The Ampersand Essentials brings to focus current events and issues in Philippine society through the lens of pop culture.
Every day, we consume popular culture. How else could the Marvel Cinematic Universe, K-pop idols, Netflix binges, and “Cassie, hindi ka muna papasok sa iskul” be etched onto our collective consciousness if not for our consumption of everything popular? Pop culture is fun. It’s accessible. It’s appealing. But more importantly, it is powerful and influential.
The power and influence of pop culture are what we try to harness in The Ampersand Essentials. It’s a new section on the blog where we focus on current events and issues in Philippine society through the lens of pop culture. In each edition of The Ampersand Essentials, we come up with a list (a syllabus, if you will) of essential pop culture references to help us explore and understand a particular relevant issue. We don’t guarantee that each edition will be comprehensive, but we promise that it’s a good place to start.
For the first edition of The Ampersand Essentials, we focus on issues surrounding the LGBT+ community, in view of the SOGIE Equality Bill.
What is SOGIE?
There’s a lot of confusion surrounding SOGIE. What do these terms mean? How do they differ from or relate to each other? It can be a bit overwhelming, but stay with us because we found a handy dandy guide to understanding Sexual Orientation, Gender Expression, and Gender Identity.
It’s the Genderbread Person by Sam Killermann! Some of the terms are actually defined in the SOGIE Equality Bill, but the Genderbread Person is a helpful resource that’s more digestible, fun, and colorful!
What is the SOGIE Equality Bill?
- It’s Senate Bill No. 1271
- It’s An Act Prohibiting Discrimination On the Basis of Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity or Expression (SOGIE)
- The short title is the Anti-Discrimination Act
There’s a lot to unpack, so if you haven’t read the bill in its entirety, we highly encourage you to read it here. A lot of wrong information and false claims are being circulated, so it’s best we educate ourselves against fake news. (In our observation, the Venn diagram of people who oppose the bill, people who refuse to read the bill, and people who perpetuate fake news is a circle.)
But just to address some false claims we’ve seen floating around: No, the SOGIE Bill is not just about restrooms; it will not legalize same-sex marriage; it will not infringe on religion; and it does not discriminate against straight people.
What the SOGIE Equality Bill pushes for—as its official title clearly suggests—is to prohibit discrimination and unfair treatment on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. The bill will also provide LGBT+ persons equal access to employment, education, and health and social services—basic (read: not special) human rights.
That being said, we’d like to raise awareness and understanding of gender and sexuality. In this article, we’ll be highlighting the experiences of the LGBT+ community as portrayed on TV, movies, music, and literature (SPOILERS, obviously). Through this, we hope that more people will see the need for acceptance, inclusivity, and equality.
Violence and abuse against the LGBT+
Die Beautiful (2016)
Die Beautiful is a Filipino film about the life and death of a transgender woman who dreams of becoming a beauty queen. Trisha Echevarria (played by Paolo Ballesteros) is dead. She died of brain aneurysm after she was finally crowned as Binibining Gay Pilipinas.
Each night of her wake, Trisha is made to look like various celebrities: from Iza Calzado, to Julia Roberts, to Lady Gaga. Her colorful life story—her hopes and hurts—is told through vignettes intertwined with the present-day wake, much like a eulogy.
There’s a range of transgender experiences that are shown in the film, and the depiction of abuse is perhaps the most moving. Trisha, all throughout her life, experiences various forms of abuse: verbal, emotional, physical, financial, and sexual.
As a teenager, Trisha (then named Patrick) regularly experiences abuse from her bigoted father, until she is finally disowned and thrown out of her home. Trisha’s romantic relationships with men provide no comfort either. They take her money, make her pay for their nose jobs, and then cheat on her. But the most disturbing portrayal of abuse and violence is the gang rape of Trisha.
Young Trisha has a crush on the campus jock Migs (played by Albie Casino). Migs and his friends convince Trisha to go out and drink with them. What Trisha thought was supposed to be a fun night ended up becoming the worst moment of her life. And as if to twist the knife further, the film pulls a “falling in love with your abuser” trope. Trisha meets Jessie (played by Luis Alandy) in a bar many years after her rape. She does not have the faintest idea that Jessie is one of her rapists. She falls in love with him but the relationship eventually falls apart. On his deathbed, Jessie confesses that their meeting at the bar wasn’t a chance encounter. He purposely tracked down Trisha because he felt guilty.
What’s even more heartbreaking than the depiction of violence and abuse in Die Beautiful is the fact that these are not just plot devices in a story: these are real experiences of the LGBT+ community. In real life there is the murder of Filipina transwoman Jennifer Laude, the shooting of a gay nightclub, and the homophobic attack on a lesbian couple.
Sex Education (2019)
Sex Education is a British TV series on Netflix that focuses on sexuality and adolescence. It’s fearless in tackling many issues
that our conservative parents, teachers, and religious leaders would like to run away from discussing.
One of its main characters is Eric (Nguti Gatwa), a flamboyant gay teenager who is a victim of violence against the LGBT+. In the fifth episode, Eric is attacked by a stranger for dressing like Hedwig, a genderqueer character from the cult film Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
What’s interesting in Sex Education’s exploration of Eric’s experience and recovery from his trauma is this: he finds enlightenment and courage from a sermon at their church. The message was simple: to love others, you must love yourself first. Because as the pastor puts it, “Who are you to not love yourself?” Jesus loves you. Yes, I know. For the Bible tells me so. This allows Eric to attend the school dance as his true self—wearing loud outfit and colorful makeup. ¹
Eric also learns that his father’s reluctance stems from his worries: the world is cruel and he fears that it will hurt Eric for being flamboyant and openly gay. But Eric convinces his dad, “Look, I’ll be hurt either way. Isn’t it better to be who I am?” Their touching father-son moment happens in front of Adam (a confused school bully, played by Connor Swindells) who longs for the same kind of acceptance.
(Note: Although Sex Education’s portrayal of the experiences of the LGBT is commendable, it still follows the long media tradition of making gay characters fall in love with their abusers. See: Eric and Adam’s passionate sex. Struggling with coming out should never be an excuse for toxic behavior.)
Hey, Jay by Eraserheads (1994)
In Chong Ardivilla’s essay “‘Hey, Jay,’ Don’t Go Away or, How the Eraserheads Took a Sad Song and Made It Happy and Gay”, he writes about Hey, Jay, the underrated but extremely important song (especially to a gay man like him) in the band’s third album Circus. It was written for the band’s friend Jay who was rejected by his father and experiences violence for being “different.” Hey, Jay didn’t get the airtime it deserved, as it was released at a time when the bakla is a caricature used as a comedic device in hit movies and TV shows, worthy of being kicked down the stairs and dunked into a drum of water. ²
For a band with such influence and fame like the Eraserheads to create and play a song like Hey, Jay in the mid-1990s is almost unthinkable, as “homosexuals are [still] reviled by movers and shakers of rock & roll in Manila”.³
Hey, Jay can be divided into three parts: the violence and rejection Jay experiences: “Hey, Jay nabugbog ka na naman kahapon”, “Hey, Jay nag-away na naman kayo ng tatay mo / Hey, Jay wala raw siyang anak na katulad mo”; the condemnation of bigotry and homophobia: “Bakit ba sila ganyan / Puno ng galit ang isipan / Ba’t ba tayo ganito / Walang galang sa kapwa tao”; and the love and acceptance for Jay who still has the Herculean task to endure and overcome such prejudices: “Hey, Jay san ka na ngayon pupunta / Hey, Jay kailangan ay magtiis ka / Alam mo namang may iba ka pang magagawa / Alam mo namang ang mahalaga ay nabubuhay ka / Jay, what you are and wherever you go / Isip-isipin mo na lang na may nagmamahal sa’yo”.
(Note: At the time of publication, one of the Eraserheads members Marcus Adoro is facing serious allegations of violence against women. We vehemently condemn such behavior and it’s the complete opposite of what “Hey, Jay” stands for.)
Sirena by Gloc-9 feat. Ebe Dancel (2012)
Eighteen years after Hey, Jay, Gloc-9 and Ebe Dancel comes out with Sirena, another song about a gay man rejected by his family, particularly his father. The music video’s opening scene shows a father dragging his son in front of his beer-drinking and beer-bellied kumpares. The father forcefully dunks his son’s head into a drum of water in between questions “Lalaki ka ba o babae?” and rejections “Wala akong anak na bakla!”
In response to these abuses, the song itself opens with a strong assertion: “Ako’y isang sirena / Kahit ano’ng sabihin nila, ako ay ubod ng ganda”. These lines also serve as the song’s refrain before cutting to the chorus that clearly describes the abuse: “Drum na may tubig ang sinisisid / Naglalakihang mga braso, sa’kin dumidikdik”. The refrain and chorus are sung by Ebe Dancel and intercuts Gloc-9’s rap of the character’s experiences of family rejection and abuse: powdering his face to hide the bruises, being hit by a metal pipe, and begging his father to stop.
The father does eventually stop the abuse—when he’s aging and sick with cancer. The song wraps up as the father finally learns to accept his son after many years of rejection. In a similar vein, Hey, Jay also ends with acceptance, although by friends and not Jay’s father.
Sirena, like Hey Jay condemns bigotry and homophobia. Where Ely Buendia asks “Bakit ba sila ganyan / Puno ng galit ang isipan”, Gloc-9 also laments “Ano ba’ng mga problema n’yo / Dahil ba ang mga kilos ko’y iba / Sa dapat makita ng inyong mata.” But unlike Hey, Jay that sings of enduring abuse: “Hey Jay kailangan magtiis ka”, Sirena remains unapologetic and self-assured: “Kahit ano’ng gawin nila / Bandera ko’y ‘di tutumba”. The song uses sirena as a metaphor for the unwavering defense of one’s sexuality and identity.
However, such isn’t the case for the character in the poem The Conversion by J. Neil Garcia. The lyrics and music video for Sirena borrow heavily from the lines and imagery of The Conversion which starts ominously with “It happened in a metal drum”. The narrator in the poem is dragged and his head dunked into a drum full of water:
Waves swirled up and down around me, my head
Bobbing up and down. Father kept booming,
Girl or boy. I thought about it and squealed,
Girl. Water curled under my nose.
While the character in Sirena remains steadfast, the narrator in The Conversion eventually gives in: “In the end I had to say what they all / Wanted me to say. I had to bring down this diversion / To its happy end.” The conversion is successful. By the end of the poem, the narrator has stopped wearing his dead mother’s clothes. He marries a woman and fathers four children. He hits his wife like his father used to hit him. He feels “redeemed”. But every now and then, his thoughts wander to “the girl who drowned somewhere in a dream many dreams ago”.
It’s interesting to note how the characters in the song and the poem have different responses to rejection and abuse. In Sirena, the character obviously “transforms” into a mermaid in order to navigate the waters. In The Conversion, the character gets swept under the current and drowns.
It’s also worth noting how water is used as metaphor in both Sirena and The Conversion. The water is supposed to drown the bakla inside, so that the “man” can emerge. The water is supposed to cleanse the man of the dirt and shame of being gay. The metaphor has religious undertones as well: the gay sons are being plunged headfirst into the water by their fathers as a form of baptism—to convert them into something they are not, to reject who they are.
The journey to self-acceptance
Sex Criminals Issue 13 by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky (2015)
Sex Criminals is an ongoing comic series written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky. The story follows Suzie and Jon, who discover that they have the ability to freeze time whenever they orgasm.
In Issue 13 of the series, a new female character Alix is introduced, and she tells us her story, something that we think is rarely explored in comics: coming to terms with asexuality.
Sex Criminals is deliberate in its storytelling as it weaves experiences that are both common and uncommon to us: raging teenage hormones, peer pressure, and Alix’s disinterest in sex.
We see her personal history, the struggle of not fitting in when it comes to sex, and her journey towards self-acceptance. Sex Criminals shows that Alix is different, but her uniqueness does not mean that she is broken, instead Sex Criminals asserts that she is completely normal.
Relationships or, how love transcends gender and sexuality
“Stronger Than You” from Steven Universe (2015)
Steven Universe is an animated show on the Cartoon Network. It’s about Crystal Gems—alien warriors with a female form and a magical gemstone at their core, and a young boy named Steven Universe who is half-Gem, half-human.
The episode Jailbreak introduces two new gems, Sapphire and Ruby. Upon finding each other, they hug, twirl, kiss, and dance until they trigger a Fusion to become Garnet. In Steven Universe, Fusion happens when two gems come together to create another Gem.
The creators of the show have confirmed that Ruby and Sapphire are in a romantic lesbian relationship. And Garnet, their fusion, sings “Stronger Than You” in this episode as a celebration of Ruby and Sapphire’s relationship.
The song is an ode to the power of love and relationships: “Go ahead and try and hit me if you’re able! / Can’t you see that my relationship is stable?”
It’s also a message to dem haterz: “I can see you hate the way we intermingle / But I think you’re just mad cause you’re single.” Ooops, anyone need some cold water for that burn?
The song is also a promise: “And you’re not gonna stop what we made together / We are gonna stay like this forever”. And most importantly, the song is a reminder of the strength of love: “I am made of love / And it’s stronger than you.”
So yes, Steven Universe is a kid’s show that provides LGBT representation and normalizes same-sex relationships. And while the Jailbreak episode has been cited as a huge leap for queer representation, the show takes it even further by celebrating a lesbian wedding between Ruby and Sapphire and providing viewers with this gem of a wedding vow:
Ruby, my future used to look like one single obvious stream, unbending until the end of time. In an instant, you pulled me from that destiny and opened my eye to an explosion of infinite possible futures, streaking across space and time, altered and obliterated by the smallest force of will. What I mean is, you changed my life, and then I changed your life, and now, we change our lives.
Imagine how validating this must be for a little girl who has a crush not on a little boy, but on another little girl. Imagine how important this is for children who have two mommies or two daddies. It’s important for children to see themselves represented. It’s important for children to see that they can love whoever they want to love.
Many people are worried about exposing their kids to anything LGBT in fear of “turning the kids gay”. Even the more accepting parents are worried about explaining same-sex relationships to their kids. Steven Universe shows us that it’s quite easy after all. Tell the kids it’s love. They’ll be all right.
Ang Ikaklit sa Aming Hardin by Bernadette Villanueva Neri and CJ de Silva-Ong
Ang Ikaklit sa Aming Hardin is a story about a young girl Ikaklit who is being bullied for having two mothers as parents. She witnesses adopted children and those with single parents being taunted by other kids from “normal” families as well. The message is clear: the book challenges the notion that a family must have a father and a mother.
While we feel that the lesson of the story could have been delivered in a more sophisticated manner, Ikaklit is a refreshing take on the meaning of family. As Nay Daisy and Nay Lilia show, “Ang pamilya ay parang isang halamanan. Hindi mahalaga kung sino ang nagtanim sa mga punla. At hindi rin mahalaga kung babae ba o lalaki ang nag-aalaga ng mga ito. Ang importante ay kung paano ito inaarugang mabuti”.
- The Legend of Korra
- San Junipero, Black Mirror Season 3 Episode 4
- Letters of Vita Sackville West and Virginia Woolf
- New Yorker Cartoon
The fight for equality
UP Pep Squad Pantay-Pantay Routine (2014)
The UP Pep Squad is known for pushing the envelope when it comes to the UAAP Cheerdance Competition. They’ve dyed their hair blonde ala Madonna, shaved their heads for freedom, and tossed and tumbled their way to a puso pyramid. But in Season 77, the Pep Squad ng Bayan gripped the entire nation with their Pantay-Pantay routine that celebrated diversity and pushed for equality and the rights of the LGBT.
To translate the vision of equality to their performance, the pep squad covered all their bases: from the androgynous look of each dancer, to the cleavage-bearing costume for the males and the abs-showing costume for the females, to the rainbow everything: pom-poms, accents, and shoelaces.
To further highlight equality, UP Pep reversed traditional gender roles by having the female cheerleaders lift the male cheerleaders in a pyramid—a feat that has never been done before in UAAP Cheerdance.
The UP Pep Squad placed first runner-up that year, with NU bagging the championship. But what mattered more than the title and trophy was the advocacy: kasarian, lahi, kulay, antas ng buhay / lahat pantay-pantay!
To walk their talk, the UP community passed a giant rainbow flag to all schools as a symbol of hope and unity.
The Wrap Up
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s sonnet as acceptance speech at the Tony Awards (2016)
In trying to wrap up this article, we realize that we couldn’t do it better than Lin-Manuel Miranda (we mean, obviously). So, let us end with this moment in July 2016, when Miranda accepted his award for best score for Hamilton at the Tony Awards. Instead of delivering a speech-speech, he recited a sonnet as a response to the gay nightclub shooting massacre that happened in Orlando, Florida.
Miranda reminds us that we have lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger and yet we always rise. Our hope and love have always been stronger, more stubborn, and more resilient. They remain to be our greatest weapon simply because love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside. In the end, the sonnet is a hopeful prayer. Miranda, on the verge of tears, implores us to fill the world with music, love, and pride.
¹ Phillipson, Daisy. “Here’s What Sex Education Got Completely Right.” Digital Spy. Digital Spy, January 28, 2019. https://www.digitalspy.com/tv/a26005375/sex-education-lgbtq-representation/.
² Chong, Ardivilla, “’Hey, Jay,’ Don’t Go Away or, How the Eraserheads Took a Sad Song and Made It Happy and Gay,” in Tikman Ang Langit: An Anthology on the Eraserheads, (Pasay City Visual Print Enterprises, 2006), 24.
³ Chong, “’Hey, Jay,’ Don’t Go Away or, How the Eraserheads Took a Sad Song and Made It Happy and Gay,” 25.
For more insights on pop culture, visit our website at https://theamprsnd.com/.
Patriz Biliran and Regina Peñarroyo co-run The Ampersand and write blog articles in their free time.