Retold With Pride: Literature Is Turned On Its Head With Queer Re-Imaginations Of The Library Classics

Listen, this is more than just an agenda.

In the bite-sized subversions of the legend and lore we have grown up with, Retold With Pride is cutting across with its efforts to expand queer representation in the Philippines.

The sassy gay best friend, the serious lesbian peripheral, the ambiguous character that skews toward the theatrics, academics, and creative in a veiled attempt at diversity, or locally, the parlorista whose entire existence is written as a constant punch line—these are just some of the many uneven and unfair depictions of queer characters in pop culture for years. Since time immemorial, the prejudice was so obscene that the LGBTQIA+ community had to long content themselves with these crumbs of characters in such things as cinema, television, literature, and mainstream media, just to be able to at the very least elbow their way into the bare minimum of representation. From the margins of the page to the background of the shot, these tropes in media, despite it being a sad excuse to be seen, was all there was, so for every chance presented, it was wrung for all its worth.

For someone struggling with their identity or looking for a reflection of their long-held and often kept truths, seeing or even hearing someone just like them has always been a challenge, and that is putting it lightly. It just wasn’t made possible by pervasive prejudice, asphyxiating conservatism, and misguided semantics in every turn of the corner, literally and figuratively. So, for the LGBTQIA+ community, just like those chipping away at the barriers set before them, had to either fit themselves in the acceptable heteronormative stories that were being told out in the open. Now, this doesn’t mean that queer pop culture, cinema, and literature among many mediums of expression did not exist, because it did, but in shifts of subversion, whispers of conversation, and in the shadows of the underground. Here, the trailblazers and brave souls did what they could to push the narrative forward.

Pride, No Prejudice

While strides were made in the movement of equality and expression for the LGBTQIA+ community, there is still a long way to go before it can be said that we stand shoulder to shoulder to what many have mindlessly and heartlessly filed as acceptable. But now more than ever, there is a lot more being done to not only live our truth as human beings and reclaim spaces to create as queer creators, but also to freely and honestly tell our own stories without fear of prejudice.

More and more, boundaries are pushed and glass ceilings are shattered, all in the hope of not only showing the world who we are and what we can do sans judgment and bigotry, but most importantly, to be a riveting reflection of representation for those who are still in the process of finding themselves or conversely, struggling with the complexities of being queer.

Where many realities of representation stepping into the light in the conversation of pop culture and the mundane in more progressive countries, slow and steady steps are being taken in the notoriously conservative circumstance of the Philippines. While there still exists many of these tropes in the mainstream, a whole lot is being done to inform, inspire, and instill that there is a whole lot more to being queer than what we’ve known for so long. With queer films, queer art, and queer music among many others, a unique initiative has been launched that puts at the heart of beloved stories in a fresh, more colorful lens.

Retold With Pride

In a re-imagination of legends, lore, and literature, Retold With Pride flips the script on the tales that we have figured in our formative years. By rewriting the classics in the queer context, there now exists a path towards respect and representation in the demands of storytelling. Reflective of the LGBTQIA+ community, Globe and Pride@Tech, have launched this initiative as bite-sized audiobooks on Spotify and video books on their Instagram page to better expand the rainbow experience beyond what is already out there.

“The truth is most of us grew up with little or close-to-none references and representation to how we identify with. We wanted to change this and we wanted to make our stories known. We were so honored with the reception last Pride Month and we’ve worked real hard to continue these stories after Pride,” says JC Valenzuela, Chief Executive of Propel Manila, the force behind this passion project that first saw the light of day during pride month this year. But being that pride, and the celebration of the spirit and souls that the spectrum of the flag covers, is not a one month thing, they have now made it available to a whole lot more to see, hear, and feel.

In collaboration with Meta, Elesi Studios, Kerplunk Studios, M&P Creatives, Retold With Pride is by no means a rigorous lifting from the pages of literature. Instead, the nuances of modern-day queer realities are carefully draped in the canons of culture. From coming out, romance, sex, dating, and acceptance, all is explored in the reworks titled Pride And No Prejudice, Dragula, The Gay Gatsby, Life Of Bi, Little Women Loving Women, The Adventures Of Sherla Holmes, Memoirs Of A Gay-Sha, Romeo And Julian, Ibong Adana, Florante At Awra, and Si Malakas At Si Makisig, which were written by Yenee Galicia, Austin Tan, Eunice Maximo, and Duane Pascua, and illustrated by Hayami Kudo, Nichole Sanchez, Marsh Mitra, Gab Pescadero, Brent Guzman, Arnel Villanueva, Roxette Gagal, Yuko Maki, and Third Lorenzo.

Every Damn Day

“As storytellers and creators, it’s important our work promotes equality, inclusivity, and diversity,” asserts Raymund Sison, Propel Manila Chief Creative. “To create work that really represents all, because representation matters. Representation creates perception. Perception shapes culture, and ultimately, shapes our reality.  And we know how powerful stories can be.”

Nothing is quite so powerful as seeing someone like you having their own shot at romance as the main character and not just as a second fiddle to the conventionally attractive straight couple, reading a similar story to yours in a book that was made and meant for you, and listening to a song that doesn’t cower its romance in vague points-of-view. While others who identify as what society has long acknowledged as normal don’t have the same crippling challenges, it is in unapologetically queer art that make the difference between tolerance and acceptance even with the solitary self.

Some will scoff and dismiss this as the queer agenda, but with empowered endeavors such as Retold With Pride is more than that. Pursuing these movements is an act of liberation for those who have come before us and for those who will inherit what we’ve set out for them. By talking about it and creating as much we can, these exist not only to entertain, but educate, which in part works at eliminating the misinformed fear that has slowed down our progress. And in the long run, the goal is to really reclaim the dignity that has forcibly been taken from us by society, as is rightfully deserved by us.

With foots in the door and nails digging through the edges of acceptance, the LGBTQIA+ community has compromised its identity far too long. This time, we are finding the light and standing right in the middle of it, because you know what, just like everyone else, we deserve our own stories, too. Beyond the performative and patronizing, it is high time our truths exist beyond the tired tropes, the shrouds of mystery, and the limits of the night. Ready or not, we are coming out, loud, proud, and in the light of day, every damn day, you hear?

Retold With Pride aims to benefit the Home for the Golden Gays, an organization that provides support and care facilities for elderly LGBTQ+ members.