Today Elska Magazine releases its latest issue, made in Manila, Philippines. Inside a selection of local gay and queer men are introduced, who readers are encouraged to get to know through a combination of honest and intimate photography and personal stories.
Each Elska issue is made in a different city and Elska Manila is the publication’s twenty-fifth. It also marks their sixth feature in Asia, following Taipei (Taiwan), Yokohama (Japan), Mumbai (India), Seoul (Korea), and Dhaka (Bangladesh). This is a region that has been seeing its LGBTQ communities emerge and flourish — from India’s decriminalisation of homosexuality last September, to Taiwan’s legalisation of same-sex marriage last May, to the Philippines’s honour of hosting the largest Pride parade to ever take place in Asia last June. There’s still a long way to go for LGBTQ rights and queer society throughout, but while other parts of the world are seeing measurably lowering levels of acceptance, Asia seems to be becoming a new queer beacon for the world.
“I really hadn’t considered Manila as a destination for us before,” admits Elska editor and chief photographer Liam Campbell. “Unfortunately most of the media I’d seen previously about the city focused on slums, Trumpian politicians, and eccentric old ladies with shoe fetishes. However, over the years we’ve received so many requests from Filipino readers to visit and feature their country that eventually we had to pay attention and meet them. What I discovered was a vibrant Southeast-Asian metropolis with an especially proud and friendly community that really wanted and deserved a bigger spotlight on their city.“
Perhaps surprising for a predominantly Catholic country, the men we met in Manila were anything but conservative. Each participant in Elska has the option to include nudity in their photoshoots and is welcome to write about any subject as long as the story they tell is true. The Manileños turned out to be particularly open and unabashed by sex or sexuality, being uninhibited in their pictorials and often explicit in their tales. Interestingly Elska’s three issues with the most nudity are Elska Guadalajara, Elska Bogotá, and Elska Manila — all largely Catholic countries and all former Spanish colonies.
The stories contributed by the Manila participants suggest a few potential agributes of the gay Filipino character. There’s a good deal of humour, a strong sense of being proudly out, and also a sometimes worrying amount of over-modesty and a tendency to be self-effacing. Some of the stories shared in Elska Manila include: Paolo D’s piece about his struggle to find his own light in spite of the demons of mental illness; Bryill B’s tale of a lustful encounter on a very crowded rush- hour commuter train; Rej T’s story of going to a provincial family wedding and trying to escape the attention of bridesmaids hunting for a single man; Anton L’s text that admits how tired he is of hookup apps yet how he keeps using them anyway; and Jeff M’s story about trying unsuccessfully to stop loving a man who clearly doesn’t return his love.
Elska Manila is 192 pages. It is available in a collectible print 'bookazine' or in a downloadable e- version. A companion zine called Elska Ekstra Manila containing outtakes, behind the scenes tales, and other bonus content is also available. A list of stockists and details of how to order online can be found on the Elska website: www.elskamagazine.com.