In a world where categorical patriarchy prevails, what does having an atypical gender expression mean? What does it take to SLAY as a queer person in Asia today? CINEMQ dives into the world of Filipino performance artist Floyd Scott Tiogangco, star of Cha Roque's documentary portrait.
Flowing fabrics and refined laurels engulf his elegant yet unyielding strides. Wavy locks blend into a lush beard, shimmering with pride under a tropical sun. Filipino artist and queer activist Floyd Scott Tiogangco’s original and nonconformist gender identity expression constantly challenges labels and norms.
In Slay (2017), director Cha Roque takes an intimate look at Floyd’s relationships with his family, his friends, his art, and the public. Cataloguing his thoughts on his battle with social standards and expectations, the film captures how, with poised assertiveness, abundant creativity, and a strong will to stand up for marginalised communities, Floyd manages to slay in his world.
In recent years, musical artists such as Beyoncé and Kanye have catapulted the term ‘Slay’ to the forefront of pop culture. Although the modern etymology of the word is difficult to trace, many believe that 'Slay' in its current context originated from underground drag culture and communities of queer people of color. ‘Slay’ commands control and radiates confidence, and for historically repressed queer diasporas, embodied by Floyd in this film, to be able to 'Slay' essentially means embracing the true self in spite of how others might view or define you.
To confront and understand one’s true self often takes courage. After coming out as gay to his family, Floyd slowly began to realise that homosexuality alone doesn’t come close to encapsulating his understanding of himself. His gender identity oscillates between male and female, and when it comes to body image and clothes, traditionally defined binary gender ‘looks’ felt restrictive and inadequate to him. Through experimentation, trial and error, today Floyd is confident in his uniquely spectral identity and expression, beaming with positive energy and inspiration as he shares his experience in becoming true to who he is.
Again and again, he comes out of different forms of closets to his family, his friends, and the world around him. Faced with ubiquitous doubt, mistrust and disapproval, he grows stronger and more determined as he explains himself through action and expressions. His non-binary presentation often draws unsolicited attention and cynicism, and overt discrimination - such as being denied entry to public transport - are a part of his daily life. But Floyd refuses to keep his head down: he knows he is not doing anything wrong. It’s society, and a public that is too quick to label, categorize and jump to conclusions who are at fault.
Floyd spends his time contemplating the relationship between his self-identity and prescribed social norms. His artistic and creative practices not only reflect his thinking, but also attempt to build bridges between the seemingly opposing forces. In one of his performance pieces, Floyd wears layers of clothing with derogatory terms for gender and sexual minorities printed on them, and invites passers-by to help him take these “costumes of hate” off. As the hateful words leave his body one by one, Floyd’s self-image and unique being becomes clearer and clearer.
The most excruciating bias Floyd experiences doesn’t come from strangers in the street, but from those within the LGBTQ community who reproach him online. “Why do you have to dress like this? You bring shame to the community.” Deeply rooted prejudices affect everyone, even those who have themselves are marginalised. When ‘following rules and standards’ dominates the meta-narrative of our lives, defining those who are different as heretics and freaks almost becomes instinctual. Enthralled to the webs of bias constantly woven by the world around us, how many layers of “costumes of hate” are we all wearing?
As a queer person born and raised in China, I found much of the Floyd captured in Slay resonant to my own life. Many queer people living in China would easily sympathize with his journey of fumbling through self-recognition towards actualization. We have all had to find our own paths within a highly standardized society and culture in which ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is rarely questioned, whilst fighting back the urge to compromise our true selves. The ‘coming-out’ excerpts of the film also rang true to my experience. Floyd’s parents’ acceptance of his identity is conditional: whilst they appear to accept his homosexuality, they are passively critical about his gender identity and expression.
They want their child to lead a free and happy life, but they still find it challenging to denounce traditional family values and societal expectations. Chinese parents find themselves at a similar crossroads: a difficult dilemma between their child and the external world. As for the core discussion that Floyd brings forth about the relationship between his identity and the society around him, I believe it is an important subject that every modern queer person needs to ponder. When conflicts between established norms and our identity arise, how do we drive a meaningful debate to make ourselves understood? As the LGBTQ movement heads toward uniform slogans and narrower representation, how do we sustain our right to speak up and as ourselves?
To slay is to be, and to be is to fight. As we confront both ourselves and society, as we peel back “costumes of hate” both visible and invisible, as we take up the weapon that is the confidence and clarity of our true selves: we rise up, and we slay.
Slay will screen in Shanghai on December 16th, co-presented by CINEMQ and Queer Talks.
Words: Xie Xiao
Transation: Will Dai
Originally written in Chinese. Images are from the film.
CINEMQ is a queer short film screening + party series. It is run by a group of queers with too much on their mind to sit still for long. We’re publishing articles on queer cinema and screen culture every week. Want to contribute? Message our account or email email@example.com