I’ve known I’m queer since I was about 8 or 9 years old; my family, possibly longer than that. Growing up, I’ve always looked up to strong women in my life. It started with Darna. Then it became the sangg’res from Encantadia. Then it became Amaya and her twin snake. Then it became Lady Gaga when I was a teen. Then it became Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch. Then it became every strong woman I personally know. My attraction to the feminine has run through the thread of my entire life, and has defined me in more ways than one.
When I was coming up with this shoot, I wanted to be androgynous. I wanted to look like a flamboyant man, but without his masculinity being questioned as mine have been. I wanted to channel the feminine spirit as a reference to all of the women in my life, growing up and now. I wanted to look ethereal. I wanted to look fantastical. I wanted to look spiritual. I wanted to look more.
Red is seen as feminine, so that’s what I used for this shoot as the primary color. I guess pink is more associated with the feminine, but red is a stronger pink, if that makes sense. I wanted this shoot to be a follow-up to the previous shoot, which was pink-themed. This shoot is meant to be The Fame Monster to the other shoot’s The Fame, or the reputation to the other one’s Lover, the moon to the other one’s sun, or the snake to the other one’s home.
I thought about who I wanted to show to the camera. I wondered if I wanted to create a character foreign to who I am, or if I wanted to show myself in all my rawness. It turns out that it was both. What got refracted through the camera lens was a distorted view of my person. The photos were simultaneously me, and not me, just as a diamond shows through what is on the other side, but also in different refracted lights and colors. These are all me, but they were also a character of fiction. They were authentic, but manufactured. They were fish fresh out of the sea, but seasoned with salt and burnt over a bonfire. The identity was true, but it was all in my head. It was a person I am, but no one will ever come to know—because it no longer exists.
The inspiration for putting together these looks was the desire to link ancient spirituality to queerness. In pre-colonial Philippines, it was thought that queer people would make powerful babaylan, priestesses that served as guide and physicians to an entire community. They also provided valuable insight into the mystical for community leaders who sought guidance on how to lead their people. The pre-colonial babaylan thought that queerness made for a powerful priestess, for they are connected to the masculine and feminine energies of nature.
The diwata are nature spirits who both guided and punished the people. They exist both in the material and spiritual world. They were revered, feared, and treated with respect. In modern times, the word commonly refers to female nature spirits, but in many cultures, the word also refers to spirits in general, particularly in animism. The images you see here are partly inspired by the diwata, taking in their feminine energies and channeling it outward.
The bakunawa is another mythical creature from the Philippine mythology. It is a serpent-like dragon commonly thought to live in the seas, but other cultures also believed it lived either in the underworld or in the skies. The bakunawa is closely tied to the babaylan in that the bakunawa is used in geomancy, a divination ritual involving sands, rocks, and loose soil. The bakunawa is believed to have devoured six out of the seven moons of the earth, and eclipses are believed to be the bakunawa trying to devour the seventh and final moon. It was by pure coincidence that the mesh shirt I am wearing underneath the floral jacket resembles snake scales at first glance, and upon seeing the photos, it was a switch that opened a light; the bakunawa was staring me right in the eye.
Since I came out, I feel more drawn towards female energies. Perhaps it is the years of longing that my body has had for a freedom that was yet to be mine. To safeguard myself, I tried hard (and often failed) to suppress my femininity. But in reality, we were created in the image of the divine, whose energies masculine and feminine freely flow around and beyond. It is my belief that we have been doing our best to suppress the feminine for the male, and the masculine for the female, so much so that we harrass, and we kill, and we abuse, and we legislate against any and all who break out of the status quo.
My brothers and sisters in the community are dying. They are people with bright minds and enormous power to create, and they are being killed, physically, mentally, and emotionally. The Pride March is a protest, so the governments listen, that they may oblige to protect us from the systems in place that try to hurt us. The Pride March is also a celebration, so the society hears that we are complete people too, no different than them or you, people with entire lives, feelings, thoughts, and opinions—people who matter.