by Hazel Piñon
Queer cinema has become more diverse and representative by casting LGBTQ+ actors and highlighting authentic experiences. However, the representation of the LGBTQ+ community has not always been inclusive and often depicts stereotypes or preconceived notions generalizing the actions of a particular community. The knowledge around gender, sex, and sexuality misconstrues the representation of “queerness” in Philippine cinema. Because of the colonial history of the Philippines, many of its languages related to terms that identify queer totalities are obscure. Thus, the understanding of queer identities is limited by comedic performances.
Distinguished as a “biographical comedy,” Markova: Comfort Gay (2000) stars renowned Filipino comedian Rudolfo Quizon joined by his two sons Jeffrey and Eric Quizon. The film chronicles the life of Walter Dempster Jr, who also goes by Walterina Markova, and his story as one of five “comfort gays” that survived the sexual servitude of Japanese imperialists during their occupation of the Philippines in World War II. The film begins at the Home For The Golden Gays, where a community of LGBTQ+ elders resides who have been abandoned by their immediate families and relatives, including Walterina. While watching television in the common space, Walterina (played by Rudolfo) saw on the news that “comfort women” were coming out to tell their stories and fight for recognition of the sexual enslavement in which they lived during the Second World War. Inspired by the courageousness of “comfort women,” Walterina decided to contact a journalist to talk about his story.
The scarce research surrounding “comfort gays” had been overshadowed by the multitude of academic interviews and studies done around “comfort women,” which is why in the film, when the journalist came to see Walterina, she was disappointed after finding out that Walterina was not a “comfort woman” and said that she was wasting her time. In a separate interview, Walterina says that it was his fault since Walterina and his friends pretended to be women. Therefore would not want to pursue claiming reparations because no one would believe him since he did not have any proof because everyone else that escaped with Walterina had died.
Markova: Comfort Gay (2000) is one of the only media artifacts that signify the survival of a “comfort gay.” However, the film, defined as a biographical comedy, is unsettling since sexual enslavement is not humorous, nor is it performing sexuality or gender based on how the individual identifies. The film also depicts queer people as sexual deviants. In one scene, when the Japanese arrived, teen Walterina (performed by Eric Quizon) was presented in a way that was flirtatious and excited. There is significance in how the film portrays queer people as promiscuous, specifically toward “masculine” men. The presentation of queer people in the cinema, especially during a time period when they were vulnerable, subjects them to further discrimination and skepticism of the injustice and maltreatment they experienced.
The film ends with the journalist not believing Walterina’s story and Walterina looking at pictures during different stages of life while saying “gay, bakla, bading–nagpapakatotoo ka (you are being true to yourself),” this represents that queer communities are disregarded and dehumanized. Despite living through various challenges as a queer person and atrocities inflicted by imperialism, there is an insufficient amount of humanizing research and study on “comfort gays.” Ultimately, the presentation of queer identities through comedic performances lessens the value of history and illustrates queer experiences as a form of entertainment, something of mockery and humor. Queer experiences during World War II should be further recognized and highlighted because queer identities have always pre-existed.
Home for the Golden Gays | World Press Photo. (n.d.). Retrieved June 13, 2023, from https://www.worldpressphoto.org/collection/photo-contest/2023/Hannah-Reyes-Morales/1
Mikee N. Inton. (2018). Exploring the Dolphy Bakla in Philippine Cinema. In The Palgrave Handbook of Asian Cinema (pp. 583–605). https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-349-95822-1_28
Portes, G. (Director). (2002, July 19). Markova: Comfort Gay [Biography, Drama, History]. RVQ Productions.
Probe Productions (Director). (2021, May 21). Probe Archives: The Probe Team | Comfort Gay- Ang Istorya ni Markova. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Jbo6VzEo-U