In her newest anthology, editor Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz poses one important question for women loving women writers: “What makes you tingle as a lesbian?”
As sexual as that prompt sounds, Tingle: Anthology of Pinay Lesbian Writing shares deeper stories and experiences from 37 queer contributors, including works from the editor.
“When I envisioned the anthology, it wasn’t all about sex. For me, the basis of our lesbian identity is our desire for another woman. But it goes beyond the sexual,” Jhoanna shared during Tingle’s intimate book launch on July 14.
The book compiles 49 short stories, poems, and essays that speak the truth and experiences of women loving women. It shines a light on individual voices and experiences of Filipina lesbian and queer writers with the hopes of encouraging other Filipinos in the LGBTQ+ community to write and share their own stories.
Its cover art is a painting by Katrina Pallon titled Aquamarine, which is a piece originally commissioned by a Christian Chinese couple. Jhoanna said the painting was chosen because the anemones, corals, and fish in the art look like yoni elements—icons representing the female genitalia.
“I like putting elements in my painting that will reflect what I want my body of works to show, which is women empowerment and the appreciation of the female figure. In this case, I placed a lot of anemones, corals, and fish that look like a vagina,” Katrina enthused.
For these queer Filipinas, it’s important for them to tell their own stories to make representation more authentic.
“The mainstream mainstreams a mainstream representation of us,” said contributor and filmmaker Libay Cantor.
The writers continued to discuss how in media, sapphics are portrayed as appearing more feminine. “The idea of a female donning a male persona is threatening. People prefer more femme [lesbians]. Mas madalas pa rin na minamainstream yung femme relationships because they’re not threatening to what they know of hegemony,” she added.
And while on the topic of coming out, writer Det Neri brought up how coming out or paglaladlad is not just a personal choice, but also a political one. Fellow writer Kei Bughaw added: “Itong mga political issues like poverty, victims din ang LGBTQ+ women. Here in the Philippines, LGBTQ+ women are erased from the narrative. We need more stories that are politically realistic while at the same time recognizing queer women are in the struggle.”
How important is sex to lesbians?
With the anthology encompassing all aspects of the experience of queer women, sex is a major topic in the pieces. During the book launch, the authors discussed the role of lesbian writers in writing about lesbian sex. Some writers mentioned how they have a protective attitude when writing about it. Rayji de Guia worries that it will be appropriated by the male gaze no matter how authentic the stories are.
Meanwhile, other writers say it's necessary.
Nerisa Guevara chimed in, saying, "Our works are intervention in a heteronormative world. There’s barely any of that in our books and poetry, and I felt that it was a necessary intervention. It reveals beautiful acts lovingly done. Sex is important to everybody, it should not be less important to us."
"It’s part of the awakening for me because I didn’t have a heterosexual relationship. It's weird because queer people don’t ask straights how they have sex. It’s a natural part of a relationship. 2021 na, we don’t have to label it as a taboo thing," noted Krista Melgarejo.
"You love the dirty aspects of [sex] and the intimate aspects—being safe. There’s that kind of merging of intimacy and safety and dirtiness for women," added Roselle Pineda.
"Part of our lesbian experience is how sex births us into who we are, but it’s also only one aspect in a lesbian relationship. We all love in a context. I think this anthology shows who we are as lesbians in our individual struggles but also in the context of our larger communities. We do not love in a vacuum, that’s what we clearly demonstrate in the book and in this discussion," closed Jhoanna.