Hot off the Press : What These Hands Can Do - Germaine Trittle P Leonin

There are two things that characterize Philippine Lesbian Literature, a seeming dearth in available material and a conspicuous demand for it by the Filipino Lesbian Community. Ever since Forbidden Fruit, an anthology of women’s erotic writings, came out in the early 1990s, and a single lesbian piece appeared in its pages albeit under a pseudonym of an unknown writer, there has been a clamour for genuine lesbian literary material. Even the few lesbian collections that followed were produced independently by lesbian groups and published in an almost ‘underground’ manner are never as easily available as the Philippine Gay Literature popularized by the ‘Ladlad’ series of editors Danton Remoto and Neil Garcia.

Such was the fate of Woman-to-Woman, a compilation of poems and essays by Aida Santos and Giney Villar which faded into oblivion as soon as it was released, and the few remaining pieces are now rumored to be solely in personal collections. Likewise with Tibok, which purportedly sought to explore the heartbeat of the Filipino Lesbian and the first to be released commercially by a popular publishing house. And in spite of the occasional lesbian piece which got featured in the webmagazine, Natives’ Wish, and in the elusive SteamZine, nowhere else was Filipino lesbian writing as easily accessible in the last decade or so. The special LGBT issue of Literatura, a website on Philippine Literature in English was the only other venue which showcased lesbian talent in the last few years.

Thus, What These Hands Can Do is a response to this felt need in the young lesbian community. Since there never was a scarcity of writers and artists from among our lesbian ranks, a new generation of lesbian activists decided to take full advantage of the freedom the written word and the arts allowed them to express their sexuality. The result was a new voice in lesbian advocacy, one that is light and engaging, but just as real as the lives it aims to portray.

Originally intended as a simple collection of ‘Coming- Out’ stories, the submissions from lesbians of all ages and backgrounds revealed a diversity of experiences that cannot be denied or reduced to a few thematic issues. Thus, the Coming-Out topics ranged from coming out to one’s parents or families, to coming-out to one’s self in the form of self-acceptance and personal realizations. It can be as private as a letter to your mother, or as public as a news article in a national broadsheet.

The Filipino phrase Lunduyan ng Sining roughly translates in English as ‘cradle of art’. The group of young lesbians composing Lunduyan ng Sining or LNS, is a generation of proud women who wanted to use their education, special training and skills to showcase their unique talents without denying their sexuality or gender identification. Indeed, they have managed to create a kind of lesbian rights advocacy that is not attended by the usual serious, grim and determined, in-your-face activism of long ago. Through this publication, they have successfully revealed the intricacies of lesbian lives in all its ‘normalcy’. Lesbian issues and concerns are mainstreamed through literary pieces in such a way that it is readily accessible to anyone who is interested to learn about the humanity of Filipino lesbians.

In the folio’s pages, Filipino lesbians enjoy the physical and virtual space that Philippine society has denied them. The short stories, essays and poems still contain the frustration, the fear and various other difficulties lesbians encounter everyday. They speak of our parents’ disappointments and our families’ embarrassments, even the anger constantly aimed at us. But behind these experiences are also stories of triumph, independence and freedom borne out of finally being true to one’s self. They include longtime, hidden loves eventually acknowledged and new friendships gained. Some families overcame the prejudice and managed to embrace their lesbian daughters. Some mothers expressed an initial hesitance, while some parents’ words unfortunately reverberate with bias and ignorance.

All these are told by Filipino lesbians themselves against the backdrop of Philippine traditional values and biases. As such, while the experiences of discrimination and oppression are nothing new, it depicts which social institutions exert the most pressure on Philippine LGBTs. A great deal of homophobia stems from family environments, and hence, this was clearly shown by the Coming-Out stories which tackled mostly parents and family members. Traditional Catholic beliefs so embedded in Filipino culture likewise permeate through the value system of many lesbians. And as a consequence, a palpable conservatism also characterize their views on sex and their sexuality.

This collection of lesbian writings evokes a variety of lesbian voices. With contributors ranging from veteran LGBT advocates to college students, writers, journalists, painters and artists, the common thread is a depiction of their lesbian identity through their art. It does not matter if some of them are simply budding artists or accomplished writers already. Ultimately one voice rings through this collection and sends out a clear message – we are here and we plan to be around for a long time.

Unknowingly, and perhaps, unwittingly, the organizers of this small project did not realize the implication of their output. The feedback to their call for submissions was overwhelming. Which only goes to show the courage with which Philippine lesbians are now ready to speak out. The degree of tolerance which now greets the apparent visibility of young lesbians in Filipino society is probably a result of the bravery of lesbian advocates that went before them. But with their continued vigilance in protecting lesbian rights, there is a clear realization that they also recognize their responsibility in joining the struggle for equality and respect.

In simply wanting to showcase their talents, these writers and artists told personal stories rich with sexuality and lesbian identity. Through art, they have mainstreamed lesbian issues and concerns which cannot be forgotten or set aside for a few positive developments like a seeming tolerance and acceptance of LGBTs in modern Philippine society. What These Hands Can Do is a merging of art with advocacy.

Germaine Trittle P. Leonin is a legal professional and LGBT rights advocate based in Manila. She is the Founding President of Rainbow Rights Project (R-Rights), Inc., a legal and policy ‘think tank’ and legal resource center on sexual orientation. She is also the Treasurer of Ang Ladlad LGBT Party and the Corporate Secretary of Lesbian Advocates Philippines (LEAP), Inc. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines- Diliman and regularly blogs at http://germainetrittle86.