Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Over 20 years since the release of Danton Remoto’s first “Ladlad” anthology, there still remains a dearth of LGBTQ+ representation in literature, more so when it comes to stories of queer folk outside of major cities. Enter “BKL/Bikol Bakla,” the first anthology of Bikolnon gay, trans, and queer writing.
In this book, you’ll find stories of longing, of desire, of fleeting moments of connection, of reckoning with guilt, fear, and illness — all relatable factions of life as a queer Filipino, and yet these stories also speak of uniquely queer Bikol experiences.
In Paolo Gerero’s “Silver,” a boy has a brief encounter with a handsome young man while waiting for a tricycle to the town center; Ryen Paul Sumayao’s “Daragang Magayon, Transgender” reimagines the myth Magayon as a transgender woman; in King Llanza’s “Talahiban Blues,” the narrator cruises in a grassy field; in Riley Palanca’s “Souvenir,” a balikbayan spends the night with a high school love, recounting days spent in the pockets of safe spaces around Naga.
“The anthology is an attempt to encapsulate the stories of the Bakla outside the cosmopolitan Manila,” says co-editor Ryen Paul Sumayao. “[This was a] deliberate editorial decision to proclaim that outside the glittering cities, in the peripheries of the mountains, quaint towns, and shorelines facing the Pacific in the Bikol peninsula, one can find ‘pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.’”
“BKL/Bikol Bakla” is edited by Sumayao and Ateneo de Manila University assistant professor Jaya Jacobo. Wanting to strike a balance between including works of both seasoned writers and young blood, the editors initiated a call for submissions.
The result is a 159-page book featuring 42 poems and 16 stories from young guns like Emmanuel Roldan, J.V. Aler, Paolo Gerero, Marvin Aquino, King Llanza, to seasoned queer writers Danton Remoto, Ronald Baytan, Alvin Yapan, and the late Carlos A. Arejola, to whom the book is also dedicated.
Though the editors received pieces from lesbian and heterosexual writers as well, Sumayao says these were decidedly left out because “we felt that no one else can paint the raw essentials other than the gay/trans/queer writers who are at the center of it all.”
The anthology not only stands by its identity as a collection of works for and by gay, queer, and trans writers, but as an anthology of Bikolnon voices in particular. Thus, while some pieces are written or translated in English and Tagalog, some are left untouched in Bikolnon.
“We felt that some of the texts should be able to stand on their own untranslated and unbridled by the colonial requisites,” says Sumayao. “This was a deliberate decision by both of the editors to strengthen the brand of the book as a truly regional produce.”
When asked what he hopes readers would take away from reading “BKL/Bikol Bakla,” Sumayao says, “For Bikolnon readers, we hope that they’d see this book as a proud testament to our literary wealth as a region through texts that not only narrate the stories, but are ‘announcing the arrival of a new breed of thinking and feeling, as well as being and becoming, from young gay, queer, and trans people who, one by one, would think that the only place we can be at our gayest is at home.’”
He adds that for non-Bikol readers, he hopes that they would realize that Bikolnons are more than pristine beaches, gata, sili, Mayon Volcano, and Bicol Express.
“We’re more than all these things associated with Bikol — we’re also writers, lovers, friends, brothers and sisters proclaiming that for us badings, the ‘B’ in ‘Bikol’ stands for ‘bongga!’”
“BKL/Bikol Bakla” is available for purchase online.