Literature professor Johann Vladimir Espiritu enters the room holding a mug from Hong Kong Disneyland filled with coffee.
“Tell us a little bit about yourself,” we say.
He thinks for a moment before responding. “Ang lawak ng tanong ah. Di ko alam kung saan ko sisimulan,” he answers with a chuckle.
The literature professor
Though now a professor, Johann once walked around DLSU’s campus, ate in your favorite places, and possibly sat in your seat as a student. He was a literature major who shifted after two years of majoring in economics. He shares that he always got good grades and feedback from his professors in his Filipino subjects and quite the opposite from his economics subjects. He officially shifted to literature once his aunt, his sponsor at the time, gave him the go signal.
After graduating from DLSU with a degree in Literature, he passed his resumé to DLSU partly because he didn’t have many options. Johann didn’t see himself teaching for long, just enough time for him to find another avenue to take what he had learned in college into a profession.
But once he began teaching, he slowly began to appreciate it. Having classes with different students every term, he gets to meet new faces, which means new ideas. But being a professor in DLSU requires you to have a master’s degree and have output, such as articles and the like, published every year. It all felt like a tedious chore to him. But since it became a part of his everyday life, he took it to a new perspective.
“When it becomes routinary, or habitual, you learn to get the hang of it. And ayun, no matter how cliché or romantic ‘yung dating, falling in love with the magic of the written word, I guess. The way you are able to impart that appreciation to your students,” he shares, and his students return the favor by listening and participating in his classes.
Johann says that one of the best things about teaching is seeing his students learn. In his classes, he sees his students transform and become more like him in his ways of analyzing and thinking about various art forms. “Parang ‘Oh, my God, namantsahan ko sila!’” he exclaims.
Johann has taught various humanities and literature courses, subjects that require in-depth discussions between professor and student. “What excites me the most about teaching is that the classroom is able to create an intellectual atmosphere that enables the teacher and the students to interact with each other dynamically,” he says.
The soulful singer
Teaching is but a part of Johann’s life, as he also enjoys belting high notes and melodies. When asked which, between teaching and singing, is more important to him, he likened them to the different organs of the body, where they all play crucial functions.
Johann has been at singing since he was three years old. He started joining various school competitions when he was 15. When he arrived at DLSU, he joined De La Salle Innersoul. Back when Johann joined, Innersoul had a grand total of just five members, all of whom were male (think Backstreet Boys or any other boy band that ever existed). However, after the two upperclassmen graduated, only three remained. He shares that his most complicated role was the position of Vice President of Documentations, though with three members, it seemed a tad pointless. “Ano pa bang hierarchy ang maaasahan ko dun. VP ka, tatlo lang kayo? ‘Tas yung dalawa, VP din ‘yun,” Johann tells us.
His singing career did not stop after he was given a diploma, as he still performs from time to time. His latest onstage performance was in Innersoul’s All Souls’ production last November, where he sang solo as well as with the organizations’ female newbies.
Johann also tried out for national singing competitions. He joined the two franchises of Idol in the Philippines, as well as a few auditions for The Voice of the Philippines. His audition song, his lucky charm as he puts it, is Peabo Bryson’s Love Always Finds a Way.
Everyone has something they uphold: an ideology, a religion, or a certain opinion. For Johann, its gender equality and the LGBT cause.
He first got in touch with the topic of sexuality in his classes during his last year of college, when he took a major course called GENDLIT. “Isa rin ‘yun sa mga naghook sa ‘kin sa Literature eh because it was one of the avenues—one of the venues pala—in which I was able to find so much of who I am.”
He often shares his views with his classes. Johann shares with us stories of this special day in the Gender & Sexuality literature elective he teaches. On this day, dubbed as “Bakla Day” and “Tomboy Day,” he makes his students come to class dressed up in what the stereotypical tomboy (for the girls) and bakla (for the guys) would wear. He emhpasizes the difference between the use of ‘bakla’ as a gender as opposed to a sexuality, and that it is the former that is in play here. They would then have activities such as reading a story in gay lingo.
Now, this may sound harsh or something that discriminates the bakla and tomboy, but Johann assures that he does this not to concretize the stereotype, but to celebrate the effeminate bakla and the masculine tomboy. It’s his mission to show his class that gender is not exclusive to males being masculine and females feminine, but that men can choose to be feminine and vice-versa, erasing any fears they have with kabaklaan.
He uses his classes as an avenue to educate his students on the subject, often having a portion of the term allotted to the teaching of sexuality. Johann sees this as an opportunity to educate his students on the matter. “Ito na ‘yung chansa, you get to interact with how many students per term. If you have four classes per term, 40 students each, that’s 160 students per term. You try your best to erase homophobia from these kids and how many students ‘yun every year? ‘Di ba, kahit papano? I hope it makes a difference.”