial than their lifelong freight of resentments—the question was raised during De Guia’s workshop about just what exactly constituted LGBTQ writing. As evidenced in the submissions to this and the previous LGBTQ National Writers Workshops, it was agreed that what is queer in literary or artistic creativity in general cannot be limited to just topic or subject matter alone: after a queer artist has come out, everything she creates or produces is queer, regardless of topic, for queerness is ultimately a matter of subject-positionality. Another way of saying this is that queerness is a question of perspective, rather than theme. Of necessity such perspective describes a plurality, even as it must arguably be antiheteronormative, somehow. The act of self-avowal as a queer person is therefore crucial, for it is a performativity that occasions subjectivity at the same time that it mobilizes a series of political effects that recognizes the value of this subjectivity and makes possible the queer interpretations of its textual productions. Other than the identifying of poetics or formal strategies of composition, an antiheteronormative politics of interpretation, of reading, is hence acknowledged as being entirely crucial, in order to expand the definition of queer possibility in the realm not only of culture and the arts, but also of public life, in general. De Guia’s other project is a radical feminist mythopoeia that draws from Nick Joaquin’s cultic anglophone short story, “Summer Solstice.” While De Guia’s story succeeds in imaginatively appropriating its material and in “lesbianizing” the homosocial bonds between its central female characters, she was urged to foreshadow the story’s ultimate scene of homoerotic fellowship and to rethink the presence of patriarchal residues in the character of the imprimatur-giving father and the strict adherence to Joaquin’s folk-Catholic symbology of the phallic-looking image (of St. John the Baptist).
In Her Own Words: Where I Come From
I spent the first ten years of my childhood flitting between Imus and Maragondon, Cavite, sometimes Rosario, Batangas—Imus, mostly, but we visited Maragondon frequently enough for it to figure in my memory growing up, while Rosario, I didn’t like very much. Due to my father being reassigned in Laguna, we moved to Santa Rosa four years prior to its being a city. The difference in dialect was noticeable—my classmates didn’t know what “pitsit” meant (flattened), and they were confused as to why I put “raw” in my requests (it was to be polite).
I went to the newly established Santa Rosa Science and Technology High School as part of its third batch. In the first year, I had a fleeting dream of being an author like JK Rowling since the fifth Harry Potter book came into my possession in sixth grade. Nestle, where my father worked as a sales representative, had leftover copies from their ice cream give-away, and my father’s boss gave him a copy. That was the first time I read a book, and so I wanted to write.
But I was an artist first. Before I could even parse my childhood memory, I’ve been drawing on sheets of paper and walls. One memory I couldn’t remember but my mother always told was how she left me and my sisters to my older cousin so she could restock our sari-sari store from the market. When she arrived and got off the tricycle, I ran up to her and showed her a drawing that caused her to drop the plastic bags and rush into the house in panic; apparently, I drew that our cabinet had fallen over the bed because of my sisters’ rowdiness in exact detail.
My drawing hobby and education in a Science high school led me into architecture. I forgot about my dream of writing. My English classes and the school’s strict English policy only focused on grammar. At that time, I lived in places where Philippine literature couldn’t reach me.
At the age of forty-five, my father was forced to retire, and so my parents wanted to move where housing was free, either in Rosario, Batangas with his side or in Maragondon, Cavite with my mother’s side. My siblings and I insisted with Maragondon, partly because we didn’t want to live in the middle of rice paddies, but mostly because our titas there treated children as young laborers who should tend to the farm instead of their education.
Since then, we’d stayed in Maragondon. It had witnessed my struggle to end my relationship with architecture to shift into creative writing, mood shifts, depression, anger, and throwing my father out of our lives, and it is more influential in my life and writing than Santa Rosa or Imus.
The first time wrote about Maragondon was in my short story, “The Manananggal of Mayabo”. I wrote it in 2013, submitted it in the call for women’s writing in 2015, and it was released in the DANAS anthology by Gantala Press in 2017. Here, the setting is a small, rural, fictional town, Mayabo, similar to Maragondon. I wrote it at a time when I was still scrambling to find grounding in Philippine literature. Before this, I mostly wrote fanfiction to a foreign audience online. A lot of writers who did not grow up reading Philippine literature, like me, didn’t know Philippine literature existed. I remember how writing Artemis Fowl fanfiction made me want to be a writer but also gave me the problem of Who am I going to write for if not foreigners on the internet? I was happy to know I could write here for people around me.
I remember the feeling of embarrassment in my earlier creative writing classes, how teachers expected we all had a solid foundation of the classics in both Anglo-American and Philippine literature from high school. There were times I wished I grew up in Manila with money that could build up my repertoire of literature. I envied my classmates so much.
I realize now I could use the spaces I inhabited and how they shaped me growing up into my writing: I am currently working on my thesis-slash-short story collection on women and the rural. In my collection, the women are all in the province in various time periods, setting as an anchor, and each of them deal with some sort of suffering related to their being women in the place they inhabit. “The Manananggal of Mayabo” as the opener sets the collection’s objective, which is to give space for peculiarities supposedly not in the rural to manifest in the rural. With the preoccupation with space, I am hoping to take it into the direction of recreating rural history and extrapolation in which these peculiarities exist and interact.
I have a theory that writing about the province gets you preoccupied with the past. Not to say that provincial means backwards, but because provincial life courses the way it does for a reason found in the past, like tradition and history. There is a sense of nostalgia in these places, but, at the same time, that past is still within reach. There is slowness that is tangible and untouchable in varying levels. Ultimately, what I look for is what I call the mustiness of a piece. It is difficult to describe, but strangely enough I found this mustiness that I try so hard to convey in my fiction from poetry, specifically, Isabela Banzon’s poetry collection, Lola Coqueta. Reading the text creates a smell from the antique tomba-tomba with its wiry, itchy solihiya in an ancestral home—nostalgic. In a way, I want to convey spaces of my childhood, where I had come from, to my readers.