Search for community: Filipino gay men in New York sity

Martin F. Manalansan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


In 1987, a Filipino gay man named Exotica was crowned Miss Fire Island. The Miss Fire Island beauty contest is an annual drag event in Fire Island (located off the coast of Long Island) and is considered to be the premier gay summer mecca in America. It was interesting to note that a considerable number of the contestants who were not Caucasian were Filipinos. Furthermore, Exotica was not the first Filipino recipient of the crown; another Filipino was crowned earlier in the seventies. In 1992, a Filipino gay and lesbian group called Kambal sa Lusog marched in two parades in New York City, Gay Pride Day and Philippine Independence Day. These iconic events suggest the strong presence of Filipinos in the American gay scene, particularly in New York City. This chapter delineates this presence by analyzing the issues of identity and community among fifty gay Filipino men in the city in their attempts to institutionalize or organize themselves. Through excerpts from life history interviews and field observations, I explore the ways in which being "gay" and being "Filipino" are continually being shaped by historical events. I use the term "community" not as a static, closed, and unified system. Rather, I use the term strategically and conceptualize it as a fluid movement between subjectivity/identity and collective action.1 Therefore, intrinsic to this use of the term "community" is a sense of dissent and contestation along with a sense of belonging to a group or cause. I also use Benedict Anderson's2 notion of community as "imagined," which means symbols, language and other cultural practices and products from songs to books are sites where people articulate their sense of belonging. The concept of identity is not a series or stages of development or as a given category, but a dynamic package of meanings contingent upon practices that are both individually and collectively reconfigured.3 The first section briefly explores the cleavages that gave rise to a diversity of voices and outlines differences such as class, attitudes toward various homosexual practices, and ethnic/racial identity. In the next two sections, two pivotal moments, the Miss Saigon controversy and the AIDS pandemic, are discussed in terms of the patterns of cultural actions and counteractions. I focus on new or reconfigured collective discourses, specifically language and ritual. I also emphasize the organizing efforts of Filipinos to create a gay and lesbian group (Kambal sa Lusog) and an AIDS advocacy group. A specific activity called the Santacruzan by Kambal sa Lusog incorporates symbols from different national traditions and provides an example of the collective representation of community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAsian American Studies Now
Subtitle of host publicationA Critical Reader
PublisherRutgers University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)9780813545745
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


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