On Philippine gay lingo
LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - February 29, 2020 - 12:00am

The Filipino gay empire has struck back at the center, using a language full of slippages and cracks – a language at once sophisticated and vulgar, serious and light, timely and timeless.

 I want to raise three points in this essay. First, that gay language serves as a mediator in the universe of Philippine languages. Second, that this language comes from a carnival of sources, a bricollage, as Claude Levi-Strauss would put it. Third, that this language has been appropriated by the heterosexual mainstream.

But they never considered the fact that Philippine gay language is a language of slippages: it sits on a site full of fractures and fissures.

Since the 1960s, Tagalog, the mother lode of Filipino, has metamorphosed into another variant called Taglish, or Tagalog English. Taglish has become the language of the educated elite and the middle class. One of its steady sources has been gay language, which has generated so many words and idioms that have been inserted in the mainstream of the everyday Taglish.

In fact, since the 1970s, gay language has even become a mediator among the many languages spoken in the country. In a sense, it is like the mestizo, the fair-skinned progeny of the brown, Malay ancestors with the Spanish or American colonial masters. The mestizo speaks Taglish, a mélange of languages which, according to Dr. Vicente Rafael, “evokes yet collapses the colonial relationship. It is the most unstable, and thus the most malleable, of languages.”

Gay language belongs to this realm. It has the “capacity to disrupt” because of its colorful associations, its elements of parody and spirit of play, its sheer jouissance. Moreover, Dr. Rafael adds it is capable of “embodying the possibilities of language.”

In short, it is a language forever advent, forever beginning, forever new. The gay words of the 1970s still exist, but they are continuously updated – in the beauty parlors and offices, the universities and the streets, the media and boutiques.

What are the springs of this language?

Gay language comes from a carnival of sources, like the costumes that the lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and queer people wear during the rambunctious annual Pride March held every December in Metro Manila. The gays in the Philippines speak a common tongue. It is their code, their very sword. It is their way of communicating without letting the straight world understand the drift of their words.

Turning things on their heads, gay lingo is a way of barring the straight world from intruding into the warm circle of gay conversation, and by extension, their lives.

In the very gay manner of subverting the order of things, gays have appropriated the names of people in show business and entertainment, geography and the sciences, media and politics, culture and the arts – and began using them in their daily lives. Let us now discuss this typology.

In the 1980s, gay men looking for casual sex in the darkness of the Mehan Gardens beside the Metropolitan Theater would suddenly shout “Jullie, Jullie Yap Daza” when a policeman came within sight. Jullie Yap Daza is a famous newspaper editor and television talkshow host. “Jullie” is the gay word for “huli,” which in Tagalog means “to get caught.”

Thus, the gay men avoided the policemen, who would quickly book them for vagrancy or any other imaginary offense, then ask the gay men for a bribe in exchange for freedom.

Show business is another colorful spring of gay lingo. We are influenced rather heavily by the dream factory that is Hollywood. In Philippine gay lingo, “Winona Ryder” means “to win,” referring to a gay man lucky in both life and love. The American TV talkshow host “Oprah Winfrey” has unwittingly lent her name to “OPM,” which is gay lingo for someone who always makes promises.

Beauty contests have also spawned the term “Thank you, girls,” to refer to the losers in a beauty contest. After the ten semifinalists have been announced, the emcee will tell the girls whose names were not called: “Thank you, girls.” That is their signal for them to leave the stage and return to the dressing room.

Melanie Marquez is a Filipino model who is tall, graceful, and beautiful. She won the Miss International beauty pageant in Tokyo in 1979. A few years later, she was first runner-up in the Supermodel Search in New York, and was once voted the most beautiful face in Italy during a modeling stint in that country. Gay lingo has played a pun on her name. Smelanie Marquez means to smell bad, or to have halitosis.

At present, more and more straight-acting gays and gays from the professions are coming out of the closet, giving a literary, sophisticated quality to gay language. Waiting for a taxicab is no longer a dull activity. It has now become, “Let’s go, let’s take a Taxina Hong Kingston so we’ll reach our destination faster!” The allusion is to the Asian-American writer Maxine Hong Kingston. (To be continued)

(Danton Remoto is the head of school and professor of English at the University of Nottingham in Malaysia. He can be reached at danton.remoto@nottingham.edu.my)

Comments can be sent to danton.lodestar@gmail.com

CLAUDE LEVI-STRAUSS
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