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Writing the Pinay teenage lesbian

By Purple Romero Published Sep 17, 2021 5:00 am

Cue the soft rain. The slow, melodious music. The scene in films when two people lean in and touch their foreheads together, then suddenly realize that, Hey, I have someone special here.

It was a film called Baby Love that first gave me a glimpse of what young love is. The two main characters, portrayed by Anna Larrucea and Jason Salcedo, tried to defy anything and everything for what they felt for each other. When things unraveled, Larrucea’s character had an older relative to turn to, while Salcedo had his peers.

When young love knocked on my door, I had no one to turn to — no confidante, no older relative who could understand me, as young love came in the person of a girl, a girl just like me.

What brought me much-needed clarity and comfort was a book.

The book, Tibok: Heartbeat of the Filipino Lesbian, helped me realize there are others like me. It made me believe there’s space for me in this world, though that space may be something I will have to assert and reclaim and defend every so often.

I was 14. Just like now, I’ve always headed to the bookstore first when I’m at the mall. I remember scanning the bookshelves at that age, looking at the usual William Shakespeare classics, the book by Edith Hamilton about Greek, Roman and Norse mythology, the intrepid novels of Filipina writer Lualhati Bautista.

Then I saw it. I’ve never seen anything like it before.

The book was called Tibok: Heartbeat of the Filipino Lesbian by Anna Leah Sarabia. The book’s cover had a heart on it, just like the usual books which contained the word “heart” or any reference to love in its title, but the pages of the book did not tell the story of how a handsome boy met a pretty girl.

It revealed, instead, a cornucopia of experiences of Filipina lesbians: of how they tried to survive the backlash and the vile anger of their families who disowned them after learning that they were not heterosexual; of Filipina lesbian activists who found love and solidarity; of unrequited affection for a straight woman.

The book spoke to me. Loudly. Painfully. Truthfully.

At 14, I was trying so hard to understand why I didn’t have crushes on boys. I was instead stealing glances at a cute girl who looked like an anime character and wondering why I felt different when an attractive female classmate sat closer to me.

I didn’t have anyone whom I could talk to about this. It was the early 2000s, and during that time, in the pre-Netflix era, I didn’t see scenes in films that captured and conveyed how I felt. It would take me another four years to discover lesbian-themed films but they were all Western ones.

I only had this book.

And it made me understand why I am the way I am.

It helped me realize there are others like me. It made me believe there’s space for me in this world, though that space may be something I will have to assert and reclaim and defend every so often, just like the women in this book.

But I had a million other questions — what do you do, when you suddenly realize that you’re gay at the young age of 14? That you’re on the cusp of falling for another girl?

Paano ba dapat manuyo ang isang nagdadalaga pa lang na lesbiyana? Ano ba dapat maramdaman niya? Kanino siya puwede kumapit, magtiwala?

How do you come out? Would you need to come out?

It was a confusing time. I was in high school when I learned I like girls but I still didn’t know if it was okay. At 17, I entered college and was still hoping that something would assure me it was okay.

I tried to go to different, other bookstores to try to look for guidance, if not all the answers, from similar books. But there was none.

There’s a plethora of books about the experiences and struggles of lesbians from Western countries. But I wanted to learn more about the Filipina lesbian, because that’s who I am.

Fortunately, when I became an adult, I learned about more reading options about women who love women. There’s Tingle: The Anthology of Pinay Lesbian Writing; Wildfire: Filipina Lesbian Writings from feminist publisher Gantala Press; and Tatsulok Komiks from GALANG Philippines.

But growing up, I always had that aspiration and wish within me — that one day, I would see racks and racks of books about young Filipina lesbians, the tibs, the tibams, the shibs, the stories of their awkward first loves, the nuanced description of the baby butch and the femme, the celebration of their language, politics, music, art, goals, life.

So when I had the chance to write one, I did.

Dito Sa Purple House is a story that tries to explain the various reasons why we reject love even if it’s supposedly the most beautiful thing in the world — and why we hope to rediscover it, even if it breaks us, even if we bleed.

Dito, sa Purple House tells the story of a Filipina student who falls in love with a Korean girl. The protagonists discover their sexuality in the age of the voyeuristic, omnipresent social media and learn the important difference between the family one is born into and the family one chooses.

The book is my attempt to present the multifaceted journey of knowing oneself: that ascertaining one’s sexual orientation also happens alongside the shaping of one’s political beliefs, the raising of questions about not just who we love, but about what we believe in and why.

It is a story about the lods (idol), the ssob (boss), the lexicon of the youth, the humor and the destruction of Twitter trends, the millennials versus the boomers, the brutally honest conversations we have in melodramatic inuman sessions, the angst, our insecurities, the soundtrack of a generation that is angry and lost and fighting.

It is a story that tries to explain the various reasons why we reject love even if it’s supposedly the most beautiful thing in the world — and why we hope to rediscover it, even if it breaks us, even if we bleed.

It is a story about a young, Pinay lesbian.

But I hope — and believe — that this will be just one of many.

Photo art by Jess Montz