The Bakla Show! SF based production exploring LGBTQ Filipino/a identities

The Bakla Show is a San Francisco based show, created in 2006 at the Bindlestiff Studio, explores the lived experiences of Filipina/o LGBTQ through theatre productions. Bindlestiff Studio, a space for Filipino American performing arts, has put on two The Bakla Shows, and is in the process of showcasing their third show this June. The first production of The Bakla Show challenges the static stereotype of bakla as only a cross-dresser and hairdresser, and brings in voices from lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, downe, and transgender Filipina/o Americans. In the 2010 production, The Bakla Show looks at roots in traditional Filipino myths, legends, and folklore that have helped shape queer Filipino identities. Lastle, their latest production is said to focus on “LGBTQ/GNC F/Philipin@youth Experiences” (Press Release,2013). The Bakla Show not only performs to “educate, challenge, and encourage dialogue” in order to increase visibility of the Filipino American LGBTQ experience, but they also creatively engage with their (internet) community by posting journal entry topics—centralized around being Filipina/o, queer, and youth experiences—and encouraging submissions to their blog to further share the lived experiences and voices of their community.

To further understand The Bakla Show and its participation in the Filipino art and LGBTQ community, we can look at the chapter “The Borders Between Bakla and Gay” in Martin Manalansan’s book Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora (2003). Manalansan discusses the complexities of the Filipino gay man who has moved to and lives in the United States. Because the category of “gay” in the United States illustrates a set of social norms and relations that create a homogenous “singular gay culture”, the Filipino gay man cannot easily fit into this culture because of intersecting identities of race, class, gender performance, and familial structures (pp23-24). Manalansan describes that bakla can be utilized as a broad term constituting of multiple meanings and Filipino queerness, but fits most closely to a effeminate man and the folklore of the bakla as a “male body with a female heart” (pp25). But The Bakla Show is not just about the experience of the bakla, but has extended to reclaim other identities, such as the tomboy. Kale Bantigue Fajardo writes about the tomboy identity through the people the tomboy shares social spaces with, in their essay Transportation: Translating Filipino and Filipino American Tomboy Masculinities Through Global Migration and Seafaring. Fajardo shows that the identification of a tomboy depends on the gender, class, and social space of the tomboy. To the ICWFW—a lesbian organization in Manila—a tomboy is largely named as a butch lesbian woman; but to seamen, who can share a workspace with the tomboy, they are masculine women of lower and working class standing (pp530). In an interview with the producer and co-creator of The Bakla Show, Shannon Pacaoan mentions that within her community, and especially her family, does not appreciate the gendered performance or sexual orientation of the tomboy, but can find redeeming qualities in other aspects of that person. Though Pacaoan does not describe in this interview what she defines a tomboy by, she does show that tomboy can largely be used and defined under a negative connotation too.

The Bakla Show and its space at the Bindlestiff Studio, produces knowledge through the arts, where the theatre opens up space for education away from institutionalized academia and a voices for the Filipina/o LGBTQ community in the bay area. Though, this desire of a voice for the community does not reflect some of Manalansan’s analysis of Filipino culture and “silent acceptance/knowing” of one being bakla, Manalansan does however show that the Filipinos who had moved to the United States at a very young age did gravitate to the American narrative to “come out”, speak out, and discuss their gender and sexuality. And given that The Bakla Show’s producers mostly are born and raised in the United States, the need to speak out and have a voice not only in their families, but also within the LGBTQ community is a driving factor to their show. This show also challenges the notion of the homogenous third gender of “the other”, as its shows explore various gender dynamics in Filipino folklore and contemporary transnational settings; showing these identities are neither static nor are they purely “cultural”.


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One thought on “The Bakla Show! SF based production exploring LGBTQ Filipino/a identities

  1. When you presented this beautiful organization to the class, I was immediately drawn to whatever you had to say. I’ve never heard of an organization like this and it is definitely one of a kind. The Bakla Show is so inspiring not only for their culture but the individuals alike. The fact that they choose to fight controversial issues with art as opposed to other actions, is influential. Other organizations and groups could learn a thing or two about opening up to individuals that aren’t necessarily the “norm” and letting the negative influences go. At the end of the day everyone is the same and we are all just trying to get through this thing that we call life. Thank you so much for opening my eyes to other outlets that could soon be connected if voiced properly. I’m praying for a comeback of the show because I would definitely enjoy attending it.

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