Like many other Southeast Asian cultures, Filipinos take a relatively relaxed line on homsexuality. Its not a paradise – the coutry is heavily Catholic after all – but as in Thailand and Indonesia there has traditionally been an acceptance that, you, know gay people exist. And its not that big a deal. Perhaps the balmy climate and generally laidback attitude to life has something to do with it?
You see gay men on TV ( as comedy character screaming queens of course) and Manila has a lively scene. It also has a gay bookshop where I bought “The Pink Morgue”, the country’s ‘first book of homoerotic thriller short stories’. Unfortunately, as you might have guessed, the cover (above) was the best thing about it and I ended up leaving the book of trite detective stories in my hotel room to save on weight.
But there is other gay culture. The Philippines even has its own, fascinating gay language which I reported about earlier on the blog.
One place that I had meant to visit, but did not get around to, was the Home For Golden Gays, a retirement home specifically for gay men in the Manila neighbourhood of Pasay, funded by a recently outed television host. This was the home ,until his death in 2005, to an extraordinary figure, Walterina Markova. Markova told his story in a documentary entitled “Comfort Gay”, detailing the sexual abuse of Filipino men during World War Two.
“Comfort women” were Asian women who were enslaved and systematically raped by Japanese forces during the war. Although their story was long neglected (sometimes intentionally) by governments or the ashamed women themselves, it has now come into the light. What is still little known however is that there were also men who served as Japanese sex slaves.
Markova was one of them. He was part of a travelling drag queen troupe who were arrested during the WWII Japanese occupation and forced to work ‘servicing’ the Japanese troops.
The fascinating part of this is that it seems to indicate an acknoweldgement on the part of the Japanese military that some of their soldiers would rather rape men than women.
Markova spoke about his years of abuse, being one of the first to openly address the issue. He said: “”As humans, we won’t live long. Revealing my own story is my way of inspiring other gays who continue to be oppressed today. By my act, I may have given freedom to many other gay people.”
He is, in my eyes, a Filipino hero.