Manila — the next Gay Capital of Asia

In one week's time we'll be releasing our next Elska issue. It will be our twenty-sixth edition and also our third trip to a US city. But before welcoming the next series into the spotlight, I'd like to give a last bit of focus on our current issue, made in Manila, Philippines, a city that gets less love than it ought to.

Anton L, one of the guys who took part in our Manila issue with an intimate photoshoot and a story about being sick to death of hookup app culture

As a tourist, Manila wasn't a place I ever really considered going to. Sure, I've heard that the country has some gorgeous beaches but lots of countries have beaches, right? Besides, I'm more of a city guy, and most of what I'd understood of Manila was that it was crowded, dirty, and dominated by slums. As an Elska visitor though, there was much more to attract me. Over time, loads of Manileños contacted us asking us to come feature their city. They pointed to a burgeoning gay scene, an open-minded culture, and a city on the rise. Eventually I decided to listen to the dozens of men who lauded Manila and took Elska there.

Mike M, another guy featured in our Manila issue with a photoshoot full of skateboards to show how cool he is and a story confessing how totally uncool he actually is

Once in the country, all the stereotypes quickly disappeared. It was crowded for sure, but nothing I couldn't handle. As for the dirt and slums and madness, all of that was hyperbole that does a disservice to what is a truly enjoyable city. As for the people, the real measure of a city, they were utterly charming. The stories from the men were more raw than I expected, more of them went nude for their shoots than I thought as well, and even one of them had himself a little wank on camera! And here I thought Catholicism would have tempered all of that heat.

Ri R, one of the most daring subjects in our Manila issue, our Filipino bad boy perhaps?

Once I put the issue together I was really proud of the results, which included a diverse set of guys, some pretty decent writing, and one of my all time favourite photoshoots (I'm not telling which one). However, it really hasn't resonated with customers, and it's currently our third lowest selling issue of all time.

I'm not sure why it hasn't sold better. My initial impulse was to jump to a racial conclusion. Indeed, I received two alarming emails since releasing the issue. One was from an annual subscriber who wanted to know if we'd be releasing more Asian issues in the next year, because he didn't want to renew if we were. The other was from another subscriber who asked if he could skip the Manila issue and extend his subscription to the next one (the answer was no, it had already been posted to him).

A glimpse inside our Elska Manila print issue, opened to Jeff M's chapter.

It's so sad to hear this kind of stuff, but I need to remind myself that of our Top 5 all time best selling issues, two of the were made in Asia: Elska Taipei and Elska Seoul (at no.4 and no.5 respectfully). I don't want to downplay race as a factor, but Manila's poor reputation isn't worth ignoring. While we're ecstatic to read article upon article heralding wonderful Taipei as the model gay city on the entire Asian continent, Manila deserves some praise too. This year they boasted the largest Pride event in Southeast Asia, and crucially its attendance more than doubled, making Manila perhaps the next gay capital of Asia.

Raph R, another Elska Manila participant, who boasted of having no "tragic homosexual backstory", because, you know, Manila isn't in the social Dark Ages!

It reminds me of our Lisbon issue, which wasn't terribly popular when it was first released in 2016; however two years later demand was suddenly through the roof and so we chose to do a reissue that sold out quickly. Lisbon had in just a couple years turned into one of Europe's coolest capitals, which it fully deserves. Manila deserves more love too, and it's surely only a matter of time until the city pops.

Liam Campbell is editor and chief photographer of Elska Magazine. The Manila issue comes wholeheartedly recommended.

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Liam Campbell

Editor + Chief Photographer of Elska Magazine, a gay photography + culture mag, sharing local boys and local stories from around the world.