From the margins of the sheet music to thinly veiled attempts at expressions of true identity, there is a lot more defiance when it comes to singing the stories of the LGBTQIA+ community. In a time unparalleled, these queer Filipino musicians are standing their ground.
It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, at least in the context of Valentine’s day. “Happy hearts day, love,” and so an Instagram story was captioned, complete with a bouquet of sunflowers, a display of cute couple photographs, a whole cake that looked too pretty to eat, and as detailed, a cover of Dom Guyot’s earnest yearning in Guho. At its heart, the tender ballad is all encompassing, carving out a space for love’s potential to exist beyond wishful thinking and the unrequited, something that many a hopeless romantic has long grappled with. However, coddled within its cavernous echoes is a soul-stirring defiance of identity that cuts across deep affection and endears itself to many, especially to the queer community, which the pair in the photograph identifies as.
Mundane as it may seem at a glance, therein lies the great impact of this profession of love, especially with the soul-stirring track it was soundtracked to. In its apparent nonchalance, it underscores the long-held contention that love is love. “Ikaw ay sapat, hali ka’t ipahinga / Ang pusong pagod masaktan,” coos Dom Guyot, to no one in particular, he admits, which all the more adds to its gentle and reassuring caress. “Wag kang matakot / Dahil itong kabuohan ko ay para sa’yo.”
You see, this love is no different from the dichotomy-driven dictates that have long dominated our consciousness since time immemorial. Despite the many strides that the community has had towards progress, as led by the tireless and tenacious LGBTQIA+ pioneers, the stubborn status quo still stands: There is still a very long way to go to clinch an unequivocal equality sans conditions and compromises. However, as arduous and bleak as it may seem at times, especially at a highly challenged time where not only truths, but lives are made collateral in the rabid regression to the hyper conservative, there is still much to celebrate, and well, sing about.
Defiance And Dissent
“Someone has to do it. Someone has to be so other people can,” fiercely declares Dom Guyot, a proud queer artist who unapologetically journals his experiences in songs that talk about everything from feelings and yes, even sex. “Growing up the way I did made me want more for myself and my community. That is the reason why I champion my experiences through my music because I know I am not the only one. And I want them to know that as well.”
While it can be argued that there are more spaces for the queer narratives to exist in this day and age, it still pales in comparison to the aggressive of the socially accepted binaries. Representation across the board has seen progress, but for the most part still feels tepid at best. “I grew up knowing that here in the Philippines, there is a limited representation of what queer people are in media as a whole, especially in music. But luckily, in this generation that I belong in, it is starting to widen and different spectrums of gay realities are being seen. And I want to be one of the artists who expands that reach in the field of music, that is why I am here,” expresses Paul Pablo, another Filipino LGBTQIA+ singer and songwriter making waves in the local airwaves. “It is really important for me to be in bigger media distributors, one that is powerful enough to influence a lot of people, because not everyone in this world has the initiative to reach out.”
It is a steep challenge, of course, one that comes with a persistent threat to extinguish the spirit of many who find comfort within the spectrum of the pride flag. However, as it continues to languish in the depths of humanity, there has been a steely resolve and a mobilized movement to break the barriers of gender and identity, the most deafening of dissent has been most realized in music.
“The gain here is to really show that audience that we are special not just because we’re gay, but because we’re great artists capable of doing something really good,” asserts Paul Pablo. “Our craft is not bullshit, we’re not faking people. People need to see that in our music, our realities, our struggles. It’s up to the artist, really, but I really want to integrate that to my lyrics, my music, and everything that I do, because it’s going to effectively educate what it’s like to be queer, period.”
Empowering Filipino Queer Filipino Musicians
From subverting the system with metaphors, concealing truths in ambiguous pronouns, and in worst case scenarios, misrepresent themselves, queer artists have had to contend with having to do just about anything to articulate their art. (In fact, the flighty Filipino folk song Paru-Parong Bukid has been revealed to be an enduring queer narrative, with its original meaning scrubbed off its queerness by colonial overlords.) It wasn’t and still isn’t ideal by any means, but looking at the bigger picture beyond the black and white, something had to be done, at least.
“I remember the feeling of being in denial. I had to end a wlw (women who love women) relationship to know myself first. I started writing from a second-person’s point of view realizing that I am bisexual. Most of the time, as a bisexual woman, I get misjudged by the public depending on which gender I date,” explains Ana Luna, a Cebu-based singer and songwriter. “When writing songs, if I use a He, I would be identified as straight, and if I use a She, I’d be identified as a lesbian, and that was a conflict for me so I go for gender neutral pronouns not to conceal, but to identify my sexuality.”
Not that these artists owe anyone their gender and identity, because above everything, that is personal. However, as these queer singers have come to realize, nothing compares to expressing without bounds, which in effect becomes a point of empowerment for both the listener and the performer. I guess through songwriting, I was able to express what I couldn’t say,” says Ana Luna. “Knowing how it felt back then when I couldn’t, music helped me a lot. I hope that through music, it encourages people to share all kinds of love and be fearless about it. I was scared once, and I feel more free now that I know how I want to be loved and that’s an important thing for everyone to have.” Really, nothing comes close to hearing a song that not only gets you, as is the function of art in general, but is also meant for you.
Reclaiming The Narrative
The music industry has historically been unkind to women and the LGBTQIA+ community. Even in the guise of perspective, there is admittedly more harm done when queerness is commodified and weaponized, because for every soul-shifting show of support in Sirena (Gloc 9), there exists troubling erosions of humanity in such OPM ditties as Gayuma (Abra), Modelong Charing (Blakdyak), Chiksilog (Kamikazee). Before one argues that it is harmless and just done for fun, the perceived punchline integrated serves as a direct hit of homophobia and transphobia, which especially when left to the uninformed and the uninitiated would create a ripple effect that puts our progress at an irreversible disadvantage.
Prefaced by stereotypes and aggressions targeted towards the marginalized, it becomes increasingly important to not only express and empathize, but to empower generations of queer people to speak up and out. “I was born in a system that was not built for me,” says Dom Guyot. “Having the opportunity and platform to become the storyteller for people born like me is the reason why I take much pride in what I do. I believe representation saves lives and urges change. It causes movement in taking up space. If you give people something they can identify with, you give them space to belong.”
Stef Arenas, your trans Pinay pop superstar, relates to this, but expands it into the space of joy and optimism, because while it unfortunately is inextricable from their experience, especially in this current political and social climate, their experiences are usually encumbered by pain. Yes, all stories need to be told, but in the same breath, trans men and women deserve hopeful beginnings and happy endings, too. “From a very young age, queer kids are taught by society to dream smaller. That we will never reach the heights that our non-queer counterparts often do. I’m here to show that it’s okay to dream big,” she says, asserting her feminine energy and perspective in her music. “I hope that queer people feel joy from my music. I write these songs in hopes that people like me can relate to it. Also, I really want people to just enjoy themselves and feel like a bad bitch when they listen to me.”
Do You Hear The People Sing?
Inherent to music is its innate ability to purge one’s existential ennui. Whether it is through dancing to the swaying rhythm, rocking out to the bone-drilling bass, or singing out the lyrics in bellyful screams, the catharsis is unmatched, which perhaps explains why everyone, and in this case, the queer community, has found a sense of comfort through sound and song. Now, imagine how much more understood the typically disenfranchised will be once the rest of the system puts queer-focused musical narratives in the same heavy rotation as the rest of what we hear on the regular.
“It’s already a brave thing to release a song and be vulnerable, knowing that not everyone might like it and so on, it’s an obstacle that I’m challenged to face. Being able to successfully put out my experience, share my friends’ experiences through songs to inspire and spread love is the reason why I’m motivated to keep going,” expands Ana Luna. Music, as reflective as it is, is also one of the most viable vessels to help the world understand what they cannot comprehend. It is not so much as vilifying the stubborn, but connecting experiences and letting it be known that when it comes down to it, no difference exists. “My music is only an instrument for them to be able to listen to themselves. By simply knowing what song to play based on what they feel, I want them to accept that and start loving themselves for who they are.”
All this compounded action is more than just, as critics would frown upon, the gay agenda. More than anything, this is an opportunity to let more people in and sing their stories, because quite frankly, it is about damn time we do so, as it should be told. No more hiding, no more veiled attempts at diversity, and no more temporary tolerance from the mainstream, because we deserve nothing but our whole truths to be celebrated. “I want them to not be afraid,” punctuates Paul Pablo, encouraging the LGBTQIA+ a community. “The generation is starting to evolve and accept new approaches, that’s why I hope they take courage to do the same, if not more.”
“I think in the current music landscape, uniqueness is valued much more than it used to be, especially with all the local queer artists coming up and getting signed to big music labels. This gives me hope, because with my own songs, I’ve always made it a point to express my queerness,” relates Stef Arenas. As it stands, there has been a favorable gust of wind that has supported LGBTQIA+ voices in the music landscape, but while that is a start, there is still an arduous way to go. And it isn’t for a lack of trying either, because with the passion and persistence of the likes of young artists like Paul Pablo, Stef Arenas, Dom Guyot, Ana Luna, as well as of other Filipino queer artists coming out with expositions that encapsulate complex experiences that are often left unsaid, this assemblage of unique, nuanced voices come together in a harmony so loud you can’t help but ignore them. This time, they will make you listen.