How 'Suffer SiReyna' highlights LGBTQI suffering

Published: June 10, 2014

Eat Bulaga, a noon-time variety show aired in GMA Network, has been featuring a new (and now-popular) segment called Suffer SiReyna, which is actually a spin-off from its transgender beauty pageant Super Sireyna. “SiReyna“, by the way, is a hybrid term that merges two Filipino words – sirena (mermaid) and reyna (queen).

I followed Super SiReyna for its pabonggahan (efforts to outshine another) in beauty, talent, and intelligence among transpinays, and even appreciated it for becoming an entry point to mainstream the experiences of stigma and discrimination among transwomen in the Philippines.

However, and not wanting to play with words, Suffer SiReyna is the barangay perya (village carnival) version.

For those who have been to the perya during town fiestas, this brought us the “freak shows”.  Think of the babaeng ahas (snake woman), supposedly a woman who was born with a snake for a twin; kapre (some kind of tree demon); taong lobo (human wolf); and the sirena (mermaid). For a 10 peso entrance fee, the perya provided people the chance to be shocked and entertained by these “freaks of nature.”

And now, seemingly to keep up with the TV ratings race, Eat Bulaga is delivering this perya spectacle on noon-time TV. This time, it does this at the expense of these impoverished gay men or transwomen, who are paraded as “freaks” for the whole country to laugh at.

Suffer SiReyna has become a noon-time dose of agitation. And the agitation touches on three areas we work on in the struggle for equality and non-discrimination of LGBTQI people in the Philippines.

Firstly, there is the internalization of LGBTQI people of a lot of society’s misconceptions and hatred of our sexual and gender identities. I was reminded by this by the experience of Aloha Filipina, a transwoman advocate.

She recalled: “I saw a transpinay once, and there was a man throwing stones at her – I’m not sure if she was in the right state of mind, as she just kept parading herself to be stoned. I approached the offending man, and then I asked him why he was throwing stones at her.”

That encounter ended up at the police station, but the police just said “it was just a waste of time.”

Similarly, in Suffer SiReyna, the gay men or transwomen contestants are made to suffer (hence the name of segment) through outrageous requests by the hosts, like the ingestion of kapeng barako (Barako coffee) in powder form, the eating of raw ground pork sandwiched in slices of ampalaya (bitter gourd) and stuffed with okra, and other similarly dehumanizing acts. To add insult to injury, the contest’s winner receives cash less than P1,000 and in-kind prizes like a bundle of firewood or a big plastic bag of junkfood from a nearby sari-sari (retail) store. For 15 minutes of fame and token prizes, the contestants willingly become pawns to be humiliated and be treated inhumanely.

All the show’s hosts and the studio audience all seem very happy and pleased to witness all this. No one seems to bat an eyelash at the degradation that happens right before them. And I am left wondering why Allan K., one of the hosts and an openly gay man, is silent on this, too.

And this now this brings me to my second point – the social class divide within the Filipino LGBTQI community.

In defining bekinal, members of ProGay already noted this in the past.  The term bekinals (for “beking kanal” or, literally, gays from the gutters/canals) is not at all politically correct, but it is what some members of the community use to refer to those who are “mahihirap na mga bakla na hindi naman madalas mapansin ng lipunan (impoverished gay men who are often neglected by society).”

The same ProGay members also cited the discrimination they encountered even from other members of the LGBTQI community. “Noong sumali kami sa Pride 2012, napagitnaan kami ng mga mayayamang beki at mayayamang transgender (When we joined Pride 2012, our group was placed in between well-off ‘straight-acting/looking’ gay men and well-off transgender women),” TonTon of Progay recalled. “Feeling namin, para kaming minaliit; na para kaming tinanong na ‘Anong ginagawa n’yo rito?’ (We felt belittled; as if we were asked what we were doing there in the first place).”

The social class divide within the community continues to be a challenge in the formation of our community. Upper class LGBTQI people remain less engaged in our struggle for equality and non-discrimination, while LGBTQI from low income groups are tied to hand-to-mouth survival and are desperate for means to earn money even if that means being treated like laughing stocks on national TV.

As a co-host of the show, Allan K. is actually in a position of power to call the failings of Suffer SiReyna.  That he doesn’t do so seem to highlight that he sides with the commercial gains of the TV ratings race (and its effects on his career, which in turn keeps his current social class), instead of the struggle of the community he openly belongs to.

My third and last point is that the “gay amused” Filipino culture continues to perpetuate that notion we don’t deserve the same respect that everyone gets.

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