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TitleUnder Bright Lights: Gay Manila and the Global Scene
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T R A N S N AT I O N A L T R A N S I T 97

egos: to the seafarers clad in denim jackets with Philippine flags sewn onto
the shoulder; the construction workers headed to the Middle East with
too much gold peeking underneath their collars and shining on their fin-
gers; and the groups of women with long straight hair cut bluntly at the
edges and too much makeup off to serve the world as nannies, caregivers,
cleaners, cooks, “entertainers.”17 These are the bodies that occupy NAIA,
the ones that now stand in sharp relief against the traces of the airport’s
old glamour. Remembering them now, I cannot help but hear, guiltily,
the same tale of loss whispered by the architectural details of the main
terminal— that is, the story of botched modernity allegorized in the muta-
tion of a structure meant to announce the arrival of the city in the world
(and the world in the city) into a pathway for the underclass, a valve for
a surfeit of “labor commodities.”18

The Airport and Gay Globality

Picture NAIA and all its attendant lacks and excesses and cast it against
the dream of gay globality.19 Think of how NAIA reveals the abject place
occupied by Manila in the archipelago of global and would- be global cit-
ies and the claims made about the arrival of Manila in the circuit of gay
spaces; how those very claims have been enabled by a filling in of gaps in
the city through the creation of spaces suffused with light and sound sys-
tems from France, manned by DJs who scour the world and the Internet
for knowledge of what is “current,” and crammed with bodies plugged
into a global flow of images and producing their own images: the casual
shots of partygoers in tight T- shirts that later make their way onto websites
and the back pages of magazines, the advertisements with “gym- built”
models in low- hanging jeans. Think of the upmarket bars and restaurants
scattered across Makati City and the Global City, where on some nights
you might catch threads of a conversation about a weekend of dancing in
Bangkok or Hong Kong; a summer spent in Europe; or months or years
spent in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York. Think of these places
as dreamspaces protected from the excesses of the city but at the same time
exceeding the city, housing an imagination that stretches outward and
connects with faraway yet ideationally proximate places. Think of how
some of these conversations might happen outside a club, interrupted or
prefaced with comments about how the crowd that night is too cheap and
jologs and how those comments might get passed on by text message, like
warnings sent out to those yet to arrive. Imagine how later, living out the
same stories of travel, those narrating them might find themselves caught
in the pandemonium of NAIA, standing in line with the OFWs, with

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98 T R A N S N AT I O N A L T R A N S I T

figures familiar only as laborers performing housework, chauffeurs, and
construction workers passed on streets and spied from behind the tinted
windows of private automobiles. Imagine how that same, rare intermin-
gling of classes might have happened as a prelude to travel, at the long line
that used to snake outside the gates of the U.S. embassy, where even the
wealthy had to wait from before dawn until noon, when the sun shone so
hard everyone hid under umbrellas, only to submit visa application forms
and face the humiliating prospect of denial. Think of how, at NAIA, the
spatial separation on which the bright lights scene is predicated becomes
undone and how NAIA, perhaps more than any other site, ought to serve
as the foundation of a classed global imagination.

Think of how the nowness and newness of gay globality rubs up against
the time of the city. At NAIA, one confronts vestiges of the past, failed
dreams of contemporaneity, and the sense of being left behind, of being at
the outskirts. There, spatial imagination must contend with the material-
ity of location; the excess of urban squalor meets the excess of privilege;
and faded traces of glamour reveal the heritage of gay globality, its roots
in older dreams of a worldliness to come.

June 25, 2008. I have just returned from a dinner hosted by Tony,
an older gay socialite whom I met at the city’s most exclusive bar
and who, having heard of my research, had grown excited at the
prospect of recounting the glory days of Manila and its subsequent
decline into what he called an “unbearable cheapness.” The din-
ner was held at a private room in Umu, a Japanese restaurant inside
the five- star Dusit Thani Hotel Manila. I arrived twenty minutes
late but was still only the second person to arrive. The first was an
architect whose name I was familiar with from local magazines.
Later we were joined by a fashion executive who kept disappearing
to the toilets to snort cocaine and a wealthy Parisian in town after
a weekend of debauchery in Thailand. Tony arrived last, his young
lawyer boyfriend on his arm and followed by a waiter carrying a box
of pink champagne. It took a long time for the party to settle down.
Tony and the architect kept standing up to scold the waitstaff, first
for bringing the food out too quickly in succession, then for taking
too long to refill our glasses. Tony spoke with a confident drawl,
for effect I thought; his voice drowned out all smaller, breakaway
conversations. “Darling,” he would say to me from across the table,
“I can say nothing good about gay Manila today. Everyone is cheap,
cheap, cheap. In the eighties, Manila was a happening place. Beautiful
people came here from around the world to attend the parties of Mrs.
M.”20 They too, he said, had traveled the world in search of the finest

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Bobby Benedicto is an Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the
humanities at McGill University.

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