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Queerness of Identity in the Philippines in Edith Tiempo’s The Chambers of the Sea

Every society, community or tribe is unique with its own identity. Countless factors make up the multifaceted surface and endodermis of a community. Norms, morals, culture, history, economics, hegemony and people, men and women alike, push and pull on each other. The people who create and perpetuate shaky norms, morals, culture, and hegemony can often emancipate or imprison the people who articulate the same decree. Resisting it or getting rid of it can mean ostracism or bad name calling. Anyone who goes against the flow becomes a victim of a tyrannical culture. Therefore, culture becomes bipolar. It heals, but at the same time it also creates pain stitches. People must either humbly follow to be owed or suffer an agonizing struggle against them. Or, let’s say, a rebellious person in an oppressive culture faces what Helen Cixous calls “castration or beheading” for not supporting the dominant culture.

One of the most common disgusting social constructs is human identity. In other parts of the world, people are divided, labelled, judged and expected according to their anatomy, gender and norms. It’s a question of man versus woman. Each gender is stereotyped according to social expectations. Males are seen as strong, rational, logical, intelligent, caring, masterful, upright, muscular, while females are seen as weak, irrational, illogical, moronic, accommodating, slaves, sex objects, emotional and worse, abused, silenced and evil. different media and literature.

But what if the person is neither male nor female. What if someone opposes all expected roles or identities based on the normativity and performativity dictated by society. Then we imagine the worst. The victim becomes vulnerable to the criticism of society, where he is quickly and harshly judged as evil, abnormal, strange, impure, immoral or “strange”. The writer places his thesis here to fully understand the very colorful, introverted life of Edith Tiempo’s controversial character, Tio Teban, in the short story “The Chambers of the Sea” (Tiempo, 2009).

Most commonly, queer is defined as anything abnormal, strange, bizarre, or anything that defies or challenges a dominant culture, norm, or behavior. In the Philippines, to be queer is to be weak, soft, different, weird, or even an instant conclusion of gay or homosexual.

Many scholars believed that society’s conception of sex is deeply ingrained in people’s minds, perpetrated and maintained by social institutions such as school, church, family, and others. Queer theory challenges these social formulations in order to understand and tolerate sexual or gender identity beyond misinterpreted and transmitted beliefs about sexual categorization.

The theory and practice of queer criticism is based on questioning or questioning, exposing the categorization of sex and gender that leads to the identity of the individual. Identity cannot and has not been fixed. Issues of performativity and normativity related to sex and gender, resistance and power relations are also attempted.

In the Philippines, family, school and church are actively involved in creating, categorizing and fixing gender and sexuality. Choosing the color of children’s clothes would mean sexuality. Blue for boys and pink for girls. A mismatch of colors would mean malicious interpretations leading to labels such as gay or lesbian, as if colors and children were synonymous with their sexuality. Growing up, children are told that toy dolls are for girls and toy soldiers are for boys. Boys don’t cry, fathers would tell their little boys. Implicitly, they say that only girls cry. And these are passed down from generation to generation. In the Philippines, there is always a strong categorization filled with the dos and don’ts of raising boys and girls as they are bound by social categorization, sexuality, and performativity. Anyone who does not support, who differs, anyone who does not support the male dominant culture, is labeled gay or homosexual with the Filipino names bakla, bading, badaf, shoke, darna and other derogatory names.

Edith Tiempo’s story Chambers of the Sea is a sophisticated and subtle portrayal of a man named Teban Ferrer or Tio Teban (Uncle Teban) as the narrator addresses him, who grows up in Dumaguete from Bangan and its diaspora, whose coming of age and ultimate maturity is a test based on his sexuality or normativity and performativity, interrogation, investigation and suspicion. Therefore, the haunting question of whether Tio Teban is gay, homosexual, or queer is framed within the lens of queer theory and analysis.

In Tio Teban, in the midst of strong binary oppositions, where the characters are expected according to performativity and heteronormativity. On the left is his family from Bangan with their huge land and on the right is his new family in Dumaguete with his cousin. His family consists of powerful men: his father, who hates Tio Teban’s effeminate behavior, Antero, his brother-in-law, who physically cultivates the entire family’s land, and his sister, Quirina, who wants him to continue his father’s legacy on the land. The social expectations of Tio Teban’s family are high based on his presumed performance as a man and as a heterosexuality.

In Dumaguete with boundless seas, Tio Teban offers more comfort with a softer, gentler environment. Her cousin, Amalia, is a typical housewife who fulfills a social role according to her sexuality, and is the mother of four children. Amalia’s roles more often extend to Tio Teban, when the former runs her on family matters. His wife’s husband is a passive man who never questions her behavior because he shows a quiet, caring man.

Amalia’s honest, rowdy children interrogate and criticize Tio Teban’s unusual behavior. Their bad-humored laughter is like Tio Teban’s immediate family, who harshly condemn his strangeness. Being underachieving and against a typical male norm, he was, as expected, small for a weak, sluggish and strange guy. He is mentally berated for his strangeness. Her father, who is supposed to understand her for who she is, is the first to ostracize her. His judgment is based on Tio Teban’s “feminine disposition” and he could not forgive his only son for being so similar to him in appearance but so different from him in his ways (p. 103). Tio Teban’s father despises his penchant for cultivating a rose garden, drawing and painting with watercolors, country walks, perennial literature, his stature, and his squinting. His father does not accept all of this.

But most of all, we see him avenge his family, even as they hurt, hate, and even condemn him for being different, for not satisfying their “selfish desire” to want him to be someone he’s not. He felt violated and exposed. Faced with the dilemma of “fight or flight,” he makes a quiet, firm decision and leaves his family in Dumaguete, where he has successfully completed his Masters in Political Science. From a psychological point of view, it can be read that he channeled his silent rebellion against his family into school pursuits where his family could not reach him on a mental and intellectual level. He chooses his battle against the rough furrows of the earth with intellectual elegance. Tio Teban’s identity, though different, abnormal and strange than his family and Amalia’s children, is content with itself. Self-identity is not a question, not a question, not a problem, but rather a choice. Her stature only becomes repressed when people interrogate her again and assess her according to her gender and role. In this text, Tio Teban becomes the role model of a positivist existentialist who finds happiness in people being too concerned with his identity. He decides as he wants without personal concerns. Contrary to popular belief, he does not have an identity crisis. Their ideas are also influenced, influenced and enveloped by socially constructed criticisms of not-so-typical men such as Tio Teban. The question of what he is doing in his room in Dumaguete is more of a personal introspection in terms of economics. MA stays obedient at her cousin’s house with her degree. Once again, society forces him to work according to his heterosexuality. The choice is his.

The suspicion of her identity against her personal choice, against social expectations and the labeling of her distorted gender identity, is put to the test, which ends with a crystal clear dramatic conclusion of the story. He received a letter about his father’s death. Tio Teban has become a two-faced person as he runs to the sea. He recalls his sorrow, yet finds happiness in thinking of the death of a father who is very prejudiced against him. Without his father, he is more himself, more freedom. The hegemony of power held and created by his family only oppresses him. Thus, with the death of his father, personal emancipation from intrusive family and social expectations is more than lamentation. The strangeness becomes clear. He is happy with his true self. Neither male nor female; neither a mythical mermaid nor a mermaid, but a person. Without a label, it is happy with what it is. Its strangeness, according to people’s perception, is just a myth. The whole world is a stage and people have to play different roles. A man should be happy, whether he plays a smaller or larger role in this vast world of identities created only by men and women. As the narrator confirms, “At least Tio Teban knew one when he turned and walked quickly away.” Tio Teban “He is what” is a hierros gamos, the union of male and female; not a homosexual, not even a homosexual, but a man who has one corner in heaven, one part on earth, and has his own “chamber in the sea”…


Con Davis, Robert and Ronald Scheliefer. (1989). Contemporary literary theory: literature and cultural studies. New York: Longman, Inc.

Tiempo, Edith (2009). “Chambers of the Sea”. Montage: Philippine Anthology Literature in English Manila: PNU Press.

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