Sunday, February 22, 2015


KAMAGAYAN, the most plebeian of Cebu’s red light districts, is little known for one virtue: generosity.

Former colleagues washed away the day’s tedium and stress by ending up in the darkened alleys, engaged in one of the oldest forms of human intercourse: talk.

I don’t know how the pimps worked it out but the girls sat down with our boys during what should have been peak hours of the street trade. I’ve heard of the short stories and poems, even the outlines of a novella, emerging from all that street intercourse. If you can guess how media workers slog through some days, you would be impressed by that fecundity.

Kamagayan is not just generous with nocturnal seekers. When I recently had to print a manuscript, I went to a one-printer outfit that charged half the rate asked by Internet cafes. I turned up early. There was one customer: a young woman wanting to print photos from Facebook.

Waiting for my turn, I noticed all the images in that tiny space: digital poses of the girl on Facebook, the flesh-and-blood version bending over the keyboard, her short, tight dress riding high at the back each time she fussed with her digital images, the computer wallpaper that was a crazy quilt of photos pairing the male operator with a plethora of girls.
When the young woman finally chose a portrait of herself, I silently applauded. Underneath the makeup her thin face was sloughing off in the morning light, she might have been in senior high school.
But it was as a pro that she conversed with the men and the ladies working for the money changer. After clinically dissecting the foreigner who left her side that morning, they moved on to her prospects of finding another tourist bursting with pension-fueled fantasies (“my happiness will only be with a Filipino”).
Meanwhile, since this Filipino knight remained scarce, she was on Facebook. When the coeds showed up with their USBs, the young woman left, saying the students’ homework was “more important” than her photos.

For the next hour or so, while the students and I waited for our works to be printed, the computer screen was just full of text. Unless you’re in the academe or the media, words have little value.

Images are different; nearly everyone trades now with this currency. When the first plane plowed into the first tower on 9/11, terrorism plucked out a weapon straight from the movies: great visuals trump words every time. The quickest way to push a grievance is to have a “death video” on social media: Islamic State (IS) militants with their ritual beheadings; Netizens uploading and sharing the Mamasapano execution video.

Images have little “deniability”. Yet, is there anything more slippery than an image? Caricatures were viewed as artistic license, part of freedom of expression, by cartoonists meeting on Jan. 7 at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The same cartoons lampooning Muhammad was tantamount to the artists’ death sentence at the hands of Islamic extremists. Who’s to say what the message is, just by looking at the image?

We are new age Neanderthals, sitting in the dark caves of social media and raising our stick drawings into the high art of oversimplification. Or we could listen to each other, engage in what distinguishes the human: intercourse.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s February 22, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Color diversity

AGE hardens the lens in my eyes, reducing the world now to a fuzzy swirl of amateurish strokes of watercolor.

But out the night before Valentine’s Day, I didn’t have to switch between my two pairs of eyeglasses to notice that the popular notion of love hasn’t changed much.

Electric Crimson and Lava may have edged out the more maidenly shades of Rose and Blushing Pink, but malls, awash in different hues of passion, pulled out the stops in pushing everything from flowers to fantasies.

To do so, they used the time-tested formula: a man and a woman, Adam and Eve, Romeo and Juliet, Kathniel ad nauseam.

Wandering in the mall, I noticed that the popular depiction of romance did not always connect with reality. Among the couples walking hand-in-hand were partners that were both female.

Sticking out in a sea of office girls going home with a long-stemmed beauty was an ecstatic fellow proudly bearing a bouquet of exotic blooms. His expression declared that he had just received, not delivered, the flowers.

Isn’t it time for merchandisers to tweak Valentine’s Day with its traditional bias for heteronormativity?

In this view, gender is fixed at birth. Born a man; desire a woman. Born a woman; serve a man. The normal is limited to this binary: an exclusive society of two, permitting only two kinds of identity, two kinds of sexuality.

To be any different is to be queer and deformed.

Since enterprise is a great motivator for change, I hope the “juggernauts of secular and commercial culture” will rethink their packaging of next year’s Valentine’s Day. You don’t have to be heterosexual to desire the company of a loved one, the unflagging stamina of the serially monogamous.

More than a commercial eroticization, Valentine’s Day is a good barometer of social values. If we cannot depict through mass media the couples that fall beyond the orbit of heteronormal, how can we understand and accept them?

LGBTIQ represents the realities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning persons.

A transgender or “trans” person identifies with a gender that is different from his or her biological one. Born with male and female genitals requiring reconstruction, an intersexed person may later choose a gender different from the manufactured one. Individuals seeking a sexual orientation may choose the questioning gender.

Yet, instead of labeling, one should ask a person how he or she describes himself or herself and use this self-chosen definition and corresponding pronoun.

We can take our cue in gender sensitivity from Mandaue City, which passed on first reading last Feb. 11 an LGBTIQ Code. Last Jan. 22, Barangay Subangdaku in Mandaue unveiled a multihued pedestrian lane. Sun.Star Cebu’s Rebelander S. Basilan reported that muralist A. G. Saño suggested the rainbow lanes as a statement for acceptance of and respect for LGBTIQ rights.

Since the 1970s, a rainbow of eight colors distinguishes the LGBTIQ pride flag.

San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker, after being challenged by gay politician and activist Harvey Milk, placed at the top of the gay pride flag the color pink (for sexuality). Once used by the Nazis to label and persecute homosexuals, pink today blends with seven other colors to represent the diversity in the LGBTIQ community.

Colors can augur change.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s February 15, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Love, chemistry, politics

What’s on your mind? Asked the hubby when he recently came home.

Sex, I answered.

I didn’t say this because our work keeps us apart. Or because the older son and his friend may be queuing with other couples when “Fifty Shades of Grey” opens in theaters nationwide just before Valentine’s Day.

But because when the younger son recently took a college entrance exam, his chosen course was Chemistry.

Sex, I thought.

I’m pretty sure Juan wasn’t inspired by Carl Djerassi, the chemist who discovered The Pill and fathered a scientific and social revolution.

His passing away at 91 on Jan. 30 was buried in the local dailies’ inside pages. For the Facebook generation, Djerassi’s name may just be semantic noise.

But his accidental discovery continues to have an impact on us.

In 1951, Djerassi led a research team that was trying to find a cure for arthritis when they stumbled instead on norethindrone. It’s the synthetic molecule that became the building block of the first birth control pill.

Djerassi freed generations of women from the “morning after” shakes (“Am I or am I not?”). He returned to women the control of their bodies, which machismo and moral uptightness locked away from them.

When women could have sex without worrying about and bearing the consequences, the sexual revolution began. According to a Feb. 3 article on The Daily Mail, Djerassi admitted the pill speeded up the “separation of sex-for-babies and sex-for-fun”.

And The Pill spreads the love, too. Instead of squalid futures awaiting a house bursting with squalling babies, couples can plan each pregnancy and prepare for each child’s future.

I wonder, though, if Djerassi’s sexual revolution was not premature. In the country, an unplanned pregnancy can still get a Catholic-schooled coed to drop her studies until she can wear again the school uniform without the tattletale bump.

But reproductive health education is forbidden by religion from crossing the thresholds of schools where vulnerability to love or alcohol predisposes many teen pregnancies.

The state prohibits anyone younger than 18 from watching “Fifty Shades,” the movie revolutionizing those boring articles of men’s clothing (neckties and belts) into gladiator arsenal for the realm of the senses.

But for years, anyone of any age could buy the book. The trilogy even has a Filipino version.

But outside the sexually liberating realm of pop culture, girls are still getting conned by their boyfriends mouthing the world’s oldest cliché: “If you love me…”.

Over the years, birth control pills evolved, reducing the side effects but keeping Djerassi’s simple formula: prevent ovulation, prevent pregnancy.

Though given that power by science, women have yet to muster mastery in the arena of politics—not just the clash between church and state but also the gender wars, where a woman’s assertion of her right to say “yes” or “no” requires men rethinking their sense of entitlement.

Djerassi said inventing the pill for women, not men, was giving the former a fighting chance in the survival of the fittest. “Would you, as a woman, put your entire reproductive risk in the trust that he has remembered his Pill?”

Djerassi, that man of science, believed politics, not science, will decide the reproductive wars. For women’s sake, we hope he is wrong.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s February 8, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”