By Juan Escandor Jr.
INTRODUCED to the Russian-speaking people in the Eastern Europe and spread across the pages of the glossy Esquire magazine in Kazakhstan are the unlikely beauties from the island of Ticao in Masbate province.
Poet, fictionist and filmmaker Kristian Sendon Cordero and social anthropologist and film critic Tito Genova Valiente collaborated to tell the story of a group of islanders in Monreal town who have no qualms in expressing themselves by putting on their costumes and made their town popular.
With the historical background of the role of androgynous natives in the pre-colonial Philippines and their unique role in the present times, Esquire Kazakhstan editor Yurij Sebrianski took interest of the article and published it with several photos on its November issue.
Sebrianski, in an online interview, said the article gives historical context of the LGBT (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender) in the Philippines.
He said the article that Cordero and Valiente have written engages the editors and readers of their magazine and it is not the first time that they published foreign authors.
“This is not a secret that in spite of legislation that gives some rights for LGBT in Kazakhstan situation inside the society is not easy for the members of LGBT. This is important for us to show an interesting way of life of this small (island) in Philippines,” Sebrianski said.
Originally titled “Contested Beauties and Identities in Monreal, Philippines,” Cordero narrated that the pre-colonial Philippines had assigned the role of intermediaries to the divinities to persons who were “neither male or female” and they were called asog.
“The asog acted as liturgical ministers, epic chanters, healers, peacekeepers, and counselors to their people. Under the new colonial regime, however, their roles, functions, and identities were the first to be gradually obliterated,” he asserted.
Cordero said that with the new beliefs introduced by the Spanish friars declared the asog and babaylan (women priestess), the diviners of the pre-colonial Philippines, as “to be cohorts and agents of evil.”
He said over time the native gods were replaced by the saints and angels introduced by the Spanish friars while the asog and babaylan occupied key position in the church as catechists and parish workers.
But, Cordero noted, the homosexuals and transgender continue to suffer from stigma because of colonization and Christianization.
“While many male homosexuals and transgender now hold key positions and active roles in popular entertainment industry, in business and politics, in the academe and even in the Church hierarchy and yet the vilification and bigotry are still
widespread among Filipinos,” he wrote.
Cordero said homosexuals or transgender only earn respect if they are “self-reliant, modest and satisfactorily contribute to the economic and social uplift of his family and kinsmen.”
Fast forward, Valiente delved on the present role of homosexual and transsexual in the town of Monreal in the island of Ticao in Masbate.
At present, he said, the town of Monreal is made popular by a group of persons who put on costumes that make them not male and not female.
“They parade, do music videos and hold their own beauty pageants that approximate their own understanding of the world, or at least some countries in the world. They assume names and put certain costumes that render that particular nation present even at least momentarily, in these conflicted bodies of the bakla,” Valiente wrote.
He said these gay people and transgender assume different names that maybe funny and hilarious including “a young boy that embodies China with this name Angel Jardin Xia Mi.”
“A public-school teacher becomes a princess from Thailand and now is called Pyra Bartolay Trichedat. The local hairstylist is Vanessa Saturnino Chanel representing France while the Unites States of America is Jamaica Marcos Jones who dreams of becoming a teacher too. A middle-aged gay understands Lebanon with a convoluted name like Rihananna Azares Althanni and the representative from Argentina who eventually won the
crown is Tretina Almoguerra Araneta. All these transfigurations where age, economic status and gender dissolve happen in one night of revelries and pageantry when the bakla are given the chance to take the village basketball court as their stage, as their platform. The Catholic Church is still silent about their presence as many of them still regularly perform their religious duties.”
“When they started, their make-up came across as aggressive and exaggerated. Reactions to them varied from the mocking to malicious, from bigoted, which was expected, to sympathetic, the latter emanating from the succor of kinship. The speed of social media and the quickness with which the group posted their re-imagination of their selves saw them evolving into different species and languages. Their photo shoots of make-believe, as apprehended then, fashion show amidst coconut trees with the dirt road as ramp began to feel old. More atrociously difficult poses were ventured into: on top of a petrified wood; the leap magnified by camera tricks; the chiffon against the rice grains being winnowed. Evolving further, or shifting, the faces of the models started to take on the glossy look of magazine divas.”