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28 October 2013

Bekikang and "The Functional Gay Man" (Film Criticism)

Philippine society is deceptively open-minded but in reality, it is not.  Our politeness, and sometimes sense of humor, masked our bigotry and prejudice. People often think that many Filipinos accept homosexuals, and that members of the LGBT community are now openly tolerated in our very Christian society.  One must remember that “acceptance, tolerance and respect” mean different things.  In one angle, being told that you are accepted and tolerated is an insult served on a clean silver dish; nonetheless, it is still an insult.  If the tables are boldly turned around and homosexuals say that they “accept and tolerate” heterosexuals, how would heterosexuals feel?

Let us not stop at gender, substitute homosexual with any minority, and the cleverly concealed hatefulness of the statement will become obvious.

“We accept and tolerate ____________.”
  • a. Muslims
  • b. Women
  • c. People with disabilities
  • d. People living with HIV
  • e. Non-Catholics
  • f. Indians, and so forth

Is it not pure arrogance if you hear someone say to you, “I accept and tolerate you?”  Any self-respecting person would reply, “Who told you I need your acceptance and tolerance?” The words “accept and tolerate” are problematic because it puts the speaker on a higher plane than the receiver of the comments.  By simply uttering the statement “I accept and tolerate,” the speaker assumes, sometimes unconsciously, the superior role.  “Acceptance and tolerance” does not espouse equality; on the contrary, “acceptance and tolerance” espouses hierarchy.  It is akin to saying, “I am above you and so I will be generous and accept and tolerate you as long as I am pleased by your actions.”

Unfortunately, some of us repeat loaded statements that we hear from other groups of people. Some of us lazily accept negative images of other individuals in mass media. We do not scrutinize what is presented to us, and we simply use “entertainment” as an excuse.  Some of us may say, “It is just comedy. It is just for fun. Lighten up. Where’s your sense of humor?”

Comedy is the crystal ball of truth. You learn more about the person by what makes him laugh.  That is why I love comedy above all else. We can all fake our way in dramas, but comedy unmasks us all. 

If a foreign anthropologist wants to study us modern Filipinos, all he needs to do is watch all of our most popular comedies in the last five years. What makes Filipinos laugh? We laugh at people with dark skin; we laugh at people who do not fall under the category of “traditional beauty;” we laugh at effeminate gay men, and very macho lesbians.  We make fun of foreigners with non-English accents, the Indian character, the Korean mother, the Chinese, and so on.

Top to Bottom: The wicked gay man is
divinely punished and turned into
a beast of  burden in "Petrang Kabayo."
The gay man as slave to his lust in
"Praybeyt Benjamin" and "This Guy's in
Love with U Mare." The financially
successful gay twin is still lower
than his downtrodden homophobic
straight brother. 

Images used as part of commentary.
In television, gags shows like “Bubble Gang” and “Banana Split” rule because they often rehash the same types of humor, using the same butt of jokes.

In films, the comedies of Wenn V. Deramas rule.  Examine the comedies of Deramas, particularly regarding gay men, and you will see a pattern.  The gay man may be the main character, but the story does not always belong to him.  The gay man in Deramas's films are used as prototypes on which “morality” must be applied. In “Petrang Kabayo,” the gay man may be rich and powerful but he is evil and undesirable. In “Bromance,” the gay twin is only temporarily above in rank from his straight brother because the gay brother is financially ahead, but not morally ahead.  Still, in the end, his straight brother is the more complete person because he finds love and success. The gay brother takes on the sidekick role.  In “Praybeyt Benjamin” and “This Guy’s in Love with You, Mare,” the gay man falters because he is slave to his lust. 

More conveniently than fortunately, everything ends well in Deramas's gay-themed film.  However, the neat and hurried ending is deceptive because it ends the story without real scrutiny. Most Deramas’s gay films begin with a promise of liberation, but most of them end where it started. The gay agenda is only used for the sake of humor and nothing else. 

In a way, Deramas’s gay films mirror the concept of “The Functional Gay.” “The Functional Gay” is only tolerated and accepted by society if he or she fulfills certain functions:
  • (a) If he or she provides for his or her family,
  • (b) If he or she serves as a surrogate parent in the absence of the real parent,
  • (c) If he or she takes care of his or her aging parents,
  • (d) If he or she makes people laugh,
  • (e) If he or she sticks to the accepted stereotypes,
  • (f) If he or she falls in love to a straight person but not with another homosexual who can reciprocate the love, and both of them demand equal rights in marriage and family,
  • (g) If he or she does not acquire political and religious power, economic power is acceptable in some degree
  • (h) and if he or she does not challenge the status quo.

In contrast, heterosexuals do not have to fulfill these functions in order to be accepted in society.  A macho womanizing man is still considered normal and so on. 

Beki as the "Functional Gay Man"
Images used as part of commentary.

In Deramas’s latest film, “Bekikang,” the director finally tackles the issue of “the functional gay” head on.  In this film, the gay character owns the story; he makes his own decisions. In the beginning, his own life is secondary because he has to serve his heterosexual relatives. He is ridiculed and exploited but he is never totally shunned because he remains functional in the family.  When he does fall in love, his beloved does not reciprocate but remains close to him because he serves a purpose.  He can lend money and he can take care of his beloved’s child.

He accepts the sacrifice in the name of love but only to realize that his sacrifice can be taken away so easily simply because he is not “normal.” He cannot be a mother to a child because he is not biologically female. He cannot be a father because he is not a straight man.  

Once the gay man fulfills his functions, he must give way because society and the law are not on his side. He is only accepted and tolerated while he fulfills his functions.  Fortunately, Deramas did not stop there. His gay character this time fights back to the very end, and wins. 

Unlike other Deramas’s gay characters, Beki is the most human of all.  Beki might have fallen in love with a straight man. He might have foolishly assumed that showering him with materials things will make the straight man love him.  However, Beki never became the victim for long. Beki is still comical but Deramas never used him as the butt of jokes. Instead, Deramas used the insults hurled at Beki to expose the selfishness of people around him.  Deramas finally protected his gay character; as a result, Beki is relatively more flesh and blood than the people around him who remained as caricatures. 

Deramas also did not burden Beki with the stereotypical weaknesses of gay men that straight people want to see. Straight people are more comfortable seeing film that reaffirms their prejudiced against gay men.  Vice Ganda was funny when he chased after sweaty jogging men in “This Guy’s in Love with U Mare;” and we also find it hilarious when Vice Ganda swooned and forgot his duties when faced with half naked men dancing around him in “Praybeyt Benjamin.”  Scenes like these are popular because it reaffirms straight people’s notion of gay men. They are weak and slave to their sex drives, and therefore cannot be trusted with responsibilities and must be constantly watched.  Homosexuals are not complete individuals. 

Present the straight public with an atypical gay man, and they react differently.  “My Husband’s Lover” may have presented different images of gay men but I think it is the exception than the rule.

“Bekikang” still suffers from the common pitfalls of current Filipino comedies, but the film is a refreshing change from the current “master of Pinoy comedies.”

There is hope. 

Note: Translation in Filipino coming soon

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