PROJECT GRACE - U.P.
2nd NATIONAL LGBTQ+
The Second GlobalGRACE-UP National LGBTQ Writers Workshop
Nice Rodriguez was born in Naga City and was raised in Manila. She worked as a research writer for some of Manila’s top business newspapers after passing the CPA board exams. From business research, she eventually shifted to writing general interest and entertainment features in People Magazine, Times Journal, and Philippine Daily Globe. During the People Power days, she also contributed as cartoonist and photojournalist in Malaya and Mr. & Ms. Special Edition, which eventually became the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She migrated to Canada in 1988 and worked as production artist for Canada’s top alternative newspaper, NOW Magazine in Toronto. In 1993, Women’s Press published her book of short stories, Throw It To The River. Some of her stories have appeared in lesbian anthologies in Canada, London, and Germany. After retiring and returning to the Philippines, she became a volunteer of the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and appeared with her rescued aspin Poypoy in dog events like agility and frisbee, and in animal therapy visits to hospitals and orphanages. She is the president of PAWS Aspin Club and lives in Manila with her 15 rescued dogs, mainly native mixed breed dogs. She is a member of Urban Sketchers Manila and paints watercolor as a hobby. Nice Rodriguez is this year’s workshop keynote speaker.
My book Throw It To The River was published in Toronto, Canada in the fall of 1993. That’s a good 26 years ago. Although I have been back and living in the Philippines for more than a decade now, this is my first public appearance here.
During my book’s release in 1993, I had done public readings in Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and New York but never here. Just to place it on a timeline, when my book came out, marriage equality or same sex marriage was not legal in Canada yet. It became a law some eight years later in 2001. I was still there and witnessed the first gay and lesbian wedding at a Metropolitan Community Church near Broadview.
A year before in 1992, Ontario would pass its Sunday Shopping Law, meaning that shops could finally open on Sundays which had been illegal for years. So I arrived at a quiet and conservative Toronto with only Chinatown open on Sundays. I am just giving you a feel of the place and time. But around the time I landed (we were called Landed Immigrants), I ran right smack into the tail end of the women’s movement of the 80s. Women were angry and angrier still when a year later there was a mass murder of 14 women at the Ecole Polytechique,which was afilliated with the University of Montreal. It was there where 14 women were shot to death and another 14 more injured. The shooter was a male engineering student who ordered the women and men to opposite sides of the classroom. He instructed the men to leave. He stated that he was “fighting feminism” and opened fire at the women. I remember it having a profound effect on me. Man or Woman the killer asked. What would I choose Life or Death?
Feminism was a big word then. Women was spelled as womyn with a Y or womon with an O. Chairman was written as chairperson and even my immediate boss Kris Twyman, was endearingly called Kris TwyPERSON at work. Women were not just shouting “Burn the bra!” They also wanted to bare their breasts and when I was there, going topless in Toronto also became legal.
There was also a stronger focus on equal opportunities for immigrants and minorities, and along that line on Women of Color and its subcategory Lesbians of Color. There were protests on marriage equality just like what we are having here now, and the Protestant and liberal church groups were among the most vocal about legalizing same sex unions, as well as in fighting for same sex spousal benefits. Along this line, my early writings were about same sex sponsorship for immigration, or about the longings of Canadian and immigrant partners for legitimate reunions with their lovers or partners from another country.
When my friends learned I was going to speak here, they asked me what are you going to talk about? Did they give you a topic? What will you wear? I said I don’t know. I just presumed it would be about writing. You see I had never attended a writers workshop in my life. I see that many of you here are also from the academic world. I have also never taught writing. I studied belatedly in fits of incompetence and insecurity, a short course on writing in Toronto, but I was already published at that time. I don’t think the course helped me in my latter writings. So what I am going to talk about now is about my little book Throw It The River, for although I had written a few more stories for anthologies after its publication, my claim to fame is just one book. I believe I have one more book trapped inside me but let’s forget about that in the meantime.
So how did it happen? How did someone shy like me with no literary ambition, newly arrived in a strange land, a Filipino, unassertive by Canadian standards, with few friends, no money, no book agent, no ability to pitch nor sell, and no body of work to my name, ever get published in a First World country like Canada? I had already explained the social climate in Canada when I arrived. Their hospitality extended, even in a limited fashion to immigrants -- straight and gays alike. I don’t know if what I accomplished could be duplicated but I will tell you about it just the same.
Before I left for Canada to migrate in 1988 at the age of 30, I was already working for a decade in local newspapers here. I was a Marcos baby. I was six years old when he came to power and 28 years old when he was deposed. I worked in both the crony and free press. For five years after university, I was a mere research writer for several big business newspapers because I was a business graduate, a certified public accountant.
During those years, I wrote in the language of business -- trends and movements of stocks, commodities and industries — what went up, down and unchanged. I made graphs and charts, interviewed analysts and brokers, and wrote their views and predictions. My early works weren’t literary at all, but I loved the thesaurus and wrote all the synonyms for up, down and unchanged in index cards. I made “arte” my reports and made them soulful if that was even possible. I wrote for The Economic Monitor, Southeast Asia’s first business weekly, Business Day, Southeast Asia’s first business daily and the last one, The Financial Times of Manila also called the Binondo Business Daily.
Due to union activities, the last newspaper, owned by Imelda Marcos’ brother Kokoy Romualdez folded up, but the umbrella corporation Philippine Journalists Inc., which at that time published almost 30 publications for here and abroad, still took us in as floating employees.
I didn’t know that an editor was already taking notice of my “up and down” business reports and added me to her staff. She was Jullie Yap Daza a prominent broadcaster and columnist at that time. Finally, I was removed from the business world and transferred to the joyful and gay world of fashion and entertainment. I started writing features for People Magazine. I finally had readers, not just librarians saving my stories for the next researcher.
What was spectacular about belonging to this umbrella group was our publisher. Kokoy had lots of money and he put all the best writers he could afford all in one roof, in a big Port Area warehouse like his harem of writers. For someone young like me who had not even seen a writer in the flesh, working with great Filipino writers and journalists, was enchanting and life changing. Jullie my boss, for instance, had her own tv show. The warehouse was not only full of stories but enigmatic and confident characters.
Jullie gave me all kinds of assignments, some of them tough because I was shy by nature and not comfortable doing interviews. At the magazine, we worked as a team with a photographer and art director for cover story assignments. While I adored being with writers, I was far more excited watching graphic artists and cartoonists at work. My first love was drawing and Nonoy Marcelo, one of my idols, also worked there.
I have to add here that I never planned to be a writer but being openly butch, I saw that my only chance at stable employment was to attach myself with liberal and non-judgmental people. Most journalists were that way and I was right. They were to become lifelong friends. I tried to be flexible and able to write anything as long as my employer would not make me wear a dress to work.
I moved to Times Journal. When Marcos fled, new newspapers were born along with new power players, and I worked as assistant editor at Philippine Tribune and later, assistant lifestyle editor at Philippine Daily Globe before I left for my adventure in Canada.
When I arrived in Canada in 1988, I worked first as a slide printer for two years, printing 2,500 slides a day and worked for eight hours daily in a darkroom in a basement, together with elderly immigrants from Latvia, who fled their country during the German occupation. It felt like there was still a war in that workplace because the Latvians talked about their traumatic escapes from the Germans amidst gunfire, day in and out during our work breaks. It was depressing, doing manual and non-creative work although everything was new, but most of the time, boring in a very cold frigid place.
I never knew the power of my writing until I got to Canada. Bored and despondent, and if I may add on the brink of suicide, I wrote a cover letter and applied for a job at Now Magazine, Toronto’s largest alternative newspaper. I got in, besting over 200 applicants to be part of a very hip organization. In my application letter, I wrote about my circumstance as a new landed immigrant and that I was gay. Who knew that it would land on the table of a sympathetic lesbian who recruited me almost immediately.
The company was unionized and there was one year that I was the only employee who got an increase, also due to the power of my written word. I requested for a pay hike and I got it. I was discovering the power of telling the truth.
Around this time also, I joined the Asian Lesbians of Toronto (ALOT) and a group of young Filipino Canadian lesbians called the Babaylan. My immigrant life started to be colorful. I outgrew my social circle of Filipinos, mostly nannies who were part of Canada’s Foreign Domestic program. From playing pusoy, eating BBQ and dancing during Pards Nite, I joined a new circle of Canadian professionals, many of them writers, professors and leaders. All of them always feminists.
One time, as I was hanging my coat, Dierdre Hanna one of the writers of Now, asked if I had any of my writings that I wanted to read at Idler’s Pub, famous for its weekly literary readings. She and other writers at Now were going to read there on Saturday night. I promptly said yes but in reality, I had not written any story at all and most of the writings that I had done before I left the Philippines were about celebrities, bold stars and entertainers. I was already editing other people’s works and therefore, no longer writing. I didn’t have any works with me and Canada would not be interested in them anyway. But I already said yes and I wasn’t going to back out.
As Saturday approached, I started worrying. What would I write? It had to be short and easy that could be finished in a few days. Finally, I thought about making an alamat, a fable because Filipinos were good making up how things or words originated. That would be easy. So I wrote “Big Nipple of the North,” my very first story which was basically about my life, or the alamat of the tomboy, which I read at Idler’s Pub together with Now writers. I was very nervous and my first time on a blinding stage. I thought maybe my zipper was open because the audience laughed and got amused at my prompts. That story was later published in a Woman of Color anthology called Piece of My Heart with Makeda Silvera as editor.
I also wrote and submitted a story for Women’s Press, but it was rejected because it was off-topic, but it came with a letter saying they really liked my writing and they wanted to encourage me to start working on a collection of stories which I could start submitting to them little by little. It was touching and consoling. The letter said, “Don’t move anywhere without letting us know.” It was true. I still didn’t feel at home where I was and was moving always. I must have moved seven times before I found a permanent Canadian address.
Two publishers, one of them Women’s Press, both offered to recommend me for writing grants. One was from Ontario Arts Council and the other from the Toronto Arts Council. It wasn’t big about $2,000 (Canadian) from both, which I could use for my living expenses. I requested for a work leave of three months to write my book. I went on sabbatical to write. I was lucky that my workplace was supportive and the staff were mostly creative people who understood and were themselves passionate in their own pursuits.
I was told that I was lucky because I didn’t have to look for publishers. They found me. Two publishers, in fact. While as a Lesbian of Color I should have picked Sister Vision Press ran by a Jamaican feminist publisher, I chose Women’s Press, the largest Canadian publisher of women’s books. I sensed that they had better copy editors and at the minimum, I wanted correct grammar for my book.
I was also told that I could do anything with the grant money. I didn’t have to finish a book. I wasn’t obligated because it was meant to help authors like me. I was determined, however, to complete the book because I took the money and that I should deliver. My stint in newspapers also trained me to honor deadlines.
During my research writer days, I was also trained to write even when there was nothing to write. Trade and industry reports in newspapers sometimes run in length of undetermined pages, depending on the advertisements. We filled these blank pages with whatever text and graphics we could dig. It always paid to keep calm during blank days. In the end, the story will always come. It was just a belief but it always helped.
During my leave, I went to public libraries around Toronto. I came home with baskets of books, mostly about writing at that time. I read about writing plots, revising, creating interesting characters and making endings, which I found the toughest. I seemed to always end by killing my butches, which would be more believable in the Philippines because of the extra judicial killings these days. In fact, I had a story about a butch being summarily executed in my book but I cannot kill them all and so I read and read.
Before all this, I looked around for another lesbian of color who could write the ultimate Pinay lesbian book, someone better than me, someone with a pedigree, but it was so clear, nobody else at that time was going to do it except me. It was so crystal clear. I knew in my heart it was going to be me and nobody else.
So I read some self-help books for writing tips. One said to read aloud to catch what was wrong with it, the phrasing perhaps or the structure of the narrative. I had a strange relationship with the English language at that time. I was in bilingual Canada where English was one of the official languages. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like I knew English. I didn’t feel like I owned English. We were all there in Canada from all over the world talking in English but many times too, we did not even understand each other. You will know what I mean if you were there Englishing them and them Englishing you, but somehow in the exchange, something went missing. Just something that I sensed that gave me the feeling I was a fake.
For one, I was not thinking fast in English. There was always the cautionary pause. The delay. When I recorded myself reading my writings, it felt alienating. Something in my voice and accent. I was getting blocked more than ever so I stopped reading aloud. But this also gave me the resolve to write in unpretentious English using simple words, not too thesaurus sounding, and one review called my writing “clear and fresh”.
Then there was a tip of about letting someone else see my manuscript for revisions and suggestions. A third party. I was already a self-deprecating person. If I let someone else critique my work, even a professional or teacher, I knew that feeling of inadequacy would creep in again and I would stop writing. So I also skipped this middle person. As soon as my self-editing and self-revising were done, I turned them over in its raw form to a Japanese woman editor named Mona Oikawa, a lesbian of color handpicked by Women’s Press to be my book editor. Her editing was gentle, mostly about catching racist remarks or politically incorrect issues that sometimes got to my writing and other insensitive matters I wasn’t too aware as a new immigrant, like calling a white person anemic and a Chinese a chink.
I read books about basic plots. Seven plots. Nine plots. Twelve plots. But they were not working for my dyke characters.
A book that helped me, although I don’t remember if I discovered it later or during my leave was Writing The Natural Way. It was about using clusters to organize ideas, topics and subjects. It became useful in planning and making the story’s flow more fluid.
It wasn’t really writing books that unblocked and liberated me during this time. I was also reading spiritual books and I heard about a Dutch Catholic priest and a bestselling author who lived in Ontario around that time. His name was Henri Nouwen. Reading a few of his writings, one particular quote struck me. It was about the most personal being the most universal. It was like an “aha” moment. He was also gay but celibate, and although he never wrote about his sexual orientation, he confided his conflict in private journals and conversations documented in his biography Wounded Prophet by Michael Ford. To quote Nouwen said: “…anyone trying to live a spiritual life will soon discover that the most personal is the most universal, the most hidden is the most public, and the most solitary is the most communal. What we live in the most intimate places of our beings is not just for us but for all people. That is why our inner lives are lives for others. That is why our solitude is a gift to our community, and that is why our most secret thoughts affect our common life”. When I read this, my writing, my sharing became effortless. I did not anymore agonize whether the Canadians will understand my writings, I wrote about the most personal topic, even sex.
On the subject of erotic writing.
I started writing fables because it was safe, elementary and easy but I had to progress somehow. My Canadian publishers gave me ultimate freedom. There was no censorship. I have never felt so free. If I were back home, I could never write lesbian at all. I didn’t want to waste my chance. They were going to take whatever I give them. I had to finally decide whether I wanted to go more confessional and real, whether I should write erotica like most lesbian stories that were coming out at that time. I was raised Catholic and I had to examine my position on it. Finally, I relented. Gay pride included our sexual orientation more than anything. I suffered enough already just because I wanted to have sex with my own sex. That sex must be worth the suffering, indignation, ostracization and must be told with pride. It was this part, however, that I admit was also the most uncomfortable. When the book came out and after I fulfilled my publisher’s promotional lineup, I went into hiding. It was easy to write erotica where nobody knew me but upon the book’s publication, I didn’t anymore know who was reading my stories. I hid and only felt comfortable after the reviews came out after six months onward. On the whole, the reviews were positive and even those who wanted to pick on it did it so reverently “as a sign of respect as a pioneer in this kind of writing”. I find out from reviews that I was also among the first Asians to write in this category. Some of my writer friends wondered why I went “low” in Canada like I had become a porn writer, but I no longer felt obliged to explain. At that time, I knew that nobody else but another transgender could understand a transgender.
WHEN THE BOOK CAME OUT:
Women’s Press arranged book readings of Throw It To The River during the fall season together with other books they published in 1993. I was told this was in anticipation of the Christmas season, always a big time for book sales. Together with other authors, my book was launched in Toronto. Women’s Press also arranged a radio interview with me at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. in Montreal that was aired throughout Canada. I was fearless during this interview, answering questions like how the lesbians and gays were in the Philippines and a lot more. I told myself nobody listens to radio anyway but the next day, an officemate came to me and said he heard me on the radio. I also did a reading while in Montreal. After a while, I was also invited by the Public Library of Canada to read in Halifax, Nova Scotia in a library there. Meanwhile, Kilawin Kolektibo, a lesbian organization in New York also scheduled me for a reading in New York at the Asia Pacific Center when I visited there.
I also want to make a note here that there was a strong bond or connection between Babaylan, a lesbian group in Toronto and Kilawin Kolektibo, a similar group in New York. We in Toronto crossed the US border many times to meet them, and they in turn crossed the Canadian border, to discuss about our lives not only in both countries but in the Philippines as well. We were always excited to hear what the women were doing in the Philippines. We exchanged personal histories, our social and sexual habits, sometimes politics and mostly art, and that bond had been tested to this day. We had sub-groups, the Filipino lesbians who grew up in the Philippines and migrated to either countries as adults, and those who were born there as second to fourth generation Filipinas. We found, for example, that the New York lesbians were far more liberated in their sexual practices compared to the conservative Fil-Canadians like for example, engaging in threesomes and shaving their pubic hair. The Fil-Americans also engaged in relationships among themselves, “sila-sila” in mixed relationships or nagreregodon, while the Fil-Canadians had partners from other racial group, reflecting the multicultural climate in Canada. We also found that Filipino lesbians in the States were more financially off and in better job positions. When calling cards were exchanged, our American counterparts had enviable positions. Canada had a tougher glass ceiling to break for both immigrants and women at that time. We also liked shopping in New York and using American toilet paper. Anyway, New York and many more American mega cities can’t really compare to the smaller and less populated Canadian cities.
When the book came out, there were things I didn’t know. Although I had an inkling about book readings, it was still something I couldn’t get accustomed to. As journalists and editors, we wrote daily and beat deadlines upon deadlines, but we never read what we wrote publicly. It was uncomfortable to go up the stage to read and exasperated once, I told an audience that I didn’t want to write because I didn’t like to read onstage anymore. I already wrote the stories, why must I still be the one to read it. I said I can understand reading to children but to adults? And the audience laughed. I think after that, on my forehead was written, “Please don’t invite me to readings”. My life became quiet again.
I also didn’t know that my book’s market included universities not only in Canada and the States, but all over. I didn’t realize that the academes would be one of my first market. Had I known. maybe it would scare me and made me approach my writing like a thesis. Be pretentious and be more intelligent on topics outside my sphere. For example, as editors we write titles everyday for our articles but for a thesis, I cannot understand why even writing a title would merit so many defense and revisions. So not knowing that professors of Women Studies, Asian Studies and Queer Studies in higher institutions were analysing me and my milieu, I was lucky that I wrote as raw as I could whether my perceived reader was a philosopher or janitor.
I also didn’t know that my audience could include heterosexual readers. I was writing with the view that I was addressing homosexuals like me. So I was really naïve in that way. When the book came out, there were a lot of teasing from my straight officemates because they also bought my book to support me. Like one would shout, “Hey Nice what’s Filipino for pussy?” or “Hey, I know how you have sex, Nice.” And then in my newspaper, Now Magazine, the book reviewer a straight guy also did a short review. He wrote, “insouciant and sexy.” I had to look at the dictionary for what it meant. My straight friends here also got the book and I don’t think they understood why I had to write erotica but I was glad I forgot about them while writing the book.
After fulfilling the events lined up by my publisher, I made the conscious decision to let the book promote itself. I had already written it, if it was any good it would remain on the shelves and in the stores. I merely thought that I wrote it as a public service, a civic duty. To finally put out a Philippine representation in lesbian lit. I just thought I was not articulate enough to answer many of the questions that the public wanted to know about Philippine lesbians or the immigrant lesbian at that time. For one I was only narrating the butch femme dynamics. I also was not a visionary. People were demanding answers as to the state and future of gays. They wanted to know where we’re heading. Some readers were also critical of my limited portrayal of lesbians, the feminists particularly. I think it was because people have not realized at that time, the wide spectrum of the rainbow. There wasn’t an LGBTQ+ label yet. When I was writing I was only covering L and G for lesbians and gays. I wasn’t even conscious that we had the bisexuals covered as well, at least depending on whether they were partnered with the same sex at that time or not. I felt like they wanted me to answer for all of the spectrum but I only have the L covered but only as to dykes like me. I could only represent myself. If you wanted something else, write your own book I wanted to tell them. I didn’t even feel that we were including bisexuals when we talked about pride. Again, this was a long time ago. It is so different now. Queer was not a gay byword too the same way we own it now. Towards the millennium, the membership was expanding, hence the plus in LGBTQ+. I joined a female-to-male group at this time, and we were even told we shouldn’t be marching during Gay Pride because we weren’t gays. We were men. So rather than represent ambiguity, I decided to be quiet. I also discovered art and spirituality that balanced me tremendously. I am not a historian. I am only describing these based on what I saw but I could be wrong. Part of the peace that came late in my life was forgetting. Not remembering. Not identifying. Not labelling. I was simply a human being with passion and soul.
I realized that the discomfort came from being mislabelled. I was being marketed as a lesbian. I was transgendered. I was being forced to represent the whole gamut of lesbianism. Even my book almost didn’t get published because some at Women’s Press said that it was not women at all. I also received an inquiry from a Lambda awardee Joan Nestle from New York about reprinting a story for a lesbian anthology, but still later, it was dropped from the lineup. I believe it was also because my stories were not feminist too.
I wrote because I was homesick and when away from my beloved Philippines, I was more attuned to its exotic and eccentric attributes. The courage to write I guess I got from witnessing the people’s uprising stage by stage as I myself matured from child to adult. One cannot keep quiet amidst injustices and human rights violation for too long. I love Manila and I wanted to share Manila and my visions of the city in my absence grew clearer the longer I stayed away. I wrote because I was in a free country like Canada. There was no censorship and what to write was as limitless as my imagination.
At first I thought it was my civic duty as a Filipino to get my kind represented -- a lesbian ambassador, but with time I realized in my personal choices whether in relationships and other pursuits like rescuing dogs, I wrote to ask for compassion. I was not just writing for justice and equality. I wrote because I wanted to share my life, its beauty, pain and joy. I wrote because I wanted to be loved. Whenever I was unable to write, I asked myself why. The answer was always because I didn’t want to share. I now enjoy the crafts of writing and painting, and as I age, I find that everything is life is about organizing chaos whether visually or abstract, but the fulfillment is always in the sharing. I wrote because despite the fear, discomfort and insecurities, I wanted to reach out, come out and share. Thank you.
Summary of SOGIE Forum
Perci Vilar Cendaña began his sharing by emphasizing wellbeing as a foundation in thinking through gender and development. From his experience as a development worker in the community, he said that one must always be looking at ways to increase enablers and decrease deterrents to wellbeing. Enablers can be any figure, practice, or structure promoting acceptance, inclusivity, and equality. To see how this task has been successfully accomplished in the literary arts, he cited the UP Babaylan book project Ano’ng pangalan mo sa gabi?, which gathers the many uncertainties troubling LGBTQ life in the country, in question form, and Mulat Sulat, four stories for children on diversity and inclusion. One of the pieces in the series is “Bukás na su Kahon,” a story about closets. For Cendaña the task of creativity is to unbundle the complications of relations within the community.
Anastacio “Tacing” Marasigan defined wellbeing as the condition and state of wellness, and claimed there is a diversity of ensurers to make wellbeing possible in the present. However, he differentiated individual wellness from community wellness: while the former is self-evident, the latter, more often than not, describes another set of conditions altogether. The challenge for him is how to translate empowerment into the terms that the community will understand. In addition, he also wished we could enable more practices to protect the environment. Moreover, there is also a pressing need to advocate for a stronger and more solid legal framework against violence. As a development worker, Tacing situates wellbeing in history. He concluded by saying that among our tasks is knowing what, in everyday terms, wellbeing invidually and communally is. What’s truly important is that we all realize we ourselves are the ones who must make wellbeing happen.
Naomi Fontanos introduced her take on wellbeing with a reflection on femininity in the Philippines, which has mostly been a history of anguish characterized by practices of forced sexualization leading to trauma. Being a trans woman for her is synonymous with living a dangerous life. The herstories she has heard so far have been narrated against a backdrop of ideological domination and systemic violence, making her commit her advocacy to addressing the historical circumstance as well as the contemporary situation of violence against trans women in the Philippines. “What is trans herstory?,” she asked. For her, it is a chronicle of solidarity, sisterhood, and mentorship that honors the memory of our elders. She also addressed the complexities of trauma-informed approaches to wellness and called for practices which minimize and eradicate retraumatization, citing Ninotchka Rosca’s critique of catastrophic resilience.
Giney Villar focused on the precarity of lesbian bodies. She began by explaining the power of the word “lesbian” and the various forms of contagion which plague the way lesbians embody themselves, enumerating the many pressures she herself had needed to endure in order to gain an affirmative image of her body. From here, she described the lesbian body as a site of pain, healing, and finally, wellness. Villar also drew examples from autobiographies of other lesbians, both butch and femme, in order to illustrate how loving the lesbian self could be negotiated in the precarious space located between little acts of kindness and tough love.
Evan Tan posited the importance of gender identity derived from sexual difference, a narrative he had to work through growing up within conservative religion, which only espouses a homogeneous notion of masculinity. He narrated how his commitment to HIV/AIDS advocacy, his involvement in the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce as an entrepreneur, and his love for yoga and veganism, have all inspired him to embody his own model of nontoxic masculinity as a gay man.
J. Neil C. Garcia opened the open forum by thanking the speakers, pointing out how they have all been an inspiration in finding wellness through activism. He described how activism ushers the self into a collectivity, and how self-contained loneliness can be expanded, nurtured, and challenged to grow by building relationalities and fellowships within the LGBTQ community. Carlo Paulo Pacolor shared their own practices of community-building as a nonbinary artist navigating spaces as a queer person in the city, while Taib described the challenges and promises of being a Muslim writer in Manila. Questions on the body and illness prompted Marasigan to re-examine medical paradigms, and how they have shifted from prevention to treatment. He also raised the significance of a SOGIE lens to address aging within the community. Cendaña explained how media literacy plays an important role in disseminating knowledge on sex, and how agency can by exercised by bodies in contexts of control. Villar addressed the specificities of violence against the lesbian body, sharing what she knew about lesbians in sex work, as well as domestic abuse within lesbian relationships. Ronald Baytan raised the question of poverty and financial wellbeing, to which Tan responded by describing how this is being currently examined by members of the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce. Fontanos mediated the concern by reminding everyone how capital must be interrogated intersectionally, with gender and sexuality initiating the conversation. She concluded by saying how the current slogan of pride as resistance must not occlude notions of pride as pleasure, which must bid us all to go back to the idea—and thereafter, the practical pursuit—of wellness.
The writing fellows all noted the emancipatory and humanizing nature of the workshop.
All the fellows felt incredibly safe. One said that he was affirmed not just as a gay man but also as a writer and as a person. Another confided that the workshop served as a salve for her, for she had mostly felt lonely as a gay woman writer.
One fellow confessed that it was like “coming out again.” This invited a response from a colleague, who said that through the workshop the fellows were all invited back to the scene of writing—not as solitary egos but as individuals who were being affirmed as individuals at the same time that they were being enfolded into a community. This form of inclusiveness was designed to make them feel safer and more tenderly nurtured. A very young writer noted how he felt even safer after learning that there were allies within the community. He also wished there had been more interaction with the fellows of the first workshop.
The particular format of nonanonymity was lauded as well as the primacy of analyzing form with content through the lens of queerness. One fellow felt this could only be a critique of patriarchal practices institutionalized in other workshops, while another felt the terms of analysis and how these were rehearsed could be queered even more.
The two cis gay/queer women writers hoped for more women writers cis or trans represented in the forthcoming workshops, while two fellows from the Visayas and Mindanao pushed for more regional representation from north to south.
The fellows thanked the keynote speaker for sharing the story of her courageous, wise, and inspiring journey as a queer writer. This year’s innovation on the SOGIE forum on LGBTQ Wellbeing was likewise most appreciated. Proposed for the next two years were lectures and modules on form and craft, non-traditional publishing, as well as a situationer on queerness in the country and its literary traditions.
Physical space was a concern. The workshop venue was deemed too small and sometimes inconvenient. The hotel’s sound system was unreliable. As was connectivity.
The panelists thanked the fellows for affirming queerness as a politics of cross-identification and an ethics of commitment to the ideals of equality, in and through the praxis of writing. They confessed that they had been mutually enriched, educated, enthused, gratified, and ennobled by the encounter with an abundance of imaginatively worlded and somatically performed alterities and alternativities.
Everyone understood that among other gorgeous and truly important things, what the workshop bequeathed to them was a sharper, more visceral and urgent sense of solidarity with a plenitude of queer bodies (and souls) living their own beautiful and uniquely queer lives.