Ladlad: from literature to life

By Danton Remoto – Like many things in life, liberation does not always guarantee that all our dreams will come true. The Greek lesbian Sappho described life as “a beautiful pain.” Living the life of a gay man does not lessen the pain in life, but it makes everything bearable.

It makes everything bearable because now, the gay men have a community to turn to. Whether it is the community of the gay yahoo groups, or the community of gay student organizations in our campuses, or the community of the organized lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement, now we have communities that are no longer imagined but real.

The PKB gay yahoo group sends bright but poor Filipino students to college. Their first batch of scholars graduated in 2006, with honors, and they are raising funds for other scholars. The student organizations all over the land have organized themselves and have gay and transgender groups among themselves. Some of them hold beaucons, or beauty contests, to be sure, but they also hold each other’s hand when the winds of isolation chill them.

Cases of suicide among gay youth abroad are rampant. Only in the past two years did I become aware that some of the suicide cases among young Filipinos must have been due to their inability to come to terms with their gayness. I have direct testimonies from some young people to this effect.

And in the last 18 years, from the year 1990 to the present, the various groups that comprise the Philippine LGBT movement have done many things. We have raised consciousness on the issue of HIV and AIDS. We have run counseling and information centers. We have done medical and dental missions. We have given gender-sensitivity workshops. We have published magazines, newspapers, and books. We have marched on the streets – during the annual State of the Nation addresses and during the annual Pride March every December. We have filed the first Anti-Discrimination Bill in the whole of Asia.

Open and closet

And three years ago, we formed the group Ang Ladlad, whose name comes from what a young man said “the book that helped liberate us all.” Our members can either be LGBT organizations or individuals, or their heterosexual supporters.

In Filipino, “magladlad” means to unfurl the cap that used to cover one’s body like a shield. It means to come out of the closet, to assert one’s human rights as equal to that of the next Filipino. Thus, it means to take one’s place in the sun, with dignity intact.

What has been the response to Ang Ladlad? We have landed on the front pages of all the newspapers, have been interviewed on television and radio, have landed in Italian television and the pages of foreign newspapers from the US, the UK, Thailand, Hong Kong, why, even Qatar and Dubai!

More than 4,000 members have registered in our vibrant e-group. Lesbian and gay lawyers have volunteered to handle our legal cases, which involve mostly transgenders who are abused in their places of work, whether these are call centers or barangay halls. Counselors from leading universities have offered their services, for free, to the victims of incest, physical and mental abuse, and discrimination.

The closet cases in Makati – and boy, oh boy, they number in the thousands – have told me they will raise funds for us but would never, ever march on the streets even if the crows have turned white, since they will hit the glass ceiling if they do so.

Straight supporters – like owners of hotels, restaurants, bakeries, even car-renting companies – have offered their kindness and charity to us. Some of them are former students of mine, prompting my father – a tall, big-boned, and stern man, who used to be a military officer – to tell me it was good I did not fail these people when they were my students.


And like paramecium – those one-celled organisms who move about with their hairy parts – we have also met our share of detractors. We call them the nega stars, or the super nega, or the nega starlets.

At a Theological Hour two years ago in my university, the Ateneo de Manila, more than 200 kind nuns, priests, and Theology teachers listened to me talk about gay life and politics, even nodding their heads vigorously with the points I raised. But during the open forum, one dentist who belongs to the Opus Dei stood up and asked me in a loud voice, his questions punctuating the air like bullets: “Professor Remoto, do you still go to confession? Do you still take Communion? Do you still go to Mass? Aren’t you worried about the state of your soul?” I just smiled at him and said, “No, do you?”

The last question in the open forum came from a member of the Catholic Women’s League. So you see, my list of, shall we say, inquisitors, seem to be book-ended by these two groups – the Opus Dei and the CWL. Our CWL member was wearing a blue uniform and she had blue eyeliner, too. In fact, she looked like an older version of the SM Shoemart sales girls with their blue uniforms and blue eyeliners! She gave me a look that could have turned me to stone, and then she asked: “Professor Remoto, single Catholics are called to a life of celibacy. That is the only way to the glory of heaven. What can you say about this?”

I think I paraphrased from Santa Teresa de Avila, who wrote something in The Interior Castle that went this way: And then He [the image of Christ] came into my consciousness and awakened me. He was sweating and he had the most piercing eyes. And then he looked at me and his look penetrated me deeply, down down into my inner core. I said that if the good Catholic saint, the doctor of the Catholic Church, could consider Christ in that manner – as somebody intimate and as close as that – then I guess there various ways to reach the divine order. In short, there is no straight and well-laid map to God.

Brokeback moment

But there are also the nay-sayers even among my friends. They say that you will just end up like the old politicians – what Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago called the “fungus-faced” creatures of the Philippine political universe.

But I believe in the young people. Statistics shows that we have 43 million registered voters, and 75 percent of these voters are young people who are 30 years old and below. Thus, 32.25 million voters belong to the youth sector. You are young and exposed to the wonders of cable TV, the Internet, and the cellular phone. You are enamored with stories of progress from your parents, relatives, and friends who are Overseas Filipino Workers, and who tell you that in other lands, the politicians who steal go to jail; the air you breathe will not kill you; and the roads you take do not have craters like those found in the moon.

Words are deeds, as the philosopher Wittsgenstein has said. But in Philippine politics, words are not deeds. Words have no currency after the last polling station has closed, the last vote counted, the new winner proclaimed. Worthless are the words. They just crumble in the dry wind.

Deeds are what we need. But beyond the physical infrastructure of roads, bridges and school buildings; harbors, piers, and airports, we also need the spiritual infrastructure.

The spiritual infrastructure is anchored on the belief that our leaders are the ones we voted for; the knowledge that our country can stand on its own two feet again; the hope that, one day, we can ask the more than 8 million Filipinos abroad to return home if only for a while, to savor the sun and the sea and the sand, the company of parents and relatives and friends, bask in the reality that this beautiful country is finally moving forward, the way it did in the 1960s.

This is the stark point taught to us by all great political movements. To paraphrase the German writer Goethe: “There is nothing as powerful, there is nothing as invincible, than an idea whose time has come.”

Let us allow Ang Ladlad to have its Brokeback Moment in government. We promise grammatical English, good fashion sense, and short speeches—shorter than this one I was asked to deliver today.

Aram ko na may pag-asa pa kita sa tuyang banwa. Sa tulong ng mga batang arog sa indo, ining banwa ta ay sarong aldaw maging progresibo at maogma, sa hirac ng Dios. Dios mabalos sa indo gabos!

Speech delivered before the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines National Conference, Santo Domingo, Albay, May 22, 2006.

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