By J. Neil C. Garcia
Opening message given at the online seminar, Teaching Philippine Queer Literature, held on December 9 and 10, 2021, in partnership with the Likhaan: University of the Philippines Institute of Creative Writing.
Watch the seminar sessions below!
A pleasant morning to everyone.
Allow me to welcome you all to the GlobalGRACE Seminar on “Teaching Philippine Queer Literature,” which we are holding in partnership with the Likhaan: University of the Philippines Institute of Creative Writing.
Open to Filipino senior high school and college literature teachers, this seminar is the final activity of the Philippine Work Package of Project GlobalGRACE, an international arts and research consortium that seeks to uphold gendered cultures of equality around the world, primarily in the Global South, which has been administered through Goldsmiths University of London, as funded by the UKRI.
Our Work Package has, over the past four years, been promoting through workshops and virtual residencies creative forms of scriptural, performative, and audiovisual literacies among young Filipino LGBTQs, whose artistic productions are available as open access material—poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and a variety of digitally archived artworks in a curated online exhibition—and also as books, published by the UP Press in 2020 and 2021.
Allow me to announce, at this point, that all the registered participants to our seminar who are able complete its modules will receive, via courier or snail mail early next year, a copy of these two books, the Philippine LGBTQ anthologies, titled Busilak and Lamyos, respectively. These volumes gather together the poems, stories, and essays of our fellows to the GlobalGRACE national LGBTQ Creative Writing workshops—the first of their kind in our country—which took place for two successive pre-pandemic years at the University Hotel of UP Diliman. These are also the texts that will be featured in the modules that make up our seminar, even as I believe they are not the only material that our panel of expert queer literature professors will be recommending to you in the next couple of days.
The rationale and philosophy of our seminar may be found in the module outline that you have all been given, as a link, in your acceptance letter. I will not repeat them anymore, even as I would like to stress at this point the importance of complementing the production and archiving of Filipino creative works which we have undertaken with the kind of educational intervention that this seminar indeed seeks to carry out.
The pedagogical takeaways that our seminar modules will offer you—our country’s best and dearest literature teachers—will hopefully magnify and ennoble the good that our workshops and residencies have enacted, offering lifelines to Filipino queer learners in our schools, who need to be empowered to believe in the dignity of their own truths, of their own desires and longings, of their own embodied self-understandings, of their own lives.
On the other hand, it is also our hope the our modules will be able to enrich the content and form of your syllabi and readings lists, providing you concrete and reliable ways of encouraging a more context-specific and holistic appreciation of the written word and its power to cultivate empathy and compassion among all your students, regardless of their gender and/or sexual self-identifications.
The queer question is necessarily as complex—as layered, as fraught, and as overdetermined—as the realities and truths of the queer subjects to which these texts ultimately pertain.
Allow me also to briefly call your attention to the intersectional approach that all our modules will take. It is an approach that situates the question of queerness within a variety of issues and concerns, all of which may be said to simultaneously obtain, even as the modules seek to focus on each and every one of them, by turns. All told, these thematic “interimplications” may be taken to mean that the queer question is necessarily as complex—as layered, as fraught, and as overdetermined—as the realities and truths of the queer subjects to which these texts ultimately pertain.
I would like to urge you to use this intersectional approach in your teaching of these and indeed any other literary texts, whose formal qualities and pleasures are necessarily embodied inside and indeed intersect with themes, values, and valuations that are inescapable in our overall appreciation of any work of art. Treating the text not only as the paradoxical union but also as the generative intersection of form and content will not negate the kind of formalist appreciation that our traditional literary pedagogies have trained us to perform. On the contrary, this approach will complicate and enrich this methodology by situating this kind of artistic appreciation in a network of representational questions that relate to the fullness and complexity of textual content, and just how personally, historically, and culturally grounded it is. Moreover, to enhance and qualify the formalist celebration of the virtues of organic unity, the intersectional approach will be mindful of the differences that must remain despite or precisely because of the harmonizing imperatives of art.
We have arranged the modules mindfully, with the first two—about desire and about identity— providing the conceptual ground on which any further discussion of the critical and existential difference that queerness makes needs to stand. With these two modules, you will be encouraged to see that while they connote one another, sexuality and gender are analytically separable as concepts, and that as experienced by queer subjects, the question of desire (which we can perhaps readily equate with sexual orientation) need not commonsensically always align with the question of identity (which is perhaps more readily intelligible to most of us as gender).
As this analytic separability suggests, varieties of cis-gender and transgender identities may therefore be said to exist along a spectrum of sexual orientations (and vice-versa), with the following permutations perhaps being suggestive of just how, in our day and age, dizzyingly unpredictable, random, and incongruous the two can be: think of a cis-gender gay man who is predominantly attracted to transwomen; or a transman who is mostly attracted to cis-gender gay men; or a transwoman who is sexually fixated on cis-gender lesbian women; a transman who has a thing for bisexual transwomen; etc. You add the concepts of “non-binary,” “pansexual,” and “asexual” to this heady mix, and you can begin to appreciate why the SOGIESC acronym has by now practically become an alphabet soup. Of course, we do need to say, at this point, that this soup, by now, is increasingly going by a handy little nickname—which should be short, in the way all nicknames are—and this nickname is nothing if not that very interesting and helplessly contentious word, “queer.”
Allow me to read our definition for the word “queer,” as we in the Philippine Work Package have operationalized it across our various projects:
Within the activist and academic discourses of contemporary anglophonic globality more and more “queer” is functioning as the shorthand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other extra-normative identities and sexualities.
A refunctioned pejorative, queer’s provenance in the West, particularly in the U.S., includes its deployment in the AIDS/HIV activist movement in the 1990s, when this disease was entirely lethal, although during the same period it was also being invoked in critical theory circles as a postfoundational category that gestured toward but also profoundly troubled both conventional and progressive understandings of gender, sexuality, identity, subjectivity, and political action. Its currency in the Philippines is mostly confined to urban-centered activist and academic communities, although among the country’s anglophone youth cultures, which enjoy global connectivity through IT gadgets like smartphones, it is being used more and more as a form of self-identification, that bespeaks an openness to complexity as far as gender and sexual identities are concerned.
It’s important to say that, as with the other earlier anglophone categories—like gay, lesbian, and bisexual—queer as it is circulating in the Philippines’s linguistically dynamic, culturally simultaneous, and unevenly anglophone world is understood mostly translationally, subsuming, syncretizing, but not entirely superseding earlier and even more traditional concepts of gendered personhood and sexual desire. This perhaps constitutes this word’s greater relevancy, here and in other anglophonic contexts: as a verb, queer after all signifies reflexivity, self-irony, and autocritique, which makes it entirely open to the idea and the practice of becoming itself deconstructed, critically interrogated, and refunctioned—needless to say, queered, in this case through the transformative process of translation, anywhere and everywhere it may be found.
The last section of this definition underscores the point that our use of English in our country and indeed in our classrooms is a situated accomplishment: it is nothing if not an instance of what linguists have technically called “Philippine English.” What this means is that while their words may appear globally uniform, there are indeed “englishes” rather than just one English, and that the meanings of these seemingly self-evident words as they operate in our cultures are specific to our cultures, precisely, and as such their referents are to realities that are particular to our lives as Filipinos living in the Philippines. As we can imagine, back in the day, when “gay” and “lesbian” were first used by Filipinos in their speech and in their writing, these words as they understood them did not pertain to entirely newfangled ideas, but indeed largely signified the already existing identities of the bakla and tibo, and so on and so forth. In our own cultural moment, right here and now, queer can also be said to manifest the same translational and therefore necessarily hybrid quality.
To my mind, what makes the format of our seminar special is that, as we have envisioned it, it is essentially a sharing of know-how and expertise between and among literature teachers. We all know how rare and precious such a thing has always been in our country, pandemic or no pandemic. I would therefore like to encourage all of you to treat our sessions as a series of warm and mutually relevant and enriching conversations, which I enjoin all of you to actively participate in. Within each module there will be ample room to interact with the module leader and one another. Teachers need safe spaces too, to be themselves, and to learn and grow with one another. Within the time and opportunity that has been given us, we are offering our seminar as one such safe and sacred space.
While I know that very few of you will be able to fully utilize and implement the content of all our modules in your basic literature classes, our intention has always been to offer you a plenitude of pedagogical options—in terms of texts and the responsible and context-responsive readings of them—from which you may cherry-pick, mix and match, cobble and glean, as you may deem fit.
So yes, at the end of this seminar, we would like to encourage all of you to feel free to choose and select the lessons, texts, and takeaways that will be most appropriate to your needs inside your own specifically situated literature classrooms. It’s clear to all of us that the task of communicating to our students the love of reading, the love of writing, is best accomplished through an encounter with outstanding literary works. In and through these modules, we are indeed offering to you these queer Filipino stories, poems, and essays, as possible occasions for such a meaningful and transformative encounter, both for yourselves and for your students.
Within each module there will be ample room to interact with the module leader and one another. Teachers need safe spaces too, to be themselves, and to learn and grow with one another. Within the time and opportunity that has been given us, we are offering our seminar as one such safe and sacred space.
At this point, allow me to extend my profound gratitude to all our module leaders, our seminar experts, literature professors and writers all of them, who will work from but will more earnestly enflesh the seminar outline with their own unique pedagogical inputs. They are among our country’s most pre-eminent names in the fields of literature education and creative writing, and their experiential and professional claim to the topic of queerness is of course nothing if not a “value added,” that also proves the political point that self-representations are always better than representations. It is into their queerly lovely, deft, and compassionate hands that we are entrusting our two-day seminar.
I would also like to express my warmest thanks to our educational partner for this activity, the Likhaan UP Institute of Creative Writing, which has kindly lent to us its technical team, led by Ronah de la Pena, Steven Tansiongco, and Mondi Ruedas.
Again, welcome to all of you. It is my hope that you will all find our seminar pleasurable, productive, instructive, and useful. I hope it gives all of you every joy and encouragement to grow in your love of the teaching profession on one hand, and of literature on the other.
Magandang umaga po sa ating lahat.