Seamen and Tomboys in Ports and at Sea
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter discusses the manhood of Filipino seamen and the sexual identity of “Filipino tomboys”— male-identified females who generally have sexual or emotional relationships with other females. It also highlights gender identifications and cultural phenomena related to Filipino seamen and tomboys. Filipino culture accepts queers as Filipino seafarers and other migrants develop close ties with Filipino tomboys because of the similarity in their orientations, such as an intense attraction towards women.
My nation, my body.
NEFERTI X. TADIAR, “Domesticated Bodies”
There is reason to seize the bits and piece of … history as they flash up in the randomness of memory. There is a history jeopardized by prevalent understandings of queer identities and tired notions….
RODERICK FERGUSON, “Sissies at the Picnic”
A Transportation Story, Metro Manila, Philippines, 1998
At 5:00 a.m. it is dark and quiet when I wake up, trying to beat the morning rush hour in Metro Manila. The port should only be about a twenty-minute car ride, but with the arteries of the city becoming increasingly clogged, it could take two hours. Other people have similar ideas, so by the time I reach the street corner where the “Quiapo-Pier” jeepney 1 (or jeep) stops to pick up passengers in need of a ride to the other side of the city, the street is already lined with people. (Jeepneys are a form of low cost transportation in the Philippines, typically owned and operated by individuals or families.)
Although I could take a taxi, during fieldwork in Manila, I often rode jeeps to participate in more working-class spaces in the city. 2 I board and take my seat when the jeep arrives, and I stare out the window and begin to watch a clip of the film that is Metro Manila. We pass historical University of Santo Thomas, with its green playing fields and dignified buildings, students waiting at the front gate; 7–11 stores; Jollibees (fast food restaurant chain); residential housing; pawnshops; and dilapidated office buildings.
Eventually, the jeep goes beneath an overpass and enters Quiapo, a historically Chinese or Chinese Mestizo/Filipino area of Old Manila. (p.150) I have ridden this route numerous times before during previous stays in the city, for example, when I studied at a local college during my undergraduate days. In Quiapo, I always think about and remember my mother. She completed a bachelor’s degree at Far Eastern University (FEU), which I see on my left as the jeep passes through the neighborhood. I think about the stories my mother told me about being young and in college, and I imagine her sitting in a little Quiapo restaurant enjoying a Coke and “hopia” (Chinese bean cakes), her favorite cheap meal, which she said she savored because her “pocket money” was always limited.
After passing FEU, I see Quiapo Church off to the right. The scene is lively, and there is an interesting mixture of people that I observe as the jeep slowly passes the famous church. Believers wearing black buy candles and flowers outside the church doors. Nuns in white, rosaries visible on their chests, approach the church, perhaps to attend morning mass. Vendors sell bottles of oils mixed with herbs for various ailments, teas to heighten fertility, potions to induce miscarriages, and rich coconut oil to soften skin and fortify hair. Young skinny brown boys push wooden carts filled with old newspapers or little brothers through side streets, while middle-class civil servants and Filipina office workers wearing identical grey skirts (uniforms) and white blouses jockey for position as they wait for taxis. A few European tourists wearing safari-wear and sandals with bright magenta backpacks, thirty-five-millimeter cameras and guidebooks in hand wait for local transport.
The jeep crosses the historical Pasig River 3 and continues into Old Manila. U.S. government style buildings, remnants of U.S. colonialism, haunt the landscape. The National Post Office and other governmental buildings with huge columns look worn out, but some are getting new paint jobs in time for the 1998 Centennial Celebrations, which recall the Philippine Revolution against Spain and the establishment of the Philippine Republic, as well as the subsequent Philippine-American war.
Eventually, the jeep gets closer to Intramuros, the Walled City, where Spanish colonial administrators, merchants, and settlers once lived (discussed in chapter 1). Intramuros is architecturally composed of urban poor shanties; medieval structures; a golf course (established during the U.S. American colonial period); several schools; “turo-turos” (lowbudget eateries) and corporate fast-food restaurants; upscale Philippine cafes, handicrafts shops, and art galleries; shipping-related offices and seafarers’ union buildings; and other anonymous buildings. Intramuros, importantly for my research project, is also adjacent to the Port of Manila. As in any major industrialized port city since the 1970s, large container cranes line the port area, mechanical structures that pick up and move (p.151) shipping/trucking containers full of all sorts of products and commodities (e.g., electronics, building supplies, food, and apparel).
After passing through the security checkpoint area where my identification and bag are inspected and I am asked the nature of my visit, I walk toward one of the docked ships. There is another security guard by the ship, so I introduce myself, tell him the purpose of my visit, show him my identification, and then ask him (in Tagalog) what kind of crew is on board the ship. He tells me that this one is Pinoy (Filipino). (Some of the other ships, which he points to, in contrast, comprise, for example, all Chinese crews.) The guard asks if I am Japanese. No, I explain to him in Tagalog, I am Filipino, born in Malolos, Bulakan, and raised in the United States, but living in Manila for the year. The security guard says he appreciates my effort to speak with him in Tagalog. He seems pleased that I have not lost my native language and he tells me he pities “balikbayans” (Filipino/as from North America or Filipino/a immigrants) who cannot speak Tagalog. We engage in more small talk (mostly about the port, his daily routine), and then he accompanies me as I board the ship and he introduces me to the crew.
The ship, Sea Star, is painted dull gray and is large, but not imposing like other ships I have seen. It is registered in Cambodia and owned by a Singaporean company and mostly transports goods in Southeast Asia. It has just transported rice from Thailand to the Philippines. 4 The crew and dockworkers finished unloading the cargo the day before and soon the ship will depart for Taiwan.
The security guard tells one of the seamen, “Tommy,” a man in his mid-thirties, that I am a researcher and that I want to talk to them about seafaring. Tommy nods at me, letting me know it’s fine to come aboard. He says that a few of the seamen are eating, but the rest of the crew is sleeping. Tommy then asks me to follow him to the galley and mess hall. Two seamen are eating breakfast. One of them (“Ernesto”), a man who appears to be in his forties, looks up from his plate and asks me if I have eaten. I say yes I have, thanks, but he tells me to eat again. Appreciating his hospitality, I sit down at the table. Another seaman, probably in his late twenties, wearing a bright yellow Los Angeles Lakers baseball cap brings me a plate of scrambled eggs mixed with fried onions, garlic fried rice, and a cup of coffee. The steaming aromas from the onions, garlic, and coffee smell delicious, and I forget that I have already eaten breakfast at home in Quezon City.
As we’re all eating they ask me if I work for a trade or transport union. If I do, they say they don’t really want to talk; there is nothing to report. The conditions on their ship are fine they say, and the ship owners pay (p.152) them on time. I tell them I don’t work for a union and that I’m a graduate student (at the time), studying anthropology in California, doing research. They appear satisfied with my explanation and want to know where I am from and where I have lived in the United States. I list the places I have lived: Portland/Gladstone, Oregon; Ithaca, New York; and Santa Cruz, California. (This was before I had moved to Oakland and later to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where I currently live.) In turn, they tell me where their immigrant or migrant relatives live. Tommy has a sister who is a nurse in Chicago. Anthony’s mother lives in Los Angeles with his older sister. Ernesto does not have family in the United States, but has a younger sister working as a domestic helper in Hong Kong.
We finish eating breakfast, but can’t proceed with our discussion because one of the seamen has turned on the television, and the seamen and I are keenly interested in Manila’s morning news, the weather report, and local entertainment gossip. We all watch TV and then Tommy and Anthony excuse themselves from the table. I am alone with Ernesto. He pulls out a cigarette and asks me if I want one. I tell him I don’t smoke. We watch the TV in silence, but after a while, he, somewhat out of the blue (at least this was my initial reading), says, “Alam mo, mayroon akong kaibigan na tomboy.” “You know, I have a friend who is tomboy.” 5 “Really? Who?” I ask.
Ernesto begins to tell me about “Percy,” 6 a tomboy he knows through his sister in Hong Kong. Ernesto visits the both of them whenever the Sea Star goes to Hong Kong. Percy works in a warehouse and was dating one of his sister’s friends. “Percy helped me so much,” he tells me. “I was having problems with my wife and kids and I was very depressed. Percy was there for me with advice and told me to be firm with my wife, but also to treat my wife better. Eventually though, my wife left me. I was so depressed during a visit to Hong Kong, so Percy took me out and showed me a good time. We went out drinking, went to some nightclubs, and I tried to forget my wife and my problems. Percy was the one who reminded me that it was over. We were sitting in a nightclub, getting really drunk and Percy just said, ‘Tapos na, Pare.’ (It’s over.) I was so sad, but I knew Percy was right. There was nothing left for me to do.”
As he ends his story, Ernesto changes the subject somewhat, asking me if I have a girlfriend or wife. (“Ikaw, me girlfriend o asawa ka ba?” You, do you have a girlfriend or wife?) I tell him I have a girlfriend and that she is currently in the United States. Anthony and Tommy reenter the galley just as I am finishing my sentence. They sit down and want to smoke with Ernesto before they start working. Since they have just overheard the last part of our conversation, they ask me about my (p.153) girlfriend. They ask if she is white (puti). I tell them she is not, and this begins a conversation about their preferences in women. Our discussion has taken an explicitly heterosexual turn. After a brief discussion about women and sexual and romantic likes and dislikes, like Ernesto, the other two seamen begin to tell me who else they know who is tomboy: a cousin, a high school friend, an older relative. We continue with this conversation for a while. Ernesto eventually realizes they must start working because they are leaving for Taiwan soon. They wish me good luck in my studies, and I thank them for talking and the breakfast and I wish them a safe voyage.
As discussed in previous chapters, during fieldwork in the Philippines I observed a recurring narrative about Filipino seamen often deployed by Philippine state officials and some cultural workers as well as by the seamen themselves. The narrative suggests that Filipino seamen are largely heterosexual, geographically and sexually mobile, heroically nationalistic, simultaneously family-oriented or heteronormative, and usually “macho.” Although aspects of this narrative describe some Filipino seamen’s experiences and identities, instead of uncritically reinforcing and perpetuating this hetero-patriarchal understanding, imaginary, and discourse of Filipino seamen’s masculinities, my ethnographic analysis in Filipino Crosscurrents has been to work on developing a cultural critique 7 of dominant narratives about Filipino seamen (see chapters 1 to 3). This cultural critique has developed, in part, through a postcolonial/decolonized and queer Filipino (American) ethnographic focus that seeks to attend to the gaps, contradictions, and contingencies in dominant representations of Filipino seafaring and seamen’s masculinities. While I aimed to illustrate the fissures of the dominant neoliberal Philippine state, manning agencies’ and globalization studies’ representations of Filipino maritime and migrant masculinities in the previous three chapters, in this chapter, I illustrate how other fissures— and crosscurrents—become legible when Filipino seamen’s masculinities are engaged through their “intimate relationalities,” 8 that is, through their close social relationships, with Filipino tomboys. (In Filipino [the language] the first “o” in “tomboy” is pronounced with a short “o” sound [shorter than a regular short “o” in English].)
Tomboy here broadly refers to Filipino masculine or male-identified fe/males who generally have sexual/emotional relationships with feminine females. I use the term “fe/male” because some tomboys are female and masculine-identified, whereas others are male and masculine-identified. Tomboys may also identify as “FTM” (female-to-male), indicating a movement or shift in sex/gender identification. This movement or shift may entail medical procedures on the body to change sex (e.g., top/bottom (p.154) surgeries, hormones, or none of the above). There is indeed a spectrum of tomboy FTM/fe/male masculinities. “Fe/male,” to me, indicates this fluidity or range of sex/gender identification among Filipino tomboys. Although historically analyzed as “lesbians” or “women” (I will elaborate on and critique this point later in the chapter), tomboy can also be understood as a form of transgenderism or transexualism where tomboys enact or embody transgressive sex/gender practices and/or identities. This chapter focuses more on the transgender qualities because transsexuality tends to have medical implications (especially in dominant U.S. or “Western” contexts) that are beyond the scope of my focus in this chapter. 9 The chapter highlights sex/gender identifications and cultural phenomena and dynamics related to Filipino seamen and tomboys, rather than primarily focusing on medical models of sex/gender.
As I discussed in the introduction, sex/gender are not seen as distinct terms or embodiments in the Filipino language or in many Filipino contexts. The Filipino language is gender-inclusive or gender-neutral. Indicating this inclusivity and neutrality, the Filipino language, for example, does not have gendered pronouns (e.g., “he” or “she” in English). As such, there is significant fluidity, fl ow, and nonduality between notions, performances, and embodiments of sex/gender in Filipino/a contexts. Social and interpersonal contexts and self and social identifications are more important than rigid anatomical understandings or biological readings of “the body.” These kinds of interpersonal/social and/or selfpositioning reveal how notions of personhood or notions of sex/gender are generally more dynamic and definitely less dualistic compared with dominant European notions of distinct sex and gender. To give another brief linguistic/cultural example of how this works, the Filipino word “lalaki” means both “male” and “man.” This somewhat paradoxical formulation (particularly if you are used to separating sex/gender) reveals again how sex/gender are connected and interdependent and/or in unity with each other, not functioning in a duality.
Like the terms “gay” and “lesbi” in Indonesia (discussed by anthropologist Tom Boellstorff), tomboy can also be understood as a Tagalog-ized or Filipino-ized English word with specific Philippine or Filipino meanings. 10 That is, although “tomboy” as a term might have some similarities with the English word “tomboy,” where the word often evokes white female masculinity during childhood or girlhood, I underscore the term’s more indigenous and Filipino/a roots, routes, and meanings (not Western or U.S. American understandings). Following Kanaka Maoli Studies scholar and historian Noe Noe Silva’s decolonized approach to indigeneity and language, I do not italicize Tagalog or Filipino words (such as “tomboy”) (p.155) in this chapter. Silva states that she does not italicize Hawaiian words in her book, Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism “to resist making the native tongue appear foreign.” 11 This strategy is also important for those in Philippine and Filipino/a American Studies who are interested in decolonizing epistemologies and language(s) in our fields.
As an ethnographer who embodies queer and transgender Filipino (American) tomboy masculinity and lalakiness (maleness/manliness), I learned that upon meeting and getting to know me during fieldwork, Filipino seamen like Ernesto wanted to share commentaries, stories, and memories about tomboys in their past and present lives. As the first vignette shows, Filipino seamen during port visits (and later in other spaces) evoked and remembered tomboys as we talked during meals and as we hung out during their work breaks. Similar interactions occurred when I conducted participant-observation research in Ermita (Manila) and later when I took a transpacific voyage on an industrial container ship.
The following are other examples of this kind of scenario or exchange during fieldwork. (Seamen’s commentaries were originally in Tagalog, but I have translated them here in English.) At the Port of Oakland, a Filipino seaman named “Tony” remembered his tomboy cousin, nicknamed “Mel.” Tony recalled:
Mel’s mother died when Mel was young, so my mother took care of Mel (plus Mel’s two brothers and sister). When the school year started, my mother would buy uniforms and books for my siblings and me. My mother would also buy Mel and my other cousins these things. Mel was close to my age, so we always played together when we were young. Mel is a real guy (tunay na lalaki). Now, Mel has a woman companion. They’ve been together a long time. When I have extra money, I send some to Mel. Mel has a small business at the market, but I know that Mel still needs the help.
In Ermita (in Manila), retired Filipino captain “Jonas” recalled a story about a tomboy he met early on in his career. Now in his late fifties, Jonas remembers:
The captain who was a Filipino brought his “anak,” 12 a tomboy who was around twenty years of age, on board the ship for part of our voyage. The captain thought that maybe his anak would meet a man on board the ship and that this would turn her into a “real girl.” But none of the men liked the anak. This person was really “guyish” (or boyish or male-ish) (lalaking-lalalaki). When the captain was not around, the anak would be included as part of the group. We would (p.156) talk and tell stories or eat together. But when the captain was around, we acted like this person wasn’t part of our group. We didn’t want to make the captain mad. The captain eventually sent his anak home because he saw that no one wanted this person (romantically).
And again, at the Port of Oakland, Filipino seaman “Ruben” evoked his tomboy cousin “Lou.” Ruben reflects:
We were close in high school. Lou now works at Mega Mall as a security guard. Lou didn’t finish college. When I’m on vacation in Manila, I see Lou and we go out drinking with some others from our group. We’re still close.
Since I was not initially expecting these kinds of commentaries of conversations, these ethnographic encounters and narratives strongly suggest that my bodily presence and racialized and classed sex/gender (transgender, tomboy) and performance of lalaki-ness reminded working-class Filipino seamen of tomboys they knew or currently know (Percy, Mel, tomboy anak, and Lou) subsequently, transporting them mentally and emotionally to other times and places (just as I was “transported” when I traveled locally in Manila, recalling, for example, my mother while I rode a jeepney through Quiapo). As a result of being mentally/emotionally/temporally moved, Filipino seamen often shared anecdotes, memories, feelings, and thoughts about tomboy relatives, friends, and shipmates (in the case of Jonas) during conversations. In turn, seamen’s narratives and stories about tomboys pushed me to continue exploring how Filipino maritime and migrant masculinities function and are created through everyday practices, in particular, through their social relationships, proximities, friendships, and kinships with Filipino tomboys and what these two overlapping masculinities may mean in terms of understanding broader issues of Filipino masculinities, manhoods, and/or lalaki-ness.
As a result of the kind of fieldwork encounters and conversations discussed previously in this chapter (as well as post-fieldwork reflection and analysis), I show that what at first glance appears to be a heteronormative cultural and economic phenomenon, working-class Filipino seamen laboring in the global shipping industry, when ethnographically analyzed through reflexive and situated ethnographic writing and use of transnational/translocal/transgender cultural logics, scenes in port(s) and at sea actually reveal non-normative, queer, and/or transgender Filipino cultural dynamics; for example, the social, gender, and class affinities between working-class Filipino (sea)men and tomboys and a more expansive, inclusive, and queer understanding of Filipino masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness. By critically interpreting the (p.157) connections, fluidities, and nondualities among and between conventional Filipino masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness and alternative (tomboy) masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness, this chapter continues to reveal how differently situated Filipinos engage the sea and seafaring to imagine and produce heterogeneous Filipino masculinities, as well as trajectories and spatializations of globalization. The chapter also emphasizes how differently situated Filipino masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness, for example, heterosexual male and tomboy, must be understood in relation to, not apart from each other (a common tendency in various Filipina lesbian/feminist accounts of tomboys). As such, I suggest that it is productive if more scholars, researchers, activists, and/or cultural workers engage tomboys as fe/male men or “lalaki” in the contexts of masculinity studies, queer studies, transgender studies, Philippine Studies, Filipino/a American Studies, and Asian American Studies. This theoretical and ethnographic move is particularly important if we want to decolonize notions of racialized and classed sexes/genders in Filipino contexts and if we want to “abide” 13 by indigenous Filipino epistemologies and understandings of racialized and classed sex/gender.
In addition to rethinking sex/gender, masculinities/manhoods/lalakiness, in this chapter I also ask readers to reconsider and reflect further on the effects and affects of maritime/migrant space and mobility. Although migration studies often begin with the arrival of the migrant or immigrant in the “receiving country,” the crosscurrents and transportation frameworks I suggest here include examining the spaces in between and across countries, localities, and spaces (Philippines, United States, and the Pacific Ocean) and how movement and geographic positioning re/configures Filipino identities, masculinities, everyday practice, and life experiences. As in previous chapters, I remain interested in examining crosscurrents and transportation spaces and places such as ports, seas, ships, and different kinds of movement such as seafaring, migration, travel, or sea-based transportation and how mobility reinforces, informs, and/or disrupts cultural meanings, particularly around issues of Filipino masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness in local/regional/global contexts.
This understanding of transportation is partially informed by cultural studies scholar James Clifford’s cultural theorizing in Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century, particularly his idea that “travel [movement] is constitutive of culture.” Clifford elaborates on the importance of movement by saying that “thinking historically is a process of locating oneself in space and time. And a location, in [this] perspective … is an itinerary rather than a bounded site—a series of encounters and translations” [emphasis added]. 14 Inspired by Clifford’s (p.158) understanding of travel, translations, and itineraries, I foreground cultural encounters and translations in ports and at sea and suggest how specific embodied practices of mobility and movement, sea-based transportation, migration, and travel, are constitutive of racialized and classed Filipino masculinities and manhoods. I use the terms transportation and seafaring to evoke the fact that Filipino seamen are moving through the sea precisely as sea-based migrant workers, not as recreational elite travelers, which Clifford acknowledges is what the term “travel” usually connotes. By evoking transportation and not foregrounding travel, I am not suggesting that transportation or seafaring does not involve moments of pleasure or recreation; rather, I do so to underscore that the global shipping industry is a disciplined 15 site of largely Global South migrant male labor.
Moreover, whereas the in-between spaces and places of travel and mobility (e.g., ocean/ships) are clearly important, transportation also involves thinking transnationally, translocally, and transPacificly, engaging the multiple, mixed, and/or hybrid cultural logics of two or more places that may be important for mobile and migratory subjects (e.g., seamen, migrants, immigrants, and ethnographers) in the itineraries that they/we create through movement or transportation. 16 For example, in the case of this book and this chapter, it is productive and useful to understand and engage some of the cultural logics at play in the Philippines, the United States, and at sea, as well as the impacts, effects, and affects related to experiences of mobility that inform, create, repeat, and/or resist embodiments and performances of different kinds of Filipino masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness (e.g., conventional and tomboy).
Transportation also involves reflecting on how movement (seafaring, transportation [e.g., street-level or sea-level], travel, migration, and immigration) potentially/regularly “moves” subjects to another time and space or place (mentally, emotionally, and/or through cultural memory). In other words, transportation moves us to different geographies or oceanographies, but also to different spaces, places, and moments of temporality, history, affect, and memory. This kind of transportation can take place in (port) city streets, on ocean waves and currents, on rivers and rails, on walking/hiking trails, on road trips, and in other forms of journeying as an act of remembering, reflecting, and meditating. 17 Thus, differently situated ethnographic participants (e.g., ethnographers and the people with whom they/we conduct participantobservation) interact with different people and subjects and move through a variety of places, potentially bringing together a (re)collection of the jetsam and flotsam of personal and collective past life experiences, feelings, and analyses.
(p.159) Last and certainly not least, transportation also suggests sex/gender fl uidities, inclusiveness, and nondualities that the terms “trans gender” and “trans sexual” suggest because the “trans” in transgender, transsexual, and transportation simultaneously evokes movement between and across culturally constructed racialized and classed sex/gender, that is, female/male, manhood/womanhood, masculinities, and femininities. Transportation as a term and framework, therefore, precisely highlights the intersections of embodied movement and migration (seafaring), as well as the fl uidities and nondualities of racialized and classed sex/gender formations, identifications, and realities.
Although many middle-class lesbian feminist activists and writers in the Philippines and diaspora regularly use tomboy to describe or evoke Filipina working-class (butch) lesbians, I want to emphasize here that Filipino tomboy formations are akin to other transgender or fe/male masculinities rooted and routed through Southeast Asia, such as tombois in Indonesia and toms in Thailand. Anthropologist Megan J. Sinnott, for example, writes that toms in/from Thailand can be understood as “female ‘men’” or “transgendered females,” 18 whereas anthropologist Evelyn Blackwood writes that “tomboi is a term used for females acting in the manner of men (gaya laki-laki).” 19 In agreement with these ethnographers, as I have been proposing, Filipino tomboys can also be culturally interpreted as a formation of transgendered fe/male masculinity/ manhood/lalaki-ness. As a result of centering an indigenous/Filipino understanding of sex/gender in unity, not duality, in this chapter, I aim to push scholarly conversations toward considering tomboys as “males” or “lalaki” because as I have indicated sex and gender are not separated in the Filipino language, and we must seriously consider more deeply the implications of various sex/gender self and social identifications. Indeed, we need to further explore and theorize what it means for tomboys to identify as masculine/males/men/lalaki (a clear gap in academic analyses, as well as literary narratives). Although in this chapter I cannot fully explain (or hope to narratively capture) tomboy masculinities/manhoods/ lalaki-ness and tomboy personal and social identifications, my hope is to begin to chart preliminary ethnographic theorizing on this point and phenomena by basing my cultural interpretation on my specific fieldwork experiences in ports, on ships, and at sea.
As such, in addition to being in conversation with interdisciplinary queer studies in the United States (where Global North locations are still largely privileged as sites of study), I aim to dialogue with Philippine Studies, Filipino/a American Studies, and Asian American scholars situated in these fields where heterosexuality (but not necessarily (p.160) heteronormativity) and conventional biological masculinities and manhoods are often privileged, especially through the figure of the heterosexual Filipino male migrant worker, a key subject in foundational Asian American Studies and Filipino/a American Studies. In addition, I seek to dialogue and debate with Filipina lesbian feminists in the Philippines and diaspora, who regularly advance the idea and narrative that Filipino tomboys are always lesbians, women, and/or female.
For Filipino/a American and Asian American Studies readers, I want to clarify the difference between heterosexuality and heteronormativity here to create improved understanding in our fields. Although Filipino migrant workers in the context of the early twentieth century have been persistently described in heterosexual terms, Filipino migrant men from this period were not necessarily heteronormative or conventional because racism, colonialism, classism, and other forms of social injustices prevented them from living or creating full heteronormative lives (had they desired this kind of existence, which has not been fully substantiated). 20 They were not necessarily heteronormative because many were migratory and highly mobile and, thus, did not or could not live settled lives (settlement can be read as a part of heteronormativity, especially in a U.S. American capitalist context where property or a fi xed physical home is valued 21). They were also majority working-class men of color migrating from a Philippines that was being colonized by the United States, and later they lived and worked in a country that eventually restricted Filipino/a immigration to the United States (as a result of the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1934). Gendered notions of those who were fi t to travel to the United States (e.g., men, not women) and this anti-Filipino and anti-Asian legislation subsequently kept Filipina populations at low levels, which hindered Filipino migrant men’s (possible) desires and hopes to marry, build families, and “settle down,” all components of heteronormativity in the logics of U.S. capitalism and heterosexual reproduction. 22 As such, my research addresses how Filipino seamen may be heterosexual, but not socially normative.
Because “tomboy” is a term and formation that travels and circulates in and between the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and diasporic locations, I intentionally link queer and transgender with tomboy to indicate my transnationally and diasporically situated subject-position and interpretive framework. My intention here is not to transport the terms “queer” or “transgender” to the Philippines in a Western, U.S. American, or Global North colonial or imperialist manner, but rather to emphasize the transnational, transpacific, and transport connections and cultural flows between the Philippines, and regional and diasporic geographies (p.161) and oceanographies. That is, Filipino/a peoples and ideas flow back and forth between the Philippines and diasporic locations. To be sure, I am also trying to point out to readers in the United States or the “West” that a lot can be learned from people situated in the Philippines/Southeast Asia or translocally/transnationally/transPacificly when it comes to understanding sex/gender. In other words, it’s a multiway flow of Filipino crosscurrents, not simply unidirectional or unidimensional epistemological and bodily traffic.
Keeping this in mind, I connect Philippine and diasporic cultural logics and try to pay close attention to epistemologies in the Philippines as well as in the diaspora (particularly United States) In Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures, literary critic and feminist queer studies scholar Gayatri Gopinath forcefully challenges the dominance of Indian nationalist ideologies, which privilege India as a homeland and which marginalize South Asian diasporic communities. Through queer and feminist critical readings of queer South Asian public cultures (music, film, novels, and activism), Gopinath intervenes into the heteronormative and patriarchal logics of Indian nationalist ideologies rooted in India and routed through South Asian diasporas. In doing so, Gopinath significantly and fiercely stresses the queerness of South Asian diasporic public cultures. What is different about my emphasis here (although clearly building on and greatly admiring Gopinath’s groundbreaking work), is that my intention in this chapter is not to privilege the homeland/nation (Philippines) or the diaspora (United States) as sites of sites of cultural authenticity or radical queer possibilities, but rather to keep them in productive tension and dialogue. 23 My analytical and political position is based largely on ethnographic fieldwork and also on personal life experiences, which include regular travel between the United States and Philippines, as well as substantial residency in both locations. 24 As a selfidentified Filipino American queer, transgender, tomboy, and immigrant researcher who is situated in translocal, transnational, and transport(ation) contexts in the Philippines and United States, I precisely evoke these multiple identify formations, which have different kinds of currency in the Philippines and diaspora (e.g., United States), to emphasize and highlight the complexities of how tomboy as a term, cultural practice, and embodiment circulates and how tomboy formations are interpreted or read in different Philippine, diasporic, migrant, and immigrant contexts.
The intimate relationalities between Filipino heterosexual (sea)men and Filipino tomboys, as well as the complexities of tomboy formations, became increasingly clearer to me through fieldwork in Manila, in Oakland, (p.162) and at sea. As a new ethnographer who lived in the Philippines in the late 1990s, I initially thought that Filipino seamen would speak with me about their lives at sea, the working conditions on ships and in ports, and the politics of Philippine overseas migration policies (since these were my key research areas). Indeed, over the years I have met dozens of Filipino seamen who have shared stories and social commentaries about life at sea and in port(s). However, as the introductory vignette and subsequent examples from fieldwork reveal, I learned that Filipino seamen wanted to converse with me about Filipino masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness through the figure of the tomboy. These encounters suggest how my subject position, embodiment, and identification as tomboy enabled, rather than disabled, certain interactions, exchanges, and conversations with Filipino seamen.
During fieldwork, working-class seamen primarily interacted with me as a Filipino male/masculine subject (tomboy), rather than as a Filipina female/feminine subject (woman or lesbian). As I understand these ethnographic encounters, moments, and exchanges they largely occurred because Filipino seamen understood tomboy to be a working-class embodiment of Filipino masculinity/manhood/lalaki-ness that for them was not routed or rooted through or in lesbianism, womanhood, and even femaleness (again because sex/gender is often fl uid in Filipino contexts). With this shared understanding, we conavigated conversations by discussing tomboys more generally and more specifically moved toward seamen’s stories, memories, thoughts, and feelings about tomboy friends, relatives, and acquaintances. In turn, ethnographic encounters evoked my own memories as a young tomboy in the Philippines.
Filipino Tomboys: Transnational, TransPacific, Transport Meanings
Although I have explained what I mean by tomboy and how I am using or translating the term, embodiment, and identification in this chapter, to more fully understand the significance of the intimate relationalities and proximities among and between Filipino heterosexual masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness and Filipino tomboy masculinities/ manhoods/lalaki-ness and the queer postcolonial/decolonized reading I aim to develop here, it is useful to situate and discuss the broader cultural politics or landscape of tomboy definitions and interpretations, especially in transnational, transpacific, and transport contexts. In Manila and other locations in the Philippines, “tomboy” is a term deployed to generally describe a range of gender and sexual practices and identities, including the following: (1) female/womanidentifi ed lesbianism often transculturated via white U.S.– or European-based (p.163) notions of sex, gender, and sexuality; (2) working-class fe/male masculinities and manhoods where tomboys identify and/or live as males/ men/lalaki; and/or (3) neither “women,” “lesbians,” “men,” or “males,” but an entirely different third or fourth gender formation. 25 Cultural interpretations based on the second and third notions do not frequently circulate in scholarly knowledge production, and self-representations by Filipino tomboys are currently limited due perhaps to a lack of economic and educational access, especially in the Philippines. As a result, the first understanding (tomboys as female lesbian women) has emerged as a dominant academic and political narrative in the Philippines and in some parts of the diaspora. Historically, nontomboy-authored narratives about tomboys have circulated more widely, resulting in more significant cultural capital.
A significant aspect of how many Filipinos understand tomboy practices and identities in the Philippines and some immigrant communities in North America suggests that being poor or working class is central. This understanding is reflected in popular Philippine discourse in which tomboys are often inscribed as poor, working class, unemployed, or working in low-pay service-industry positions such as bus conductors, security guards, factory workers, or overseas migrants. Although not as visible in popular culture as baklas, poor or working-class tomboys can be found in the pages of Manila-based tabloids, as well as in locally made films such as Tomboy Nora (1970) and T-Bird at Ako (T-Bird and I) (1982), both starring popular Philippine actress Nora Aunor. In an activist example, Information Center Womyn for Womyn (ICWFW), a lesbian nongovernmental organization in Manila, conducted a study of what they describe as “working-class lesbians.” The organization, which codes tomboys as lesbians, reports that tomboys in their study were employed in positions such as domestic helper, barber, photocopying clerk, street food vendor, train station security guard, tennis court attendant, retail clerk, library assistant, and massage therapist. 26 In a more literary account, Nice Rodriguez (a Filipino tomboy based transnationally in Canada and the Philippines) writes in the short story “Every Full Moon” that the tomboy protagonist “Remy” (a.k.a “Rambo”) works as a bus conductor in Metro Manila: “a dangerous job meant for men and butches.” 27
Confirming the precarious economic status of tomboys, the video exposé Behind the Labels: Garment Workers on U.S. Saipan, features Filipino tomboy anti–sweatshop activist Chie Abad who worked in a GAP clothing assembly plant for 6 years in Saipan and who later exposed and organized against the GAP’s exploitative employment practices. 28 Abad left the Philippines in the early 1990s to find work in an overseas (p.164) factory in Saipan. In a personal communication Abad stated, “Many [Filipino] tomboys work abroad as overseas contract workers because they can’t find jobs in the Philippines. The Philippines is poor and on top of that tomboys do not want to work in some fields because many companies and government agencies require female employees to wear women’s clothing like blouses and skirts.” 29 While in Saipan, Abad observed that other tomboys also migrated there for economic reasons. Abad’s analysis, which emphasizes a more transgender rather than a lesbian as woman framework for tomboy-ness (i.e., Abad is clearly resisting the unity of femaleness with woman-ness) reveals how the Philippine state’s, as well as multinational corporations’, heteronormative gender essentialism attempts to police and enforce Filipina femininity and womanhood, severely limiting tomboy masculine/manly gender expressions and their/ our economic opportunities.
Translating and interpreting tomboy in a U.S. context, Gigi Otálvaro-Hormillosa, a queer performance artist of Colombian and Filipino descent writing from the San Francisco Bay Area asks, “To what extent does the queer Pinay (Filipina) butch enjoy privilege in the U.S. and in the Philippines, since ‘butch’ or ‘tomboy’ status deprives her of power in various diasporic settings[?]” 30 Here, Otálvaro-Hormillosa seems to be responding to what she sees as the unequal power relationships between tomboys, who she equates with butch lesbians or dykes, and Filipino gay men in the diaspora. She responds, more specifically, to what she understands as the “infantilisation of the lesbian” through the term “tomboy” as deployed by anthropologist Martin Manalansan. According to Otálvaro-Hormillosa, Manalansan inadequately addresses queer Pinays, tomboys, and butches and she critiques him for his “brief derogatory mentions” of Filipina lesbians. 31 Through her critique, Otálvaro-Hormillosa attempts to underscore the “[power] differences between men and women.” That is, she respectively equates baklas and tomboys with manhood and womanhood/lesbianism in an immigrant and diasporic context (the United States.). Unlike the previously mentioned accounts, Otálvaro-Hormillosa does not foreground class as a significant marker of tomboy-ness. Instead, she emphasizes woman-ness and diasporic or immigrant queer positionality as the clear central markers of difference in how she deploys and translates tomboy. Although Otálvaro-Hormillosa cites Michael Tan, cautioning, “It is dangerous to transport Western terms onto sexual practices and identities,” she seems to do just that by unequivocally equating tomboy-ness with lesbianism and womanhood in her essay. This indicates how notions of lesbianism may get universally transposed.
(p.165) An alternative reading of Otálvaro-Hormillosa may also suggest, however, that through transculturation, she seeks to highlight a racialized queer Pinay/Filipina American framework, suggesting that queer Pinays in the diaspora deploy tomboy to refer precisely to Filipina butches, lesbians, dykes, and/or queers in a U.S. or North American context. In other words, in a diasporic space Otálvaro-Hormillosa seeks to locally rework, translate, and “Filipina-ize” terms, ideologies, and formations that regularly circulate globally (woman-ness and lesbianism). In this different geopolitical location (in the United States, outside of the Philippines) Otálvaro-Hormillosa clearly underscores a queer lesbian Pinay feminist or “peminist” 32 perspective. This is dissimilar to mainstream Filipina feminist notions in the Philippines, which suggest that tomboys are generally not feminist or even antifeminist. While articulating a clear feminist perspective that highlights gender and power differences in the diaspora, Otálvaro-Hormillosa sidelines class as an axis of difference that intersects with race, sex/gender, sexuality, nationality, and location, in a coconstitutive nexus.
What published Filipina feminist analyses situated on both sides of the Pacific have in common is that both often use gender essentialist notions of tomboy. That is, queer Pinay feminists in the United States such as Otálvaro-Hormillosa or Filipina lesbian feminists such as those working for ICWFW in Manila suggest that tomboys are unequivocally women or lesbians. This reading seems to occur because “biological sex” is seen or constructed as a binary (male and female) with fixed or corresponding genders, for example, female = woman = lesbian. This kind of interpretation is reflected, for example, in Amelia M. de Guzman and Irene R. Chia’s report on “working-class lesbians in the Philippines” for ICWFW. de Guzman and Chia conducted lengthy interviews with nine tomboys (my term, not the ICWFW researchers’) in Manila. Based on the interviews, their oral history project documents topics such as when tomboys “discovered they were lesbians,” their employment histories, their recreational habits, their butch-femme relationships, and their religious practices. Throughout their analysis, de Guzman and Chia primarily use the term “lesbian” to describe the research participants, although admitting that, “a unique element that [they] noticed among the participants is their hesitation to say the word lesbian.” 33 At another point in their report, de Guzman and Chia write, “All of them said that they like acting like men. They actually want to become men.” 34 In my reading of de Guzman and Chia, they seek to advance a Filipina lesbian feminist agenda by applying the term “lesbian” to poor and working-class tomboys who are clearly uncomfortable with lesbian/woman as an (p.166) identity and in some cases articulate a desire to become men or the reality that they are already living as males/men/lalaki. The tomboys in their study resist a lesbian feminist narrative, subsequently disrupting the correspondence between “biological sex” and gender and notions of fixed and essentialist racialized and classed sex/gender identities.
As a result of how class intersects with Filipino tomboy formations, as well as my own particular embodiment, in Philippine contexts at different moments during fieldwork in ports, on ships, and at sea, the concept of being poor or working class as central to tomboy inspired and produced unstable readings of what my particular embodiment of masculinity meant to others during fieldwork. On any given day in Manila (in different settings), Manileños interpreted my subjectposition and embodiment in multifarious ways, for example, as “male,” “female,” “man,” “woman” “bakla,” and/or “tomboy.” They also identified how these sex, gender, and sexual formations intersect with race, nationality, and/or class background: namely, “Filipino/a” “balikbayan,” 35 “overseas Filipino/a workers (OFWs),” “Japanese,” “Chinese,” and/or “Korean.” 36 But significantly, when I traveled in and through the port area, if I introduced and represented myself as a student researcher (at the time) originally from Malolos, Bulakan, where I was born, my hometown and province in the Philippines, and conversed in Tagalog, Filipino seamen generally interpreted my masculinity and lalaki-ness as tomboy and interacted with me as a masculine/male/lalaki subject. Their reactions to my “local-ness” indicate that the Filipino seamen I encountered also understood tomboy formations in classed ways, namely that tomboys are locally situated, poor, and/or working class. Their reading of me as a transgender tomboy/lalaki and their general understanding of tomboy formations were reinforced if I expressed a working-class sensibility and/or personal genealogy. For example, if I mentioned that I traveled by jeepney (which as I said earlier, I chose to ride regularly during fieldwork to precisely move in working-class spaces of the city) from Quezon City to the port or Ermita (a neighborhood in Manila where lots of seamen congregate) rather than taking a taxi or driving a car, which from some seamen’s perspectives is what middle-class, wealthy, or balikbayan Filipinos might use for local transportation, they interacted with me as a transgender tomboy/lalaki. In other cases, if I revealed my family’s humble roots in Malolos, or that one of my male cousins was a seaman, or that a female cousin migrated to Kuwait as an OFW, or that an uncle migrated to “Saudi” (Arabia) and lived and worked there for many years, these kinds of personal disclosures marked my genealogy and family, and hence me as being more working class, perhaps middle (p.167) class, but certainly not elite. This revelation reinforced seamen’s understandings of tomboy masculinities, which helped them to “locate” my positionality and interact with me in terms of these logics. In contrast, if I introduced other aspects of identity formation, for example, that I was from the United States, a balikbayan, and an academic, three axes of difference that in the Philippines suggests class privilege, working-class seamen were more apt to interact with me as a “woman.” If this occurred, I was moved or pushed to contextualize or situate my tomboyness (and lalaki-ness) by deepening conversations that highlighted my family’s poor and working-class origins. Once I demonstrated an intelligible and locally informed working-class sensibility, my presence elicited seamen’s memories, stories, and thoughts about tomboys. The previous discussion of ethnographic encounters and conversations in port(s) between Filipino seamen and me speak to this point.
In sum, the seamen’s stories and memories speak of overlapping and shared social spaces from and through childhood, youth, kinship/ family ties, and friendships where different kinds of Filipino masculinities/ manhoods/lalaki-ness are cocreated, coproduced, and coexperienced. The seamen’s narratives as a whole strongly suggest that Filipino tomboy masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness can be, indeed, are a part of, Filipino heterosexual male masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness and vice versa. That is, some heterosexual Filipino men grow up alongside tomboys, and some tomboys develop meaningful friendships and kinship ties with “bio-boys” and “bio-men” (terms often used in queer and transgender communities in the United States to describe people born as normatively or anatomically “male”).
Seamen’s commentaries about friendships and family ties with tomboys also collectively reveal an important component of Filipino masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness: the ability to emotionally connect and create “one-ness” with each other, understood in Tagalog as “pakikiisa.” In a late 1980s Philippines-based ethnographic study, Jane Margold reports that, “masculinity that seeks intimacy and a feeling of trust and oneness with another is a highly desirable state (pakikiisa) (for Ilokanos, a major ethnic group in Northern Luzon in the Philippines).” 37 Critiquing dominant frameworks that define masculinities through processes of “emotional repression and detachment” and that posit the “Filipino man as absolutely macho or patriarchal,” Margold emphasizes, instead, emotional intimacy between Filipino men and “more fl uid [and] contingent gender identities.” 38 The Ilokano overseas migrant men in Margold’s study created and enhanced pakikiisa through barkadas (friendship groups), which enabled them to endure oppressive social (p.168) conditions, where employers referred to them as “tools, slaves, and dogs” and where the threat of Arab/employer violence loomed large. Not confined to just males/men/lalaki, pakikiisa as a broader cultural concept stresses the goal of creating “emotional one-ness” through the group, not masculinist individualism, intragroup hierarchies, social competition, and violence, which patriarchal European-based notions of dominant masculinities and “male social bonding” have historically reinforced. Indeed, as sociologist and masculinities studies scholar R. W. Connell writes, “European/American masculinities [are] deeply implicated in the world-wide violence through which European/ American culture became dominant.” 39
In contradistinction, situated in Philippine contexts and cultural logics, pakikiisa emphasizes group or collective equality and emotional collaboration, which is directly suggested in pakikiisa’s composite parts. Sikolohiyang Pilipino (indigenous Filipino psychology) scholar Virgilio G. Enriquez defines the prefix “paki-pakiki” as “prefix nouns to denote shared humanity/favor/sympathetic sharing/rapport/cooperation.” 40 Similarly, Pilipino 41 language studies specialist Teresita V. Ramos writes, “The prefix ‘paki’ is roughly equivalent to the English word ‘please.’… The topic or focus of the paki-verb may be any semantic element other than the actor, such as the object or goal [in this case, “isa-ness” or one-ness is the goal or pakikiisa]…. [In other words], the actor of a paki-verb… is always in a non-focus” [emphasis added]. 42 Since pakiand pakiki-refer to a polite request to meet a collective goal, that is, “please collaborate with me to create a sense of emotional one-ness,” and not a command, pakikiisa suggests that group members value equality and interdependence within the group, which is collectively striving to reach the common goal of isa (emotional one-ness). This collective interdependency continues to suggest the importance of kapwa solidarity (shared identity or unity between self and others discussed in chapter 2) in Filipino/a contexts, as the object or goal, not individual actors, is the group’s primary focus. That is, pakikiisa suggests that the self or personal ego is subordinate to the group’s overall well-being. Although Margold is specifically referring to Ilokanos, her arguments are applicable to other Filipino lowlanders, such as the Tagalogs and Visayans I encountered during fieldwork. This is particularly the case since pakikiisa is defined as a Tagalog word, not Ilokano. In seamen’s commentaries, they evoke and remember stories of love, loss, brotherhood, and camaraderie with tomboy cousins, friends, and older relatives, demonstrating how workingclass Filipino (sea)men and tomboys cocreate masculinities/manhoods/ lalaki-ness through pakikiisa.
(p.169) Like the working-class Filipino seamen I encountered through traveling fieldwork, I also began to think about moments of pakikiisa with other Filipino males/men/tomboys. Traveling fieldwork encounters with Filipino seamen in Manila, in Oakland, and at sea transported me to memories of earlier balikbayan travel where heterogeneous masculinities (e.g., working-class, straight, tomboy, local, balikbayan, immigrant, Filipino, and Filipino American) coexisted. In the following section, I use a combination of ethnographic description, travelogue, and personal reflection to show another example of how heterogeneous Filipino masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness are cocreated through transportation, seafaring, and immigrant, balikbayan, and/or OFW mobilities.
Sunday Cockfights (at Sea and in Malolos, Bulakan, Philippines)
It’s early evening on a Sunday on the Penang Prince, after a mostly blue sky day at sea. I am on board the Prince as a passenger-ethnographer and have been on board for almost two weeks. (See chapter 3 for an introduction to the Prince’s Oakland to Hong Kong transpacific voyage.) The sun is beginning its descent into the sea and its always receding horizon. Electric orange light leaks through a few hazy clouds. The five Filipino seamen working on board the Prince invited me to join them in the officers’ recreation room this early evening to watch cockfights recorded on VCD that one of them purchased in Singapore. When I arrive at the gathering, I notice that the second mate (“Max”) has a bottle of Russian vodka and some boxed orange juice, while the chief cook (“Yoyoy”) shares small pieces of beef that were marinated in adobo sauce (soy sauce, garlic, vinegar, and bay leaves) and then baked. My contribution to the group is some Carlsberg beer purchased from the captain’s store.
Sunday cockfights take me back to my father’s mother, lola (Grandmother) Chayong, a small, quiet, and kind woman who in the 1970s ran a food stall at the Malolos Municipal Cockfighting Arena in Bulakan Province. Fortunately for me, my parents’/grandmother’s modest home was located directly across from the sabongan (cockfighting arena). As a nine-year-old balikbayan child in 1977, I recall traveling to the Philippines, the cooking frenzy before the cockfights, and then actually watching cockfights with my uncles (“E” and “B”) and their tomboy friend (“Jo-Jo”). On Saturday night, my grandmothers, aunts, older female cousins cooked foods such as bibingka (cassava cake) and ube (sweetened purple yam), and on Sunday morning, they prepared the ingredients for Pancit Lug-Lug, a Central Luzon noodle dish that was my lola’s specialty.
(p.170) All of the action occurred in the kitchen in the morning, but once the cockfights were about to begin, the action moved across the street. On this particular balikbayan trip Tito (Uncle) E and B (then in their mid to late twenties), plus Tito B’s tomboy friend, Jo-Jo, who lived in my father’s barrio (neighborhood) brought me to watch the cockfights in the upper stands. There, I listened to and observed my uncles and Jo-Jo yelling and placing bets across our section of the arena, the absolute quiet of the place just before the gamecocks clashed, and the crowd’s eruption into thunderous cheering and more yelling as one of the gamecocks cut into his opponent’s body with a knife attached to one of his ankles, drawing first blood. Later, some of the losing cocks were butchered near my lola’s eatery.
On the ship, the cockfights are much more subdued compared with my childhood immigrant and balikbayan experiences despite the alcohol we’ve been drinking; there are only six of us, after all. As the VCD plays on the TV screen, the seamen size up the gamecocks, offering commentary on the cock’s overall appearance, noting features like feather color, relative size, personality, and demeanor (e.g., “That one’s a beauty; that one’s ugly. This cock looks mean; that cock looks cowardly.”) On board the Prince, no one gambles with real money, only fantasy greenbacks: the third mate bets one million dollars on the large off-white cock, and the electrician prefers the spotted brown one. The second mate bets five million dollars on the indigo ink–colored cock with the orange and white plume feathers; I agree to root for its opponent. We are captivated with each cockfight, which lasts a few minutes or longer. The fights happen in quick succession because we are watching a cockfighting derby in which many elite fighting cocks battled each other at Araneta Coliseum in Metro Manila several months ago. We produce a similar stillness that happens in live cockfights and the eruption of noise as the gamecocks clash! The Filipino seamen and I are yelling and swearing as the fights develop: Ang ganda! (How beautiful!) Sige! (Go on!) Puta! (Whore! When their chosen cocks are slashed or lose.) Naku, patay na ang manok! (Wow, the chicken is dead!) Ang bilis! (How fast [the gamecock lost]!) The third mate excited, yells at me: “Mas maganda ito kay sa World Cup, di ba?!” (This is more beautiful than the World Cup, right?!) (The 2006 World Cup soccer tournament was concluding on the voyage. While the German seamen intensely followed the tournament through satellite reports, Filipino seamen had little interest in this event.)
What these Sunday cockfights show is that there are clearly spaces where different kinds of male/masculine/lalaki subjects (here, working-class Filipino straight men and an immigrant Filipino American tomboy) (p.171) coexist and cocreate masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness in and through seafaring, transportation, and travel, specifically through OFW/immigrant/ balikbayan mobilities centered in key masculine social spaces (e.g., seafaring and cockfights). As a result of interacting with one another, heterogeneous Filipino masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness participate in and coconstitute different Filipino sex/gender formations. This is not to say that heterogeneous (including queer, transgender, and/or tomboy) masculinities/manhood/ lalaki-ness are created only through practices of mobility and movement outside of the nation-state or “homeland” or primarily in the diaspora. Indeed, my first experiences of masculine/manly/lalaking pakikiisa happened precisely in a “local space” (Malolos). In making this clarification, as stated previously, I aim to dialogue with critiques and concerns raised in Asia where queer studies scholars and activists situated in this region (Asia) suggest that queer (United States) diaspora perspectives have become hegemonic (or even colonial), rendering local/regional queer and Asian sex/ gender formations and geographies as “less queer,” “more normative,” and/or “more traditional.” 43 These important knowledge/power critiques situated in Asia are critical to keep in mind as queer studies scholars and activists situated in the United States or Global North dialogue and debate with colleagues, friends, and activists situated in Asia and/or the Global South. Seamen’s narratives illustrate that heterogeneous, queer, transgender, and/or tomboy masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness are precisely produced in various local, regional, transnational, and global nexuses (e.g., Malolos, Manila, Oakland, and Philippines/United States/Southeast Asia/Pacific Rim), not only in Global North, U.S., or diasporic contexts. As stated previously, although I am invested in understanding queer/ transgender/non-normative racialized and classed sexes, genders, and sexualities as they are locally, regionally, transnationally, and globally rooted in Asia, I am also committed to showing how heterogeneous masculinities and manhoods (straight, tomboy, queer, transgender) are also coproduced through transit and transport—via routes in and out of Asia.
Cross culturally, cockfights have been largely interpreted as purely “men’s spaces” where dominant masculinities and manhoods are reproduced. This has been especially true in island Southeast Asian Studies since anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s watershed essay “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight” has been required anthropological reading in many anthropology departments (as well as in some gender studies departments or programs). In and through Geertz’s widely acclaimed cultural interpretation, the Balinese cockfight has become the signifier par excellence of “(Balinese) men and masculinity.” This coupling of maleness at birth with masculinity, however, is linked through essentialist (p.172) notions that equate biology, anatomy, and sex with gender rather than acknowledging that sex and gender are produced through bodily practices, identifications, and stylized performances. In other words, bodies, sexes/genders are contingent and can be produced through identification, bodily practices, and/or performativity, and thus are not necessarily produced through gendered notions of biology, anatomy, or “sexed” bodies at birth. At the same time (as Judith Butler and others reminds us), we have to remain mindful of various social contexts and institutions that potentially/regularly restrict non-normative gender acts. 44 Although Geertz writes a complex and informative “thick description” of Balinese cockfighting, he narrativizes the cockfights as an absolute male/men’s space, missing the ways that women participate on the sidelines of the cockfights through the selling of food, drinks, and admission tickets. 45 It is also quite probable that with this kind of understanding of sex/gender, masculinity/maleness/manhood, he may have entirely missed the Indonesian fe/male men or tombois (as well as children) who may have been watching the cockfights with other males, boys, men, or adult relatives. In December 2008, I went to the cockfights in Malolos with a tomboy second cousin named “V,” and I was reminded of this point again as V and I were not the only tomboys watching in the stands (we noticed four other tomboys seated in different parts of the cockfighting arena). When I asked V why there weren’t more, he said, “Siguro, walang pera.” (Probably, they don’t have money.) V explained that tomboys (and other men) need money to gamble at the cockfights and since we were at the cockfighting arena during Christmas season, any extra money a tomboy had probably went to gifts for family and friends. (Indeed, V felt a little guilty about gambling away 3,000 pesos [about $60], the Sunday we went to watch the cockfights.) V’s explanation also speaks to the way that class and economic access intersect with gender/masculinity/manhood/lalaki-ness, affecting such things as participation at the cockfights, an important site of masculinity/manhood/ lalaki-ness production in the Philippines.
In light of the potential gaps in Geertz’s interpretation, what at first appears to be a highly normative “heterosexual men’s space” (Filipino seamen at sea/watching cockfights) can thus also be read and interpreted through a queer, transgender, transnational/transPacific, and immigrant Filipino American logics if the presence of alternative male/ masculinity/lalaki formations—tomboys—are taken into account. In addition, if the intimate relationalities and proximities among and between working-class heterosexual Filipino masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness and Filipino transgendered masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness and the (p.173) concept of pakikiisa are treated seriously, an entirely different cultural reading or ethnographic analysis of the scene can be developed.
Instead of seeing a closed, watertight, and dominant Filipino seamen’s masculinity and manhood, strongly reinforced by a normative heterosexual reading of cocks (in both senses of this word) and cockfighting (i.e., Geertz’s cultural interpretation and the Philippine state’s), heterosexual and transgender tomboys actually have access to the symbolic meanings and material realities of cockfighting, game/cocks, and/or the phallus. This illustrates the way in which Filipino masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness are contingent, fluid, and not naturalized or limited by biology or the body. This dynamic coproduction of and interplay between masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness were not only evident through the cockfighting experience, but throughout my fieldwork time on the Prince. Filipino seamen during the transpacific voyage engaged a more transgender understanding of Filipino tomboy masculinities and lalaki-ness. As such, the working-class Filipino seamen on board the Prince never used the word “lesbian” (the dominant reading in Filipina lesbian/feminist discussions) and like many of the seamen who shared tomboy commentaries at the Ports of Manila and Oakland, they used the term “tomboy” to describe masculine fe/male Filipinos who are guy/ male-like (lalaking-lalaki) or those actually living as males/men/lalaki.
An example that further illustrates this point is when Yoyoy (the chief cook on the Prince) told Max in the galley that we (Yoyoy and I) were going to arrange a fake marriage, so that Yoyoy could immigrate to the United States. Yoyoy explained, “Eh, lalaki naman siya (gesturing toward me) kaya o.k. kung mayroon akong girlfriend, o.k. rin kung mayroon siyang ibang girlfriend.” (Well, he/Kale is a male/man/boy/guy, so it’s OK if I have a girlfriend, it’s also OK if he/Kale has [another] girlfriend.) This exchange reveals that although immigration officials would probably read Yoyoy and me as a (married) “man” and “woman” (especially if I was in feminine drag!), Yoyoy understood tomboy-ness not as a form of womanhood or female-ness as some Filipina lesbian/ feminists have suggested, but rather as an embodiment of lalaki that is commensurate with his larger, fl uid notion of maleness/manhood/ masculinity/lalaki-ness. With this inclusive perspective and epistemological understanding, the Filipino seamen on the Prince and I shared activities that many Filipino males/men/tomboys/lalaki share in the Philippines, which other seamen substantiated during other conversations in port, on ships, or at sea. We drank liquor and beers, ate pulutan (the food that goes well with alcoholic beverages), talked with each other about sweethearts and lovers (in their case, also wives), discussed relationship and family dramas, sang Tagalog songs available on karaoke (p.174)
The ethnographic vignette also reveals how watching cockfights on the ship with the fi ve Filipino seamen clearly transported me to another time/place through memories, evoking past experiences of pakikiisa with other men and relatives in the Philippines (e.g., Uncles E and B and their tomboy friend Jo-Jo). My own immigrant and balikbayan experiences as a young tomboy and later as an adult, participating in Sunday family rituals and watching sabong, reflects many of the seamen’s stories from ports and the sea: Filipino fe/males/men/tomboys/lalaki, young and old, spending time together as friends, family, companions, and neighbors cocreating heterogeneous masculinities/manhoods and memorable moments of pakikiisa.
Avast: To Cease Hauling; to Stop (Conclusion)
Filipino seamen’s heterogeneous masculinities/manhoods, their memories, and commentaries about tomboy relatives and friends, and the transpacific autoethnographic travelogue and cultural analysis presented in this chapter (p.175) (and in other chapters of this book) articulate clear counternarratives and alternative “gender realities” (to use Judith Butler’s phrase) to U.S. and Japanese colonial, imperialist, capitalist, and misogynistic discourses, which seek to construct the Philippines and Filipino/a peoples as disempowered or feminized victims without agency, discourses, which at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century unfortunately remain persistent. (See the discussion of feminizing discourses of Filipino/as and the Philippines in the introduction and chapter 1 of this book.) Filipino seamen, and now potentially Filipino tomboys/lalaki, provide masculine fe/male alternatives to the figure of the Filipina domestic helper, “prostitute,” and/ or “mail-order bride,” through which to imagine the nation and Filipino (global) migrant labor. However, rather than uncritically naturalizing or celebrating closed and essentialist heteronormative Filipino masculinities/ manhoods and understandings of sea-based migration and globalization (the Philippine state’s impulse and the state’s social/political agenda), in contrast, “Transportation” (this chapter) and Filipino Crosscurrents (this book) stress how heterogeneous masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness— dominant/state; situated ashore and away; “the heroes” and “the deserters,” conventional and tomboy; elite, poor, and working class; migrant, seafarer (OFW), immigrant, balikbayan, and Filipino/Filipino American—are culturally constructed, personally/socially identified or contextualized, performed, and clearly contingent.
Moreover, through transportation and crosscurrents as a theoretical and ethnographic framework that emphasizes the importance of transnational, translocal, transgender cultural logics and cultural memory in anthropological interpretation, as well as transportation, seafaring, and immigrant travel as a key ethnographic practice, this chapter further demonstrates that there are alternative itineraries and trajectories to queer and trans (both as a verb and a noun) in queer studies, masculinity studies, Philippine Studies, Filipino/a American Studies, Asian American Studies, and postcolonial studies. That is, rather than privileging queer sexuality (a common approach in mainstream/European-based lesbian, gay, bisexual, trangender, queer (LGBTQ) studies) or heterosexuality (a foundational approach in Asian American Studies, Philippine Studies, and Filipino/a American Studies), this chapter documents and engages an alternatively queered and “trans-ed” sea-based trajectory, and sex/gender identifications, routed through the nexus of Filipino/a globalization, migration, immigration, and transportation routed in and out of Manila, Oakland, Malolos, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, and the Northern Pacific Ocean. In doing so, this chapter also shows how projects, which may initially read as “straight” or heteronormative can (p.176) be queered and trans-ed through closer ethnographic attention to the cultural dynamics of encounter(s); researchers’ positionalities, subjectivities, and memories; and by engaging a hybrid interdisciplinary and ethnographic writing style.
In closing, my encounters and conversations with Filipino seamen in ports and on ships, Filipino seamen’s memories and commentaries, and my autoethnographic travelogue and analysis clearly illustrate the intimate relationalities and proximities between Filipino seamen and Filipino tomboys. As such, my analysis significantly contradicts and challenges closed and conservative heteronormative notions of Filipino maritime and migrant masculinities and manhoods. Just as importantly, this chapter debates essentialist Filipina/Filipina American lesbian/ feminist conceptualizations and narratives of Filipino tomboys as primarily or absolutely female, women, and/or lesbians. In marked difference, I focus and develop a transgender, transnational/transpacific translation of Filipino tomboys, focusing on the connections, fl uidities, and sense of oneness (pakikiisa) among and between conventional and alternative Filipino masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness. Significantly, this chapter also begins to ethnographically theorize Filipino tomboys as embodiments, identifications, and formations of Filipino masculinities/manhoods/lalaki-ness through an analytical collage that illustrates the importance of addressing the geotemporal place-moments where differently situated Filipino masculinities/manhoods/and lalaki-ness cometogether, contradicting, reinforcing, and/or creating unity among and between each other.
Yes, cockfights at sea are more beautiful than the World Cup.
(1.) The first jeepneys were modified army jeeps left by U.S. Americans during World War II. See Tahimik, Bangungot Mababangong/Perfumed Nightmare.
(2.) On the politics of traffic in Metro Manila, see Tadiar, “Manila’s New Metropolitan Form.” On the importance of interclass contact, see Delaney, Time Square Red, Time Square Blue.
(3.) In the late 1990s, First Lady (at the time) of the Philippines Amelita “Ming” Ramos began the “Piso Para Sa Pasig” (Peso for the Pasig) program in her efforts to mobilize Manileños and businesses to clean up the Pasig River, an important cultural and economic river-based thoroughfare in Metro Manila.
(4.) As a result of neoliberal and economic globalization policies such as Philippines 2000 (discussed in chapter 1), the Philippines is now importing rice from Thailand, rather than exporting it. Historically, the Philippines was a key rice exporting country in Southeast Asia.
(5.) “Tomboy” (a Tagalog-ized English word with specific Filipino meanings) broadly refers to masculine-or male-identified fe/males or masculine transgendered subjects in the Philippines or diaspora who generally have sexual/emotional relationships with feminine females who identify as “women.”
(6.) In my dissertation, I refer to Percy (and me) using feminine pronouns and identities. After returning to Manila in 1997 (and experiencing my racialized and classed gender in different ways when compared with contexts in the United States) and later, after moving to and living in a city where a dynamic queer and transgender community exists (e.g., Oakland / San Francisco Bay Area) in 1998, as well as learning more about gender and queer theory and different kinds of embodiment, over the last ten years, I have been seriously rethinking tomboy masculinities. That is, I have been returning to the notion that they/us are masculine-identified fe/males or transgendered men/guys/boys, an idea I had as a child (a three-year-old to be exact) in the Philippines and as a young immigrant in the United States. This particular transgender “gender (p.204) reality,” however (to use Judith Butler’s term), has not always been supported by or understood by straight communities or by lesbian feminist communities in the United States and the Philippines (including parts of Asian/Asian American lesbian feminist communities in the San Francisco Bay Area). My rethinking and returning is reflected in my ethnographic writing, gender expression, and identity and in cultural/political shifts that have taken place in different queer/transgender subcultures (as collective rethinking and returning occurs). These related phenomena demonstrate the fluidities of time, racialized and classed gender performances, personal and collective identities; the phenomena of everyday (racialized and classed) gender practices changing; and the force of oppositional knowledge-production.
(7.) Marcus and Fischer, Anthropology as Cultural Critique.
(8.) Anthropologist Scott Morgensen uses the phrase “intimate relationalities” to describe the historically close political and cultural relationships between U.S. sexual minority formations and two-spirit (American Indian) formations. See Morgensen’s Settler Sexualities. On racial/sexual intimacies, see Faier, Intimate Encounters, and Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power.
(9.) For an ethnography of transgender as a category, see Valentine, Imagining Transgender.
(10.) See Boellstorff, A Coincidence of Desires, xiii. See also Fajardo, “Boellstorff, Tom” (a book review of Boellstorff’s ethnography). Boellstorff italicizes “gay” and “lesbi” (in A Coincidence of Desires) to “indicate that [these terms] are Indonesian language terms that are not reducible to the English terms ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian,’ despite clear links to them.” I discuss in the body of this chapter why I choose not to italicize “tomboy” (and other Filipino terms). Despite this difference in approach, my understanding of “tomboy” as a Filipino language term resonates with Boellstorff’s understanding of “gay” and “lesbi” as having specific local/Southeast Asian meanings.
(11.) Silva, Aloha Betrayed, 13.
(12.) Anak is a gender-neutral Tagalog word for child/offspring, and there are no equivalent Tagalog words for “son” or “daughter.” A speaker may say, however, “anak na lalaki” (child that is a male/boy) or “anak na babae” (child that is female/girl) to indicate gender. Jonas used the word anak and did not include “na babae” (that is, female). So as to not infantilize the tomboy Jonas was referring to, Ido not translate anak here as “child.” Anak can also refer to adult children.
(13.) On the importance of “abiding” in postcolonial studies/praxis, see Ismail, Abiding Sri Lanka.
(14.) Clifford, Routes, 11.
(15.) Foucault, Discipline and Punish.
(16.) See Bhaba, Location of Culture, for an influential theory of cultural hybridity.
(17.) Many examples from diverse literary traditions can substantiate this point. Selected examples that articulate or imagine the interconnections between different kinds of masculinities and journeying, remembering, and meditating include: Bashō, “Narrow Road to the Interior” and “Travelogue of Weather-Beaten Bones” in The (p.205) Essential Bashō, 1–36 and 37–52 (see also Shirane, Traces of Dreams); Ghosh, In an Antique Land; Bulosan, America Is in the Heart; Pham, Catfish and Mandala; Pigafetta, The First Voyage Around the World; Nichols, Sea Change; and Kerouac, On the Road. Selected examples of ethnographies that engage different modes of transportation or movement for the purposes of cultural interpretation include Tsing, In the Realm of the Diamond Queen (walking/hiking); Valentine, Imagining Transgender (biking); and Alvarez, Mangoes, Chiles, and Truckers (trucking).
(18.) Sinnott. Toms and Dees.
(19.) Blackwood. “Tombois in West Sumatra.”
(20.) De Jesús, “Rereading History, Rewriting Desire.”
(21.) On the importance of property and settlement in colonial America, see O’Brien, Dispossession by Degrees.
(22.) Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place.
(23.) Gopinath. Impossible Desires.
(24.) I immigrated to the United States in 1973 and have been traveling regularly to the Philippines since the 1980s. Trips have lasted from ten days to ten months. The years when trips occurred are 1977, 1978, 1987, 1988–1989, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1997–1998, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.
(25.) The other gender formation often discussed in Filipino/a contexts is bakla (a Filipino/a fe/male femininity / gay men’s / transgender / transsexual formation). See Manalansan, Global Divas and Benedicto, “The Haunting of Gay Manila.”
(26.) de Guzman and Chia, “Working Class Lesbians in the Philippines.”
(27.) Rodriguez, Throw It To The River, 26.
(28.) Behind the Labels.
(29.) Chie Abad, personal communication, February 15, 2002.
(31.) My position is that in Global Divas Manalansan does not significantly focus on Filipina tomboys, lesbians, and dykes primarily because it was not within the scope of his study to address these racialized gender/sexuality formations.
(32.) De Jesus, Pinay Power.
(33.) de Guzman and Chia, “Working Class Lesbians in the Philippines,” 14.
(35.) Balikbayan historically refers to Filipino/as from North America who return to the Philippines. The (Ferdinand) Marcos Dictatorship coined this term and promoted tourism with Filipino/a immigrants in Canada and the United States in the 1970s. See Rafael, “Your Grief is Our Gossip.”
(36.) As previously discussed in chapter 3, various readings emerged quickly upon first meetings with Filipino/as during fieldwork. Filipino language specialist and scholar Teresita V. Ramos writes, “Filipinos are usually not inhibited about initiating conversations because talking to a stranger is generally not considered intrusive. If thrown together for almost any reason, someone will break the ice. A common conversation opener is Tagasaan ka? ‘Where are you from?’” (Ramos, Intermediate Tagalog, 38).
(37.) Margold, “Narratives of Masculinity and Transnational Migration,” 279.
(39.) Connell, “The History of Masculinity,” 185. See also Kimmel, Manhood in America.
(40.) Enriquez, From Colonial to Liberation Psychology, 160.
(41.) Filipino—largely based on Tagalog—is the Philippines’s national language.
(42.) Ramos, Conversational Tagalog, 134.
(43.) I anecdotally heard about these critiques from U.S.-based queer studies scholars who attended the “Sexualities, Genders, and Rights in Asia—1st International Conference of Asia Queer Studies,” in Bangkok, Thailand (July 7–9, 2005).
(44.) Butler, Gender Trouble. See also Davis, “Situating Fluidity.”
(45.) Guggenheim, “Cock or Bull,” 149.
(46.) As I revise this chapter in August 2009, Manny Pacquiao’s record is forty-nine wins (thirty-seven by knockout), three losses, and two draws. Pacquiao has held titles as World Boxing Council (WBC) Lightweight world champion, WBC Super Featherweight world champion, International Boxing Federation Super Bantamweight world champion, and WBC Flyweight world champion.