Mama, can you tell me a story?
As children, we found refuge in stories. But myths are more than just stories we tell—they reveal something about the culture they’re from. As children, how many times have we heard the story of Pinang, the little girl whose mother said that she needed multiple eyes to find things—a more eloquent way of saying “use your eyes instead of your mouth to find it”? These stories shaped how we grew up, and they hold kernels of our culture as Filipinos. And if we look closer at our rich oral mythology, we may be surprised at what we find (without the need of multiple extra eyes).
As is the case with most things Filipino, it’s incredibly difficult to accurately describe or summarize the diversity in our islands. We have different peoples of varying cultural practices and belief systems, but there are some things that the different ethnic groups in our country have in common. Many of our cultures have a rich oral tradition. However, there is much of our precolonial history that is unfortunately lost to us, thanks to years of colonization.
Take a look back
Many Filipinos don’t have the opportunity to learn a lot regarding the precolonial aspect of our identity. But there are those who’ve taken it upon themselves to dig deep into our history and learn about our culture—many have turned toward the internet in their search for knowledge. Because of the internet’s ubiquitous nature, it has become an avenue for many to learn more about our precolonial myths.
The news of Filipino culture being much more accepting of non-heteronormative identities before Spain introduced Catholicism has been wholeheartedly embraced by many members of the LGBTQ+ youth, especially on social media.
The LGBTQ+ movement has received noteworthy support from Philippine society in the past year. Despite criticism from conservative groups, the Metro Manila Pride March held last June and the proposed Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill ensured that the rainbow-colored flag is now raised higher than ever. The renewed liberation of this generation has inspired some to look back on oral tradition, and transform these ancient myths into modern day LGBTQ+ icons.
Of precolonial tale
One story that made waves is a Bicolano folk tale featuring the death god Sidapa. Falling in love with the moon deities, he would often admire their beauty and offer them gifts and praises. One day, a moon deity descended from the sky—the young boy Bulan, who was enchanted by Sidapa. But Bakunawa, the moon-eating serpent, grew jealous and tried to snatch Bulan away. Sidapa was quicker though; he brought Bulan to safety in Mt. Madjaas where they remain as lovers to this day.
However, we cannot make the mistake of saying that Sidapa or Bulan were gay. Different times, different culture, different context—different identities. But we can say for certain that today, their story and love resonated with those who heard it belonging to the Filipino LGBTQ+ community. The Libulan Binisaya Anthology of Queer Literature is named after the deity Libulan. In Visayan mythology, there is a moon god called Libulan and it is speculated that Libulan is a different incarnation of Bulan. No matter how tiresome it is for others to hear, representation is still necessary especially for a marginalized community still unused to seeing their identities and feelings validated.
In another tale, Lakapati is known as the Tagalog deity of fertility and agriculture, and is presented as having both male and female parts. There are some sources that say that Lakapati is also known as Ikapati, goddess of cultivated land. Because of this, there are many who claim Lakapati/Ikapati as a transgender goddess. However, Lakapati is usually depicted as a god with male and female parts and Ikapati as a goddess who goes on to have children. It might not be accurate to say that the deity is transgender or that they are the same deity. What is certain though is that people take comfort in finding their identities validated by these old stories and that these old gods are now being adapted to modern times.
Sadly, old non-heteronormative stories in our country and in other nations were purposely forgotten because of colonization. But there have been moves to move past the homophobic mindset brought upon by former colonial masters. In India, gender fluidity and non-heteronormative identities were once considered a cultural norm, but British colonizers planted homophobic ideals into the Indian consciousness. However, the Indian LGBTQ+ community is fighting back against the antiquated laws enacted by the British. On September 2018, India decriminalized homosexuality, slowly but surely moving forward in terms of LGBTQ+ rights.
Rediscovering the past
There is a dash of irony in that to move toward more progressive views warrants a look back in our history. But there is so much to learn from our collective past: knowing about the highly-respected babaylans, mostly women or those belonging to a third gender, the Spanish-era spies using homosexuality as a disguise, or the fearless gays dressed in drag who protested during martial law would surely make a difference to someone scared of being “different.”
It is unfortunate that many of these stories aren’t familiar to us. But there are those who are looking and actively making it more accessible like The Aswang Project, because they understand how great an impact culture has on our collective identities. Sidapa and Bulan had a happy end to their story, and this is only a chapter in the Filipino LGBTQ+ story. It hasn’t always been happy or good, but with more voices clamoring for the SOGIE Equality Bill and LGBTQ+ rights, it looks like the next chapter will be better.