By DANTON REMOTO
The Filipino gay empire has struck back at the center, using a language full of slippages and cracks—a language at once sophisticated and vulgar, serious and light, timely and timeless
I want to raise three points in this essay. First, that gay language serves as a mediator in the universe of Philippine languages. Second, that this language comes form a carnival of sources, a bricollage, as Claude Levi-Strauss would put it. Third, that this language has been appropriated by the heterosexual mainstream.
But they never considered the fact that Philippine gay language is a language of slippages: it sits on a site full of fractures and fissures.
Since the 1960s, Tagalog, the mother lode of Filipino, has metamorphosed into another variant called Taglish, or Tagalog English. Taglish has become the language of the educated elite and the middle class. One of its steady sources has been gay language, which has generated so many words and idioms that have been inserted in the mainstream of the everyday Taglish.
In fact, since the 1970s, gay language has even become a mediator among the many languages spoken in the country. In a sense, it is like the mestizo, the fair-skinned progeny of the brown, Malay ancestors with the Spanish or American colonial masters. The mestizo speaks Taglish, a mélange of languages which, according to Dr. Vicente Rafael, "evokes yet collapses the colonial relationship. It is the most unstable, and thus the most malleable, of languages."
Gay language belongs to this realm. It has the "capacity to disrupt" because of its colorful associations, its elements of parody and spirit of play, its sheer jouissance. Moreover, Dr. Rafael adds it is capable of "embodying the possibilities of language."
In short, it is a language forever advent, forever beginning, forever new. The gay words of the 1970s still exist, but they are continuously updated--in the beauty parlors and offices, the universities and the streets, the media and boutiques.
Break the code
What are the springs of this language?
Gay language comes from a carnival of sources, like the costumes that the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people wear during the rambunctious annual Pride March held every December in Manila. The gays in the Philippines speak a common tongue. It is their code, their very sword. It is their way of communicating without letting the straight world understand the drift of their words.
Turning things on their heads, gay lingo is a way of barring the straight world from intruding into the warm circle of gay conversation, and by extension, their lives.
In the very gay manner of subverting the order of things, gays have appropriated the names of people in show business and entertainment, geography and the sciences, media and politics, culture and the arts--and began using them in their daily lives. Let us now discuss this typology.
In the 1980s, gay men looking for casual sex in the darkness of the Mehan Gardens beside the Metropolitan Theater would suddenly shout "Jullie, Jullie Yap Daza" when a policeman came within sight. Jullie Yap Daza is a famous newspaper editor and television talk-show host. "Jullie" is the gay word for "huli," which in Tagalog means "to get caught."
Thus, the gay men avoided the policemen, who would quickly book them for vagrancy or any other imaginary offense, then ask the gay men for a bribe in exchange for freedom.
Show business is another colorful spring of gay lingo. We are influenced rather heavily by the dream factory that is Hollywood. In Philippine gay lingo, "Winona Ryder" means "to win," referring to a gay man lucky in both life and love. The American TV talk-show host "Oprah Winfrey" has unwittingly lent her name to "OPM," which is gay lingo for someone who always makes promises.
Metring David is a female comic with big, flat feet. Her name has been appropriated to mean taxicabs with fast meters, as in "Metring." Beauty contests have also spawned the term "Thank you, girls," to refer to the losers in a beauty contest. After the ten semifinalists have been announced, the emcee will tell the girls whose names were not called: "Thank you, girls." That is their signal for them to leave the stage and return to the dressing room.
Melanie Marquez is a Filipino model who is tall, graceful, and beautiful. She won the Miss International beauty pageant in Tokyo in 1979. A few years later, she was first runner-up in the Supermodel Search in New York, and was once voted the most beautiful face in Italy during a modeling stint in that country. Gay lingo has played a pun on her name. Now, Smelanie Marquez means to smell bad, or to have halitosis.
From Dakota to Medusa
Science and geography are also wellsprings of Philippine gay lingo.
Shopping malls are famous cruising places in whatever continent and country. One such mall is Harrison Plaza, located in the heart of Manila. The distance from Harrison Plaza to Dakota Street (note the colonial American names) is quite lengthy. Thus, in the 1970s, a man with a big penis was called "Dakota Harrison." "Dakota" is also a pun for "dako," which means "big" in the Central Philippine Visayan language.
The 1970s gay icon, Lindsay Wagner as the Bionic Woman, also gets a place of honor in Philippine gay lingo. Miss Wagner mesmerized Filipino gay men with her slow-motion way of running, and her bangs that flipped from one side of her head to the other. Now, "Bionic Woman" means "magbayo," or to masturbate. A sample sentence is: I did a Bionic Woman last night because I am afraid of Tita Aida [AIDS]." A synonym for this would be "Biogesic," which is an analgesic and antipyretic drug.
"Ahas" means "snake" in Tagalog. The root word for this is "anaconda." A sample sentence is: "You are so anaconda. You stole my jowa (boyfriend)." Synonyms for this would be "serpentina" and "Medusa." To have pointed lips implies somebody who loves to sow intrigues. It also gave rise to the query: "Why do gays have pointed lips?" The answer, supposedly, is "Because they have a phallic pout. Their lips are already molded outward."
At present, more and more straight-acting gays and gays from the professions are coming out of the closet, giving a literary, sophisticated quality to gay language. Waiting for a taxicab is no longer a dull activity. It has now become, "Let’s go, let’s take a Taxina Hong Kingston so we’ll reach our destination faster!" The allusion is to the Asian-American writer Maxine Hong Kingston.
A dumb person in the Philippines is called "bobo" or "boba." In the academe, she would be called "Bo-Vita Sackville West," the alleged lover of modernist writer Virginia Woolf. "Psycho-ningning" is somebody on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She is also called a "Blanche Dubois."
The elegant Filipino essayist Chitang Guerrero Nakpil has her name emblazoned in gay lingo on two counts. First, if the customer in a restaurant wants to get the "chit," or the bill for the food. Second, if the gay man is in a fighting mood, or "guerrero" from the Spanish word "guerra," which means "war."
However, this carnivalesque has been appropriated by the heterosexual mainstream. Gay lingo has now become more widespread. Even the most straight-acting heterosexual can now ask, "Was the movie your type?" He can now use the word "type," which is a signal for gay discourse, without feeling that his masculinity has been diminished.
Movie stars, media people, academics, even politicians now use a gay word or two to prove a controversial point or to score some points with the masses. But the words they use are outdated, for like an organism, gay language in the Philippines changes and grows every day, as if it wants to outpace the straight majority that desperately wants to contain—and control—it.
Language and integration
What are the implications of Philippine gay lingo?
One, it is a way of fictioning the nation. What is otherwise dismissed as a trivial and dross aspect of popular culture has been used to language the existence of a particular group of people.
Two, this gay language is the homosexuals’ way of fictioning their integration into society, in their own terms. There is the notion, then, of wholeness—that this society is not shattered but even made whole by the assertion of this powerful discourse.
Third, the serious is satirized; the trivial is treated with seeming seriousness. In a way, then, this is a grand burlesque: language as an act of subversion.
Thus, homosexuals in the Philippines now have a way of languaging their desire. By implication, they now have a way of languaging their lives. This bricollage of disparate elements is an act of subverting the existing, heterosexual power relations. In a sense, the Filipino gay empire has struck back at the center, using a language full of slippages and cracks—a language at once sophisticated and vulgar, serious and light, timely and timeless.
A longer version of this essay was first read at the Internatonal Conference on Queer Politics, University of Amsterdam, July 1998. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or to www.angladlad.org