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Art Essay History Humanities Nonfiction Social Sciences Theory

Sacred Camp: Transgendering Faith in a Philippine Festival

By Patrick Alcedo, 2007

By embodying the paradoxes found in three webs of signification – panaad (devotional promise), sacred camp and carnivalesque during the Ati-atihan festival – Augusto Diangson, an individual of the ‘third sex’, was able to claim membership in the Roman Catholic community of Kalibo, Aklan in the Central Philippines while also negotiating the Churchʼs institution of heterosexuality. The narratives of mischief and the gender ambiguity of the Santo Niño or the Holy Child Jesus, the centre of Ati-atihanʼs religious veneration, further enabled Diangson to interact with Kaliboʼs Roman Catholicism. Through an analysis of Diangson and his participation in the festival, this article exposes how ordinary individuals in extraordinary events localise their faith through cross-dressing and dance performance. Seen throughout the Philippines, these processes of mimicry and gender transformation transport individuals into zones of ambivalence and contradictions in which they are able to navigate through the homogenising discourse of their culture and the Churchʼs homogenising myth of Roman Catholicism.

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