‘Reclaiming our narrative’: BL genre opens up avenues for queer representation in PH media

Josiah Antonio, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 26 2021 09:57 PM | Updated as of Feb 27 2021 12:40 AM

Hit boys' love series Gaya sa Pelikula and The Boy Foretold By The Stars. Screenshot.

MANILA — The boys' love (BL) genre in the Philippines is paving the way for more works that tackle the struggles of members of the LGBT community and its allies.

With "Gaya sa Pelikula," "The Boy Foretold By The Stars," among other BL titles, conversations about this minority have been opened and amplified.

Director Dolly Dulu said he was looking for more representation in the queer community in writing the Metro Manila Film Festival entry “The Boy Foretold By The Stars.”

He added that for the longest time the LGBT has been a minority in the mainstream scene and this motivated him to have a femme lead for his BL film.

“Gusto ko lang magkwento ng mga experiences ko, kasi isa sa mga mentors ko before told us, ‘If you’re gonna write something, it’s better that you write based on what you know kasi nobody can question if it’s true or not, kasi it happened,'” Dulu told ABS-CBN News in an interview. 

“Ang problema lang, minority ang LGBTQ community for the longest time. We’ve been treated as a minority … our stories are not relevant enough for the mainstream media to be told. ‘Yon ‘yong naging issue. Pero sa paglipas ng panahon, ako naniniwala talaga ako na lumalakas talaga 'yong buying powers ng community, and dahil lumalakas ‘yong buying powers ng community, napapansin siya ng marami,” he added.

The director said he wanted to make his audience see that queer love is just the same as what heterosexual couples experience and that it is valid. 

“I wanted to prove to myself and to other people that watching this, kapag pinanood mo siya, hindi mo na iniiisip kung babae o lalaki ‘yong pinapanood mo kasi nadadala ka na nong kwento na dalawang lalaki na na-in love ay parehas lang sa feeling ng isang babae at isang lalaki na nai-in love,” Dulu said.

“It is just a love story and that generalizes things and makes it relatable to people because that’s the same process of how you fall in love,” he added.

WRITING WITH AN ADVOCACY

Actor and spoken word artist Juan Miguel Severo’s “Gaya Sa Pelikula,” more commonly known as GSP, also made waves as it touched on various issues faced by the queer community.

Severo told ABS-CBN News that writing the digital series comes with an advocacy and not just about joining the bandwagon of the BL genre. He noted that he wanted to get away with the conventions of the genre and elevate the discourse. 

“I guess people may say that we kind of co-opted the genre, took advantage of it to tell our stories and honestly I don’t care. … Sometimes parang some used to say na it’s not BL because BL is traditionally written by women. Lahat, in every genre there’s a thing called the revisionism, not historical but sa genre,” he told ABS-CBN News in an interview.

“Actually in the past nga, laging mayroong silang conclusion doon na “I am not gay, I don’t like men, I just like you” but I guess ‘yong difference dito sa Pilipinas is ‘yong mga BL natin, walang erasure ng queer identity na nangyayari dito at madalas may ownership,” he added.

Severo said it was vital for him to cast queer and ally actors as well as his team as they have a grasp of the conflicts that will be tackled in the story.

“Queer storytellers have been wanting to tell their stories and queer storytellers have been using their voice to tell straight stories for the long time," he said.

"What’s so wrong about finally telling queer stories this time? Sinasabi namin ‘to before na these are people making up for lost time because for decades they’ve been delegated into the shadows ng mainstream," he added.

Severo noted that there are certain nuances that queer and allies can emulate in the production for effective storytelling. 

“Na-realize ko rin why Paolo [Pangilinan] was so effective doon and that’s why Paolo spoke to – no'n is because nakita ko ‘yong isang moment na pinagdaanan ko sa buhay ay nagawa ni Paolo and totoong totoo,” Severo said.

“Naramdaman ko kung gaano katotoo ‘yong sandaling ‘yon para sa kanya because he is a queer person as well. So the coming out to yourself part is something familiar to him,” he added.

Severo said that more than producing the series, he and his team are always reminded of the reality of the continuing battle of the LGBT community for their rights having both Paolo and Ian Pangilinan as their ambassadors.

“Lahat kami know na it’s an advocacy for us so importante sa amin na hindi lang kami maglalabas ng someone who can portray the role but can also be ambassadors for what we are trying to achieve here, which is to normalize queer love and to push forward the LGBTQIA agenda,” the writer said. 

“Dahil alam ko na ‘yong sinabi namin na may laban sa labas ng palabas ay napapanindigan ng dalawa, lalo na kapag naririnig sila magsalita ng mga tao sa interviews. Hindi sila maka-cast kung hindi dahil do’n. At napakabwenas lang ng GSP team dahil jusko solid na solid ‘yong kanilang chemistry din,” he added. 

GIVING MORE OPPORTUNITIES FOR QUEER ARTISTS

For Paolo Pangilinan, who played Karl in "GSP," it was important to represent the LGBT community and to portray their stories in the mainstream media.

“Makikita ng mga kabataan na posible ‘to para sa kanila dahil ang kadalasan ang mga nakikita natin ay mga heteronormal couples sa rom-com na genre at makikita din ng mga nauna sa atin na posible rin ito para sa kanila at panahon na para makakita tayo ng mga ganitong kwento,” he told ABS-CBN News in an interview.

Pangilinan said that it is vital to normalize queer narratives in mainstream media and give more opportunities to the queer community. 

He noted that this new development advances members of the LGBT community from their general roles before as caricaturish and not capable of being loved.

“I think in that way mas nakaka-relate ikaw at saka ‘yong mga audience themselves in realizing and normalizing that queer culture has always been a part of society and ngayon na parang nakikita siya sa lente, nalaman mo na, alam natin na nangyayari ‘yon, mas nagiging bukas ang isip ng mga tao sa normalcy ng queer narrative,” the actor said.

“I feel that’s very important and sa tingin ko doon pumapasok talaga ‘yong representation and not just hindi lang siya responsibility ng actors themselves, hindi lang siya responsibility ng spectators, ng audience to promote this kind of... but also of corporations, of institutions that could further promote these discussions,” he added.

The actor noted that the genre only tackles one spectrum of the LGBT community and he is hoping that the stories of other members of the community should be told as well.

“There still needs to be further improvement kasi it’s still only for the eyes of … those na masculine-presenting pa din 'di ba. That’s really the tip of the iceberg in the SOGIE spectrum. So I think, I do agree na that in itself needs to be work on," Pangilinan said.

"This might be a little too ambitious but I am hoping actually for the time na it’s no longer going to be an issue na LGBTQIA+ siya and then, uy, LGBTQ din ‘yong role nila. Eventually, I hope na there comes a time na parang ‘yong disparity ng opportunities have been equalized well enough for people to no longer think about whether someone is LGBTQIA+,” he added.

Severo echoed Pangilinan, noting that he is limited to his experiences and hopes that other members of the LGBT community can narrate their own stories. 

"Hanggang sa huli parang alam ko, ako as a storyteller, nafu-frustrate ako na hanggang do’n pa lang ‘yong napapakita ko. Pero that’s why we need to tell more of these stories so we could cover more bases," Severo said.

"And our hope here, I can speak at least for myself and my team – outside at saka sa 'GSP,' our hope here is to pass the mic to other queer storytellers when the chance arises kasi we cannot cover every story. I am a queer storyteller, I am a queer artist but I cannot possibly write, I would not talk over the experiences of our femme, trans femme, and trans brothers and sisters," he added.

Severo also stressed the importance of discussing the issues of the LGBT community in their platforms to engage the audience.

"There should be more platforms for discourse, and this is why it’s very important to us, for Paolo and Ian to be advocates as well, to be articulate about their politics, their advocacy because sila ‘yong titingalain ng dahil sa palabas. Because art is not enough, art cannot change the world, but art can start conversations and there should be people within the work of art that can bring the conversation outside," Severo said. 

"Kung hindi man gano’n ‘yong mga artista natin sana ‘yong gawin natin bilang mga creators, dalhin natin ‘yong usapan sa labas dahil kahit gaano kaganda ang BL natin, hindi dapat magtapos sa sine ang ating adbokasiya. Ilabas natin ang usapan sa labas ng ating palabas tapos ituloy din ang laban," he added.

He is hoping that there will come a time that the industry will be more inclusive and that one's sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (SOGIE) will not matter when sharing their art with the public.

"My only hope right now is that it becomes more inclusive, eventually it’ll come to a point wherein hindi na kelangang sabihin ’yong BL, let a romcom be a romcom regardless of the SOGIE of those in the story. A romcom should be just a romcom. If we’re gunning for equality, there shouldn’t be a genre na based do’n sa SOGIE," he said.

"Ang totoong equality is hindi na ‘yon kailangan, ang totoong equality is hindi na kailangang mag-come out ng mga actors. Kung maga-out man sila is because pantay na ang pagkilala, may pagkilala na sa pantay nating karapatan so hindi na ‘yon kailangang maging issue. Pero right now na hindi pa, patuloy natin sanang I-address ‘yong mga problema na ‘yon hanggang sa sila ay matugunan ng lipunan."

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