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June 05, 2006


Have you experienced being near two gays who were talking in quite a different language altogether? And were you not surprised that you could understand some of the words they were saying?

Yes. It is gayspeak, that wonderful lingo, argot, or jargon, which Filipino gays in general seamlessly switch into when they are gathered together or most immediately when they are around other people in order perhaps to “cloak” their intimate conversations, the better to protect the “virgin” ears of those around them. Historically though, it is known as swardspeak, a word coinage in the 1970s attributed by Jose Javier Reyes to columnist and movie critic Nestor Torre. Reyes himself devoted a book on the subject titled Swardspeak: A Preliminary Study. No other term has replaced swardspeak in local usage since the 70s but Ronald Baytan (in his essay “Language, Sex, and Insults: Notes on Garcia and Remoto’s The Gay Dict”) opines that the term sward these days has become anachronistic, making it improper to call the language of the gay people as “swardspeak” preferring instead to term it gayspeak.

Consciously or unconsciously, even straights or heterosexuals have peppered their vocabulary with words traceable to gayspeak. Mention the word anech (from “ano” or “what” in English with anesh, anik, anikla as varieties) to anyone in the metropolitan area and in all likelihood, the person being spoken to will reply as casually. There are also the familiar words chika, chuva, and lafang. Thanks or no thanks to media (depending on which side you’re in), gayspeak has come into public usage. In 2004, the first gay show on TV history, GMA-7’s Out, devoted a section of its show to gayspeak, threshing out a word like purita (meaning poor) and explaining its context to the largely entertained and “enlightened” audience. Such a section, of course, had its predecessor in Giovanni Calvo’s 80s show Katok Mga Misis where he taught the viewers one gay word after another. It was Calvo who also coined badaf (babae dafat or woman supposedly) and ma at pa (for the contracted malay ko at pakialam ko).

This commonness of gay words is fascinatingly infectious. For one, I was recently surprised when my own 60-year old father used “kinarir” in his usual morning conversation with my mother. “Karir,” of course, is from the word “career,” and when someone is seen seriously involved with something or even someone suddenly, everyone readily flicks the word “kinarir” and understands it for what it is.

But how are gay words formed in the first place? Murphy Red, in his essay “Gayspeak in the Nineties” (Ladlad2), said that gayspeak observes no rules as far as its structure is concerned but its “evolution is rapid , like the ‘queens’ who have started to break the walls of the subculture.” He cited the word chaka (meaning cheap) and how it evolved from “chapter, champaka, chapacola, or chararat to champorado, chapluk, chapa, chop suey and champola.”

Let’s take the word ahas (snake), a word which symbolically has become synonymous with “traitor” or in gayspeak, someone who took away one’s jowa (boy/girlfriend or lover) covertly. With a gift for words, gays have turned to another word to encapsulate the whole insidiousness attached with the foul deed and found “anaconda,” visually appropriating the hierarchal size of the act’s severity. Eventually, the word has been shortened to plain “ana.”

Interestingly, there is also the evolvement of Cebuano gayspeak involving a different but rather quite amusing process akin to the repapip (from the loosely used pare) of the jeproks days. But unlike repapip, which only involves the reversal of the syllable, Cebuano gayspeak requires that the word is read or uttered in complete reverse. Examples of this would be dili or no reversed as ilid (but in true Cebuano gayspeak, has becomed ilij),lain or bad reversed as nial, and uyab or lover reversed as bayu.

The way most gay words end in a flourish for most Tagalog gays certainly mirror the importance as well placed by the bayot in the delivery and enunciation of his gay words. This is how presently a single word can have various permutations as cited by Red. The word “sight” (verb meaning to see) easily becomes German-sounding (sightzung), Japanese-sounding (sightsuraka), Spanish-sounding (sightchilla), Chinese-sounding (sightching) or even French-sounding (sightcois).

Baytan showed another way of developing gay words, which is through allusions, citing the word luz clarita, which means “to lose” as a play on the word “lose.” An example of a literary allusion is Kerima Polotan Tuvera, the name also of a highly-respected essayist, which a select group of gays have used to lengthen the already much-used keri (from “carry,” used originally in the context of how well one is able to “carry a dress”—“magaling kang magdala ng damit” —and by extension, one’ self, eventually evolving to its current popular usage to refer to that which is pleasing to the eye). Now, this is where the issue of class comes up, as pointed out by Baytan. Most gays may get the meaning of Kerima Polotan Tuvera through the phonological clues but not everyone would know the word’s etymology Kerima being the essayist figure unless he is into literature. In the same way, the Cebuano gay word bayu for the well-heeled class instantly becomes biochemistry or simply biochem. It is not surprising then that another barangay’s gayspeak would turn out to be markedly different from the gayspeak one uses with a close set of friends. (It would be interesting to check one’s gayspeak with the 115 key word entries in The Gay Dict (The Uncut Edition), which J. Neil C. Garcia and Danton F. Remoto came up with in 1998).

So, why do gays use gayspeak at all?

Baytan offers that it is “possible that the gays are turning the source of their oppression their desires into the very source of their self-affirmation.” The very term bakla is pejorative in itself used by homophobes in insulting homosexuals in the country, and not a few gays have winced at the word when it was first spat at them. Baytan underlines that the utterance of the word alone brings to mind “a series of images related to oppression, trivialization, and marginalization.” Hence the invention of words that sound less painful to the ears: baklita, baklesh, bading, bakling, bahing, badette, badush, badinger, Badinger Z all in an effort to neutralize the original word. All these neverending creation of synonyms for bakla are seen further by Baytan as a “transgressive reinscription” or use of the very words that demean him in order that he may affirm himself.

And no, it is not because the gays in the country are primarily concerned with sex that gay words practically cover the subject like ants. Admittedly, one new to Filipino gayspeak may blush at the words for penis (nota, notrilya, notice), to have an erection (telag), ejaculate (usba), suck (hada, kopas, kufing, koflage, kokak, halaya, hala), but the gayspeak came about primarily because of a hopeful upending of the view that sex is taboo and that it has become more taboo for the gay community because they desire and are desiring the “wrong sex.” As Baytan so aptly put, “every instance of gayspeak unsettles the notion of that taboo” that in the end, a true liberating space may be opened in which the gay community could talk about their longings and experiences.