Boys’ Love in the Philippines: An Evolving Phenomenon

Words by Andrei Gines

Filipino love stories are cliché. Who wouldn’t want Jose and Maria indulging in love, only for Pedro to come in and ruin their relationship by reigniting the old flame he has with Jose? Wait, that’s not the cliché, he should go for Maria, right? Right?

Nope. We are in 2020, a year full of the unexpected, may it be good or bad. We have already deviated from the cliché of the Filipino love stories thanks to their repetitive nature a long time ago, causing an increase in creative storytelling in the past few years. One of which is the boys’ love phenomenon.

Gay-nesis: An Irresponsible Beginning

Before, gay characters have always been relegated as side characters. It’s as if they only exist to be a sidekick for the hetero main character because of the stereotype they provide: comic relief. Their actions and lines guarantee a good laugh from the audience. This trope, however, has received a good amount of backlash. It gives nothing but bad light to the gays, and they’re basically casted for the sake of laughingstock.

In an attempt to shift away from the usual, GMA introduced “My Husband’s Lover” (2013) to the Filipino mass media. It made sure that gays play a huge role in the narrative of the story, having the main character his own identity crisis of being a homosexual. The problem with this, however, is that its theme included glorifying adultery.

The finale of the series saw the two gay characters end up together, which was a good thing, except the main character (Tom Rodriquez) was previously married to a wife. Sure, its beauty is that everyone accepted them for who they truly are, but at the cost of committing adultery? That’s not a good idea. It is an irresponsible series that tried to revolutionize how we see gays, but focused too much on the drama that it lost sight of what it was supposed to do: change the perception of the media to the LGBTQIA+ community without the need for the comic relief stereotype nor the villainizing of gays.

There is also misrepresentation in the dynamics between the queers in the story. The norm in hetero films is that there is a man who acts like a man, and a woman who acts like a woman and this trope is also applied to queer films whereas queer relationships are not enclosed within  heteronormative roles.

Metamorphosis and Correction

Thankfully, the controversial start did not kill the essence of the genre to the eyes of the Filipinos. In the more recent years, the boys’ love phenomenon has received quite a good attention in the Philippine media. This may be connected to the strong empowerment in the LGBTQIA+ community in social media (particularly Twitter), and the surge in popularity of pride month every year.

This time, Philippine media has adapted to a more accepted way of doing boys’ love genre; one that enables gays to be who they truly are, acting how they want to do, with drama that even heterosexuals experience. It doesn’t invalidate the struggles of the gender, instead, it views them as what they are supposed to be viewed: who they truly are.

Now, this might not seem a lot at first glance, but what they give is representation. Representation is important on-screen because the themes we see in movies will affect how our society acts, and how the majority will perceive certain people or situations.  

For a constantly oppressed community like the LGBTQIA+, this is a huge step towards their acceptance in this society. Not only will the mass media be enlightened to the hardships of the community, but also the young ones will now perceive them as normal, unlike us who grew up with the negative gay stereotypes in the media.

Representing the LGBTQIA+ community

Representation is vital, but it also should be right. One of the key issues that queer films don’t seem to get right is the actors playing the roles, most prevalent in Thai BL series. Although there are a lot of queer actors in the industry, those casted are more often than not cishet males and still, the queer actors are only restricted to playing the comedic roles. Proper representation entails that queer people are not only shown as characters on media but are also played by queer people themselves.If the actors are masculine cishet who were only assigned for the role because of their macho, then it’s not a good representation anymore and would only entail the fetishization of queer relationships. 

What can be done are stories that show the struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community. Examples of which is Rainbow’s Sunset starred by the late Eddie Garcia. It shows how a father comes out to his family about being homosexual, and he wants to take care of his old man lover who is in the later stage of cancer. This is different from the previous My Husband’s Lover because this time, the wife fully supports her husband’s decision, not antagonize. The movie empowers the older LGBTQIA+ audience that coming out is not exclusive only to the young ones.

Gaya Sa Pelikula has been the talk of the town in the past month, and rightfully so. It is arguably the quintessential BL series among the BL series we’ve seen as the genre boomed to the mainstream media, and it comfortably sits as the most unproblematic iteration of the kind so far. It has everything you could ask for: a conflict in a story without sacrificing good representation; a cast of characters that doesn’t antagonize anyone, but rather, is loving and understanding; and most importantly, it shows the struggles of the queer community, and even the people who are in the process of knowing themselves. It may as well be the role model that will further empower the evolving genre.

Another Filipino BL series that came out recently is Gameboys. This doesn’t really show the struggle of the community, but it does what previous stories should have done. It’s an self-identifying sexuality story which is unproblematic, it doesn’t antagonize the gays of the story nor does it make the other character bland, and it doesn’t cast heterosexual cishet for the sake of fetishization of the story. It’s not a perfect series, but it does what it does best.

The boys’ love genre does not only exist for the fan service of the minority audience. It is a progressive genre that embodies suppressed community, and tries to resist the status quo in this patriarchal society. Here’s to hoping that the country will accept more works of the kind. [P]

Photos from Globe Studios
Layout by Gerard Laydia

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