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At Large

‘Marami ang Maita’?

/ 01:33 AM February 05, 2014

If only it were true. “Marami ang Maita (There are many Maitas),” writes “Ka Selena” of Makibaka, the “women’s wing” of the National Liberation Front.

If that were so, if clones of Maita Gomez were as common as, say, cronuts or banana-cue, then there would be no need for a book such as “Maita: Remembering Ka Dolor” (Gabriela, Tanggol Bayi). The book is a “labor of love” for this remarkable woman by two other remarkable women: Judy Taguiwalo and Tita Lubi, who knew and worked beside Maita in the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship and after its crumbling, in the continuing struggle to build a just, liberating society.

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“She was animated in telling about her guerrilla life in the mountains…or her advocacy for women’s liberation or her opposition to the destruction of indigenous communities and the environment wrought by mining companies, but would be annoyed when asked about being Miss Philippines,” the editors recall. “For Maita, what defined her is her service to the country and to the people.”

Indeed, not even the most creative or outlandish of writers could have conceived of the journey that Maita undertook, from campus beauty to national beauty queen, and thence to fashion model, young wife and mother, and, at the declaration of martial law, rebel and underground figure. Forced to return to the city due to ill health, she resurfaced once more as a leader of the anti-Marcos protest movement galvanized by the assassination of Ninoy Aquino.

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A most amusing but also encompassing essay by Gilda Cordero Fernando covers those breathless years when, side by side with Maita, normally staid matrons let loose their creative personas and staged highly entertaining protests that drew public attention as well as a deeper understanding of the issues that, sadly, continue to bedevil Filipino society.

* * *

A variety of sources pay tribute to Maita in the book—journalists, friends and sisters in the movement, leaders of the National Democratic Front and the Communist Party of the Philippines, including Jose Ma. Sison, poets and songwriters, her children.

Most precious are “her own words,” essays on the contribution of women in the struggle and a scholarly paper on the mining industry.

On the pages of “Maita” are not just written tributes and recollections—one is in awe at the sheer number and range of the people proud to call themselves her friends—but even photos that capture this extraordinary woman in the different phases of her life. Leafing through the volume is like taking a trip through recent history, a walk through the different worlds of beauty pageants and campus life, street demonstrations and earnest conferences, even intimate moments with her children.

The editors say Maita had intended to write her own life story (it would make for one gripping movie), but even if just by way of a collection of mostly second-hand memoirs, they hope “that by knowing her story, they would be inspired to continue the struggles she embraced in the same manner that Maita was inspired by the stories of the women and men of the Katipunan and decided to continue their journey.”

* * *

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The first question asks, “Mam po ba talaga kayo (Are you truly a Ma’am)?” and goes on to inquire, “Kung tomboy ka, bakit ka mukhang babae (If you’re a tomboy, why do you look like a woman)?” and closes with “Bakit di ka magpakalalaki (Why don’t you act like a man)?” and “Mahirap ba maging bakla (Is it difficult being gay)?”

Well, if it was so easy, then there would be no need for this book, which is illustrated on the cover with question marks in different colors, but is titled more explicitly: “Anong Pangalan Mo sa Gabi? at iba pang tanong sa mga LGBT (What’s Your Name at Night? and Other Questions to the LGBT).”

Published by the UP Center for Women’s Studies and edited by Tetay Mendoza and Joel Acebuche, with photos by Rod Singh, “Anong Pangalan Mo sa Gabi?” is an “easy” read. But it is easy only in the sense that the photos convey the many “faces” of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, while the brief text accompanying each photo provides provocative, funny, disturbing and daring answers.

But to those who believe the LGBT compose the scourge of the earth and threaten everything that is decent and good in humanity (and there are more of them than we think), the book may bring on hives and hyperventilation. So read at your own risk, and park your prejudices elsewhere before turning a page.

* * *

To be sure, each question merely distills years of gender prejudice and popular misconceptions, cemented by movies, TV shows, comic strips, gossip, and jokes, legitimized by censorious homilies and solemn declarations by our so-called moral leaders.

“Paano ka nakikipagsex (How do you have sex)?” is one question that confronts the root of the matter. The reply is short and sweet: Sa paraang masarap, pa’no pa nga ba (In a pleasurable way, how else)?

A young woman holds up a sign: “Sino ang nanliligaw (Who does the courting)?” Straight to the point comes the reply: “Eh di kung sino ang unang nagkagusto (Eh, whoever was first attracted).” And to the question “Sinong lalaki, sinong babae (Who’s the man, who’s the woman)?” the answer goes: Kailangan ba laging may babae at lalaki? Hindi ba sapat na ang dalawang tao ay nagmamahalan (Does there always need to be a man and a woman? Isn’t it enough that two people love each other)?”

As the saying goes, “Ask a stupid question…,” but in this book, you get an eye-opening, entertaining, and honest look at what it means to be gay in the Philippines.

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TAGS: At Large, Gender issues, Judy Taguiwalo, LGBT, maita gomez, opinion, Rina Jimenez-David, Tita Lubi
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