Interview by JESSICA PAG-IWAYAN

For so many years now, members of the LGBTQ+ community around the world are continuously fighting for their rights, acceptance, and equality. For them to be heard, they even bring their message out on the streets through the Pride March every month of June. 

But what if the fight on the streets is the same battle they experience at home? It’s a conversation Manila Bulletin Lifestyle had with young poet Alfonso Manalastas who shared his story of self-discovery and the challenge that came with revealing his identity to his kin. 

Alfonso Manalastas Featured image

BRAVE HEART Despite growing up in a conservative family, Alfonso Manalastas proudly embraced his identity as a member of the LGBTQ+ community (Image by Kim Lim)

Can you share with us when you discovered for yourself your gender preference?

I never had doubts about it to begin with. I knew I was different but that part only became an issue when I started developing sexual desires. It’s not so much about who I am, but about who I’m attracted to that prompted the feeling of being different.

How has it changed the way you live?

Growing up, I had to learn how to conceal who I was because of the heteropatriarchal upbringing I was raised in.

It’s not that I was raised in an environment completely devoid of queer figures, or an environment that potently admonished them, but being exposed to various, almost imperceptible microaggressions, I subconsciously developed this fear of expressing who I was. 

Does being a member of the LGBTQ+ community affect your profession as an artist?

It does but in a good way. The thing about contemporary, independent artistic spaces is that these tend to show narratives that aren’t prominently featured in mainstream spaces. Meaning, there’s a whole lot of people looking for narratives that resemble their own, so when you have a few people creating transgressive art disparate from predominant voices, you tend to gravitate toward them. Just like most people who go to these artistic spaces, it was also how I personally discovered artists whose works I want to consume, and vice-versa. In a way, our works are more or less informed by similar artistic sensibilities.

Does it also affect your art?

It does, but certainly not in the way most people think. When I was accepted at my first national writers’ workshop under poet and literary critic J. Neil Garcia, someone from the program pointed out that my poems didn’t register as “queer.” One of the things I learned from the discussion was that queer works don’t have to be thematically queer. It is enough that those are created by a queer person, espoused from a uniquely queer lens, and whose politics is more or less informed by distinctly queer experiences.

So even when my poems merely ruminate on universal philosophies, gender-neutral as they are, it must be taken into consideration that those ideas sprouted from the impulses of a person who grew up living a uniquely queer life.

Have you ever experienced discrimination in the field because of your gender?

Yes and no, in the way any artist can only ever transplant their work into spaces that accept them. For example, when I’m performing my poems in front of an audience with some of my family members, especially those whom I have not come out to, I tend to censor myself by default.

Alfonso Manlastas

What lessons did you learn from it?

No lessons, just that I should be allowed to take my time when it comes to embracing my identity around certain people.

Are you happy with the development these days on how society perceives members of the community?

The answer is a categorical no. I think there is a lot of work that has to be done, not only in terms of societal acceptance but also with the in-fighting that tends to happen inside the community. What I know is that coming from the perspective of a privileged cisgender male, I know that we must create spaces for privilege voices that are often undermined.  Also, it’s not a matter of speaking on behalf of, say, trans folks, but a matter of passing the microphone to them, amplifying their voices, and allowing them to tell their own stories as authorities of their own lives.

What’s your message to everyone, for members, friends, and adversaries of the community?

Remember that Pride stems from a long history of oppression and a long history of resistance. When we fight for recognition, we’re not only fighting for our right to self-actualize, but also for the rights of underprivileged, working-class, disenfranchised communities where many of our queer brothers and sisters are. 


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://lifestyle.mb.com.ph/2020/06/22/rainbow-spotlight-a-cisgender-male-poet/)