Basahin ang maikling kwentong ito sa Filipino.

Manila’s queer rave scene thrives despite and, ironically, thanks to its oppressors. Justiz K. Laude’s short story about a fateful night out explores the desires, acts of rebellion and harsh repressions the community in the Philippines has to face.

It can get exhausting trying to fit into polite society all the time. I’ve taken it upon myself to seize control before that point is breached. Resist temptation before chaos takes over. I take pride in my self-discipline. I’m stone cold sober at every event without anyone thinking twice about it. But the youth of Révolte—it’s as if they’ve made it their mission to disrupt this balance. What’s worse is they seem to enjoy it.

CADET: I don’t want to go anymore.

MADAME X: Yeah, right. And that outfit you’ve been hand-sewing for weeks? Don’t humor this bitch, she just wants to hear us sweet talk her.

CADET: Puta madre, ang harsh!

MADAME X: Oh, please. We’re the nice ones here, telling it like it is. Our harsh love is chicken shit compared to the world you’ll meet out there, darling. Little miss attention whore not going to her own Sweet Sixteen? Ha!

CADET: Hmph. What’s harsh is your makeup.

That’s what they call a read. Apparently, it’s an indispensable part of drag culture or queer friendships in general. Maybe it’s just in the Philippines, but from beauty parlors to comedy bars, this type of vicious frankness dominates.

We are sitting around the ramshackle living room of Madame X, founding mother of the infamous Révolte—a party borne of Manila’s regrettable nocturnal wasteland, a haven for common scoundrel, mavericks, and parasites.

I’ve gotten used to calling her a she, but right now Madame X is somewhere in between, stippling the masculine lines on her face with thick cream. Next to her is Raoul, loyal sidekick and co-promoter, hair doused in bleach foam. They’ve gone through a lot ever since Raoul left home as a teenager and moved in with Madame X. Back then, he was running away from a Chinese Christian household that beat the sissy out of him. Lately, he’s returned to a more sympathetic if not tolerant family, and he’s been patching things up with his real mother. Unironically, the parties never would have happened otherwise.

“Better thrown out than trapped in,” he once described this checkered past. And in a twisted form of karmic retribution, Raoul would become the template for the kind of wayward queer youth who are now drawn to Révolte; those who turn their backs to unity and harmony, relentlessly in denial—ultimately finding connection in the obscene imaginings of this unlikely collective.

Another thing about gay people is that they delight in hanging out half naked entirely too much. Particularly when they’re getting all dolled up. When I’m around, they seem more embarrassed than I am; the silk robes and skimpy cover-ups become more abundant. Other times, rather than provoking discomfort, witnessing them bare-skinned, unreserved with their affection, somehow softens the edge. It could also just be that the air conditioner broke down again. Either way, I prefer to keep my shirt on.

RAOUL: You were being mean, though. I’m sure our Cadet is just a little nervous to be dropping for the first time tonight.

Madame X side-eyes Raoul before aggressively patting her face down with powder.

MADAME X: First time? Just last week, weren’t you sniffing Ms off of—

CADET: Just indoors! And only a little bit. It will be my first time to take it whole… or half… basta, in public! I don’t know what that’s like.

MADAME X: Don’t worry, he’ll look after you. And you know what they say, it’s always best to get wrecked when you’re with family.

She nods, pointing her thumb at me. I muster a nervous grin in response.

The rest of the children—and I do mean minors—have splayed themselves out in various corners: Cadet, the youngest recruit, slashing the modesty away from his jeans and fastening buckles and chains to his biker jacket-turned-vest; Joel, Manila’s self-styled “premiere ladyboy DJ,” headphones on, fine-tuning tonight’s set list; Jackie Ho and Kris Kendy Kyuti, part-time lovers, full-time aesthetes, snuggling over a laptop as the psychedelic visual animation they’ve prepared slowly renders.

Nicknames and aliases are typical within the group, and they’ve even given me—the newcomer—my very own nom de guerre, a mark of belonging.

MADAME X: O Captain! My Captain! You are ready for tonight, yes?

Another shaky grin, I tap the small saddle bag across my chest and unzip the front pocket.

MADAME X: Ay, look what the ket drugged in! Meow. That’s one of the most important things I learned from James St. James, you know. Always procure your own dragey before going to the party.

Statements like this remind me I am in the company of veterans, and that infiltrating their inner circle was not a wrong decision—the potential rewards are far greater than the assaults on my sanity. It’s funny because the habitués have an aura of intimidation about them, a certain tribalism that can come off as hostile to others, most especially to normies like me. Though generally open and welcoming, it isn’t uncommon for club-goers to be cautious, cliquish in fact. Yet here I am, right in the thick of it. When you’ve got what they’re looking for, the barriers simply dissolve. A joint whiffs past me.

RAOUL: Solid. Please put aside a tab for Nini, she won’t be coming to get ready with us.

CADET: Where is that bruha?

RAOUL: She had a class this morning, I think. Then she’s leading another SOGIE march this afternoon.

MADAME X: Ooh, so you know her daily schedule now, huh?

RAOUL: Huh, what? It’s because I know all of the artists’ schedules today, duh.

Raoul looks away, blushing.

CADET: Why aren’t we joining the protest?

RAOUL: Uh, good question. But you know how long it takes Madame X to get ready.

CADET: Who else will be at the auction?

MADAME X: All the oligarch kids.

Laughter resounds.

MADAME X: Why are you laughing? It’s their blood money that keeps us afloat, no. Where would we be without the love and support of our mighty oppressors?

JACKIE: I’m so excited for the vernissage, really. Thanks again for having us.

KRIS: Yes! Madame’s shadiest, most inspired idea yet.

CADET: What do you mean? It’s just an art show.

JACKIE: My dear, an art show for a party for a cause.

KRIS: Triumph Brassiere. Fingers crossed they’ll be into all this IRL shitposting of ours.

MADAME X: Why, when are they not? Who wouldn’t want to own an overpriced reminder of our never-ending colonial struggle? Isn’t that what art is for?

RAOUL: Thank you din sa inyo, siyempre. Can’t believe we’re making it happen. This year, though! It’s about time something good is coming out of our vice.

JACKIE: Yeah, imagine donating to support the same organizations and activists that your private corporation terrorizes. Just so you can party.

KRIS: Well, not that any of the Lumad will ever get all that stolen land back.

JACKIE: It’s hard enough to fight back without the resources these undercover troll farmers have, but at least we’re trying.

KRIS: Some of them are trying, too. Honestly, compared to us, an ilustrado congressman—no matter how cringe—is bound to have greater impact.

JACKIE: To their own bank account, sure.

KRIS: How far has art gotten anyone? Is another Lacaba really what our generation needs?

CADET: Well, soon enough we get to vote, right? Something’s got to give.

MADAME X: If you’re going to play with fire, be prepared to get covered in soot.

CADET: What if nobody comes tonight—isn’t it like a shot to their pride?

MADAME X: There’s nothing an elitist wannabe insider hates more than not getting invited. If they want to get in on the world of misfits, junkies, and throwaways, they need to cough up that class guilt cash.

Joel removes her headphones to chime in.

JOEL: True lagi! So why do they continue to not pay us DJs? Or any of the other artists they “collaborate” with?

CADET: Hala, someone’s angry again.

JACKIE: She’s not lying, though. Kris and I are still waiting to get paid for our prod design at that outdoor festival kineso. The bank is offline daw! For three months, manay?

KRIS: Doesn’t their family own the bank?

JACKIE: No, babe. Just the bank’s headquarters.

MADAME X: And the newspapers and cell towers, too, don’t forget.

KRIS: Right. Sure, we did a lot of stuff for free at the old Révolte. But we only do it for you guys, not the hacienderos.

JOEL: Oh, I miss those days. Everyone dressed more japorms! Now, we’re all too “chic.”

KRIS: Yeah, it was really our little playground, no? It was like this experimental grey zone… Gay zone?

JACKIE: Ever since Rona shut the club down and we’ve gone more independent, I’ve been happier.

JOEL: Speak for yourself. I haven’t seen any considerable returns from this career path.

KRIS: Maybe you need to ramp it up with that loverboy of yours.

JOEL: Atay, don’t me. We can’t all be successful artists like you two.

JACKIE: Uh-huh, didn’t you DJ for that fundraiser hypestream?

JOEL: And I already spent it on Goto Monster.

KRIS: Also, who says we’re successful? The art world is just as ruthless. Take a look at us; we’re still living in the ghetto. Ra-ta-ta-ta.

CADET: Pa-humble pa kayo. Don’t forget us when you’re all famous, okay?

JACKIE: Oh, like we could ever forget your trashy attitude, Cads.

RAOUL: Yeah, and don’t be like your mama, the real showbiz snob.

Madame X cackles furiously.

JOEL: I am not burgis enough to be so petty.

MADAME X: Success doesn’t have to change your personality. That’s greed.

JOEL: Hey, I know that track…

KRIS: Besides, if it wasn’t for Raoul’s connections, we might never have started exhibiting in the first place.

JOEL: Hmm, come to think of it, I guess Révolte has helped all of us in that sense.

JACKIE: Exactly. Even Cadet got big time bookings just from being an in-house slut.

CADET: Sorry not sorry. Booking is booking.

KRIS: If you got it, raket.

CADET: And yes, thanks for all the intros, Raoul.

RAOUL: Uh, duh, you’re welcome. That’s why tonight is going to be so major.

MADAME X: Major networking, no doubt.

CADET: So, who’s invited nga?

RAOUL: Everyone nga. Only the most conyotic of the conyos. The only people that can afford to go to an illegal rave.

JACKIE: Lifestyles of the—

KRIS: Spoiled rotten.

JOEL: Sabagay, they’re the ones luxurious enough to be… “art enthusiasts.”

MADAME X: And yet, don’t we all aspire to be them?

RAOUL: Eh? Why are you looking at me?

JACKIE: Too real. There’s an impostor among us.

KRIS: It’s not like we have much of a choice. Feudalism never ended here.

JACKIE: Nini, is that you?

RAOUL: Aga-aga, politika pa rin. We’re already trying our best to bridge that gap.

JOEL: Our faithful leader has spoken.

MADAME X: More like Alyas Robin Hood. Just sharing the ill-gotten wealth.

JOEL: Shoutout sa Filipinx! Hashtag support local.

JACKIE: For the same amount as your favorite yaya’s salary, you too can be decked out in the finest trapo couture like you just walked out of Payatas.

JOEL: But make it “empowerment.”

MADAME X: Loka-loka! When you’re that rich, nothing looks as progressive as dressing pobre feels.

KRIS: Pak! Radical inclusion. It’s their way to remind us of how much better off they are.

JACKIE: Or an awful attempt at reparations.

JOEL: Oh, I thought that was what all the free bumps were for.

KRIS: Designer handbags with the designer—

JACKIE: Taste!

KRIS: Oh? The Just G queen has opinions on taste.

RAOUL: Joking aside, tonight’s guest list really is diverse.

JOEL: Ah, so you mean more fake-woke tryhard “allies” than usual?

CADET: How can you all be so hateful to our friends? Can’t we all just enjoy the good times?

RAOUL: I don’t hate anyone. Like you said, these are our friends. Love and respect don’t have to be ignorant of the truth.

JACKIE: Relax, baks. GV lang, walang plastikan.

KRIS: Isn’t that why everyone parties together anyhow? It’s like our common ground.

RAOUL: So true. In a way, we are all fighting the same battle. Right, Captain?

Of course, I snort, “Oust Duterte.” Like a parrot on cue. Even empty platitudes such as this are enough to satisfy anyone desperate for affirmation. In their untamed outrage against masters and overlords, underdogs often forget that conformity and compliance also serve as effective strategies for subversion.

MADAME X: As gospod Gosha once said, only the youth understands what is happening in the world. We are the beacons of contemporary music, culture, and politics. Or something like that.

CADET: Wow, you? Youth?

MADAME X: Hoy, Cadet! Shut up there ah. Are you ready yet? My base is done baking.

Cadet waddles to her side. With practiced brushstrokes, the visage of Madame X comes alive. This ritual transformation swathes the room in a solemn hush.

Club culture is the epitome of pretentiousness. Deception. Let’s say, fakery.

A community of fake people pretending to like redundant music. Pretending to like each other, be nice to each other. Pretending that everything is fine, good, normal. Refusing to acknowledge their own ulterior motives. Afraid to admit what brings them over.

Rehearsed conversations, recycled dance moves. Constant tests of etiquette. Social transactions disguised as carefree behavior.

If you’re not high, you act like it, as if that’s how you’ll fit in. Those who are, meanwhile, try their hardest to keep it to themselves, as if letting you in on the secret will ruin the magic.

People don’t decide to come to the club yearning to leave with their virtues and principles intact.

Drag is the complete opposite. Venerating the irreverent. Celebrating the artificial—the superficial. Dismantling the ideal.

That’s what makes it so real. The struggle for reinvention—for something other.

Replace the anxiety of the ordinary with the delusion of what could be. Turn the inconceivable into the authentic. Redefine freedom; regain individuality.

Discard the labels. Set your own limits. Identify your own purpose. Distinguish your own value. Trust in your desires. Embrace your fears. Choose what gives you joy. And emphasize those cheekbones.

Put the fake on blast, loud enough to break through boundaries. Reject the appropriate. Abandon the adequate. Give up what’s merely passable and recognize the ugly truth.

The real frauds are those who believe in their own righteousness—content with never striving for the unattainable yet convinced they are entitled to every bit of it. They keep the wool pulled over their eyes, unable to see just how outdated and unflattering perception can truly be.

On the other hand, putting on a lace front leaves no room for inhibition—for settling. No question of whether you ought to adhere to the rules… Hmm, this spirit gum better adhere to my scalp all night.

Superstardom is always within reach, so long as you don’t shy away from the scrutinizing glare of the spotlight and the indifference of a rapt audience. No matter how much gloss you slather over its surface, cracked porcelain always reveals its flaws. Let yourself doubt yourself. And shine anyway. Beauty lies within perversion. Meaning happens behind the masquerade.

Forget waiting until you make it. Faking it is making it.

One last dusting off, and Madame X opens her eyes.

CADET: Love it. But seriously, do you have to be dragged up at every event? You’re like the only one still doing it.

JACKIE: Ganda ka? Why, don’t you consider that leather and lingerie look of yours to be drag?

MADAME X: Let’s just call it commitment. Because this way, there’s no need to pretend.

She thanks Cadet, then adds the final touch herself: crusty, black, spidery lashes. She blows kisses into the mirror. All together now, it’s time to fall out.

The crew takes the train and two jeepneys to Galeria Hacienda, tonight’s ersatz rave facility. An abandoned warehouse, former abattoir, and until recently, the night club that played host to years of Révolte. In its current iteration, a nonprofit art foundation and gallery run by Lui, who previously owned the club as well. The choice of venue is more tongue-in-cheek than underground. Hardly discreet, though by now I’m quite used to mischief and malice hiding in plain sight.

Twilight dims as we walk towards the reinforced steel gate. Raoul spots Nini—the prodigal daughter—one corner over, frantically tearing down sheets of paper plastered onto a telephone pole. When I see what’s on the flyers, my heart sinks. How could these bastards be so brazen, putting this seditious material up so close to home? Then again, red-tagging works best when your targets are made aware of it.

MADAME X: Wow, look at that. You really are our poster child—officially.

NINI: It’s not funny!

Her voice trembles. Everyone helps scrape off the remaining posters, all of which display a mugshot of Nini front and center, with haphazard text declaring her and her school organization as terrorists.

Raoul gushes over.

RAOUL: How was the SOGIE march?

NINI: Walang-wala. People are too scared to join. But I can’t really blame them with all the police crackdowns happening at rallies lately.

RAOUL: I’m sorry to hear that.

NINI: Ugh, pwede ba? None of you were there either, so like, whatever.

RAOUL: Well, I guess we just don’t have the balls, Nini.

This makes her laugh, finally.

RAOUL: We couldn’t risk getting arrested today, you know. Hosting this event is dangerous enough as it is. In the end, did your protest achieve what you wanted?

NINI: Ouch. Sorry ha.

RAOUL: Oh no, no, I didn’t mean it like that. I got carried away, sorry. I’m just glad you’re safe. But you know… we’re still recovering from last month’s incident. Good news, though, I sent out the GCash link this afternoon from the early donations alone, we’ve already raised enough money to bail out our Bakwit Collective friends.

NINI: Wow, that’s great. Congratulations. And yeah, I guess you’re right naman. I can be hard-headed talaga. There are other ways to get our voices heard.

It’s now completely dark out. As we approach, Lui is standing by the foot of the building, presumably to welcome the arriving party. But while she ushers in the others, she takes me aside. Then and there, we settle the terms on our surreptitious deal. She thanks me.

We see each other again after the auction as Lui doles out complimentary goodbyes. 

MADAME X: Oh. You’re not staying for the party?

LUI: I’ll sit this one out. I’ve used up my social graces for the night. Enjoy your moment, this will be another one for the books.

RAOUL: Aw, thanks for everything. You’re the best.

LUI: Raoul, you guys—please take care of each other, ha? Be safe.

The three of them share an awkwardly firm hug.

Halfway into the first DJ set, duty calls. The usual suspects assemble in the shadowy parking lot. Nini beckons, greeting me by taking my hand in hers.

NINI: Mano po, Captain.

“Order up!” I smirk.

NINI: There is no ethical consumption under heterocapitalism.

I roll my eyes. Something about her absurd extravagance—the jewels in her hair and the gilded feathers on her blouse—tends to bring out a playfulness in me I can’t otherwise shrug off.

She grins as I slip a purple pill onto her proffered tongue, exclaiming, “Is this what you call ethical consumption, Neens?”

MADAME X: Oh siya, the results are in. Looks like you made tonight’s top sale at the auction. Awards are in order—she can pay her rent this month! What do you have to say to that?

NINI: Fight, fight, fight the power!

JACKIE: Power like your unshaved ilik-ilik power?

NINI: Kepyas mo power.

MADAME X: Sige nga, miss DevCom, paki-break down naman po ‘yong plataporma mo.

NINI: Yes, miss campaign manager? Break what down? My platform? Oh my. But these ones are my favorite.

Nini kicks a heel up, lifting her long skirt to reveal battered wooden clogs. Her painted toes wiggle.

MADAME X: Bakyang ‘to!

RAOUL: Come on, is that all you got? We want to hear your commencement speech. Give us social reform like you’re running for office.

NINI: What office?

KRIS: Office of AIDS and Welfare.

NINI: Pero how? ‘Di rich ang parents ko.

JOEL: Anat, sermon another.

Jackie jams a cellphone under Nini’s chin.

JACKIE: So, Miss Trans-gressive, you say fight the power? Eh, we are the power!

NINI: Of course not, Jackie So Ho! Maybe you because you are a power couple. But we? What are we? A power plant?

KRIS: Power rangers.

NINI: Why not? Like their hologram leader, we’re just following orders from an illusion. Tuta-tutaan. Let’s volt in!

MADAME X: ‘Ika nga, a foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth.

NINI: Let me guess—Dostoevsky!

MADAME X: No, Einstein. Ruffa Mae.

JOEL: Oh, who has the power then? Mama X and Raoul gyud.

NINI: Nako, what a mistake you turned out to be. Even them—second rate at their own events. Even you—we dance because we want to, not because you make us. Pati, who gave you that power? Opulence, that’s who. The people who own everything. Also known as: me.

JOEL: Por Diyos giatay.

MADAME X: Wow. She can buy you, your friends, and this club!

RAOUL: True though, we still owe a lot of what we’ve accomplished to the powers that be.

MADAME X: Well, how can we expect to reclaim land if there aren’t any landowners?

NINI: Because even our solidarity belongs to the system. Systema salon!

MADAME X: Says Jefferson Hack.

RAOUL: That’s not true. Our lives are the same outside of it, too. The space just brings us together.

NINI: Come to think of it, that’s precisely why Révolte is so unique New York.

RAOUL: Because you’re all so extremely weird?

NINI: One of a kind, babes. A cabinet of rare-iosities. Ladybirdies of a feather… In other words: mga pambihira!

MADAME X: More like fashion victims and multidisciplinary addicts.

KRIS: Here to sell our souls to the machine.

NINI: OA much? I’m only here to sign the attendance sheet.

JOEL: Well, my attendance is never for sale.

JACKIE: Beh, you’re literally the DJ.

MADAME X: Actually, I would say our attendance is what sells.

NINI: Performance level awra. Paging Boss Lui, is this property on the market?

JOEL: You know, in spite of all their plunder, they don’t own the music.

NINI: Korek! For once. Top comment.

KRIS: Moving on. Who’s at the bottom, then?

NINI: Besides your skinny ass?

JOEL: Oh, I know! It’s maniacs who just stand there without dancing.

NINI: Makasarili—hindi makatao.

JACKIE: Hmm, don’t forget those ugly tourists who tried to harass me while I was doing lines in the ladies’ CR.

KRIS: What about that guy? The date rape asshole.

RAOUL: Oh! Let’s not bring that up na.

KRIS: Right. After all, he was just unlucky enough to get called out; it’s not like he’s the only predator we’ve ever let in.

JACKIE: So afams, abusers… heteros in general?

JOEL: Hetero men. Some girls get a pass. At least they know how to dance.

JACKIE: Who else pa ba? Clout chasers!

KRIS: Sosyal climbers.

NINI: Compradors.

JOEL: “Influencers.”

JACKIE: Mm-hmm, and how is that Chicks with Dicks Mag interview going, ate Jomelyn?

NINI: Sis, are the curious straight boys trying to capitalize on your in-demand beauty again?

MADAME X: Ay, why is it that everybody who wants to talk shit about us has never actually been to our parties?

JOEL: Seriously. Can you believe he tried to ask me if trans is considered a music genre?

NINI: Another entry for your Burn Book, day?

KRIS: Baka naman he meant trance!

RAOUL: Hey, at least they seem genuinely interested. How else are people supposed to get to know us better?

KRIS: Making new connections requires too much effort. What’s there to know?

JACKIE: Hmm. First of all, is everyone here really gay? Who’s getting fucked and who’s doing the fucking?

NINI: Umm. Forget who’s sleeping with whom. Tell me who’s using whomst?

MADAME X: Aba, is that not everyone here?

NINI: If they’re not mining for oil, they’re mining for queer talent.

MADAME X: Intense! As if you didn’t all start at the bottom yourselves, ha.

JOEL: We just learned from the best, gani.

RAOUL: And you wonder why people call us suplada.

JACKIE: Wait, wait, this is fun. I have another one… idiots who are intent on having meaningful conversations.

NINI: For more… Performative queers. Gender fluidity as a trend. Nonbinary for the brownie points.

MADAME X: People I’ve ghosted…

RAOUL: People who whip out their cell phones on the dance floor. The nerve.

I look up from my screen and chuckle.

JOEL: “Music lovers” who make requests.

NINI: Keyboard activists.

KRIS: White worshippers.

JACKIE: Mga masyadong pa-bida.

JOEL: Social media “celebrities.”

MADAME X: Celebrities, periodt.

KRIS: Mga ka-DDS!

NINI: Raise your hands if you voted for that fucking fenty turtle.

JACKIE: No way anyone who supports that crook would ever come here.

MADAME X: ‘La siya, do you really believe there aren’t any crones in there?

NINI: Survey says… affiliation is thicker than brain cells.

JACKIE: What about… people who are just trying to hook up?

JOEL: Or just here to objectify.

MADAME X: Is that worse than being tokenized?

RAOUL: Like you aren’t all thirsty 24/7?

NINI: Starved for pleasure, but not brave enough to suffer the consequences.

JOEL: In Jesus name. Are we missing anyone?

KRIS: People who don’t know how to handle their drugs.

JACKIE: Do you mean people who take too much?

RAOUL: Too much? Who is she?

KRIS: No, no, I mean people who don’t know how to share.

JOEL: Eh, what about freeloaders? User-friendly?

MADAME X: People who don’t pay back their debts.

RAOUL: Wait, all of this just sounds like you’re describing Cadet. Right, Captain?

When everything is punctuated by laughter, it’s hard to tell what’s serious anymore.

MADAME X: Where is he anyhow?

KRIS: Last I saw, he slipped off with yet another jerkoff.

By now, I’ve lost track of the discussion. Or what the point is, if any. Drug-addled rambling passed off as a bonding experience. A power trip in its own right.

NINI: Thanks for coming to my TED talk. So what did we learn today?

RAOUL: Basically, you’re telling me that we’d rather not invite anyone to our parties anymore, tama ba?

JACKIE: Tayo-tayo nalang forever.

NINI: A bunch of fucking prejudiced hypocrites!

MADAME X: Contradiction is the most consistent human coping mechanism.

NINI: Ganern. Itaga mo sa bato.

MADAME X: Bato-bato sa langit… How come you all crave to be understood but you don’t extend the same courtesy to others?

KRIS: But we do. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be exploited.

JOEL: Jima.

JACKIE: Oh, the gays—we just can’t seem to say anything straight, huh?

NINI: Sige na, let’s just agree that whoever, whenever, we’re all meant to be together. In the end, it’s not our problem anymore if people need to spend money in order to have fun.

RAOUL: Says the bitch who never brings a wallet or pays for a single drink.

NINI: Shots, shots, shots fired. Palibhasa proletariat! You know that Révolte would cease to exist without us.

Raoul wraps his arms around Nini’s waist.

RAOUL: Duh, I’m kidding.

NINI: To be honest, we never would have come if there was a cover charge. That’s one major gatekeeper right there. Open to all pero presyong extortion!

RAOUL: Well, it was our only choice in the end, because everyone started coming to see you. To dance with all of you.

NINI: And that’s why I am free! To be me. Free of mind. Free of charge.

JOEL: Nini-yuh! Drink your water, bitch.

NINI: Aw, I love my sisters so much. Always there. Taking care. Always have my back. Even when they stab you in the back!

Joel gives Nini a curt slap on the shoulder along with her boisterous man laugh.

The gallery doors swing open and a stranger emerges, his face obscured by dark sunglasses. Madame X calls him over, and the chatter tones down to lewd murmurs.

MADAME X: You wanted opulence, right? Well, here he comes—this guy definitely owns everything.

JACKIE: Tropaojowa?

Sheepishly, the peculiar figure approaches.

MADAME X: Nini, I need to introduce you to someone. This is Ari Bayug. He’s the one who bought your piece.

NINI: Oh, wow. Thank you, I’m so touched.

Exaggerated bows, handshakes, tepid cheek kisses.

ARI: Ah, no, no. It’s my pleasure.

NINI: So you like it, my sculpture—Our Lady Hermaphrodite?

ARI: I, uh, it… really caught my eye. And my parents have a lot of statues in our garden…

He trails off and looks away from Nini’s precocious head-to-toe examination.

ARI: Um, so… is it… I was wondering since if you’re trans, uh, do you consider yourself… a straight woman?

NINI: Oh, honey.

JOEL: Samok, mhie. “Straight” is a mindset you people really can’t get rid of, huh.

Ari stammers defensively, but Joel continues her tirade.

JOEL: Brainwashed gyud! I am trans, as in transcendent. Beyond gender. I am a woman. I am queer. What else is there to say?

ARI: Okay, okay. I’m just trying to… When did you decide to be… ?

Joel puts a hand to her flat chest, aghast.

JOEL: I beg your pardon? No one just decided to be trans.

ARI: I, uh… no, what I mean is… so you’ve just always been into… guys? But you don’t consider yourself to be gay?

Joel lets out an exasperated grunt, stubs her cigarette out, shakes her head, and walks away before Ari can even stumble forth a comeback. The rest start choking on their giggles. The newbie looks at me instinctively. Yeah, buddy. We’ve all been there.

NINI: Look at her go! Don’t worry, Ari, I think it’s just time for her set. Or her time of month. Kasi naman… the truth is… it’s a prank! Being trans. We’re just here to trap and seduce men. Does that answer your question?

The color drains from Ari’s face.

NINI: When all else fails, blame the hormones. We’re just not wired the same, right? For me, since you asked so nicely… Well, even if it took me 20 years to realize it… To come to terms with… 20 years… Wow. Now isn’t that a huge difference between us and, you know, straight…

A deep breath, the blacks of Nini’s eyes rush to the back of her skull as her mind wanders.

ARI: I-I’m sorry. It’s just all a bit… alien to me, you know? So… it’s different from being a drag queen?

Everyone seems to be enjoying this typical display of ignorance. In between sniggers and whispered side comments, people grow closer together, lulled by a chemical surge. Arms interlock, heads rest on shoulders, attention wanes. Had they actually been listening, however, who knows?

MADAME X: Bro, have you ever heard of the term verstehen?

Ari shakes his head.

MADAME X: Clearly! Because you need a whole dose of it. Right in your veins. Let’s just call it compassion, shall we? Okay? Drag is something worn and taken off. Being trans—that’s a lived experience.

NINI: My gosh, should we be giving out pamphlets?

MADAME X: See, the problem with you kids is you’re way too cultured, like reject Mikimoto pearls. It scares off the peasants. Now, can we all just get on with the program?

Fervent nodding, staccato breaths, mouths tighten in agreement. I watch them lick and purse their lips, the click-clacking echo of heels subsumed by the reverberating bassline as the doors open and the group disappears into the hazy darkness behind the curtain. I stay to finish my cigarette. Ari continues to observe as Nini languishes behind. He starts once, twice, looking to me for some sort of lifeline. He lowers his voice.

ARI: Man… Just as bitchy as the real deal, huh?

Uh-oh, I glare. From several feet ahead, Nini pivots, sensitivity heightened. She stares us down, all remaining patience exiting her hollow saucer-eyes. She makes her way back to smack Ari across the face, letting out an exasperated sigh before stomping toward the entrance again.

Ari bends down to pick up his sunglasses. Anger flickers in his eyes. He notices me stifling a laugh and sidles closer, nursing his cheek.

“Aren’t they just beautiful creatures?” I gibe. With a sharp intake, Ari swallows down his apprehension. He looks up at me.

ARI: Um, I’m looking for the big fish.

I raise my brow.

ARI: Oh, you know… for swimming. On the dance floor.

He raps knuckles over his nose, traces wide strokes overhead. My forehead furrows. He mumbles.

ARI: You got any blow, man?

I gesture for us to go inside.

The floor is packed. I position myself on the mezzanine for a better view. From here, it’s nothing but a mass of flesh, throbbing to an emotionless electronic pulse. For all its unchecked madness, this is the one place where you can really observe willful surrender in action. A total loss of control. Why would anyone give themselves to this anomie?

In front of the booth, flanked by a throng of no one in particular, Raoul gets cozy, escaping into the universe of his creation.

Focus. On. Your breathing.

Sssssshhhh, hit the button. Ah, there it is. The haze.

Let it all disappear. Private. Safe. Deep. Dark.

Ooh. Three. Four.

The music. Your body.

The rub and tug of the dance floor.

Woah, the floor. The lights. It’s like—it’s like—Dance Dance Revolution.

Oonts, two, three, four.

Your face is totally normal, you don’t look high at all. Don’t clench your jaw!

Ooooooh, Captain really came through tonight. Damn.

I really needed this. We all did. We all do. Drink it in.

We’re all just looking for…

Aaaaaaah, the movement. The vibration. Parang osmosis.

Tangina shuas.

Who’s hosting the afters?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOY_Pat8Hfc

Oh, the kulintang is back!

Fire on top of those TSVI drums.

Grabe, the things we’ve done. The things we’ve had to do to get here.

Energy and rhythm and energy and rhythm.

Wow, look at them go. Trans women. Enshrined.

A tiny tribute. Some small contribution. How little compensation.

No this or that. All together. Painless suffering, everyone together.

Spontaneously in sync.

Positions. Deliberations. Independent orbits. The pull of gravity.

Bumping into each other on purpose. Avoidance.

We all have our reasons.

Uh-oh, did she catch me staring? Why don’t people ever see things through?

Stop leaving everything up to interpretation.

High-iyah-iyah!

…the infinite climax.

Smooooooth. I’m so excited for the beach getaway. Nice. Her signature Tenaglia.

Ouch. Whose camera was that?

Woh, oh, oh! Is it time for a follow-up?

Okay, what the hell. Is this… trap? That beat. Shazam it!

Who is he? Why is he smiling at me? Smile back. Not too obvious. Look away.

Just enough eye contact to make like I haven’t forgotten his name.

Nini is rolling her head off. So so so at liberty with her femininity.

She should stop smoking so much.

Who is that grinding beside her?

Free hugs. Tight hugs. Group hugs. Smells like poppers.

Where is Cadet? MOMOL marathon pa more.

Kiss, kiss, kiskis, the kiss of Judas.

Kris. Jackie. How long has it been? What have we achieved?

Smoke machine, psh, psh. Strobe lights, prr, prr.

Ooh la la, Madame. The diva, divine.

Elegant gods. Exquisite demons, too. Dancing.

Like at the gates of hell. And heaven. And the excitement of seeing all your friends there. And frenemies. And strangers. And beyond.

Mmmmmm.

In space. Everything as it should be. Where we belong.

I dodge the whooping and whirring on my way out for another cigarette break, glancing back once to see Raoul tremble down from his peak. This time, he’s surrounded by the rest of the gang.

KRIS: Oi, Raoul. It’s your party. You know that, right? Why are you always in your own head? We’re not here to meditate, you slag, we’re here to participate—and get laid.

RAOUL: Haaaa? I don’t need to make friends. I have you. My family!

KRIS: But you deserve that, too.

A loud wail pierces the tremulous acid.

I was outside when it happened, checking my phone for messages because the signal sucks inside. Nevertheless, I heard Nini scream. Soon after, Ari burst out in a hurried huff, running towards the exit—a rumbling crowd in tow.

Loud voices erupt from the indignant mob forming in front of me, incoherent chatter and anger overlapping:

Tangina mo! OMG. She’s bleeding. Sino ba siya?
Don’t let him get away. Lakas ng amats niya.
Sprak ba ‘yon? Basag trip! Huwag nga.
Anyare? She was just dancing. Fuck!
Kalma lang. Gago siya! Where did he go?
Bugbugan na, ano? Pakalat-kalat kasi.
Why are they protecting him? Asshole!
Nini, don’t. What’s happening? Kakarmahin din ‘yan.
Totally unprovoked. Nasaan ang hustisya?
Transphobic! Pasista! Men are trash.
You’ve been calling him a Dutertard all night.
Bakit ba ‘yan inimbita?
They’ll never catch him.
Bakla!

At last, Nini uncovers her face and lets out a quavering knell that silences the rest.

NINI: Son of a bitch, are you macho now?

MADAME X: Nini, stop. We need to get you to a doctor.

At this point, everyone is hovering around Nini. Two butch queens come running back to report Ari is long gone.

Under Nini’s swollen left eye is what looks like a disfigured mangosteen, plump and reddish. Her nose is smashed.

A major setback. That’s it. The party is ruined. Everyone will leave and this entire operation would have been a bust. Now or never. I send the text, and a few minutes later Lui comes rushing towards us from the gates. She’s late, of course, but right on time.

LUI: What is this?

She steals a glance at me; I clock the fear in her eyes—and perhaps, guilt.

RAOUL: It was A-Ari. He – he attacked her! We were all – we were just dancing…

LUI: Ari? Why would he even do that? You’ve met his parents… they’re good folk.

RAOUL: What are you even—? She’s fucking bleeding!

My phone buzzes. At last, an affirmative reply. This is it. I feel a chill come over me. More people gather, frantic. Paranoia in the flesh.

LUI: Raoul, we have to go. Come with me now.

RAOUL: What? Why?

LUI: You shouldn’t be here.

RAOUL: Mom, what are you talking about?

Lui is looking at me now. I nod, and her eyes widen for a second as she grabs Raoul by the arm and hauls him away, unnoticed amid the rumble and shuffle.

I’ve kept my end of the bargain, let mother and child walk free. I choose to help Cadet and Nini into a taxi heading for the hospital. I even try to convince Madame X to join them, but she stays put—standing by her family.

My comrades arrive soon after. The raid doesn’t last more than an hour. Better than the one on Makati Avenue a month ago. I put the handcuffs on Madame X myself; I felt she deserved that kindness.

I first joined the Vigilante Sting Syndicate a year ago off a recruitment ad on Facebook. Révolte was my second successful operation.

JUAN: Good work, brod. So what’s it like to be around these fags all the time? You probably get your cock sucked so hard, eh? Sana all.

He seems amused by his own crudeness. I sock him on the back of the head. He spits on the ground.

JUAN: Oh, guess what? We found one of them hiding out near the bridge. He went berserk when we ganged up on him, so I gut-punched the wimp and left him out cold. That asshole will serve as a good warning to anyone who sees him in the morning. Too bad you asked us not to carry any guns tonight, huh?

Proud laughter.

JUAN: He had a fat bag of snuff on him. Me and the boys are going to clean it out to celebrate. Care to join? Sige na, just this once. You’ve earned it.

I shake my head incredulously.

JUAN: Can’t even feel sorry for them. Pathetic. Do they think they’re above the law?

“Heh, they don’t have that kind of money,” I retort.

Unapologetic is what they are. False prophets who dare challenge our government, acting like they are the heroes, and indulging in their utopic fantasies. Convinced of their own integrity, but defending nothing but lies and corruption. They condemn this regime and persecute those of us who remain faithful to it. Getting so lost in their high that they can’t tell when they’re falling. All they care about is themselves.

By holding them accountable, I’m simply doing my part.

You should never trust anyone you meet at the clubs. Their intimacy is never genuine. Only evil lurks at night. There can be no salvation when you search in the dark.


This short story is part of the Global GROOVE: Electronic Music Journalism series, hosted by GROOVE in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut. Read all other articles here.

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