Posted by: nastypen | April 26, 2007

The Resilience of Paper Dolls

Mujeristas: Effeminate men sashaying in ladies’ clothes, they would easily hop into a gown or a bikini when the occasion calls for it. They believe that they grew up in the wrong body and insist they are female inside. Frowned upon by society, dunked into huge drums of water by angry fathers, a source of slapstick in countless TV shows and movies and smalltown clucking of tongues, these are the mujeristas. The etymology rests in “mujer” or “woman” in Spanish. The suffix “ista” means to an effect of “wanting to be one or indulge in such activities of the subject.” This is a very polite name to call them. They are called by other names, ranging from the blatant to the playful to the ignorant taunts.

Now, imagine these mujeristas, these gaggles of frustrated barrio lasses, limp-wristed cliches with their perpetually-arched eyebrows, tucked genitalia, long dyed hair and in campy clothes, indulging in swishy and catty conversations…. imagine them in the Holy Land of Israel.

Nope, this is not fiction, but a documentary:

oha!!! BONGGA!!!!!

And what a profound experience this documentary was. This was supposeldy for a six-part series for an Israeli television station, but the filmmaker Tomer Heymann thought it would be more substantial and fleshed-out if this be made into a documentary film. Released in 2006, this film raked in accolades from critics and audiences around the world.

The premise of the film is when the Intifada was recently declared, jobs that were held by Palestinians were given to migrant workers. The Filipinos lapped up a lot of the jobs in the service sector.

Bubot Niyar or Paper Dolls is the name these Overseas Filipino Workers who are also mujeristas call themselves. they have weekly performances to cope with the distance from their families, the stress, and to enthrall fellow OFWs and some Israelis in little taverns. Their dayjob is that of a caregiver.

this film offers a glimpse into the two worlds of the Filipino crossdresser and the OFWs in Israel. The name Paper Dolls is explained by one of the members as a way they view themselves. They’re neither man nor woman, ergo just paper dolls to which they fashion themselves to whatever shape they choose.

The Paper Dolls spoke in Hebrew throughout the film! There was the occasional English, a spattering of Tagalog, and the token swardspeak (Filipino gay lingo) like “Magkanetch ivivigay koh ditech?!” (How much will I pay for this one?)

The film unfolds in several layers. The filmmaker Tomer Heymann is seen interacting with these mujeristas. He does not hide his disgust and disdain for them. Heymann, himself a gay Israeli, cannot understand the attraction for these gay Filipinos to dress up and act like women. He gets into their clique and follows them around in their jobs and in their events to which they unfurl their fabulousness.

His judgements are just being brushed off by the mujeristas with aplomp and wisdom. This witty candor by the “ladies” make me proud for them. They don’t really portray themselves as victims. Exhibit A:

sa true.....

True words, sister! Is that the wizened diva fan you are holding, kapatid?

The Paper Dolls offer the reason of catharsis for doing what they do in a manner they do it with. Althoug the Philippines is generally tolerant, the conservative nature in mainstream Filipino society chased some of the mujeristas back into the closet. Thus, being thousands of miles from the disgusted glare of the parochial system, the Paper Dolls flousrish and relish this “freedom.”

Secondly, the life of an OFW is marvelously represented here. The isolation, the stress, the dangers our kababayans (fellow countrymen) have to endure abroad. I admire the filmmaker’s unblinking portrayal of the dangers of illegal migrant workers. At the start, it was all fun and games, but at the second act of the movie, the events turn into desperation, fear, anger and helplessness.

Intersting insights on visas and crackdowns are shown here. There are harrowing scenes of prison to which one Paper Doll likened it to a concentration camp. These paper dolls are there to do honest work yet because of a system that treats them as disposable, a necessary human face emerged for the OFW’s plights. This is truly one of the beautiful profundities of this documentary.

The succeeding layer delves into developed societies ignoring their aging population. The rich citizens of Israel are horrified at the thought of caring for their elders. The prospect of changing adult diapers disgusts most of them. Hence, they hire the Filipino caregivers to do their dirty work. Why can they do these things and not the average affluent Israeli? As one of the Paper Dolls simply puts it:

true again?!?!?!

An examination of culture and the levels of respect are seen in this film. One of the most poignant scenes is this mujerista with braided hair, tight-fitting top, with long nails and lowrider jeans assist his ward, an Orthodox Jew, whose extreme right relgion casts fire and brimstone over the gay kind. Yet, there he was, toning down his sashays as he guides his ward to a Rabbinical discussion group. The mujerista gets quizzical stares from the ultra Orthodox Jewish Community, yet he just kept on walking…in those gorgeous mules.

As he waits for his ward to finish the Rabbinical discussion about God knows what, he listens to his walkman. He is oblivious at the stares of the rabbis or he just chose to ignore them.


The hum of theological discourse was added with a faint hymn from his walkman. Gay ears like mine picked up the tune immediately, it was Abba‘s The Winner Takes it All, a drag queen staple. I bet this may be one of the very few …no…. RARE instances the Scandanavian pop group was heard in a murmur inside the hallowed halls amidst discussions on the Torah or the Talmud.

The fourth and most important layer in this film is the redefinition of family. The elder wards were generally cast aside by their children to be fawned over by their Filipino caregivers. There is one fantastic and touching interaction between a paper doll and his patient. The elderly man tutors his caregiver on Hebrew with Yehuda Amichai‘s poetry. There is an idyllic setting for families, a lush green field and talk of poetry, only the children are too busy with their own lives and the old man is content hearing words and correcting them from the mouth of a mujerista named Sally who was born as Salvador. This sort of dynamics may have been unthinkable several generations ago, but as the film tagline suggests, “Necessity made them a family.”

I truly enjoyed this documentary. Unlike a Michael Moore documentary, this does not ingratiate and limit itself to a cause with self-righteous fingerpointing. This is not a willowy excercise of “pity the freaks.” It simply tells a story of the lives of these gay men who fancy themselves as paper dolls, shaped by their own liking but never torn, fragile as paper yet never gave in to weakness. These paper dolls find a place in a society that restricts people in categories. Yet, they sway on; mindful of the stares and disapporval but never felt shame.

Some of the scenes from the movie:

This is how an Israeli taxi driver describes the Philippines:


That was just part of a “colorful” tirade againt our nation and people. Though it may hurt, I found it a necessary evil at the backdrop of this documentary, which is ill-informed stereotypes and sweeping generalizations, to which these Paper Dolls constantly rage against….of course, with poise and style….

This is Sally, one of the oldest and wisest of the Paper Dolls, I think my sister has that turtleneck sweater:

emote, bakla!?!?!?

She kind of reminds me of local TV gossip host Cristy Fermin, only Sally is more profound and not patronizing. Hell, with more make-up she is light years more gorgeous than Cristy:

napakamacho naman the name!!!!

Oha! Love these drag shows!!!! Lord knows how many Salvadors out there who are adept with fringed bras?

And a Paper Doll attempting to be Miss Tourism Philippines:

ano raw?!?!?!?

1771 islands?!?!?!?!? Manay, you misplaced the other 5,336 islands of the Philippines! Where did they go? High tide?

And this is the director:


Tomer, you had me at “Shalom.” My goodness, I think I have a crush on you! Aren’t you just a cute bear?!?!? You remind me of what Faye just told me, “You haven’t lived until you’ve been whiskered.” ahahaha. Tomer, whisker me, pretty please? Ay, wait, my Addie might be angry…. teeheeeheeeee

I thought it was priceless that Tomer exhibited uneasiness towards the Paper Dolls. Himself, being a gay man would go into the path of a judgental beings and scorn at them. It is as if his own homosexuality as well as being an Israeli are re-examined in the light of his friendship with the Paper Dolls. After all, it is refreshing to see things with different eyes.

Here’s an interaction between him and Sally:


Take a bow, Paper Dolls. Don’t forget the beauty queen wave…..



  1. Whisker-ing is a very erotic act that everyone should engage in. For those who don’t want creatures with the Super Mario Brothers look, ask your creature of choice to grow a decent stubble. Then let the magic begin. Nyahahaha. You haven’t lived until you’ve been whiskered.

  2. this is so interesting! wonder where i can get a copy… tsaka the director is muy guapo! *sigh* too bad he’s not interested in women. *boo hoo!*

  3. […] There will be a free screening of Paper Dolls at the UP Film Institute.  Paper Dolls is a documentary of Filipino male caregivers who happen to dress up as women when the itch needs to be scratched.   I wrote about it  last April. […]

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