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RVQ Productions Inc.

presents

Eric Quizon • Loren Legarda • Jeffrey Quizon


and Dolphy

.
Associate DirectorArman A. Reyes
Sound SupervisionAlbert Michael Idioma
Ari Tropeo
MusicJoy Marfil
Film EditorGeorge Jarlego
Director of PhotographyJohnny Araojo
Production DesignerKay Abano
Supervising ProducerRene Pascual
Line ProducerDolor Guevarra
Executive ProducerRodolfo V. Quizon
ScreenplayClodualdo del Mindo, Jr.
DirectionGIL M. PORTES, dgpi

.
.
GIL M. PORTES

QPHS Class 1961

Contributor, THE COCONUT

Independent Film Director

It is easy to spot Gil’s presence among the movie theater’s multi-ethnic


crowd during the Toronto International Film Festival last September 7,
2001.

First, you hear the constant flow of chatter and the intonation of his
fellow Pagbilao kababayans left and right, you know, that upbeat and
notable accent that musically swells. Then next you spot the throng
of fans surrounding Dolphy’s sons, Eric and Jeffrey escorting our very
own Gil M. Portes, director of the movie Markova, Comfort Gay, one of
two Philippine entries in the 2001 festival.

“Gil, your picture with Jeffrey is right on the front page of the FESTIVAL
DAILY newspaper, what an honor,” I woke him up in a phone call.

Over a cup of coffee, while glancing at the newspaper, Gil remembered


a turning point in his early life when he was chosen as Malakas in the
1961 QPHS annual play, Malakas at Maganda.

As a young third year high school student, his timid manner, clean-cut
posture and nervous tics prevented him from landing a major role in
the annual play. But former principal Mrs. Francisca Abcede
remembered his instantaneous wit and razor-sharp memory in
delivering his lines. The following year he auditioned for the role of
Malakas beefed up by his constant reaching for better or worse,
beyond what he really achieved for.

While other hopefuls memorized their lines, Gil performed a carefully


calculated audition by not memorizing any lines at all but providing the
judges his skill in improvisation. He would stoically go through with his
lines, mimic his own punch lines with facial expressions that project
the savage brilliance of his wit.
He finally got the Malakas role- that of a sturdy Arnold Schwarzenegger
type, reminiscent of that description “unaffraid of the raging flood” he
said in the words of I.V. Mallari’s Pliant Like The Bamboo.

Today, Gil’s films are officially selected in various international film


festivals. This year, his film GATAS is one of the nominees for the Best
Foreign Language Film in the Oscar derby in March. Two years ago, his
film Saranggola (The Kite) was also chosen as one of the top 15 official
selection among 47 films for the same award.

Eric Quizon, who performed in Markova, considers Gil a gem in the


Philippine cinema. “In filming, he has a vision, he would constantly
expand his techniques towards this vision and his direction would
simply bristle with notable screen moments” related Eric while both of
us waited for Gil and his family at the back entrance of the theater
after the screening.

In an interview with the Philippine Reporter, Gil expressed his laments


towards the Filipino perspective in filmaking. “To be a filmaker is not
respected in our town. It is unusual but I let my dream lead me to
where I am now”.

The movie Markova, Comfort Gay is the true story of a gay person
named Walter Dempster Jr. (Walterina Markova) a half Jamaican, half
Filipino who was forced to be a sex slave during the Japanese
occupation in World War II, a time when the word “gay” connotes
“lively, cheerful and merry” in the Merriam Webster dictionary.
Homosexuality was then considered a cardinal sin and society’s taboo.

Technically the film’s editing is extraordinarily quick and riveting. In


today’s sexual permissiveness standards, nobody would believe the
story of a gay man crying “foul” while being raped by a phalanx of
Japanese soldiers. Say it isn’t so for LAPD would quickly dismiss these
allegations no matter what the gravity is.

But Markova has a message to tell. At any cost, we should denounce


sexual exploitation of the Filipino Comfort Women (and Markovas)
during the war along with thousands of Koreans, Chinese comfort
persons who suffered the same fate. In Pusan International Festival in
Korea, Gil noted the strong interest and sympathy among the Korean
women who watched the movie.

The Q & A portion after the screening just basically lasted longer
compared to other festivals.
Gil used a montage of events to depict the transition of the Philippine
society from the ashes of the Japanese occupation- the zany Pugak
and Tugak, the Manila Grand Opera House, the rising Chiquito and
some splendid choreography. The three generations of Markova,
portrayed by Jeffrey, Eric and Dolphy proved that acting blood runs
thick within Dolphy’s DNA.

When the Oscar awards for Best Foreign Language Film is handed over
this spring, win or lose, Gil M. Portes has already earned himself the
honor of being the only film director from the Philippines whose films
have been nominated twice in three years.

And the envelope please…….

Title:

MARKOVA: COMFORT GAY


Running Time:
97 min
Lead Cast:
Jeffrey Quizon, Dolphy, Loren Legarda
Director:
Gil M. Portes
Producer:
Rodolfo V. Quizon
Screenwriter:
Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr.
Music:
Joy Marfil
Editor:
George Jarlego
Genre:
Drama
Cinematography:
Johnny Araojo
Distributor:
RVQ Productions
Location:

Metro Manila, Pampanga

Technical Assessment:

•••
Moral Assessment:

++½
CINEMA Rating:
For mature viewers 18 and above

Comfort woman Nana Rosa shocked the nation with her story few years back. Now is
Walter Dempster aka Walterina Markova's turn to reveal his story as a comfort gay for
Japanese soldiers during World War II.

While Spending his waning days at the Home for the Golden Gays, Markova (Dolphy)
sees Nana Rosa on TV and is moved to tears. He relates his experiences to the
unbelieving TV journalist Loren Legarda (as herself). The teenager Markova (Jeffrey
Quizon) is prosecuted by his macho brother (Freddie Quizon). Eric Quizon, as the
young adult Markova, is a transvestite who, together with his gay friends, entertains
Japanese military officials as dancers in a cabaret. The discovery of their gender
begins a nightmare that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Markova, Comfort Gay successfully transports the viewer to the pre-war and
Japanese era, thanks to Kay Abano who gave adequate attention to the details of
production design. Better quality of cinematography and sound is also noticeable. Ace
comedian Dolphy sheds his clownish mask to portray a fading homosexual
convincingly, while Eric Quizon shows restraint and versatility. Jeffrey Quizon is funny,
lovable and gains audience sympathy as a teenage gay finally coming out of the closet.
Loren Legarda should concentrate on TV journalism and the Senate. In Spite of the
interesting story, the thespic talents of the lead cast and the above average technical
aspects, Markova, Comfort Gay fails to move the viewer. Clodualdo del Mundo's
screenplay is wanting and Gil M. Portes is unable to weave together the colorful thread
to make a touching and colorful tapestry.

Markova, Comfort Gay deals with the delicate theme of homosexuality and the
violation of homosexuals. Every human person is a child of God. Hence, he/she must
be given the respect and dignity that is due to him/her. "The particular inclination of a
homosexual person is not a sin," says the Vatican. It is the acting out of this orientation
that constitutes a sin. The Church shows compassion on those who have a different
sexual orientation from the normal, but it does not and will not condone whatever is
sinful. The atrocities committed against gays and women during World War II are
crimes that cry for justice. But wallowing in the mud others have subjected the victim to
is no excuse. Each person is given a free will – one can always make a choice. The
desire of "Walterina" to seek justice for what was done to him and his friends is
commendable. But is it not contradictory that he continues to train japayukis allowing
them to be exploited over and over again? Could this be the reason the viewer is not
moved by his story?

The theme, scenes of violence, murder, rape, vulgar language and justification of active
homosexuality and fleshly entertainment render this movie only for mature viewers 18
and above.

Markova: Comfort Gay

Reactions:

Title: MARKOVA: COMFORT GAY


Running 97 min
Time:
Lead Cast: Jeffrey Quizon, Dolphy, Loren Legarda
Director: Gil M. Portes
Producer: Rodolfo V. Quizon
Screenwriter: Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr.
Music: Joy Marfil
Editor: George Jarlego
Genre: Drama
Cinematography: Johnny Araojo
Distributor: RVQ Productions
Location: Metro Manila, Pampanga
Technical Assessment: • • •
Moral Assessment: + + ½
CINEMA Rating: For mature viewers 18 and above

Comfort woman Nana Rosa shocked the nation with her story few years
back. Now is Walter Dempster aka Walterina Markova's turn to reveal
his story as a comfort gay for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
While Spending his waning days at the Home for the Golden Gays,
Markova (Dolphy) sees Nana Rosa on TV and is moved to tears. He
relates his experiences to the unbelieving TV journalist Loren Legarda
(as herself). The teenager Markova (Jeffrey Quizon) is prosecuted by
his macho brother (Freddie Quizon). Eric Quizon, as the young adult
Markova, is a transvestite who, together with his gay friends, entertains
Japanese military officials as dancers in a cabaret. The discovery of
their gender begins a nightmare that will haunt them for the rest of their
lives.
Markova, Comfort Gay successfully transports the viewer to the pre-
war and Japanese era, thanks to Kay Abano who gave adequate
attention to the details of production design. Better quality of
cinematography and sound is also noticeable. Ace comedian Dolphy
sheds his clownish mask to portray a fading homosexual convincingly,
while Eric Quizon shows restraint and versatility. Jeffrey Quizon is
funny, lovable and gains audience sympathy as a teenage gay finally
coming out of the closet. Loren Legarda should concentrate on TV
journalism and the Senate. In Spite of the interesting story, the thespic
talents of the lead cast and the above average technical aspects,
Markova, Comfort Gay fails to move the viewer. Clodualdo del Mundo's
screenplay is wanting and Gil M. Portes is unable to weave together the
colorful thread to make a touching and colorful tapestry.
Markova, Comfort Gay deals with the delicate theme of homosexuality
and the violation of homosexuals. Every human person is a child of
God. Hence, he/she must be given the respect and dignity that is due to
him/her. "The particular inclination of a homosexual person is not a sin,"
says the Vatican. It is the acting out of this orientation that constitutes a
sin. The Church shows compassion on those who have a different
sexual orientation from the normal, but it does not and will not condone
whatever is sinful. The atrocities committed against gays and women
during World War II are crimes that cry for justice. But wallowing in the
mud others have subjected the victim to is no excuse. Each person is
given a free will – one can always make a choice. The desire of
"Walterina" to seek justice for what was done to him and his friends is
commendable. But is it not contradictory that he continues to train
japayukis allowing them to be exploited over and over again? Could this
be the reason the viewer is not moved by his story?
The theme, scenes of violence, murder, rape, vulgar language and
justification of active homosexuality and fleshly entertainment render this
movie only for mature viewers 18 and above.

Message
Markova: Comfort Gay
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The man behind

Noel Vera

Gil Portes' "Markova: Comfort Gay" turns on a magnificent concept: take


the true story of a gay man (Walter Dempster Jr., a.k.a. Walterina
Markova) forced to become a "comfort woman," a woman who renders sexual
service to Japanese soldiers in World War 2; cast legendary comedian
Dolphy, known for his many cross-dressing roles; then cast his sons--
Jeffrey and Eric Quizon--as younger versions of himself. Portes is known
to be a resourceful producer and dealmaker par excellence; this may be a
high point--if not the high point--of that aspect of his career.

The resulting film--script by Clodualdo del Mundo ("Maynila sa Kuko ng


Liwanag" (Manila in the Claws of Neon), "Bayaning Third World" (Third
World Hero)), photography by Johnny Araojo ("Bagong Hari" (The New
King))
is intelligently made and handsome to look at. It covers Markova's life,
from his beginnings as an effeminate youth (Jeffrey Quizon), to his career
as nightclub dancer during the Japanese Occupation (Eric Quizon), to his
present situation as a serene yet spirited old man (Dolphy) living in a
retirement home for gay men.

Dolphy is a great actor, comic or otherwise, but I don't think he's ever
had a film or role worthy of his talents, except perhaps in Lino
Brocka's "Ang Tatay Kong Nanay" (My Motherly Father). Here and there,
however--in isolated scenes, or in entire roles that are the only
redeeming feature in an irredeemable film--he strikes a grace note, a
balance between comedy and pathos that recalls Chaplin, or a balance
between comedy and melancholic beauty that recalls Keaton.

Everyone has his favorite Dolphy moment. My wife remembers a scene where
he tries to prepare a stir-fry meal by listening in on a cooking program
on radio, except someone keeps switching to an aerobics show. A friend
recalls a picture where Dolphy was so poor he only had dried fish and rice
for dinner--he wouldn't even eat the dried fish, only sniff at it so it
would last longer. The Dolphy movie I remember had him and his fellow
comic Panchito mixing a thick paste in a laboratory--he'd flick a speck at
Panchito's eye; Panchito would reply with a handful slathered on his face;
he'd retaliate with a bucketful dumped on Panchito's head, the whole thing
done in a Keatonesque deadpan.

Dolphy supposedly decided to help produce this film half an hour after it
was proposed to him; he may have sensed that this role will be crucial for
him--it's for posterity, one of a handful of roles he will be remembered
for. As far as I can tell, Dolphy is perfect for Markova--someone who has
actually met the man tells me that he captures every gesture, every
mannerism, even the style of makeup he uses. Where I think Dolphy fails,
and this may be more a problem with the script and film than with the
actor's considerable talents, is in capturing a sense of the man himself--
what moves him, what keeps him going, the essential "gayness" of his soul.

Dolphy's performance seems primed for greatness--he tilts his head just
so, and gives us those long, faraway looks that signify hidden depths
inside. But what those depths may be, we only get glimpses of; Dolphy is
playing Markova at a point when most of the major events in his life have
passed and he can only watch as his friends die of heart failure or Aids--
dramatic if not very illuminating moments. We might have learned
something if we had a clearer idea of how he felt, seeing his story
splashed on the newspapers and on TV--the shame and embarrassment it must
have caused him, the relief of having the truth finally revealed to the
world; instead we get a comedy routine with TV journalist Loren Legarda
interviewing Markova for his life's story. Even this kind of framework
might have provided some kind of insight, showing her initial contempt,
then her growing recognition and admiration of his spirit...but Legarda is
too awkward an actress to make it believable; you can see Dolphy carrying
most of their scenes together.

Dolphy badly needs the earlier scenes in his life to explain his character-
-and they don't, not really. As the adolescent Markova, Jeffrey Quizon
plays a bright young ingenue who is occasionally beaten up by his older
brother. He's wickedly funny when, despite himself, he cackles over his
brother's sudden death; he shrieks persuasively when in a later scene a
man holds him down and starts to spread butter between his ass cheeks.
But how he eventually learns to relax and enjoy gay sex (not an easy task,
that), we never get to see (the camera tastefully pans away from Markova's
deflowering before we learn his ultimate reaction). Later, when Markova
is a young man (a beautifully dignified Eric Quizon) singing and dancing
in a nightclub, we are barely introduced to his fellow dancers before they
are gathered up and gang-raped by Japanese soldiers. Seeing men violently
sodomized is a horrifying sight (though having a bunch of them just thrown
down on the ground and pronged without even a pause to let the horror--
pardon the expression--sink in tends to dilute the impact); seeing men we
have come to know and understand brutalized would have been more
affecting, by far.

I don't think this is a minor complaint. What happens during the


Occupation in many ways defined Markova's life, and we need to understand
how this crucial episode changed him and his friends--an understanding,
however, that is not forthcoming. The men eventually escape, and this
could have been an occasion to demonstrate how Markova has learned
determination and courage from his harrowing experience, but Dolphy merely
mentions this to Ms. Legarda in a few short sentences. Later, one of his
friends turns serial killer, luring Japanese officers into blind alleys
and stabbing them with a knife. Markova and company do nothing more than
look on with shocked expressions; we never really learn if they approve or
reject what he's doing. I kept waiting for a reaction from him, a reply
from his psyche to what he had just gone through, but nothing--it's as if
they had gone through a particularly chaotic Midnight Madness Sale, and
was none the worse for wear (at least his friend responded by turning
psychotic).

In fact a lot of questions, not all of them unimportant, go unanswered.


Markova is portrayed as being full of nobility and grandeur but you have
to ask yourself--other than staying alive, what has he done in the film to
earn this portrayal? If he had risked his life to help someone--a friend,
a lover, a family relation, anyone--we might have understood; even if he
didn't help someone, but at least cared for or deeply loved someone, we
might have understood. There are his friends, but poorly characterized as
they are, you couldn't care less about them (whenever Markova refers
to "my friend Carmen" I kept looking around, trying to distinguish one
heavily made-up face from another).

Otherwise, you might think of Markova as a shallow, self-centered creature


who never loved anyone--which is fine, great films have been made based on
such characters, but the film clearly wants to show Markova as noble,
practically wants to canonize him, and we see little actual reason for it
onscreen.

Beyond that crucial character, that "other" that would have effectively
reflected Markova's inner spirit, there are barely any other people
around. The family is briefly introduced in the opening passages, and
Dexter Doria is cheerful in her few moments as Markova's mother--but for
the rest of the film they mostly disappear, without so much as
a "farewell!" or at least a goodbye wave. The society around Markova and
his friends suffer even less exposition--homosexuality was even more taboo
then, and it would have helped to sketch in a little context, given us a
quick precis of the relationship of Markova and friends with the world at
large.

Grave reservations, yes...against which I put forth a trio of


performances: Jeffrey's bright and spirited youth, Eric Quizon's quietly
elegant young man, and Dolphy's comical Grande Dame (The inquisitive might
ask: "Why does Markova go from spirited to quiet to comical?" To which I
can only reply: "In the perfect film rolling in my mind, I see the missing
scenes where this evolution of character is more clearly defined"). I put
forth Neil Daza's miraculous recreation of period and atmosphere, del
Mundo's literate and often witty dialogue, and a constellation of lovely
little cameos (Joel Lamangan's wittily gay City Councilor; Chaning Carlos'
sly old man, literally dying for a sip of soured soup). I put forth Gil
Portes' brilliant premise--actually, practically all his films have
brilliant premises, and are worth seeing for their subject matter
alone. "Markova: Closet Gay" may not have completely succeeded in showing
us the man behind the made-up mask, but it does offer a compelling glimpse
of something rarely seen.
Markova's Story
Ronald Klein and the last living comfort man of World War II

By Ronald Klein

This is a story about a story. It stretches back 60 years, is about history and memory,
Japan and the Philippines, film and reality, the tragedy of war and the comedy of living
on. The story takes place in Manila, a city where it is impossible to connect the dots with
a straight line, where strands of the narrative merge, diverge and weave like the traffic in
its streets. It includes characters like Justo Justo, Bernie Barbosa and Seiko, the
Philippine man who became a Japanese woman. But mostly this is Markova’s story, the
last living comfort man of World War II. And, oh yes, there is sex, plenty of that!

Let me first say that I am an academic; I study literature, not history. However, on a
research trip to Manila in early 2001, looking for Philippine literary views of Japan, my
colleagues at the University of the Philippines asked me if I had heard about Markova, a
comfort gay. It seemed everyone in Manila knew about him.

A movie based on his life had just been released and won some awards at the Metro
Manila Film Festival. A big splash, starring Dolphy, one of the Philippines most popular
film comedians, and two of his sons. No, I hadn’t heard of Markova. I also had never
heard of the existence of comfort men. I was intrigued. The movie was not available, not
even on the streets, where I thought everything was available, especially bootleg videos.

On my next trip, I was staying with my friends Butch and Lei Aldana, who were also
hosting the actress Tita Munoz. After dinner one night, Tita got me in touch with the
production company, who confirmed the tape was not in circulation, because of piracy
threats, but was making the rounds of film festivals. There was nothing I could do.

I let the Markova story sit while I got on with my work. Back in Japan I asked around to
see if anyone had heard of comfort gays and I got the same shocked reaction — Ehhhhh?
I read George Hicks’ and Yuki Tanaka’s books on comfort women and several books
about the Japanese Occupation of Southeast Asian and the Philippines in particular — but
no mention of comfort men. The less I learned the more skeptical I became. Maybe it was
true, that Markova was comforting men, but perhaps he was freelancing, like other
Filipino women were, to get by during the war. But then, again, gay soldiers probably
comforted each other during wartime. My curiosity grew.

In August I made another trip to Manila to follow up on my research. In between trips,


Butch and Lei had tracked down Markova. He was staying at the “Home for Golden
Gays,” a retirement home run by Justo Justo, a gay city counselor in Pasay City in
Manila. I was looking forward to meeting Markova in such a quaint-sounding place, but
shortly before I arrived, the word was that he was no longer living there. Lei put in calls
to the counselor’s office trying to track him down, but they didn’t know where he was.
Then suddenly two days before I arrived, out of the blue, a call came through from a man
called Bernie Barbosa, who said he was a friend of Markova’s. He had heard that
someone wanted to meet him. By the time I arrived, Lei had gotten Bernie to arrange a
meeting. She also found an office that would lend me the film to watch.

After dinner the evening I arrived, we called Bernie Barbosa. Lei made the introductions
and put me on the phone. “Hello, Bernie,” I began. “No, this is Walter, Walter
Dempster.” I was talking to Markova, himself. “Do you want to come talk to me? Yes,
that’s fine.” In five minutes a date was made and directions given.

The next day, Lei and I tracked down the video in a nondescript office at the end of a
long corridor in an office building in Makati. Hanging on the wall was a poster of the
movie: “Markova: Comfort Gay, A True Story” with a striking photo of the three
Markovas of the movie – the teenage Walter, the exotic dancer Walterina, and the older
Markova—all dressed as women wearing turbans, jewelry and bright red lipstick. I got a
copy of the poster to take with me.

That afternoon, we went to Agnes’s place to watch the movie. Agnes lives in one of those
gated communities where Lei had to surrender her driver’s license to the guard at the
gate. She also has her own security guard inside her private gate. Plus two body guards
on the street, who accompany her daughter around town. (Kidnapping is a lucrative
business in Manila.) But inside the gate is the world of a sculptress – two houses and a
studio enclosing a swimming pool and a sculpture garden filled with larger-than-life
installations of sexual deities, including a reclining woman emerging from a field of
Japanese-style raked sand. We settled on cushions on the floor in a soundproof room used
for band rehearsals and watched the movie.

This is the story of Markova’s movie:

The film has three phases. It begins with the older Markova, who lives in Councilor Justo
Justo’s “Home for Golden Gays.” In response to watching comfort women coming out
with their stories on television, he decides to “out” his story. JJ puts him in touch with a
TV journalist and we go into the flashback. It is the late 1930s and Walter is a very
effeminate teenager, trying to hide his feminine side from his macho brother who
routinely beats him. When he is 15, he is raped by his brother’s best friend. Shortly
thereafter, his brother dies and only then can he freely dress as a woman.

The war comes and Markova and four other friends are dancing (as women) in a club for
Japanese officers. One night some Japanese officers take them back to a hotel where they
are discovered to be men. The officers get furious, slap them around and have them
dragged off to a warehouse. Shortly thereafter a truckload of Japanese soldiers arrive and
the five are gang raped with bayonets pointing at their heads. Back at the “Golden Gay”
Markova dismissingly says that some time afterward, they escaped.

The flashback continues with the five living together. One is intent on vengeance and
goes out at night to seduce and murder Japanese officers. One is publicly tortured as a
thief. Soon the Americans arrive and Markova is back in action, with an American
boyfriend. The interview is over and the journalist suggests doing some background
research to verify his story. Markova gets indignant, “I just opened my heart to you and
told you the truth of my life – and you don’t believe me!” and throws her out.

The last part of the movie, much lighter and warmhearted in tone, shows the older
Markova’s relationship with his two remaining comrades. One is dying of AIDS and the
other of heart disease. Markova alone, still looks young and energetic. The film ends with
the three Markovas doing an exotic dance, individually and together.

The movie has had a life of its own since its premier in Dec. 2000. It continues to tour at
film festivals — Los Angeles, Denver, Stockholm, Brussels – and continues to receive
awards. In Brussels, Dolphy and his two sons jointly won Best Actor award — AND Best
Actress Award! The production company applied to enter it at the Tokyo and Fukuoka
Film Festivals, but was told (surprise!) the entries were filled.

But back to Manila... that afternoon, Lei took me to feel the cool bay breezes behind the
Manila Film Center off Roxas Boulevard. The Film Center was one of Imelda Marcos’
imperial edifices making up for in size what it lacks in taste. The rumor is that in its rush
to completion, several workers were crushed by a falling roof and are now a permanent
part of the building’s foundation. Ghosts and bad luck linger, they say. However, it is
now home to The Amazing Philippine Show, a tourist-oriented Las Vegas-style revue of
songs and dances with earsplitting music and gorgeous costumes, performed by the most
beautiful women in the Philippines — except that they are all male cross-dressers.

Sitting on the wall behind the Film Center, we watched some cast members taking a walk
before the show, ambling along like deer, with long legs and short short pants. Lei
remarked at how remarkably feminine they were. A few minutes later, two of the
members passed our way. We exchanged greetings and they came over to chat.

When I said I was from Japan, one of them started speaking to me in Japanese. Her name
was Seiko and she had been living in Kobe for 11 years as an entertainer. She was even
married to a Japanese man.

Now let me say right now that my friend Lei is not shy, and she was the one who asked
most of the questions. “Your figure looks so womanly,” she started on Seiko-san. “Oh,
but I am a woman,” Seiko-san replied proudly. “I had an operation! One hundred
thousand pesos for this one [pointing to a breast], one hundred for that one [pointing to
the other] and two hundred for down there [pointing down there].” Plus a little facial
work.

“You mean those are silicon?” I asked, trying to make conversation. “Oh, no!” Seiko-san
retorted, “Saline solution—better than silicon. Do you want to see?” And so she pulled
open her blouse for a closer inspection. Lei was clearly impressed, “But they look so real,
like a young girl’s!” “Do you think I could, er, touch one?” the researcher in me asked.
“Sure!” Seiko-san said proudly. And sure enough it felt like a real breast.

Our conversation was interrupted by a phone call from her husband in Japan. She
returned to us with the flush of romance. This is her story: During her time in Japan as an
entertainer, she met a nice married salaryman. As these things happen, they fell in love.
But then, as these things don’t usually happen, he decided he would leave his wife and
children. But then, he decided that he would make his male love interest into a legitimate
woman and paid for the operation. For Seiko-san, as with most gays, this was a dream
come true. Now while she was waiting in Manila for her spouse visa to get processed, she
found work as a dancer in The Amazing Philippine Show.

The other performer’s name was Joanne. Joanne was younger (19), prettier, and a little
shyer than Seiko-san. This was his first job as a dancer. Did he sing and dance before
this? No. Did he ever dress up as a woman before? No. But he knew he could do it,
auditioned and got the job. He said that he was happy to have found a group of men who
felt the same way as he did. He has started taking hormones to soften his face and round
out his figure.

But Lei wasn’t finished. “Tell me, how is it down there now? During the operation did
they have to, you know, cut something?” Seiko-san took on a clinical tone. “Oh no!
Nowadays, they have a way of turning it around inside, so that it doesn’t show. Then they
make an opening.” “But can you feel anything when he comes inside?” (I told you Lei
wasn’t shy.) “Oh yes... kimochiiii...” Seiko-san said knowingly.

The sun was setting and the girls had to get into their costumes, so we said good-bye and
started walking. A few minutes later, though, Seiko-san found us and invited us to the
show that evening. Unfortunately, we had to meet Butch for dinner, but we promised to
catch the show on Saturday night.

Several days later, on Saturday, Lei and I went to see Markova. He was waiting for us
outside Bernie Barbosa’s kiosk shop on the main street of a barrio in Las Pinas. He
greeted us warmly. “I’m Walterina Markova. It is nice to meet you.” He was wearing a
subdued plaid cotton shirt and black pants with traces of make-up around his eyes,
perhaps. I gave him a box of Japanese sembe and a string of paper cranes a friend had
folded for me. We settled down on a bench in front of the shop and I turned on the tape
recorder.

His story pretty much followed the film—early cross-dressing, first rape by his brother’s
friend, flirting on the street, dancing on stage, serial rape by Japanese soldiers, post-war
flirting with the Americans, retirement from the stage, and recent resurgence as a
celebrity with the film version of his story.

Without the film, Markova’s episode would be just one more story of secret shame, one
more example of Japanese abuse during their wartime occupation of the Philippines.
After all, thousands of civilians were killed, thousands of men tortured, thousands of
women raped. What makes his story so arresting, though, is that he was a man, who was
raped day after day by Japanese soldiers. In my research of the comfort woman I never
found any other instance of soldiers raping men. Nor had any other academic I spoke to.
Clearly this was an unusual practice.
My original skepticism about Markova’s role as a comfort gay quickly dissolved. No, he
was not servicing Japanese soldiers on his own. No, he was not part of the government-
run comfort station system. He and his friends were forcibly taken to a series of army
barracks where they were gang raped, 10-20 times a day, every day, for five months.
They were not provided with clean clothes, bedding, access to washing. They were kept
as slaves, cleaning the barracks, washing clothes, polishing shoes, cutting grass, moving
furniture — plus providing sexual services in the afternoon and night. The nightmare
ordeal ended when they escaped from a truck taking them away to an unknown
destination at midnight. The truck had broken down and while their guards went to the
front to check the engine, Markova and his friends held hands, jumped off the truck and
ran for their lives, dodging bullets fired after them.

Clearly he had told his story before and didn’t need much prompting to go into his
narrative. Yet his story was about much more than his wartime horror. It was the story of
a Philippine gay. Throughout his talk, he referred to himself not as gay, the adjective, but
as “a gay,” the noun. From my perspective they were one and the same but that led to
some confusion:

Markova: My first love was the son of a character movie actor.

RDK: Was he gay?

Markova: No, he was a real man.

RDK: But he was your boyfriend?

Markova: He was my boyfriend for five years, but he was not living in my house. But
everybody, even his parents, knew that he was making love to me.

RDK: But he was not gay?

Markova: No, he was not gay. He was a real man.

RDK: But he was making love to you?

Markova: Even his mother and father and sisters agreed that he was my boyfriend.

RDK: Wait, I don’t understand. You’re a man and he’s a man.

Markova: Yeah.

RDK: And you’re gay, but he’s not gay.

Markova: No. He’s a real man.


RDK: But you’re having sex?

Markova: Yeah.

RDK: Gay sex?

Markova: Because the boys at that time, even though you are a gay and they know that
you are a gay, they make love to you.

RDK: Physically?

Markova: Yeah, if a man falls in love with you, he will make you up as if you were a
woman. He will go to work just for you. Even most of the movie actors during this time
were gay lovers.

RDK: But not gay?

Markova: They are not gay.

RDK: But, what’s the difference?

Markova: I don’t know.

RDK: I don’t know either.

Markova: They just love gays.

RDK: But they are not gay?

Markova: No, I had many boyfriends during that time. I had many because I was very
flirty at night...

Markova: Comfort Gay. Produced by Ródolfo Quizon; directed by Gil Portes; screenplay
by Clodualdo Del Mundo Jr. 2000; color; 97 minutes. Distributed by Vagrant Films.
From the outset—indeed, from its very title—Markova: Comfort Gay announces itself 1
as an ambitious and uncompromising offering by Filipino director Gil Portes. The film
is based on the life of Walter Dempster, Jr., a gay transvestite performer with the stage
name Walterina Markova. Ródolfo Quizon, "Dolphy," a beloved comic actor who has
made something of a career out of gay roles, portrays the older, narrating
Markova/Walter. The young Markova is played by Dolphy's son Jeffrey Quizon, and
Dolphy's elder son Eric Quizon plays Markova as a young adult.
During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, Walterina and his fellow
performers were at first mistaken for women and then, as punishment for their
"deception," quartered in a barn and sexually brutalized by a group of soldiers over an
unknown period of time. Consequently, the film invites comparison between Walter's
experiences and those of the estimated 80,000 to 200,000 women who were forcibly
"enlisted" to service Japanese troops at "comfort stations" throughout the Pacific. The
intentional nature of the comparison drawn between institutionalized rape and an act of
revenge directed against a particular group is made explicit as, years later, a televised
documentary about former comfort women provokes Markova to reveal his own story.
He lures television news reporter Loren Legarda to the Golden Gays Rest Home with
the promise of an interview with a former comfort woman. Although Legarda is at first
angered and dismayed to discover that Markova is the "woman" in question, she
nonetheless consents to record his story. The unexpected nature of Markova's tale
occasions a series of questions—about, for instance, the history of his cross-dressing
habits—that allows the film to trace, albeit episodically, much of Markova's life, from
his youthful fascination with movie starlets to his current position as a Golden Gays den
mother and trainer of aspiring showgirls.