Thea Quiray Tagle

Thea Quiray Tagle, PhD is an independent curator and writer currently based in Seattle; she is also a faculty member in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies and Cultural Studies at the University of Washington, Bothell. Her writing has most recently been published in the Journal of Critical Ethnic Studies, Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas, Hyperallergic, and ArtPractical.

It’s Not Right But It’s Okay: Queer Filipino Performances of (Un)Dead Black Divas”
Filipino pop music-making in the 20th and 21st centuries has often been read through the lens of mimicry: from our voices to our gestures to the ways we use instruments and technology, we are nothing if not the exceptional copy of America’s homegrown talent. This presentation takes up this pretense and turns it by asking: If the Philippines and its people are mere reflections of the United States, what inferences should we make about American culture in performances by queer Filipinos which turn Black divas into zombies, vampires, and other specters and monsters? Between 2007 and 2012, a rash of viral videos on YouTube emerged from the Philippines: all featured queer, bakla, or trans Filipino amateur performers lip-synching and dancing to hits by Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and other pop singers, with a twist. In the midst of these dance numbers, spectacular transformations in the performers’ appearances and demeanors would unfold: from divas to the undead. Diverging from the music videos or live concert repertoires of the originals, these goth covers are only more haunting for their predating the deaths of these iconic African American musicians by two years or more. Probing into these apparitions, I ask: why meld Blackness with (un)death in these Filipino performance scenes? What are the ties between queer life in the Philippines and Black living and dying in the States— what have these Filipino performers understood that we located in the US have not yet grasped? Finally, what lessons about drag, death, and ways of queer and Black survival in necropolitical states can these seemingly throw-away entertainments teach us?