There was a time not long ago that almost literature and reading materials were heterosexual in subjects and most emerging LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer and others) writers would churn out writings featuring heterosexual characters and desires. Writing truly about their thoughts, struggles, loves, passions would be considered taboo, sinful, dirty, unimportant, not fit for publication.
Then came Ladlad: An Anthology of Philippine Gay Writing in 1994, opening a closet full of writings, rich and diverse, and breaking grounds. Edited by J. Neil Garcia and Danton Remoto, Ladlad contains poems, stories, essays and plays on gay experiences in the Philippines, legitimizing these voices and experiences long disregarded, discriminated against and erased. The seminal book proved to be popular that it led to Ladlad 2 in 1996 and Ladlad 3 in 2007. These were published by Anvil Publishing, a publishing house that had broken several grounds in Philippine publishing and literature. The books inspired other publishing efforts and art forms to deal with LGBTQ+ issues.
Now, Anvil Publishing further blazed the trail with the creation of a LGBTQ+ imprint called Pride Press.
“When we conceived of Pride Press, the LGBTQIA+ imprint of Anvil, we wanted to give voice to the many Filipinos marginalized for their gender in the context of what still is a largely conservative society that is the Philippines,” related Andrea Pasion-Flores, general manager of Anvil Publishing, during the launch of I Am Jake a couple of years ago.
“We began quietly with Don’t Tell Anyone, a collection of short stories by Ian Casocot and Shakira Sison, putting a stack of 100 books on a table at the Manila International Book Fair in 2016.
While we broadcasted our other titles during the fair, we didn’t, as the title states, tell anyone about Don’t Tell Anyone, but we noticed how young people, students in uniform, would pick up the book and read. We sold seventy copies out of the one hundred we put out during the fair, which is a big deal for a collection of short stories. We’ve gone on a second printing for this title.”
Don’t Tell Anyone: Literary Smut is a milestone in Philippine literature being a pioneering work in LGBTQ+ erotica. It contains honest depictions of gay sex, which can as beautiful as any kind of sex, told by two of the excellent Filipino writers in English of any gender writing today, including lesbian sex, which is rarely tackled, if at all.
In the 2017 LGBTQ+ Pride Month of June, Pride Press released Pukiusap, a Filipino translation of Swedish cartoonist Liv Strömquist’s graphic essay Fruit of Knowledge: The Vulva vs. The Patriarchy. Translated into English from the Swedish by Melissa Bowers and published by Fantagraphics in 2018, Fruit of Knowledge boldly traces the history of female sexuality and tackles the female genitalia and society’s concepts of it. It is translated into Filipino by Beverly Wico Siy as Pukiusap.
“This book generated a lot of buzz for its revolutionary graphic novel format and irreverent humor on feminist discourse. It also created a buzz for the fact that the buyer of the book must be brave enough to ask for it by name from the stores’ sales personnel -— and, given the title, it wasn’t easy to do,” shared Pasion-Flores.
Next, Pride Press made available to Filipino readers another groundbreaking LGBTQ+ work from abroad.
“We followed Pukiusap with the Philippines edition of the first gay novel from China entitled Beijing Comrades by Bei Tong, translated into English from the Chinese by Scott Myers,” Pasion-Flores said. “The word comrade here is used colloquially to mean ‘gay,’ and when the book was written, being gay was still criminalized in China, so that a novel like this, which is a love story between two gay men set in the eighties, during the atrocities in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, might be considered bold and brave. So, for a long time, it was read in secret, passed along in the underground like contraband until it developed a cult following.”
Then, controversial transgender male singer Jake Zyrus came out with a biographical book in collaboration with Pride Press, remaining to its biggest title so far.
“This is a memoir of an extraordinary human being,” Pasion-Flores described. “As if Jake hasn’t made a lot of historic firsts already, I think I Am Jake must be the first book in this country by a trans man. Here, Jake generously shares intimate details of his life many people do not know despite his very public persona. Jake’s transition happening as it did in the public eye we can only imagine to be so difficult and painful, we can only admire the courage that comes with the resolve to take all the consequences that come with being true to oneself. In his case, he turned his back on the rewards of being an international star. He took on the challenge and continues to do so, of finding a place of acceptance in a very macho society that recognizes only two genders in its laws when we live in a time when Facebook allows you to choose your pronoun and tick your preferred gender in a choice of seventy-one genders. And most of all, in doing this book, he relived the painful memories of his life too be able to give the reader honest accounts of his journey to the now comfortable place of acceptance.”
She further related: “The process of coming out with this book has not been easy for Jake and his team, we demanded a lot of his time and invaded his privacy. For the Anvil team as well, until now, the journey hasn’t been easy, but I know I Am Jake is a celebrity book like no other for what it wishes to convey: the story of a life that overcomes adversity amidst an unforgiving and a largely unaccepting society and that’s a story many young people will need to read about. And for that, Pride Press is extremely lucky to have been trusted by Jake to share his story. After this book, we know many people out there will find it easier to be true to themselves because Jake has shown them it can be done.”
We now look forward for more Pride Press books that continue to blaze trails, open doors and minds and affirm us as human.