Bahamas in the Philippines

A grainy, iridescent, abstracted tunnel, rendered in peaches and pinks around the perimeter and greens and yellows deeper within its interior. The chasm-like form appears both bodily and landscape-like, depicting craggy surfaces that recede into space.

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I have lived most of my life in Metro Manila, the capital city of the Philippines — a city of fourteen million people with a thriving queer-identifying population. In what I experience as a culturally repressed society, Manila exudes a youthful energy for progressive ideas that may transform the city’s bright future—at least for the queer community to live in a more inclusive society. In Manila— where the weather, public services, and systems are erratic and inconsistent— the queer community endures like cockroaches, surviving in the warm sewers of the city. Manila is unique in its colonial, political, and capitalist histories, and these have affected the city’s development. The lack of urban planning has resulted in many Filipinos having to be especially “resilient” in the context of the daily hazards associated with living in the city. Throughout history, queer people have experienced violence, othering, and exclusion. Filipino queer culture invented creative new ways of thinking, speaking, and doing to articulate its existence and survive.

Reflecting on early human technologies shows us how man’s curiosity has progressed and become monstrous. One of the earliest forms of technology ever invented is language. Language is a tool for physical and oral communication that has served the purpose of connecting humanity and creating thoughts, feelings, and articulation that had not previously been expressed. We now have a word for everything. We can now define the world in all its crevices. We shape the world through language, and in drawing connections and universalizing, we become confused and entangled. Language has become limiting to the point of being oppressive.

In the age of emerging AI technologies, language has been made easy, accessible, and disposable. I would be lying if I said that I did not consider using ChatGPT to write this essay, but I was not convinced by what it had to offer in the way of Filipino gay lingo, or in describing the world in general. AI not only makes people lazy, it makes them think that introspection is no longer necessary. We hurry to finish our tasks, ourselves acting like robots. AI has built a ready-made worldview that is all too convenient for us to understand. Everything proceeds through algorithms and we are quick to bend to them. We are participating in creating a new system of language that is unconcerned with meaning and instead built to create predictive patterns that can easily amass power and influence. AI offers a shortcut for thinking: we can instead select patterns to apply to any scenario.

Linguistics are key to understanding and articulating the current psychic dimension of a place or community. Filipino gay lingo is a frisky-funny linguistic phenomenon deeply rooted in queer culture, values, and identity. It is characterized by its referential vocabulary, syntax, and grammar, which are derived from pop cultural references and hyperlocal or hyper-personal experiences and cultures. What is unique about Filipino gay lingo is its use of the weather as a way to articulate a specific way of coping through humor. To express the complexity of experiences within today’s climate of accelerated change, we create new languages that tend to mutate and adapt for survival. Like animals, we mutate to survive harsh conditions, articulate pain, and seek relief.

This essay draws up a lexicon of gay vernacular my friends and I currently use. Manila’s weather conditions range from extreme heat to super typhoons, with everything in between—including constant rain and heat—generating difficult conditions like floods, landslides, and drought.

Julanis Morissette
/ˈʒuːlənɪs mɒrɪˈsɛt/
1. Heavy rain, downpour. Derived from Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette, combined with the Tagalog word ulan meaning “rain.”
2. Intense rainy weather conditions with heavy wind.
“Hala, Julanis Morissette na! Paano tayo uuwi into?”
“Oh no! It’s raining so hard! How do we go home now?”

Phrases like "Julanis Morissette”—an expression for “it’s raining hard” (heavy rain) are employed to denote intense rainy weather conditions. The phrase is derived from Alanis Morissette’s song, “Ironic,” in which the lyrics go: “It’s like rain, on your wedding day.” The term “Julanis” is a combination of the word ulan, Tagalog for “rain,” and “Alanis,” which does not denote meaning, and is neither Tagalog nor English.

Jinit Jackson
/jee-neet jack-sohn/
1. Extreme hot weather. Derived from American singer Janet Jackson, whose first name is substituted for “Jinit,” which incorporates the Tagalog word init, meaning “hot.”
2. A feeling of intense heat with humid and sunny weather.
“Ang Jinit Jackson sa Manila! Parang magugunaw na ang mundo!”
“It’s so hot in Manila! It’s like the end of the world!”

"Jinit Jackson"—an expression for “it’s so hot!” (extreme heat)—may signify the perpetual struggle in the context of unusually hot weather. Directly referencing singer Janet Jackson, “Jinit” comes from the word init, Tagalog for “hot.”

While the English language may only have a few words for “hot,” Filipino gay lingo articulates varying degrees of “hot,” often through exaggeration or comedic delivery. This articulation presents a notion of nonsensical translation that is situational and does not have a direct English translation, like watching a movie with the wrong subtitles. A “Jinit Jackson” kind of heat is extremely humid, with a hot breeze and sticky atmosphere—conditions specific to Manila.

Both Alanis Morissette and Janet Jackson are female singers who rose to prominence in the 1990s. References to them bear no direct relationship to their presumed context, but the personification of these weather conditions helps to create a queer feeling of being weathered, a feeling that is rooted in feminine cultural archetypes that are transformed through the use of weather-related terminology. These references serve as linguistic shortcuts to convey complex feelings and experiences resulting in comical ways of coping with the absurdity of harsh weather conditions. The delivery of these phrases is direct, effeminate, and funny. The exact history of the origins of “Julanis Morissette” and “Jinit Jackson” remains unknown to me and will require in-depth research into their inception, but I speculate that these terms came from a group of queers who grew up in the ’90s listening to pop music with an awareness of changing climate conditions.

The Bahamas are not physically located in the Philippines, but baha, the Tagalog word for “flood,” surely is. The use of Bahamas as a word for flood is pure queer comic ingenuity that sparks associations based on the similar root, “baha.” Applying this form of reverse psychology by retrieving a mental image of the Bahamas to place alongside the hardship of a flood proposes a way of thinking that may make it easier to cope with and downplay the severity of the situation. The shared root allows for a contextual leap. A feeling of hopelessness in a dire condition that makes no sense can be relieved through comedy.

Other references for rain include “Renee Salud” and “Armida Siguion-Reyna.” Chosen for the parts of their names that sound like “rain”— Renee (rain-neh) Salud and Armida Siguion-Reyna (rain-nuh)—these are two Filipino queer pop cultural references from the ’90s. Renee Salud was a fashion designer, while Armida Siguon-Reyna was a film director. These characters exude a queer quality—one that is elegant, straightforward, and flamboyant.

Our language shifts so fast that it adapts at every cultural turn. Imagine our cultures like this, adapting swiftly to articulate our contemporary conditions.

In Filipino contemporary culture, we tend to make everything comical. Disasters become pranks; hardships become entertainment. We live in a time when everything can be made into a joke. We live in the age of memes. We have to be creative with how to cope with today’s changing climate. I call this “swardcoping.” Swardcoping is a coping mechanism for dealing with harsh conditions, events, or challenging environmental situations; we use swardspeak as a derivative linguistic expression. Academic studies coined “swardspeak”—which originates from the word “swarding,” a derogatory term for “gay”—as a universal term for Filipino gay lingo in the English language.

There are several words for “gay” in Filipino gay lingo—

All of these are derogatory or comical terms that express the flamboyance, eccentricity, and effeminate nature of being gay in the Philippines. Etymologies vary across different sources: “bekimon,” for instance, is derived from beki, slang for bakla (the most common Tagalog word for gay) and “mon,” which is derived from “Pokemon,” the Japanese anime that features weird mutated monsters or anamorphic creatures composed of different animals. By infusing everyday language and pop cultural references with elements of weather, Filipino gay lingo not only serves as a tool for communication but as comic relief in a hopeless situation.

Hijacking or inventing language to ease the harsh realities of living in the Philippines is just one of the many coping mechanisms developed in the country. In the absence or lack of access to psychotherapy, creative forms of coping become tools for survival. Languishing sometimes lacks expression in the English language, and therefore we create new ways of expressing grief and frustration through queerness. Comical ways of coping are truly a national cultural phenomenon. Humor is at the core of Filipino gay lingo.

Swardspeak is subversive in nature and constitutes a mode of resistance. By reframing adversity through humor and linguistic play, we can reclaim agency and assert our identities in a society that often seeks to marginalize us.

As queer people, we were taught that our lives, our identities, do not exist. Humanity has successfully built a construct that denies us our very existence. Our methods of adapting can vary greatly, though they are creative, often comical, and sometimes confrontational. As the minister Bob Briggs has noted, “If used in the right way, humor is a way to take depression down a notch, a way to tell the truth and a way to cope. I use humor because I need every tool available to help me in recovery, and when I laugh at the irrationality of depression, I move my recovery along.”1

To think queer is to be tender; caring is universal. What we need today is to invent new ways of proposing a more ecological future, one that is considered and realistic. This movement of ecological thinking will require a rupture. Technology needs an intervention—one that considers empathetic thinking and advancements that build solidarity. With the rise of AI, we have glimpsed a future that fears the colonization of the machine. But nothing can replace our ingenious articulations of solidarity and care. Hope will never be diminished by technology, but its potential will depend on how we allow our faith and choices to act upon the future that will come.

And in pure Gloria Gaynor fashion, we will dance and scream, “I will survive!”