Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Under Bright Lights: Gay Manila and the Global Scene

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Under Bright Lights: Gay Manila and the Global Scene

Article excerpt

Under bright lights: Gay Manila and the global scene

By BOBBY BENEDICTO

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. Pp. 248. Notes, Bibliography, Index.

There goes the gayborhood?

By AMIN GHAZIANI

Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014. Pp. 350. Appendix, Notes, Works cited, Index.

Sex and sexualities in contemporary Indonesia: Sexual politics, health, diversity, and representations

Edited by LINDA RAE BENNETT and SHARYN GRAHAM DAVIES

New York: Routledge, 2015. Pp. 346. Index.

One of the effects of globalisation on LGBT identities is the compression of queer space and time, and of the mental proximity of the queer here and there. Globalisation also throws into sharp relief the starkness of inequalities that polarises LGBT struggles here in the global south and the provision of Western-style gay rights over there. Three new books illuminate this unevenness created by globalisation and the transient quality of lesbian and gay spaces of belonging while at the same time remap the theoretical terrain of sexuality studies and its political potential. Bobby Benedicto offers a thrilling account of nighttime Manila in search of gay clubs and party circuits in Under bright lights, an anthropological study of the gay nightlife and desires for approximations to Western-style LGBT rights and freedoms. Under bright lights is sumptuous in its evocation of the sweaty sensuality, hopes and despair from the margins of a liberal metropole. Based on a discontinuous study across ten years, the author examines the development and decline of a gay collective imaginary bound by space and time. With great skill and sensitivity, Benedicto captures how 'gay life in a city like Manila bridges the near and far; how gay space is carved out at the interstices of the city and the world, producing ironic juxtapositions that might be taken as manifestations of a capacity to play with notions of here and there' (p. 69).

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, gay Filipino men emerged from the hidden corners of nondescript bars into the bright lights as a new market who wielded the 'pink peso'. Magazines, bars, online dating websites, and party circuits mushroomed to meet the desires of a viable clientele. It was a period of rapid change, as one of Benedicto's interlocutors says, 'something was happening, that we were in something'. Change was happening and the gay scene was becoming more 'world class'. Above all, change was occurring under the 'bright lights of Manila', a hermeneutic device for examining the queer geography Benedicto uses to describe 'sites where dreams of globalness rub against the invincible facticity of location' (p. 2). Under bright lights also discusses the classed effects and affects of internationalised gay identities in the Philippines, on which Dennis Altman has written in his classic essay ('Rupture or continuity? The internationalization of gay identities', Social text 48 [1996]: 77-94) on indigenous non-normative identities such as the bakla. Aspirations for Western-style gay rights and identities do not eliminate the bakla but rather relegate it to obsolescence through a discriminatory filtering of the scene for desirable markers of class, language ability and mobility. The bakla may well be both a palimpsest of Filipino queer identity or its Other through the 'world-making practices of gay men [that] reproduce the cultures of domination that govern present-day Manila' (p. 3).

One of the most fascinating sections of Under bright lights is Benedicto's examination of race and mobility. The reality of race and racism threatens to slow down the speed with which the privileged middle-class Filipino gay moves from local to transnational (gay) spaces. Although privileged to travel to more liberating hubs of the Western gay scene, Filipino gay men are reminded that their ethnic identity pushes them to the margins even on the dance floor. …

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