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Dossier Université Invitée : Philippines

Desire lines: Filipina transwomen and black girls’ wayward paths in the imperial city

Julie B. Jolo

Résumé

This article explores desire, beauty, and waywardness in the narratives of transwomen in the Philippines through the theoretical and artistic intersections between Saidiya Hartman’s book Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals (2019) and PJ Raval’s film Call Her Ganda (2018). I foreground how these concepts are collectively imagined and lived out by black girls in early 20th century New York and transwomen in present-day US military bases in the Philippines: where geo-political pressures shape the environment of the city and our paths through public life and intimacy within it. The confluence of transphobia, racial aggression, and military intimidation perpetuated by the presence of US soldiers in Philippine soil, I argue, stems from the same criminalizing and racist logic that the US government has imposed on black communities for centuries.
This article traces definitions of the wayward in 20th century New York and how these have developed in and through the environment of the city from the metropole, the United States, and to the neo-colony, the Philippines. Through the narratives that Hartman and Raval foreground in their texts, I argue that the girls’ practice of agency gives rise to a “wayward” figure, one that re-shapes the bounds of the city through her marginal position. Transwomen and black girls’ desirous movements are foundational, not merely marginal, to life in the imperial city. In this light, waywardness resists definition from the law and its agents in its longing for life and stubbornly creates a present and a future otherwise.

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Introduction

  • 1 Olivia Polk, « Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval, by Said (...)

1Saidiya Hartman’s book Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals, published in 2019, weaves together the narratives of black girls navigating early 20th century New York. Hartman carves out a space for these intimate narratives among state archival documents, imbuing those with young black girls’ poetic and personal perspective. Through « critical fabulation », Hartman intertwines her own voice with those of the girls’ to insist on not only their presence, but also the joy and complexity of black life so often flattened in US popular culture1. It is then a compelling piece of counter-historical work — as it blends fiction and non-fiction in expanding the reader’s view of black girls’ lives — showing what is often not considered worthy of documentation. Hartman’s body of work dwells in this space of articulation, highlighting stories that emerge from the suppression of black people through slavery and colonization. I have become interested in Hartman’s narrative and poetic engagement with violence and agency and how these subvert traditional theoretical approaches to marginalization — ultimately portraying beauty and desire not as mere reflections of the values of the community but as, in themselves, forces of control and ways of living. Hartman tests the boundaries of institutional power by writing with and bringing to the present stories of how black girls have employed beauty and desire for their own ends.

2PJ Raval’s Call Her Ganda (Call Her Beauty/Beautiful) accompanies Hartman in this article’s exploration of desire and freedom. This is a documentary film released in 2018, which, much like Hartman’s text, articulates what has been rendered invisible in institutional and popular narratives. The film chronicles the events surrounding the killing of Jennifer Laude, a transwoman living in Olongapo City, Philippines, by US Marine Scott Pemberton. Raval is a first-generation Filipino-American whose directorial works center on the interplay of queerness, intimacy, and marginalization in the lives of diasporic communities2. Though Call Her Ganda bears a similar poetic and narrative approach to women’s narratives as Wayward Lives, this work foregrounds the women’s voices themselves. Raval’s approach situates the tragic story of Jennifer Laude in the simultaneously joyful, difficult and painful narratives of those close to her. Jennifer’s loved ones offer their own understanding and experiences on the tragedy and the author/director’s voice manifests through the visual/narrative eye they impart on these testimonies. The title itself is an imperative on the audience to turn their attention away from all the names thrown at transwomen in the Philippines and address them, in no uncertain terms, as beautiful. This is done against the media and political circus that’s unfolded since 2014 and is therefore a piece of work that speaks through the voice of those that it advocates for and chronicles Jennifer’s traversing of the city, how she and her friends have found a space to live out their desires, material constraints notwithstanding.

3The article is spurred by how the two texts converse across temporal and territorial lines, as counter-narratives to prevailing views about the lives of black girls and transwomen. The discussion draws from key narratives from the two texts in establishing an epistemological grounding for the unique experience of blackness in the US and trans-ness in the Philippines. It aims to answer the following question: who has historically been labelled as « wayward » and how have their desires and resistance expanded what is possible within the cities they inhabit? To answer this question, the sections in the article follow the iterations of waywardness in Hartman’s and Raval’s texts, as articulated by the narratives of the girls and the space of the city that drives their pains and pleasures.

4« Waywardness in the Metropole » expounds on black girls’ intimate ways of resisting the criminalizing eye of the US state. The section focuses on Mattie, the young black girl whose journey into New York presents for the reader the unique landscape of the city and the harmful ways that it takes in black girls from elsewhere. Her experiences are marked by how she finds agency in the entanglement of growth, pain, and joy. This section also establishes the imperial link between New York and Olongapo City, the historical grounding of which frames the succeeding sections. The next section entitled « Waywardness in the Colony » is situated in the space of Olongapo City, where transwomen go to escape discrimination in their hometown. The wayward is located in the perception of transwomen in the city: they are viewed simultaneously as drivers for economic growth in both formal and informal economies as well as contested figures in a dominantly hetero-patriarchal society. These perceptions are framed by histories of non-normative expressions of gender in the Philippines and how these have been harnessed by current LGBTQ+ groups to fight for their rights. The last section is centered on kabaret/cabaret as a space for desire and rebellion in the city and shows how these spaces have affected the bounds of what is possible to see and experience in the city itself. I argue here that black girls and transwomen are responsible for the intimacies that contradict and give life to the sanitizing and oppressive impulses of the colonial city.

5The measured and surveilled spaces of the imperial city hum with joyful, rebellious possibility. Ultimately, I am interested in foregrounding wayward directions in art and knowledge production as modelled by black girls and transwomen in this constricting environment. As counter-narratives, Wayward Lives and Call Her Ganda draw from often invisible, intimate narratives archival documents, photographs, and personal testimonies that render more fully the environment of the city and the girls’ movements within it. For these girls from elsewhere, the city is at once a site of danger and possibility, both known and unknown, allowing itself to be shaped by the paths they make.

Waywardness in the Metropole: Wayward Lives and Beautiful Experiments

  • 3 Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives. Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, T (...)
  • 4 Ibid., p. 59.

6Hartman’s elaboration on black girls’ everyday acts of freedom is positioned in relation to the concept of waywardness as defined in the law, and its racist historical and cultural justifications in the early 20th century. The wayward is that which is « willfull, reckless, troublesome, riotous, tumultuous, rebellious and wild »3. Waywardness is lived out in the story of Mattie, one of the many young black girls who journeyed to New York in the early 20th century, dreaming of what the city can make possible. She had left Virginia and the domestic bondage that determined the lives of her elders, embarking into the unknown, where there is greater chance for both risk and freedom. When she arrives, she is met with boring, hard labor, the kind that she had hoped to escape in Virginia. This repetitive work is interrupted by Herman Hawkins, a man with whom she discovers the extent to which her body can feel. In the entanglement of pleasure and pain, control and consent, Mattie learns that inside the rented rooms where she and Herman meet, « whether or not she was treated as an object did not matter, it was that she learned that what she wanted may actually matter »4. Mattie follows this spark of desire through different relationships in the city: to men, other women, objects, taking and loving a path through its constraints. For this, the law decided that she needs to be corrected and was sent to spend three years in the New York State Reformatory for Women.

7In chronicling Mattie’s life in New York, Hartman brings to light the desirous upheavals, both intimate and public, that black girls have been engineering through their errant paths in the city. These efforts exist within and are inspired by constraint. Readers are asked to peer through prevailing narratives of struggle to see lives lived otherwise. I am particularly drawn to the concept of desire that drives Hartman’s « waywardness, » as it extends beyond the reaches of the physical body and imagination. A resonant point here is Mattie’s and other black girls’

  • 5 Ibid., p. 53.

stubborn desire for an elsewhere and an otherwise that had yet to emerge clearly, a notion of the possible whose outlines were fuzzy and amorphous, exerted a force no less powerful and tenacious5.

8I find this to be a potent perspective for the way it responds to linear and static understandings of desire that tie it to a defined object and deprives marginalized communities of its legitimate and full experience. Desire instead is a project of the unknown, fully aware of the limitations of what we currently imagine and want. This brief discussion of how desire is braided in the pains and joys of black people’s lives shows how intrinsic black history and experience is to the language of Hartman. Her « transgressive » desire is made concrete through the spaces she finds and carves in the city’s landscape and in its (sub)consciousness. In charting the path toward Filipina transwomen’s experiences of desire, we must be mindful of the cultural nuances of this language in speaking with transwomen’s voices in the Philippines. This is not to say, though, that these two communities are mutually exclusive. Black trans-people experience compounded vulnerability in this anti-black and heteropatriarchal world, and the Philippines has a black community composed of migrants and children of American soldiers who were temporarily based in the Philippines and/or those who engaged in the sex tourism rampant in American bases.

  • 6 Victor Román Mendoza, Metroimperial Intimacies : Fantasy, Racial-Sexual Governance, and the Philipp (...)

9Hartman’s discussion of black girls is situated at a significant historical moment, as it is in the early 20th century that the US consolidated its hold on the Philippines as a colony—the lasting economic and political effects of which are directly responsible for the specific conditions tackled here. It is in this intersection that I aim to situate my discussion of the precarity of transwomen’s lives in the Philippines: specifically in the circumstances that have led to the recent pardoning of US Marine Scott Pemberton who was convicted of homicide in 2015 for the death of Jennifer Laude, a transwoman. The Philippine-American War in 1899 and United States’ subsequent colonial occupation of the Philippines transpired when the U.S. state increasingly legislated and managed the formations of racial-sexual categories within the metropole6. The urban spaces, and the sex commerce therein, in New York and those established by US soldiers in Philippine soil stem from the same gendered and racialized logic.

  • 7 Ibid., p. 14.
  • 8 Ibid., p. 54.
  • 9 Ibid., p. 55.
  • 10 Deposition of Major General William P. Duvall, U.S. Army, cited in Record of Court of Inquiry, Boss (...)

10During the turn of the 20th century, US soldiers were warned not to exercise their passions on native women, lest they be physically and morally corrupted. This policy led to a broad surveillance of the bodies of U.S. soldiers for detection of venereal disease and covert attempts to regulate prostitution so as not to induce social panic in the Philippines and in the US7. According to the deposition of Major General William P. Duvall, a career-officer in the United States Army who served in the Philippines during both the Spanish-American and the Philippine-American wars, military physicians became obsessed with disciplining colonial soldiers’ cleanliness and hygiene vis-à-vis the wayward filthiness of the natives8. This « waywardness » perceived by US military officers was imposed on both the environment of the Philippines, often singled out for its heat, sun and exotic locale, as well as the bodies of the local population, their manner of dress and « legitimate calling » for fornication9. This protracted view on the natives also manifests through the US military’s encounters with non-binary gender identities in the Philippines. The earliest reference, and perhaps the only one at the time according to archival evidence, to a non-binary gender identity or a transwoman in the environment of a US military base was found on the court documents of an officer court martialed for sodomizing his soldiers. The accused officer asked for someone named Morphodite, read by scholars as a play on hermaphrodite, in one of the bars that surround the military base. There is no other mention of this character in official documents beyond the « perverse » relationship they have with US soldiers10.

  • 11 Saidiya Hartman, op. cit., p.204.

11We can see in the state documents above how waywardness refers to behaviors that can corrupt established moral and cultural standards, ones that reinforce and cohere around whiteness and the preservation of its status in imperial contexts. Hartman articulates the girls’ response to this definition through a dimension of waywardness that is « to inhabit the world in ways inimical to those deemed proper and respectable, to be deeply aware of the gulf between where you stayed and how you might live »11. Wayward Lives and Call Her Ganda, as modern counter-narratives, respond to this waywardness by foregrounding how black girls in New York and Filipina transwomen in Olongapo city wade courageously into this gulf and not only arrive, but also change, the environment of the city to reflect their presence.

Waywardness in the Colony: Call Her Ganda

12Call Her Ganda (2018), which translates to Call Her Beautiful, is a documentary on the death of Jennifer Laude and the political battle that followed it from 2014 to 2017. It was directed by PJ Raval, a Filipino-American filmmaker, and centers on a Filipino-American transwoman journalist as she navigates through the entangled stories and histories in Olongapo City. Meredith, the journalist, pieces together what happened in the night of Jennfier’s murder through interviews with Jennifer’s friends and her mother. These statements are juxtaposed with how court documents have articulated not only the tragic night, but the Philippines’ intimate and violent history with the US.

  • 12 Maria Lugones. « Heterosexualism and the Colonial / Modern Gender System », Hypatia, vol. 22, n°1, (...)
  • 13 Britannica, « Philippine-American War », Filipino History, consulted on 18 Oct. 2022. URL: https:// (...)
  • 14 Mark Maca, « American colonial education policy and Filipino labour migration to the US (1900–1935) (...)
  • 15 Call Her Ganda.com, « Visiting Forces Agreement Timeline », Jennifer Laude’s Story, consulted on 18 (...)

13The history of foreign occupation in the Philippines dates back to the 16th century when the Spanish arrived, driven by the lust for spices and imperial expansion. They established the Philippines as a colony, becoming a source for raw materials and labor, as they imposed Christianity as a dominant religion. The scale and longevity of this imperial project, lasting over 300 years, resulted in a « national » consciousness and physical spaces defined by racialized logic in service of Western power. Indigenous communities and practices were violently remade in the Spanish mold: the layout of cities, our dress and language, and the violent introduction and regulation of gender expression12. At the cusp of the 19th century, the US began their conquest of the Pacific by acquiring the Philippines from Spain through the Treaty of Paris13. Their « benevolent » approach toward their colonized subjects manifested through public institutions in education, health, and security. The English language was taught rigorously and with it came modern notions of democracy, capitalist, and popular consciousness, still felt and practiced today14. This cultural domination was also ushered in through the military bases established in several strategic points in the archipelago. The presence of US soldiers through the Visiting Forces Agreement in the Philippines has been contested for decades yet currently, it has renewed its diplomatic strength due to the US’s donations of the Covid-19 vaccine to the country15. This long history of assimilating, negotiating and resisting colonial powers informs the movements of the various characters in Raval’s film.

  • 16 P.J. Raval, Call Her Ganda, Unraval Pictures, 2018.
  • 17 The bakla is commonly understood as someone who embodies any or all of the following: male homosexu (...)
  • 18 Moniq Muyargas and Xenia Monica Cabrias, « I am Gay and Getting Old: A Narrative Inquiry of Life Co (...)

14Jennifer Laude, like Mattie, left her home at an early age. She travelled from Leyte, a province about 1000 kilometers away, to Olongapo City in order to earn money for her family and live out her sexuality16. According to her mother, she had always wanted to be called Ganda (beautiful) when she was young, a common term of endearment for young girls. Such beauty, however, in her is not permitted in the home environment, which is often the case for the bakla17. It is assumed that being queer is a kind of lack or a failure on the part of the parents and/or the child and one of the most potent ways to mend this relationship is through financial means. The preponderance of this belief in lived experience and popular representation of queer people shows that, especially for those in the low-income bracket and/or engage in informal work, the experience of sexuality is at odds with the heteronormative family structure that would traditionally secure economic stability and one’s future. According to Muyargas and Cabrias’s study titled, « I am Gay and Getting Old: A Narrative Inquiry of Life Course Dimensions Among Older Gay Men and Lesbians », despite the affective relationships that gay men/bakla and lesbians/tibo build outside of the family, they cannot rely on these to sustain and care for them in old-age— a responsibility that falls on one’s kin as expectations of filial piety as the country has ingrained in us18.

  • 19 According to the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, murder is distinguished from homicide as th (...)

15Jennifer Laude and Scott Pemberton met in 2014 at a bar in Olongapo City. This coastal area north of Metro Manila is where the American military units are based under the Visiting Forces Agreement between the US and the Philippines. Pemberton was part of 3,500 US sailors and marines who participated in the Amphibious Landing Exercise and was on rest and recreation after the drills ended when he met Laude. Pemberton left approximately 30 minutes after he arrived in a motel with Laude and her body was found lifeless in the bathroom soon after. What proceeds is a legal battle over Pemberton’s guilt and custody: he was charged with murder and the Philippine government asked the US to turn him over to a local prison. Overwhelming political and military pressure from the US ensured that the Philippines’ demands would not be met in full. He was eventually convicted of homicide19 which serves a 10-year prison sentence, with a mitigating circumstance of « passion and obfuscation » and was first detained in a US naval ship before being transferred to Camp Aguinaldo, the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

  • 20 The names of this figure vary across the regions in the Philippines. The babaylan is a powerful non (...)
  • 21 Leonora Angeles, « Only in the Philippines? Postcolonial exceptionalisms and Filipina feminisms », (...)
  • 22 Jaime Veneracion, « From Babaylan to Beata: A Study on the Religiosity of Filipino Women », Review (...)

16The downgrading from murder to homicide based on panic and self-defense sends a clear message to transwomen in the country: they are not women, but male predators that deceive straight men into having sexual relations with them. It is easily apparent how this thinking is false and conveniently capitalizes on the repressed expression and histories of trans-ness and queerness in the Philippines. Various ethno-linguistic groups in the country have their own sense- and world-making in relation to non-binary gender expression. The popular figure of the babaylan/asog/catalonan20, the gender-crossing, pre-colonial spiritual and community leader, is often regarded as proof that cultures within our islands have always recognized gender expressions beyond the binary despite the dominant, conservative influence of the Catholic church in the present21. Scholarship on the babaylan have highlighted how they serve as a bridge between the corporeal and the spirit world, as well as the present and the ancestors22. Framed in this way, we see that the embracing of trans-ness, as evidenced in the iconography and messaging of queer scholars and activists in the country today, involves a reclaiming of a progressive past that was violently buried by the Spanish colonization in the 16th century and reinforced by Anglo-American values in the 19th century onward.

17This also creates an organic evolution from the babaylan of the past, to the bakla and transwoman in the present, which has proven to be a potent organizing narrative for gender mainstreaming and trans-rights advocacy. A closer look into this dynamic, however, will show that different historical moments have imbued these identities with specific agentic and marginal attributes. The bakla, for instance, loosely translates to a male-bodied individual who acts feminine and/or is attracted to the same sex. It is not an equivalent to “gay” because of the culture and class-specific position of the bakla in the Philippines and it must also be noted that this term stems from the Tagalog-speaking groups of Luzon. The term “trans,” further, arrived from contemporary Western gender discourses and is a concept that touches on the experience of the bakla but nonetheless introduces a divide among those who have access to the discursive benefits of such identification (middle-class, urban and educated individuals) and those that do not.

  • 23 Allan Macatuno, « Party Is over in ‘Gapo », INQUIRER.net, consulted on 13 Nov. 2020. URL: https://g (...)

18We do not know if Jennifer Laude articulated her gender identity through trans-ness, or whether identity in these terms was a concern for her and her peers in Olongapo, but she certainly was labelled as such in the media stories that proliferated after her death. This trans-ness has factored into the sensationalizing of her case: online comments have used this to justify the violence done to her, especially given the preponderance of survival sex work in the area where she was killed. The US Naval Base in Subic Bay has nurtured an economy catering to and dependent on the Americans’ rest and recreation. This has often been called a « Sin City » for its red-light district; various media and scholarly articles have looked at how these areas are lined with bars and motels tailored for the short but frequent stays of US soldiers23.

Waywardness Redefined: City Girls in the Kabaret

  • 24 Saidiya Hartman, op. cit., p. 65.
  • 25 The Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines, « Women at Work: A Trans Forum », STRAP: Faceb (...)
  • 26 Robert Diaz, « Biyuti from Below: Contemporary Philippine Cinema and the Transing of Kabaklaan », T (...)
  • 27 P. J. Raval, op. cit., 2018.

19The red-light districts surrounding US military bases in the Philippines are spaces of consumption and of desire, monitored, monetized, and crammed into windowless rooms. This is reminiscent of the New York that Hartman describes in Wayward Lives, this hub of activity and possibility, indeed a semblance of a future, that attracts black girls from elsewhere24. The pains of the past and the uncertainty in the future is deferred by the sensations of the urban city, a gleaming cosmopolitan space with its promise of dream-fulfillment and independence. It is, however, unfortunate, to note the many ways that their sexual lives and financial needs violently become intertwined. Transwomen who have had a disproportionately lesser access to education and economic opportunities in the big cities tend to find work in beauty parlors or walking in the red-light districts25, so much so that these spaces have developed names with specifically queer connotations26. Naomi Fontanos, one of the leaders of the trans-movement in the Philippines narrates in Call Her Ganda how it is typical for transwomen to engage in survival sex work in these spaces because when you’re a transwoman, « all doors close »27.

  • 28 Andriz Zimelis, « Human Rights, the Sex Industry and Foreign Troops: Feminist Analysis of Nationali (...)

20The colloquial term for seedy bars in the Philippines is kabaret, a name and space that was directly imposed by the American occupation. The number of cabaret bars in the Philippines, spaces that offered female strip shows, wrestling, and boxing to US troops, increased significantly after World War II. Philippine military officials regularly patrolled the area to make sure that women were engaging in « entertainment practices »28. Hartman, however, expands what is known to occur in these spaces. She paints the cabaret to be a space for desire and black virtuosity, where

  • 29 Saidiya Hartman, op. cit., p. 176.

everything terrible about the club—the alcohol, the debauchery, the infidelity encouraged by the environment, the loose, jaded women—would be balanced by this scene, which would condemn the cabaret and at the same time exalt it29.

  • 30 P. J. Raval, op. cit., 2018.
  • 31 Peter Keppy, « Southeast Asia in the Age of Jazz: Locating Popular Culture in the Colonial Philippi (...)

21Beautiful bodies that are deemed out of sync gather there to experience pleasure in ways that often oscillate along violent and intimate lines. The Philippine kabaret, despite its imperial beginnings, has also become a space where these same manifestations of desire are possible. Transwomen and queer people have built communities of care and have lived out their sexualities freely in these spaces30. In the late 1910s, dance halls and kabarets had become the subject of heated debates on morality, gender, and social evils in the Philippines. The Catholic Church often portrayed the people who worked there as « poor provincial girls who fell victim to the desires of young men ». By 1924, the distinction between these kabarets and cheap love motels had become blurred31. The kabaret has persisted throughout the decades since, morphing into different iterations such as clubs and gay bars where women and queer people find communities of support and exercise agency amidst forces that threaten their lives. As evidenced by the narratives in Call Her Ganda, Jennifer and her friends found one another in these spaces and proceeded to economically and affectively support themselves and their own families. Through their celebration of their bodies and intimate connections, they extend what is possible in the environment of the city, interrupting dominant flows of power and allowing pleasure to erupt in cramped spaces.

22My earlier reading of the interplay between agency and exploitation in the lives of black girls and Filipina transwomen leads me to question whether this is actually freedom, considering that they are engaging in work that potentially exploits their bodies and that choice is an opportunity that comes with restraints. However, Hartman’s and Raval’s grounding of desire in those that live wayward lives challenges this need to validate freedom and its terms — to pin down what qualifies as such runs counter to the intellectual and material project of harnessing the unknown for its liberatory potential. Throughout this discussion, the city has been shown to be a bearer of history, one whose spaces are defined and surveilled according to the imperial eye of the state. This has positioned black girls and transwomen in the margins, at once seen as dangerous and in danger of their own « evils ». Hartman’s and Raval’s texts show how black girls and transwomen have taken this marginal position and imbued it with joy, thereby changing the bounds of what is and can be possible. The apparent contradiction between agency and exploitation is embraced for how it can charge women’s demonstrations of desire with a unique power one that articulates itself through intimate and beautiful acts. The scale of this power operates both through prevailing ideas about « public » liberation for marginalized communities (popular and political representation, visible participation in public life) and beyond it: black girls’ and transwomen’s radical practice of life and pleasure in oppressive conditions have always shaped the flows of desire in the city, as seen through the persistence of the kabaret and the stories of joy and survival nestled within it. Ultimately, the dances and movements of black girls and transwomen are foundational, and not merely marginal, to what we now know to be New York and Olongapo City.

Conclusion

23Wayward Lives and Call Her Ganda reinforce what has remained hidden for so long in the “underbelly” of the city: the joyous rebellion of black girls and transwomen manifesting through intimate acts. These two texts share an epistemological aim in redefining beauty and desire away from and beyond their use in white, patriarchal society. These constraints in society are articulated by Hartman and Raval through the very language of political institutions, yet the presentation of such structures reveals the gaps in their portrayal of marginalized girls. To bridge these gaps, Hartman writes out hopeful, intimate histories of black girls that center on their desires; her prose revels in the unknown and pushes the reader to trust her and their own imagination as part of history-making. Raval, through documentary film, foregrounds existing testimonies drowned out by the media circus that has surrounded Jennifer Laude’s death; these personal narratives capture the beauty chosen and lived out by transwomen despite tragic circumstances and affirms a kind of kinship between these communities across time and space.

  • 32 Robert Diaz, op. cit.

24Hartman’s chronicles and Raval’s documentary ultimately situates these moments of joyous and painful negotiation in the environment of the city. Wayward Lives opens up imperial space and shows how black girls have carved out pockets of rebellion while Call Her Ganda is an insistent appeal on mainstream audiences to go beyond punitive justice32 in imperial terms. We are invited to not only acknowledge, but herald black girls’ and transwomen’s beauty in a way that commits to their fullness: celebration, struggle, and the entanglement of pain and joy. Gone are the questions that aim to validate facets of desire and freedom so commonly found in popular and institutional media and theoretical approaches surrounding marginalized lives. With black girls and transwomen as our teachers, these texts encourage us to listen to and embrace the potentially contradictory, but nonetheless liberatory dimensions of violence, desire, and pleasure.

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Raval, PJ, Call Her Ganda, Unraval Pictures, 2018.

Reyes, Luis, The revised penal code: criminal law (Nineteenth), Quezon City, Rex Book Store, 2017.

The Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines, « Women at Work: A Trans Forum », STRAP: Facebook Watch, 17 Oct. 2020, URL: www.facebook.com/STRAP.MANILA/videos/2517255721900761

Veneracion, Jaime B. « From Babaylan to Beata: A Study on the Religiosity of Filipino Women », Review of Women’s Studies, vol. 3, n°1, 1992, p. 1-15.

Zimelis, Andris, « Human Rights, the Sex Industry and Foreign Troops: Feminist Analysis of Nationalism in Japan, South Korea and the Philippines », Cooperation and Conflict, vol. 44, n°1, 2009, p. 51-71.

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Notes

1 Olivia Polk, « Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval, by Saidiya Hartman », Women’s Studies, vol. 48, n°6, 2019, p. 652-655.

2 P. J. Raval, Biography, consulted on 28 Oct. 2022. URL: https://unraval.com/about/biography/

3 Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives. Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 2020.

4 Ibid., p. 59.

5 Ibid., p. 53.

6 Victor Román Mendoza, Metroimperial Intimacies : Fantasy, Racial-Sexual Governance, and the Philippines in U.S. Imperialism, 1899-1913, Durham, Duke University Press Books, 2015.

7 Ibid., p. 14.

8 Ibid., p. 54.

9 Ibid., p. 55.

10 Deposition of Major General William P. Duvall, U.S. Army, cited in Record of Court of Inquiry, Boss Reese, Philippine Scouts, January 12, 1910, n°6, in Reese Papers, quoted in Victor Roman Mendoza, op. cit., p. 89.

11 Saidiya Hartman, op. cit., p.204.

12 Maria Lugones. « Heterosexualism and the Colonial / Modern Gender System », Hypatia, vol. 22, n°1, 2007, p. 186-209. 

13 Britannica, « Philippine-American War », Filipino History, consulted on 18 Oct. 2022. URL: https://www.britannica.com/event/Philippine-American-War/The-guerrilla-campaign

14 Mark Maca, « American colonial education policy and Filipino labour migration to the US (1900–1935) », Asia Pacific Journal of Education, vol. 37, n°3, 2017, p. 310-328.

15 Call Her Ganda.com, « Visiting Forces Agreement Timeline », Jennifer Laude’s Story, consulted on 18 Oct. 2022. URL: https://www.callherganda.com/jennifer-laudes-story/visiting-forces-agreement-timeline/.

16 P.J. Raval, Call Her Ganda, Unraval Pictures, 2018.

17 The bakla is commonly understood as someone who embodies any or all of the following: male homosexuality, transgenderism, cross-dressing, and effeminacy. They are typically imagined to be a conflation of a gay man and a transwoman or someone who moves freely between the two, which makes it a culturally and politically specific identity compared to that of the gay man and transwoman in Anglo-American and European contexts. Mikee Inton, « Bodies in transition: the bakla as transgender in philippine cinema », The SAGE handbook of global sexualities, vol. 2, 2020, p. 917-943.

18 Moniq Muyargas and Xenia Monica Cabrias, « I am Gay and Getting Old: A Narrative Inquiry of Life Course Dimensions Among Older Gay Men and Lesbians », Panel Discussion: Aging Gracefully and Fabulously Queer. Philippine Queer Studies Conference, 27 Oct. 2020, University of the Philippines Diliman.

19 According to the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, murder is distinguished from homicide as the killing of a person with specific attendant circumstances, the relevant provision in the Laude case being « taking advantage of superior strength ». The prosecution argued that Pemberton committed murder due to his superior strength as a US marine. The verdict of the court dismissed this claim and downgraded the sentence to that for homicide. Luis Reyes, The revised penal code: criminal law (Nineteenth), Quezon City, Rex Book Store, 2017.

20 The names of this figure vary across the regions in the Philippines. The babaylan is a powerful non-binary figure who foretold the future, cured the sick, solemnized rituals, and communicated with spirits. Contemporary Philippines-based lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) groups also refer to indigenous babaylan identities in their discursive practices, particularly the acceptance of non-binary gender identities.

21 Leonora Angeles, « Only in the Philippines? Postcolonial exceptionalisms and Filipina feminisms », Critical Asian Studies, vol. 52, n°2, 2020, p. 226-247.

22 Jaime Veneracion, « From Babaylan to Beata: A Study on the Religiosity of Filipino Women », Review of Women’s Studies, vol. 3, n°1, 1992, p. 1-15.

23 Allan Macatuno, « Party Is over in ‘Gapo », INQUIRER.net, consulted on 13 Nov. 2020. URL: https://globalnation.inquirer.net/113122/party-is-over-in-gapo

24 Saidiya Hartman, op. cit., p. 65.

25 The Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines, « Women at Work: A Trans Forum », STRAP: Facebook Watch, consulted on 20 November 2020. URL: www.facebook.com/STRAP.MANILA/videos/2517255721900761

26 Robert Diaz, « Biyuti from Below: Contemporary Philippine Cinema and the Transing of Kabaklaan », Transgender Studies Quarterly, vol. 5, n°3, 2018, p. 404–424.

27 P. J. Raval, op. cit., 2018.

28 Andriz Zimelis, « Human Rights, the Sex Industry and Foreign Troops: Feminist Analysis of Nationalism in Japan, South Korea and the Philippines » , Cooperation and Conflict, vol. 44, n°1, 2009, p. 51-71.

29 Saidiya Hartman, op. cit., p. 176.

30 P. J. Raval, op. cit., 2018.

31 Peter Keppy, « Southeast Asia in the Age of Jazz: Locating Popular Culture in the Colonial Philippines and Indonesia », Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 44, n°3, 1 Oct. 2013, p. 444-464.

32 Robert Diaz, op. cit.

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Julie B. Jolo, « Desire lines: Filipina transwomen and black girls’ wayward paths in the imperial city  »TRANS- [En ligne], 29 | 2024, mis en ligne le , consulté le 13 juin 2024. URL : http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/trans/9265 ; DOI : https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/trans.9265

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