Out of


Cinema Verite

by Erwin Romulo

Photos courtesy of MM Yu

Moira Lang on identity, smuggling herself in her work, and coming into her own.

Writer’s Note: Moira Lang’s preferred pronouns are she/her.

When Moira Lang blew out the candles on the first of her five birthday cakes, she was surrounded by friends she had met over the course of three, almost four decades. Among them are friends she met as early as the 1990s when she started making movies, one or two who became her friends only very recently, in 2020—after Moira became a Baguio resident following last year’s lockdown. Moira is turning 50 this year. Tonight is the salubong. The five cakes are a coincidence though. It wasn’t planned to save on candles or meant to spare her the sight of 50 of them on a single cake. The number doesn’t bother her. The five cakes in front of her now are, in fact, gifts from different guests, no two the same flavor or size. No one coordinated with anyone. Like the small group here tonight—all of whom Moira met at different times if not different places—the variety happened on its own.    

The birthday celebration tonight is here at her friends Nona and Kawayan’s home in Baguio. She first met Nona in the late nineties at the seminal artist-run space Surrounded by Water in Angono. Moira met Kaw, as he’s known by friends, in the early 2000’s at another art space in Baguio, founded by Kaw’s father. He is also here tonight. Like Moira, Kaw's father was assigned another name at birth, but when he completed his first film he credited himself as Kidlat Tahimik.

Moira calls him Tatay. Many of the people around tonight do.

She met Tatay in the late 1980s, during a retrospective of his films at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. “Noon pa fan na ako,” Moira tells me later.  

Mark is here early. He is a new friend of Moira’s. According to him they only started talking last year when he too moved to Baguio, but they first met him five years ago at a dinner party in his residence in Makati.

“As Mark remembers it I came off as standoffish and gave monosyllabic answers when he tried to engage me in a conversation,” Moira says. “The person who invited me suddenly couldn't make it and I guess my inner introvert kicked in.” Now both residents of Baguio, they banter like old friends.

John is staying over at Nona and Kaw’s guest house for the weekend. Moira first met him in 1998. Both of them were just beginning their careers at ABS-CBN. “I met JLC sa tapings ng ABS-CBN mini-series Sa Sandaling Kailangan Mo Ako. He was in the cast, I was a writer on the set.”

The menu for tonight includes lechon. Any other time this wouldn't be as remarkable as it is now. It's a staple in most if not every Filipino birthday. But Nona couldn’t source any last year when Moira turned 49. The country was still in lockdown; restaurants were either closed or operating at half capacity. Not that there were many around then to celebrate the occasion. Just a few friends. Tonight, there are a few more.

Like Patty and Mannito, who recently moved to Baguio and are now building a home somewhere outside the city; or Isabel and Alfredo who are in town for a few days but are driving down the next day; and Gail, who like Moira, went up last year for a short visit but also decided to stay.

Then there are Moira’s friends who can’t make it this evening. There are a few of them, like Erik who is in town to check out locations for an upcoming film he’s making. Moira met him around 1996 or 1997 in Amsterdam. “We were babies haha,” she says, in a message. They were both supervising subtitles for films they had worked on. “Subtitling was done by Titra, a subtitling company based there. May budget noon ℅ FDCP.”

There’s also Michiko, who’ll be arriving in Baguio later this week to join Erik. Moira won’t be here by the time she arrives though. She’s going back to Manila tonight so she can celebrate her birthday with her family.

Moira and Michiko both worked as writers for Star Cinema. In 2004, they set up their own production company, ufo Pictures, to make their own movies. Moira writes in an email to me that, “Michiko, Jade Castro, Emman Dela Cruz, Ned Trespeces, and I put up ufo Pictures to pursue our dream projects, some or many of which will never get the green light from the big studios.” What they wanted was full creative control over their projects from writing, directing, casting, as well as final cut of their films. Their company made three films: the first Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros came out in 2005. Michiko wrote the screenplay and Moira produced it. It was a success: winning many awards and doing well in commercial theaters. It was  the first Filipino ”indie” to do so. It has since been screened in over 100 film festivals all over the world.


By midnight Moira has to go. She’s planning to catch a shuttle bound for Manila at 2am.

Most of Moira’s guests remain outside, where dinner will be served out in the open. Everyone maintains distance from one another. No matter how unnatural it still feels, after over a year in a pandemic, everybody here knows someone who has had the virus. One or two have even had it themselves; more than a few know someone who’s died from it.

I try to remember when Moira and I first met, but I can’t. We were both involved in filmmaking, working on independent productions and mainstream movies in the 2000’s, but we never worked together on the same projects. Back then, during that period, there were many places we shared: the University of the Philippines Film Center in Diliman, the Cultural Center in Manila, Mogwai in Cubao, several art galleries and spaces all around the metro. But when we became friends I have a hard time recalling.

Patty shows me a picture on her phone of Moira and a few other friends. It was taken over a decade ago at an exhibit opening. She looks different, but so does Patty, and everyone else in the picture. I guess we all do.

When it’s time to sing “Happy Birthday to You” nobody sings too loud. It’s not as quiet as it was last year, but in this corner of Baguio it’s quiet enough. Some take out mobile phones to record Moira blowing her candles. They sing even softer. No one wants to ruin their video, after all. 

Moira looks truly happy. You can say it’s like a scene from a movie. I’m sure if she ever uses this evening and works it in one of her films, it'll be much better than how I’ve remembered it here. Like the best films, it might be fiction but it’ll be closer to how it really was.

The following interview has been edited for publication.

Out of Print: So you moved to Baguio seven months ago.
Moira Lang: I've been renting this apartment for seven months but I’ve been here in Baguio since March last year (2020). On March 7, I went up to Sagada. I left Manila March 7 ng gabi then dumating ng Sagada March 8 to attend this event. So four days in Sagada, then I went to Baguio. And then in-announce yung lockdown. First thing I did was I went to the bus station to buy a ticket. That was supposed to be one of the last trips back to Manila right before lockdown, but a few hours before that trip I decided not to take it and just stayed so that I never left.

The first couple of months of being in Baguio, naisip ko it would be good for me to live here and I could do it. Syempre because of lockdown na-force lahat to work from home, and suwerte ko because I have a job that allows me to do that—I’m a creative consultant for Cignal Entertainment.

So that's your main job now.
Yeah, creative consultant. And in line with this, I'm developing a couple of series where I take the lead in creative development. Yun ang medyo mahirap for me, na walang face-to-face to brainstorm. Nakakapagod yung 3 to 4 hours sa Zoom. It takes some getting used to. I can’t say I’m used to it already. I miss the face-to-face, the in person brainstorming.

What is it about the Zoom meetings apart from of course the lack of face-to-face? Is there an extra challenge you didn't foresee apart from proximity to the people you're talking to?
I think it's mainly that yung parang limited yung access mo to non-verbal language, you know? In face to face, there’s the eye contact, the way we position our bodies naturally without thinking about this. There's a rapport, there’s an energy, an exchange of energy.

The other question I asked you was about you relocating to New York.
I stayed there several months and I was open to staying longer. It wasn’t just about New York, it was about leaving the Philippines and not just the country but the industry, the local movie industry, because na-sad ako sa local industry and with the distribution… The making of movies is fun, but after you make it dun yung mga problems. After MMFF, may isa pang big thing that happened.

Professionally or personally?
Professional that I took personally. Nung na-release yung Patay na si Hesus sa cinemas, as part of the first PPP (Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino) ng FDCP, basically we were fucked. Ang konti nung binigay na cinemas samin. The movies were promised equal number of theaters, that didn’t happen. Maybe three titles got 150 cinemas, the rest of us mga 30 to 50 cinemas lang. Walang rhyme or reason but in the end I found out may malaki rin group sa cinemas that blacklisted me. And they knew I was a producer sa Patay na si Hesus and di talaga nila pinalabas yung movie. Because of my role in the shakeup of MMFF in 2016.

It was so frustrating to deal with kasi the organizer would tell us, the filmmakers, one thing and pagdating sa cinemas, iba pala yung usapan nila. So hindi nagma-match. Even when we outperformed all the other entries except for one, we still didn’t get a full day in some cinemas. Tapos ang reason was, "Kasi di ba Bisaya yung film niyo so you have cinemas in Visayas and Mindanao." My god wala kami sa Luzon.

So it’s interesting we're really talking about films, what's the greatest enemy of Philippine cinema today?
Oh my god grabe naman yung tanong mo, Erwin.  Kung Miss Universe ‘to wala na, talo na 'ko. [Laughs.]

Alam mo parang nag-iba na. I mean, before the pandemic started and now. That time when I left, I thought I was leaving for good. I had it with the film industry, parang ganun. At that time feeling ko the real enemy was the opposite of best practices, like worst practices that led to unsustainability. So parang nasanay yung industry sa napakaraming bad practices, among them: shooting when the script is not ready, no time for creative development, rushing everything. And this is not limited to commercial studios. Ang mga independent film festivals naging parang factory, assembly line na yearly, paiksi nang paiksi yung time to make a movie. How can you make a movie in less than six months? Sobrang unsustainable yung practice. Unsustainable artistically and commercially. And magkakakabit yun. Kasi kung wala kang economic sustainability wala kang freedom to pursue your dream projects. And if you can’t pursue your dream projects because you’ve succumbed to the system that tells you you have to turn in a movie in less than six months… di ba? And then part of the worst practices is casting people on the basis of how well known they are kahit na hindi sila bagay sa role. And that race to make it to international festivals, kasama rin yun. Ano bang gusto natin? All the fame that comes with the job or is it the films that we want to make? Parang nabaliktad. And yung problema ng mga tao who want to dichotomize mainstream versus indie. I find that so counterproductive. Kasi parang sinasabi na your movie suits only one purpose. It contributes again to the unsustainability of the whole thing.

You think it's different now?
Well kasi nga now, lahat na-foforce to take things slowly. So ngayon I hope mas may time na for creative development. Kasi nga nagka-slow down sa production. For the first time in the last 15 years na force na mag-slowdown yung production.

When did you start working in film? 
Nag-start ako sa Star Cinema 95 or 96.

Personally I don’t consider that a great decade for Philippine cinema.
No. Pero the late 90s to early 2000s, for me, were the best years of Star Cinema. They were a new entrant, they were poised to become a big player and they eventually became the biggest player pero mas pure yung approach nila nung start. They just really wanted to make the movies that they liked, that were an expression of their aesthetic. This was before they started second-guessing everything.

That was your first job?
In college, when I applied to UP (University of the Philippines), I applied to Film. It was a new program then. I got in but after my first year I shifted to Business Administration. Parang naisip ko nung time na yun, late 80s. Cory (Aquino’s) time for movies wasn’t that good. Medyo desert nun up until the mid 90s. Nung high school, I was so sure I wanted to be in films but nung college freshman year, dun ko naisip hindi kaya baka I just enjoy watching films? And I got to do that sa UP Film Center. I would cut classes to watch there. Baka naman hindi ‘to trabaho, baka mahilig lang talaga ako manood ng sine. So I shifted to a safe course. And then I worked in brand management, marketing and advertising for a couple of years. I was on the client side. It wasn’t for me. And so without having anything to fall back on, I quit that job.

What didn't you like about the job?
It wasn't me, parang wala na, it was depressing because I knew I didn't belong. It came to a point where I was just looking forward to the sales launches in the regions na malayo sa Manila. Parang kung sa office lang ako, ayoko na.  Ang naging outlet ko nun yung Today, bagong newspaper siya nun. Dun ko nakilala sina Jessica Zafra, Abe Florendo, and nag-contribute ako ng movie reviews dun. Naging outlet ko yun. Habang product manager pa ko, nagsulat ako ng movie reviews for Today.

And when you were doing these reviews, were these Philippine cinema?
World. And speaking of UP Film Center and Cineastes, that was the only org I joined. Andun sina Joyce Bernal, Ely Buendia… Dyan kami nagkakilala. And diyan ako nakapasok sa Star Cinema. Yun yung connection. Because of my org sa UP. After I quit my marketing job, nag travel ko. Nag-backpack ako sa Austraila, Thailand, Europe. Dun ko ginamit yung naipon ko. And then while I was travelling, inisip ko ano na'ng gagawin ko sa Pilipinas pagbalik ko? Ayoko na mag-marketing. Pagbalik ko dito nagkita-kita kami ng barkada from UP CIneastes. Including Ricky Lee na teacher ng friends ko na barkada ko rin. Pagkagaling ko from backpacking, nag-meet kami and then sabi nila, uy may bagong movie company, Star Cinema, and naghahanap sila ng brainstormers, gusto mo mag-apply? Tapos nag-submit ako ng application and muntik i-reject yun ni Olive Lamasan kasi ayaw niya sa movie reviewers nung time na yun. But sinabi ni Ricky Lee sa kanya, i-try ako and then yun, naging part ako ng think tank ng Star Cinema nung 96.

Sino yung barkada mo sa Cineastes who were already working in film?
Si Joyce Bernal. Si Joyce nun, editor. Tapos ang madalas niyang makatrabaho nun, VIVA. And then nakapag-direct siya for VIVA, then Star Cinema. And syempre, si Ricky.

Olive Lamasan?
Si Olive katrabaho ni Ricky sa ABS-CBN, sa Star Cinema. So Ricky vouched for me and I worked sa think tank. Ginroup kami according to genre: I was part of the drama group and we’d meet twice a week to brainstorm on concepts and submit story ideas. And eventually I got assigned to co-write Anak with Ricky. While also being mentored by Inang - that’s how we call Olive. So nung start may givens like the theme song was Anak and it would be a vehicle for Vilma Santos and Claudine Barreto and OFW movie siya. And that was close to my heart because both my sisters, I have two sisters, both were flight attendants for Cathay Pacific for many years and madalas akong pumunta nun sa Hong Kong and andami kong nakililalang OFWs. Serendipity siya.

Is it possible to tell personal stories in a commercial film?
Yes. It’s called smuggling. I got that concept from a documentary by Martin Scorsese, yung Personal Journey through American Cinema. Yeah. Somebody said there, they had to smuggle at a time when the production code in Hollywood was super strict. Oh, kahit nung time na brand manager pa ko, I would go to the Hong Kong International Festival every year and na-expose ako sa world cinema and napansin ko yung Iran. That was at the height of Iranian cinema because of Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf and it was amazing because grabe yung censorship sa kanila but because of that they were able to develop this a very distinct, peculiar cinema. So diba, kahit dito you have commercial constraints and givens, you use them instead of working against them.

So what were the more personal projects you did during this period during Anak? Anak would fall into that because it's about a single mom and I grew up with a single mom and yun na nga I remember my sisters lived for a decade or so in Hong Kong so it was personal in that sense.

And least personal?
Least personal? Well hindi naman siya least personal kasi alam mo, habang ginagawa mo na, hindi ko naman iniisip along these terms when I was writing them but it would have been impossible to finish them if there was nothing personal about it. For example, Tanging Yaman came to me as a script already. It was a different title then hindi pa siya Tanging Yaman. It was a script by Laurice Guillen and then it was brought to me by my co-writer, Shaira Mella. And we revised Laurice’s script. In a way, that was starting from a less personal place because it was somebody else's vision, somebody else’s screenplay. And I'm not religious at all. I'm the opposite and Laurice is and that film is basically a very Marian film but I took that as a challenge. It came with the project but I didn't reject it just because I'm not religious. For me I saw it as a challenge na I have to put something of “me” in it so parang yun yung naging “smuggling” ko.

So with Tanging Yaman can you identify the elements that you “smuggled” into it.
Oh my god there were so many but super subtle. Ang hirap na mag pinpoint ng particular elements but I think what Shaira and I were able to do was to make it accessible even to non-Catholics or the non-religious. I mean there’s still parts of it na hindi talaga ako yan but yung family squabbles with yung character ni Johnny Delgado in particular, yun, I think those were the scenes where you don’t have to be religious to feel and appreciate the humanity of those characters. So yun yung nilagay namin dun.

Bakit ang heroines para maging palatable, dapat i-reject nila ang material wealth and ang sexual pleasure or desire?”

But you were raised Catholic?
Yes, oh my god, I went to a Catholic high school. I was super Catholic! Buong family ko even now. I’m the only one that doesn’t practice.

Did you know early on that it didn't appeal to you?
No, I was a good Catholic school boy! [Laughs.] In high school I was the president of the Apostleship of Prayer. Oh my god! Like may prayer sessions rin. Yung prayer sessions were more about reading passages from the bible and praying over it.  Going into college, I still went to church sa first sem ko in UP but I quickly realized nga it wasn’t for me.

Was this because of your sexuality—
Yes, that was a part of it. I just couldn’t abide by a church that looks down on certain groups of people for their sexual preference.

Was it that the only thing?
It was also the emptiness of the rituals for me. While compelling on a theatrical level, parang wala siyang masyadong meaning for me. Also the hypocrisy in terms of social inequity. Kasi di ba the church also perpetuates that. Halimbawa, trying to kill the RH bill. But you know, I’ve met a lot of progressive members of the church but I also met the most dogmatic. I was also recruited to the Opus Dei back in school. I was invited and they told me about being part of it and I saw the newspapers they had, and nako naka-cut out yung mga Slimmer’s World na ads, yung mga naka-swimsuit. I think when they tried to recruit me that became a tipping point for me. And coming into college, parang sinabi ko teka do I want to be here? So, for me it was either I go all in or clean break. And I made a clean break.

Cinema became my church. I would cut classes just to watch films sa UP Film Center. Tapos even when I shifted to Business Ad, nagsi-sit in pa rin ako sa classes ni Ishmael Bernal sa Mass Comm. Nagulat si Ishmael kasi kapag nagho-hold siya ng classes, taas ako nang taas ng kamay para makapag-contribute ako sa discussion. Tapos nung nag roll call siya, napansin niya na wala ako sa list. “E ikaw sino ka?” [Laughs.] Sabi ko ah, sit in lang po ako. “Sit in ka lang pero ang daldal daldal mo?” [Laughs.]

How was he as a teacher?
Oo, magaling na teacher si Ishma. Kasi you’re enthralled e. He makes so much sense. His ideas are so crystal clear.

Can you tell me some of the ideas?
Oh my god, one thing na sinabi niya about realism in cinema. He said realism in cinema does not mean copying nature. It's a heightened aesthetic. You don’t strive for verisimilitude when you’re making cinema. That’s not the first thing you strive for. It’s knowing who you are and what your worldview is. Because nobody can copy that from you. And if it’s not there then it’s not really cinema.

It’s smuggling yourself into the work and being subtle about it. That’s what I got from Ishma. You have to have yourself in there somehow without you blowing trumpets.

At that time did you think of directing?
No. I don’t know but kasi naka-shift na ako to Business nun e. Wala lang I just really loved hanging around with filmmakers and soon-to-be filmmakers. Parang resigned na ako nun e since nag shift ako to Business Administration. And then the first jobs I applied to were for brand management. So I felt yun na nga yung path ko. I was just going to be a cinephile who enjoyed “film orgies” as we called them.

So you liked the whole culture of film and talking to like-minded people who took film seriously?
Oo. And going to the Goethe Institute to watch German films. Remember yung Goethe nung nasa Aurora Boulevard pa siya? Or Alliance Francaise, yung mga yun.

You were looking for a community?
Yes. Because I felt I had more in common with these people than my own family. Kasi nga, I was the first one to break away from religion but also naiba yung concerns ko. And this is what I shared with my new friends.

Going back to the beginnings of Star Cinema. Could you describe the film industry back then?
It was still the Regal and VIVA days and then slowly pumasok yung Star Cinema to build a name for itself. It was exciting days for Star Cinema kasi they were making more personal movies then. It was run by women so they were producing strong women’s films. Ang lakas nung point of view. And they made stuff that weren’t necessarily the kinds of movies VIVA or Regal made. And rom-coms weren’t as big then. It wasn’t a crutch yet.

And another thing, Joey Reyes was making such great movies around the time Star Cinema was starting. May Minamahal, Pare Ko, Radio Romance, these were really nice films. And Olivia Lamasan with Sana Maulit Muli. Those were very commercial but there was still something about them that made them fresh.

And that was?
They were personal. They were making a stand. Just to soften the male gaze was an achievement. Kahit na sabihin natin na mas malakas talaga ang women characters sa Philippine cinema, Philippine society is still very patriarchal and macho. And the movie industry is also very macho. So parang for me yung Star Cinema, especially in the early days, na-soften yung male gaze. Much later na lang nung sobrang naging reliant na on tropes, parang for me nagkaroon ng feeling na, akala ko feminist pero parang naging anti pa nga.

For example, i-e-equate mo ba ang virtue ng isang babae sa idea of not enjoying sex? Or not craving material wealth? Parang naging ganun. Bakit ang heroines para maging palatable, dapat i-reject nila ang material wealth and ang sexual pleasure or desire? I hated that direction.

But you were still there?
Yeah but papaalis na ko by then kasi nag-start na ko sa independent producing so pa-unti nang pa-unti na yung projects ko sa Star Cinema.

Would you remember that as a big discussion point between you and Star Cinema then?
No. Kasi ito mas hindsight na e. Pero hindi naman ‘to pinag-usapan din.

Of course Star Cinema didn’t invent the genre. The VIVA films of Sharon Cuneta in the 1980s come to mind.
Yeah, those were strong films kasi Sharon’s characters always had a mind of their own. Pero her concerns were always about love.

When we first met you were still using Raymond Lee. Later on I remember having a conversation with you and apologized that I didn’t adapt quickly to calling you Moira...
I took no offense.

It was our mutual friend Jerome (Gomez) who called me out on it. Because I was still calling you Raymond in 2015! Jerome told me I needed to make more of an effort.
So I made Zombadings, I was still credited as Raymond Lee. That movie came out in 2011. When we were promoting it, I was also representing as a woman, I dressed up in women's clothing, and all made up. Even sa premiere ng Zombadings, I was fully made up. When you go to like, for example, a party or a promotion activity, and when I’m introduced sabi ko, “Hindi na talaga bagay yung name na Raymond with how I’m representing my gender identity. So I thought of a name and I thought of Moira. I mean ang hirap mag-isip kasi ng pangalan but one way of looking at it is that phonetically inversion siya ng Raymond. And then pag tinignan mo yung credits ng Norte, sa dulo nakalagay “Produced by Moira,” pero may parenthetical na Raymond Lee. Yung Norte was the first time I was credited as Moira. Kasi naisip ko sa filmography ko I was credited as Raymond Lee so siguro Raymond Lee pa rin ako dito but that was the last movie I was credited as Raymond Lee. The film went to Cannes and then to Marseilles sa France. Nung sa Marseilles I was registering and they needed to put my name on an ID. So I said okay just put Moira but they needed a last name, so naisip ko, “Well, hindi naman Lee si Moira.” [Laughs.] So I said well, I’m not married also, so Moira Lang. That was in 2013.

Could you tell how you arrived at that decision to represent as a woman?
It was many things but it mainly involved our touring of Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros abroad. That was in 2006. So I met some Filiipinos who were living in New York and one of them became one of my best friends. And this person you know, he's a guy pero he dresses up as a woman sometimes. So na-inspire ako to dress up and to get made up and look like and feel like a woman. Tapos nagsimula akong bumili ng damit na pambabae doon sa US. And it felt good! I remember I was in a department store, I think it was in Boston, and then I wandered into the section of women’s clothing and I fit it sa ladies’ fitting room. Tapos pagtingin ko sa salamin, I thought, “My god, I feel good in this. I think I look good in this. Like I never felt that I looked good wearing men's clothes. From my school days to my days as a brand manager, parang basta. But it was still a part time thing. I was still representing as a man, you know, in other events. Parang behind closed doors pa lang noon. And then nung umuwi na ako sa Philippines, slowly mas dumalas yung pag-dress up ko. At that time, I was still not comfortable showing it to my mom who I lived with. So I’d change in the car. I’d put on my make up in the car. Then I thought, this is ridiculous. I mean, how old am I? So one day I made the conscious decision na I would leave the house wearing a dress and makeup. And my mother saw me and she asked me “What are you wearing?” And I said, “A dress. Bagay di ba?” Tapos tumingin lang siya and then goes, “magpantalon ka nga.” [Laughs.] Hindi siya sanay kasi but it took her very quickly to adjust to it. Ngayon minsan naghihiraman kami ng damit. Pati mga eyebrow pencils.

How about your sisters?
Nung bata kami, favorite show namin yung Charlie’s Angels, the original one. We would pretend to be Charlie’s Angels tapos sabi ko sige I’ll play along under one condition: I am not Sabrina, the character played by Kate Jackson. I’m either Jill - Farah Fawcett - or Kelly - Jaclyn Smith. [Laughs.]

How inconvenient was the change?
Well, I'm lucky that I’m in an industry that’s fully accepting of it. Since they’re so exposed to it, wala masyadong adjustment. Now, if I stayed in brand management, it would have been something.

I’m curious to know why you think why the LGBTQ+ community are drawn to certain industries, like the movies?
It’s a safe space for us. And di ba, it’s less macho than for example engineering.

Let’s just take gays, not even trans: it also took them a while to be comfortable in their own skin, even in the movie industry—especially the actors. And you can’t blame them because their capital is their public image, the illusion of who they are. You can’t demand that they come out.

You don’t approve of forcibly outing people?
I don’t agree with that.

The argument I’ve read goes that if it's public knowledge already and you remain in the closet, you're sending a signal to the rest of the community that it's not okay.
Okay, case to case: I think that if your career hinges on you being a matinee idol or a romantic lead, I would understand why you won’t come out publicly. I mean I don't think you owe it to anyone to make it public if you’re protecting your livelihood. But don't go out of your way pretending to be straight, and please don't deceive people into being your lover to mislead the public about your sexual orientation.

But I have an issue about the misgendering of Vice Ganda. Because she identifies as a woman. And I've heard her say this, pero bakit sa mga press release minsan may qualifier pa na, “Vice Ganda, who identifies as a male homosexual…” Bakit? E mga non-showbiz na tao nga mas correct pa ang gamit na pronouns when referring to her.

Sayang naman. It's such a big opportunity to educate her audience about what it means to be transgender. After all she's immensely influential and terrifically talented—a great, effective communicator, to say the least. Maybe some think it's an unnecessary disclosure. It isn't…


Moira shares an article from ABS-CBN Online with me. It reads:

“Noting that he is an occasional cross-dresser, most recently as seen in his vacation photos on Instagram, he considers himself as a gay man, and not a transgender woman.considers himself as a gay man, and not a transgender woman.”

The same piece also features the following quotes from Vice:

"I'm a bakla!" Vice Ganda quipped. "Hindi ko naman dama na babae ako, e."

“Transwomen are women, transmen are men."


In the article she is directly translating "bakla" as "gay man." This is incorrect.

I want to clarify: "Bakla" covers trans women! "Bakla" doesn't only mean gay, doesn't refer only to gay men. There's nothing shameful about the words "bakla" and "trans." Andami lang misunderstanding. Of course only Vice can clarify this herself. I'm still hoping she will use her voice to further educate the public and directly confront transphobia. I hope it happens. I believe it will.


Alam mo kung ano pa yung kailangan i-address is transphobia. We have to address that through the content we are producing.”

How affected are you when this misgendering happens to you?
I don’t take offense or begrudge people who inadvertently call me or refer to me as a he unless there’s malice. ‘Pag may malice, nakakainis but if it’s an honest mistake, I just correct them and usually in a humorous way. Kasi I shouldn't get tired of correcting nicely. I’m not confrontational about it. I know sometimes nakakapagod but I remind myself to just keep going because it's part of the education.

Until recently your filmography credits a lot of your previous work to the name Raymond Lee. Would you want to change that?
No, no no. And maybe this is why I’m not a good brand manager of myself. I don't even know what my Wikipedia page says about me. I don't Google myself but sa akin I guess history will tell your story. I mean if you do your research you'll find out who Moira Lang is, who Raymond Lee is. It’s still the same person but it was just a different name then. But yeah, I’m comfortable and I identify more as female.

But it might be more of a practical thing for work?
I guess if I have an affidavit saying I’m Moira Lang formerly known or also known as Raymond Lee. Tinanong na kasi ako niyan, if I wanted to go through a name change. Syempre sana di ba, pero wala namang accompanying gender marker change.  ‘Di ba, na reject sa Supreme Court yung isang nag-apply.  Hindi pa in-a-allow ng Supreme Court na ma-change yung assigned gender at birth to what you identify as. Wala e.

Do you consider Raymond Lee your dead name?
In that context, oo. Although I haven’t used that phrase to refer to my old name. I say “I used to be known as” or “formerly known as.”

Are you comfortable when somebody writes about you that Raymond Lee is still mentioned?
If you’re referring to my past work. Pero kung mga bagong work, dun ako naiinis.

And that still happens?
Oo meron pang naglagay. Nainis nga ako e. Si Mailes (Kanapi) nga ngayon lang napanood yung Pamilyang Ordinaryo, gandang ganda siya pero tumawag pa siya galing States para sabihin gustong gusto niya ako dun pero bakit raw Raymond Lee pa rin ako sa IMDB. Galit na galit siya, for me.

When would it matter enough for you to take steps to change it legally?
If I wanted to move to another country and use my credentials as a way in but then I would just have to add clippings or write-ups. Yun na nga e. Or maybe I should ask someone to write a Wikipedia entry of me and make it clear that I was using the name Raymond Lee up to a point.

Maybe that can be the purpose of this. [Laughs.] To be the source for your Wikipedia page.
Fantastic. So for the record, the first time my name, Moira, first appeared in any credit was Norte in 2013. Wala pa nga yung last name na Lang nun. Before that I was credited as Raymond Lee. And to be honest, I can’t ask for it to be erased sa films or sa posters and I don’t want to. It’s okay na makita ng mga tao na yun yung journey ko. I started as Raymond Lee and I came to my own as Moira Lang.

So was there any struggle to having to start another gender performance?
Of course sa simula. Ayun nga, yung mga practicalities like having two sets of wardrobe. Which public bathroom to use? Up to now that still comes up. Sa akin, I don’t always feel 100% comfortable. I still feel self-conscious at times. Sometimes I base my decision on which bathroom to use depending on what I’m wearing that day. Wala pa namang nag-call out sakin in public pero minsan nakakatawa, I’m using the men’s room and may papasok na lalaki tapos biglang aatras kasi akala nila nagkamali sila and then slowly bubukas ulit yung pinto. [Laughs.]

Matagal na. Lately I’ve been using the ladies’ room na. Wala namang problema for the most part pero minsan naco-conscious pa rin ako.

How has the film industry been with LGBTQ+ issues, especially in the last few years?
You know, I thought we would be able to smuggle ideas into Fantastika where Vice was clearly identifying as female. Halimbawa, breaking the very commercial romance movie notion that there’s one person, one true love, for you. Kaso yung mga ideas na gusto namin i-smuggle, nawala lahat. Meron kasing part sa script ng Fantastika where there was a funny repartee about Vice’s character asserting yung pronoun of how to address her as a she.

That was in the original script of Fantastika?
Yeah, nawala. There was an opportunity, in a humorous and entertaining way and using a cultural icon like Vice Ganda to clarify certain things. Like identifying as a woman and using the correct pronouns. Sayang tinanggal yun.

Is it better now?
It’s getting better. It can still get better. But we’re a long way from 7 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago. Mas maraming characters na ngayon who are LGBT, puwede na silang bida. Hindi na sila yung perennial best friend. Now you see more opportunities for central roles na LGBT.

What did you make of the popularity of the BL genre last year?
Actually medyo late tayo nag-catch up kasi BL became a phenomenon in Thailand years ago. Maybe almost a decade nga. It was just waiting to happen. Matalino naman ang audience e. For example, kikiligin naman sila kahit na BL yan or gay love story. You’re watching two people fall in love, flirt with each other, and they’re both men. And it’s not just gays who can relate. Parang for women, for the female audience, that’s not unrelatable. They can relate to the characters, to the emotions, to the situations. Natuwa ako na finally nag-catch up na tayo sa BL but at the same time na-highlight din na kulang sa trans representation. Kasi usually they’re still straight looking or still masculine yung gaze. Hindi trans or feminine.

We were just talking about how revolutionary it was to soften the male gaze.
Or baka na harden yung female gaze? [Laughs.] I was referring to something a while ago that upset me, yung bakit ang hini-hold up na role models na mga babae ay yung impossible standards of virginity. That’s a form of misogyny. It’s unfortunate that it’s so ingrained and that sometimes it’s coming from women filmmakers.

Now that we’re at another interesting point with issues of gender being addressed in cinema, what’s to watch out for? How can this current wave avoid the pitfalls of the former?
I’m excited to see what they’ll come up with given the world’s situation right now but also given the tragic thing that happened to ABS-CBN last year where they were denied a new franchise. Now they have to be more creative kasi now wala na silang unlimited airtime. It remains to be seen what’s next in their pipeline.

Alam mo kung ano pa yung kailangan i-address is transphobia. We have to address that through the content we are producing. Again, I am never one for obvious sermons kasi para maging effective siya in the first place hindi mo dapat maramdaman na umiinom ka ng gamot. You have to be extra crafty, and subtle, and good at it. Kailangan talaga i-address yung transphobia because akala ng mga tao we have it so easy in the Philippines but it’s not true. In the film industry, yes marami kaming trans, but in other industries wala masyado. In the restaurant and hotel industries, may mga nakikita ka bang front desk people who are trans? Hihintayin pa ba natin si Tito Sotto to shut up sa SOGIE Equality Bill? Hihintayin pa ba natin ang senate? Walang nangyayari dun. Dito sa entertainment industry, sa industry natin, anong pwede nating gawin di ba? Sa totoo lang, walang gender equality sa Pilipinas. And for trans men and trans women wala masyadong opportunities in terms of jobs in most industries. It’s so different from countries like Thailand where you see trans women in department stores, in hotels and restaurants, and in the airport. Dito limited lang sa beauty, sa film industry, or sex work. If you’re a nurse for example, I hope there are already hospitals here that are already encouraging them to represent as they are.

Which means they aren’t safe spaces. And maybe that’s why so many LGBT are going to the film industry because it provides that. And films are great at that!

Yes, films are great at creating a context for empathy. The audience will accept two men falling in love as long as it’s done well.
Naisip ko lang, yung reason na binibigay ng lawmakers kung bakit ayaw nila sa gender equality bill or the use of gender-neutral bathrooms, sabi nila pano yan baka gamitin yan ng mga manyak? You think everyday people, ordinary men and women actually think that?

Films like Hello Stranger are great in that it didn’t rely on the usual conflict of acceptance in previous LGBTQ+ themed films.There was only a little hint of that and for the most part they played it as something that wasn’t a problem.
That’s true. That’s a big step. Alam mo yun nga, laging may problema sa parents or sa upbringing. Tapos isa pang problema na ginagawa nila, and this was pre-pandemic pa, laging may toxic male na insecure, na yung ego niya nasasaktan because the female is doing well. I mean that happens in real life pero hello yun lang ba yung story?

And it’s not just promulgating it but promoting it.
Yes, and through sheer volume parang sinasabi mo na there’s no other story. I’m sure nangyayari yan pero teka sandali lang is this really the way to empower women? Bakit yun lagi yung problema sa mga relationships depicted in movies?

So maybe my main objection to it is that it’s so boring. [Laughs.]

After working on so many projects over the years, do you sometimes feel that you already know where a story is going even when you’ve just started?
Actually mas na-e-excite ako kung hindi ko alam kung anong mangyayari.

There’s just a lot of tropes to contend with these days.
Alam mo okay lang yun. We’re all such big consumers na it’s okay to get inspiration from anywhere. Just don’t forget to put yourself in it.

I admit I get bored easily. How do you avoid that?
I’m not very good at getting bored. I just get restless sometimes. ︎

Erwin Romulo is a writer, editor, music producer, and creative consultant based in Manila.