Read n' Pee: an exploration of latrinalia in schools
The other cubicle doors were like open forums, covering a wide range of topics from terror teachers to crushes, answers to exams, the latest catfights due to boyfriend-stealing, and, as Nokia 5110’s and 3210’s became popular, most cubicle doors served as directories. I got my daily dose of gossip and exam leakage from reading those latrinalia (as Allan Dundes put it). This of course meant that I occasionally visited cubicles other than my own. I had no problem with that whatsoever, so long as I was being entertained by what the other girls wrote about.
When I asked my younger sisters who are both in high school if their cubicle doors had graffiti on them, they said no, the doors are clean now because of the repainting done. “But the grade school CRs have lots of cellphone numbers posted in them,” said my youngest sister, who admitted she sometimes went to the other comfort room to wash up after lunch. Maybe Sister X hasn’t checked that part.
For this assignment I went back to my alma mater, the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters, which is notorious for all kinds of latrinalia, being a haven of students interested in politics, economics, social science, the humanities, the arts, media, philosophy, literature, law, show business, and in being pretty. (For some reason AB girls were expected to have it all—good looks and good brains, but sometimes it’s easier to put makeup on.) I wanted to catch up on gossip, like, who’s going out with whom now, who got herself pregnant again, who shagged this particular professor, who’s being called a “pokpok”.
Upon entering the building I first went to our publication office to see how things are going with the paper. After a few minutes chatting with my juniors I asked them if students were still writing on comfort room cubicle doors. They gave me a grave look. It turns out that because of the upcoming accreditation, the administration did some cleaning-up and repainted the doors, fixed locks, and simply made everything look presentable and smell pleasant enough. It only happens during accreditation days, and I was in bad timing. I had a small consolation though; because I opened up the topic, the publication staff enthusiastically recalled the most memorable latrinalia they encountered in the building.
Because I was already well-acquainted with girls’ comfort room vandalism, I wanted to know about what the boys wrote about. One of the editors recalled a ‘philosophical debate about God, right smack on the wall’ that had a huge following—it started with a question, and a lot answered. “No two responses were the same,” said my friend. “I think it was the question ‘Does God really exist?’ but as the discussion lengthened, the topic blurred, ” he continued. He added that he knew some of the people who joined that discussion—in fact, he mentioned that two of the publication’s editors not only joined in, but also made some proofreader’s marks, encircling and correcting statements with wrong grammar using red markers.
When it was time for me to go to UP for my class, I thought I’d give my exploration of latrinalia one last chance. I went up to Palma Hall and chose to do my business in the ladies’ room on the ground floor, in a cubicle somewhere in the middle. The text written on the cubicle door was interesting. It posed the question, “how to sexually please a guy? (ans. please Ű) ” to which, underneath, the one who made the query wrote numbers, as if providing a place for a list. In Number 1 someone answered, “make pakipot they Y the chase!” Number 2 answer read like “have phone sex w/ him & then what you ph.sex about…” Numbers 3 and 4 were left blank, but somebody commented on all this with a “slut!” beneath the list. Aside from the help wanted, there were other words written, such as “I love u, Duke!!!” with a smiley. Others have become faded or have already been painted over.
[Deleted for this post: academic references and stuff]
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Graffiti, for me has become a form of entertainment and a window to different “worlds”—in this case, the world of the students of different campuses, from grade school to college. Graffiti also came to be associated with another word: vandalism. My focus on latrinalia showed me how easily graffiti on bathroom stall doors can easily be covered up by those who try to be in control; however, it also opened up for me a whole new perspective.
I acknowledge Phillips’ Meeker’s, and Bartolomeo’s works, who looked at graffiti as forms of resistance and links to the social world. Allan Dundes’ word for graffiti done in public bathrooms, latrinalia, was for me a very catchy term, and difficult to forget especially for those who have experienced it—reading and writing both. It sounds like an art term, and indeed it is, for the writers who take part in doing this kind of graffiti are definitely using the bathrooms as the mediums for self-expression and communication.
And what about group identity? Can I say that those who participate in latrinalia discussions identify themselves as part of the group, as sharing the same “identities” with others? That, they are on the same “level”? Perhaps, and it would not be wrong to say otherwise. The latrinalia I have read in my lifetime and what others have told me are symbols of a collective identity, but with each differing statement, we can see individuality, whether the authors agree or not on whatever’s written. What else do these forms of graffiti tell us about Philippine communities?
Taboo subjects like sex (“how to sexually please a guy?”) and religion (“Does God really exist?”) are not discussed out in the open, but the youth have other ways of making their sentiments known. It is telling us that the views and attitudes of society are changing—young people are reaching out to others to share with them insights, and the bathrooms have become venues of public forums.
There are other things I want to learn about graffiti, especially latrinalia. Are the writers participating in a latrinalia discussion expressing their true selves because of the anonymous nature? What are the motives behind professing love behind a door, when only persons of the same gender can read the statements? Do the “primary authors” purposely go back to the cubicles where they wrote, to see and check if somebody has written a comment? Whose numbers are written on the doors—the authors’ or someone else they hated? Do the persons who leave their own numbers expect someone to call? A host of other questions, to be explored another time.
Latrinalia? I think I may have found a new hobby.