Kale Bantigue Fajardo

“Gulo in the City: Filipino Queer Transnational Aesthetics of (Political) Disorder and (Gender) Trouble in Manila During the Marcos Dictatorship”

In Nice Rodriguez’s short story “Throw it to the River” a working-class Filipino “tomboy” lives and struggles in an urban poor community on the banks of a river near Manila Bay in Metro Manila. (Tomboy is the term used in the Philippines and some parts of the Filipino/a Diaspora to refer to masculine-or-male identified Filipino fe/males.) The polluted river and the urban poor community are prominent spaces and places in the 8-pages long short story published by Women’s Press in Toronto, Canada in 1993. What kind of river does Rodriguez imagine and how and why is the dirty river and urban poor community significant in the context of Manila’s political and gender landscape during the U.S.-sponsored Marcos Dictatorship, a regime that lasted from 1972-1986? In this paper, I read Rodriguez’s dirty river and “slum” as part of a transnational anti-U.S. imperialist and anti-dictatorship Manila aesthetics and politics – aesthetics and politics that are also queer. Specifically, I link Rodriguez’s transnational Manila aesthetics (Rodriguez lived in Toronto and currently resides in Manila) with another (more well-known) queer Filipino artist/filmmaker Lino Brocka. I argue that theirs is an aesthetics and politics of “gulo.” (In Filipino gulo refers to “commotion, tumult, trouble, public disturbance, confusion, panic, turmoil, violent disturbance or disorder, uproar, complication, tangle, and/or mess.”) I further argue that this Filipino queer (and transnational in the case of Rodriguez) Manila aesthetics of gulo seeks precisely to disrupt the U.S.-sponsored Marcos Dictatorship and the Dictatorship’s notions of “Bagong Lipunan” (or “New Society), which sought to “cleanse” opposition and dissent and implement neoliberal and neocolonial economic and social policies in the Philippines.