PROJECT GRACE-UP

NATIONAL LGBTQ+

WRITERS WORKSHOP

Sigrid Marianne Gayangos

Sigrid was born and raised in Zamboanga City. Her works have been anthologized in Mindanao Odysseys: A Collection of Travel Essays, Fantasy: Fiction for Young Adults, Maximum Volume: Best New Philippine Fiction 3, Philippine Speculative Fiction 12, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, and Best Small Fictions 2019, among other places. She is currently working on her first collection of short stories. When not busy with her writing, she divides her time between training a bunch of mathletes and making friends with curious sea critters.

The Story

The story demonstrates the finality of a long history of sexual politics in a lesbian relationship: who uses which partner, which partner is used, and how the terms of abuse are framed within the language of love, also masquerading in gestures of co-dependency inevitably exposed when the guises at reciprocity can no longer be sustained as such. If it seems the manipulation has been attenuated and repeated over time and in the same place, the return to the primal scene of romance, Zamboanga, dramatizes what could a narrative of decision could look like. In this case, a conviction to finally say no, let go, and be free from cisheteropatriarchal structures of eros bedevilling queer passions, redeems what were never said in enduring desire for a person incapable of giving back and opening up to her lover. Thus, the ethical decision to break free is not a concession but a necessary motion to become singularly woman again. The piece is lauded for its pedagogy on minimalism and subtlety, a poetics of silence and slowness that may be said to be teaching us a way or two about lesbian tactics of surviving and subjectivity.

The Workshop

Gayangos’s submissions to the workshop are clearly lesbian love stories. No special “cryptohomosexual” strategies of interpretation need to be made to justify such a description, for their characters are recognizably women who love, romantically, one another. In both stories, lesbian love is depicted as being “difficult,” mostly because, on one hand, it lacks the volubility to express itself; on the other, it is typically denied the everyday domestic space within which it can fructify and prosper. The workshop understood this to be one of the author’s primary political interests, for it recognizes the reality that queer love remains beleaguered in our time, primarily because it does not enjoy institutional support, and often needs to be championed against overwhelming cultural odds. Another feature that the stories share is the minimalist manner in which the author has chosen to present them: these are relatively short short stories, with relatively few scenes, framed within conceptually or temporally “terse” spaces, that nevertheless generate ambiguity and polysemy, because carefully rendered and evocative. These stories possess a connotative quality, in which gaps and ellipses generate interpretive possibilities that perhaps constitute, aesthetically, their “queerness.” In both stories, the lovers are located in predicaments, because while being erotically attuned to one another (they are both at home in their lesbian sexualities), they are, in the end, much too different to be compatible or even, perhaps, companionable. In “All that remains of summer,” the narrator is happily provincial and ready to settle down, while the beloved is cosmopolitan and literally and emotionally flighty; in “What lies beneath oceans,” the central character is an earth-bound and practical gardener, who happily lives in the present, while her long-distance partner is a doomsday-fixated oceanographer, whose life-work involves scientifically proposing ways to mitigate the effects of the end of all recognizable terrestrial life. The workshop recognized this to be a genuine contribution to the understanding of the craft of LGBTQ creativity: that, perhaps, the better queer characters we can conjure are those who cannot so readily be taken as types, but rather, function as full-bodied individuals. Hence, championing the queer cause in the arts should not be tantamount to the promotion of ideal or ready-made ideas or forms. It should be, in the end, about opening up as many options as possible, any of which the queer artist must be free to pursue. Being a self-aware queer artist does not entail a diminishment or “ghettoization” in the choices one can make. Ultimately, queer artists must allow themselves the right to aspire toward the universal, even as they can only do so while recognizing the truth that it is only through the particular—here, the fullness of human embodiment, whose dignity needs to be recognized and respected—that the universal can be imaginatively reached.

Featured Work:

In Her Own Words: Where I Come From

            I am from big Sunday brunches in the family compound: my siblings, cousins and I wearing our pristine church clothes and being in our best behavior, while the adults take turns in commandeering the kitchen. I am from dishes made from what the sea had to offer, cooked in ways known to coastal towns in Iloilo, Cebu, Cotabato and Zamboanga. I am from the dishes that somehow made their way to our shores. I am satti for breakfast, Knickerbocker for dessert, and marang any time of the day.

            I am from that cozy little house in the hilly terrain of Pasonanca, that portion of Zamboanga that smells oddly of pine cones and nestled way up in the city, some kilometers away from downtown pueblo. I’m from Moon River played on the piano while in the distance, there is an off-key singing of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody--their duet, somehow, perfected. I am from wild greens, calamansi, atis and peppers, all grown in the fresh dirt, under the blazing sun, in our tiny yard.

            Then I am from that antique bungalow with one room that used to be solely for storing arms, then the two-floor building with creaky floorboards and locked storage rooms, then that two-bedroom apartment downtown that finally spelled quiet for us. I am from finding home then feeling lost for almost a decade in Quezon City. I am from that frequent need to move homes.

            I am Chavacano, Hiligaynon, Binisaya, Hokkien, English and snippets of Tagalog and Tausug, all rolled up, complexed and compounded, in one sentence. I am from constantly shifting linguistic gears, depending on whom I talk to. I wonder if I have a motherless tongue, or one with multiple mothers. I mourn the fact that I write primarily in English, repressing my rich history of linguistic pluralism. This is something that I still continue to interrogate, and something I hope to address in my future works.

            I am either a quirky Math trivia from Papa or tales of seafaring from Mama before I go to sleep, both of them weavers of tales of wonder and enchantment. I am from learning as a child that a tree trunk looks like a hyperbola, that a Pringles chip is a doubly ruled surface like a hyperbolic paraboloid, and that an isaw looks like a compressed sine curve. I am learning early on how much each type of fish would sell depending on the season, and knowing how to properly scale and clean them even before I learned how to cook rice.

            I am from the people of Pasonanca, Tugbungan, the rapidly evolving pueblo, and the little pockets of the city that refuse to change. I am from the kitchens and couches and spare rooms of the friends I met in college and the strangers I encountered in my travels. Those who overwhelmed me with joy and food and stories and singing. Lots of singing. I am from the well-worn Kodak albums that I still take with me wherever I go, sorted and filled and labeled by twenty year old me. I keep these albums in a box, under my bed. And I let all these lost faces drift beneath my dreams.

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