It Runs in the Family: New Documentary on the Filipino Modern Queer Experience

Still from it Runs in the Family. Photo credit:  Seattle Asian American Film Festival . 

Still from it Runs in the Family. Photo credit: Seattle Asian American Film Festival

After a Filipina-Canadian living in Vancouver, BC learned her brother was gay, she found out that at least another half a dozen of their family members were also gay.

Following that discovery, she eventually went on to create a documentary about acceptance and what the modern Filipino queer family could be like based on the experiences of her own.

It was August 2014 when 31-year-old Joella Cabalu began working on “It Runs in the Family,” which chronicles a journey she and her brother, Jay, embarked on to meet their queer relatives in Oakland, California and Manila.

“I think the reason why I wanted to share something so personal was because I felt so connected to the story; that there was something really compelling that would relate to a lot of families, particularly I wanted to share a story about people of color, so why not share my own family story?”

When she pitched the idea, both her brother and cousin Monica Sales-Cuyong, who live in Northern California, expressed their support. Cabalu’s relatives in the Philippines, including a cousin she had never met, also backed her proposal.

“I think for them it was like, ‘OK, this is going to happen. We’re going to help you if that means you’re going to come here and visit us',” she said.

The first part of Cabalu’s documentary tells the story of Sales-Cuyong and her wife, Jolly. Sales-Cuyong talks about how her family was supportive of her coming out, and Jay expresses a desire to replicate that type of support in his own family.

When they flew to the Philippines, after being away more than 20 years, Cabalu and Jay met their cousin Carlo “Jazz” Pasion. Pasion presents as female, but her father, Willie, still calls her Carlo. Similarly, the kids still call her Tito Carlo.

In intimate conversations with their cousin and uncle, the Cabalu siblings learn that their Tito Willy has no problem with Jazz’s sexuality.

“You are you and I am me. That’s it. I love you. You love me. Tapos na!” he shares in the film.

The siblings also interviewed their Tito Ronald and Tito Chris Cabalu. Tito Chris, who is gay, told them that the family has at least six other gay relatives.

Jazz, Tito Chris and Tito Ronald shared that “coming out” is a Western concept, Jazz says, "in the Philippines, it’s more of just letting the family know; in Tito Chris’ day, there was no such thing as “coming out.”

"It Runs in the Family" will be screened at Seattle Asian American Film Festival on February 20th. Learn more here.

Read the whole story here.
Story from Asian Journal.