OPINION: Is Moira dela Torre’s “Titibo-Tibo” problematic?

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“All due respect, but this song is not about the LGBT community,” Dela Torre said yesterday in a now deleted Tweet to “bring clarity” on the issue. Screenshot from ABS-CBN STARMUSIC/YOUTUBE

Editor's note: Samantha Lee is a filmmaker from the Philippines. Her recently completed film “BakaBukas” (“Maybe Tomorrow”) won her the Emerging Talent Award at the recently concluded Outfest 2017 in Los Angeles and the Audience Choice Award at the Vancouver Queer Film Fest. She has spoken at queer film festivals in Tokyo, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Vancouver.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — A Google search of the terms “lesbian in Filipino” will tell you that “tomboy” is the Filipino word for lesbian. In that strange evolution that Filipino slang words usually take, the term “tomboy” evolved to the more commonly used term “tibo,” which is the word often used to describe women who identify as lesbian. This derivative is the only word Filipinos have to refer to lesbians, which limits our capacity to talk about different gender identities and expressions.

Given this etymology of the word “tibo,” singer Moira Dela Torre and writer Libertine Amistoso’s defense of the word “tibo” to come to mean “boyish” in their song “Titibo-Tibo” is actually quite acceptable. "'Yung song, hindi siya about sa tibo or lesbian. It’s about a boyish girl. Different siya sa lesbian talaga,” Amistoso says in one of her interviews about the song. “All due respect, but this song is not about the LGBT community,” Dela Torre said yesterday in a now deleted Tweet to “bring clarity” on the issue.

A quick glimpse into the tweets of Dela Torre’s fans in the last 24 hours all basically say the same things: 1. That she’s amazing; 2. Not to mind the haters; 3. “TITIBO-TIBO IS NOT A SONG ABOUT LESBIANS” (actual quote). But when did being called gay or lesbian or trans or bi or queer become such a defensible thing? Why did the songwriter and singer feel the need to spend the last four months telling everyone in the Philippines that the song is, in fact, not about a lesbian, but about a “boyish” girl?  

“Instead of spending all this time renouncing LGBTQI+ meanings and identification [to the song], it would have been more fruitful to preach inclusivity.”

 

We live in a highly conservative country where religion plays a big role in what our society considers morally acceptable. The heteronormative understanding of gender and sexuality in the Philippines is so ingrained in our culture that people don’t even bat an eye when a host in a popular noontime show calls a lesbian contestant a “lalaki” to the resounding laughter of the audience. The need to understand gender and self-expression in distinct and binary terms (male and female) not only privileges heterosexual relationships, but also exposes everyone who blurs gender lines and manifests outside the binary to hate and discrimination.  

“Titibo-Tibo” not only promotes the idea that women should abandon their sense of selves to follow a misogynistic society’s prescribed gender norms, it also commodifies the pain, suffering, and angst of an already abused LGTBQI+ community into a pop song while dismissing their right to a narrative that is rightfully theirs.

Pero noong nakilala kita/ nagbagong bigla ang aking timpla/ natuto ako na magpa-rebond at mag-ahit ng kilay at least once a month,” goes one of the many problematic lines in the song. As someone who advocates being who you are, and who recently said in an interview with Boy Abunda that she was “an artist, as a person who wants to inspire,” her blatant refusal to see or understand the tweets and comments against her is not only irresponsible but very dangerous. For something so misguided and uninformed about gender, identity and self-expression to become so popular, not only does damage to the fight for equality in this country, it validates the colonial thinking responsible for abuse and oppression.

To set the record straight, we aren’t debating whether Dela Torre is a good singer or not, but what is talent without substance? These two talented, creative women were given a voice, a platform, and they chose to tell the world about a girl who changed her already interesting and attractive persona into something that fits society’s notion of what a girl is.

“A song like this may seem harmless until it’s used as an example of how a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity can change to fit society’s heteronormative standards.”

I’ve spent too much of the last four months reading through her tweets and watching her interviews and she seems to want to do good, she seems to want to be a better person. But instead of spending all this time renouncing LGBTQI+ meanings and identification, it would have been more fruitful to preach inclusivity. Was it really so hard to say that this song could be interpreted as a song with LGBTQI+ content, but also be a song about all kinds of love?

Dela Torre and Amistoso have constantly been dismissing the claims, arguments, and the inherent rights of an entire community whose sole identifier in their native tongue was not only borrowed from them, but subsequently denied a claim to. It’s easy for her fans to dismiss these complaints as an overreaction to a simple love song. But that’s straight privilege at its finest. It’s the little things that do the most damage because they creep into the subconscious undetected. A song like this may seem harmless until it’s used as an example of how a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity can change to fit society’s heteronormative standards.

So here's a taste of your own medicine: all due respect, but this song is about the LGBTQI+ community and everyone else who can relate to it. As an artist, your role is to create things and and send it out into the world with the hopes that as much people can relate to it and identify with the feelings and emotions you're trying to convey. Because after all, art, like love, is universal.