The YouTube series “Pearl Next Door” captures life for the queer Pinay in the time of Zoom hangouts and prolonged home quarantine. First released in October 2020, IdeaFirst's GL spin-off received generous praise from major media outlets Inquirer and CNN Philippines, the latter ranking it among the best Filipino queer shows of 2020. But the conversations we have had so far still leave out an important question: What does "Pearl Next Door'' mean to the LGBTQ+ community?
In 2020, the country’s house bill on anti-LGBTQ discrimination and basic human decency is still subject to debate, a generation after it was first filed in the Philippine Congress. The cinematic and televised landscapes likewise offer no reprieve. The exceptionally few queer models they have are frequently in hiding and are ostracized by their peers. At best, they have forged a life of their own outside normal society, but the progress of individuals like Pearl has no room in this narrative.
In truth, queer folks do not navigate their identity at the pace set by society. While we see a lack of progress in the movement on the surface, many queer Pinays are accomplished in many respects and live flourishing lives. Outwardly, these folks support us as our biggest cheerleaders and best friends. Sometimes we miss them amidst our stubborn assumptions of what being “gay” is supposed to look like. In 2021, many Filipinos still doggedly insist that queerness spells a life of victimhood and suffering or that something as personal as sexuality or gender identity can be told from the way someone dresses.
Meanwhile, the star vlogger’s private video sessions with her favorite accountability partner, Fonzy, dips its toes into the fun banter and dramatic rivalry of Filipino prime-time drama. We have plenty of time to get mushy over talented and charming love interests (Iana Bernardez and Rachel Coates) while appreciating the cheer of our mature and all-knowing stage moms (Philip Hernandez and J-mee Katanyag). It goes to show that the queer Pinay experience has always been conducive to enjoyable couch sessions and rom-com marathons with the family. This experience was just never fully explored until "Pearl Next Door."
As the girls go through love, friendships and hurt, "Pearl Next Door" takes the time to unravel the nature of queer friendships and the tight and mature support network of queer communities behind the scenes.
If there is one thing we can learn from Pearl, it is how everything changes when you are queer, and yet nothing changes. The crappy moments still exist. Even problematic behaviors within the LGBTQ community like biphobia don’t magically go away overnight. So, of course, behind every sane queer person and successful queer relationship are friends who are unafraid to call them out, check-in and stubbornly sit with them through the drama.
Queer spaces can provide the family and normalcy that keep queers and even non-queers afloat as our lives become more turbulent in quarantine. The endearing relationships between the all-queer cast demonstrate how queerness, in most circumstances, can actually feel good — when surrounded by the right people, it can feel like the most comforting thing in the world.
When asked about her feelings towards her character, actress Adrianna So expressed, "Pearl is more than a shipper. She deserves her series." Pearl also stands as a symbol for those who still don't know themselves or haven’t defined what they want out of a meaningful relationship. The queer identity is wrapped into packages of entertaining and sweet experiences, but we still need an emotional toolbox to deal with our own set of problems. We can learn from it for as long we open ourselves to it. Luckily for us, there happen to be three queer leads who are cognizant of their truth in the series.
"Pearl Next Door" represents the emerging effort to understand existing queer communities in Filipino society, to honor the powerful and self-affirming narratives taking shape before us and shaping us. "Pearl Next Door" is a friendly reminder to catch up to the reality that is staring us down: being queer can feel damn great too!
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