Personal Experiences, Social Issues

Labels

“Do I have to tell her I’m purple?”

It was Sheila (not her real name), in one of our phone conversations, those lengthy ones we have on weekends where we talk about everything from Amorsolo’s paintings to workplace crushes. She had recently met a girl, who she had been crushing on.

“Why not?” I said.

“But won’t that scare her away? I mean, we’ve been friends for only a couple of weeks,” Sheila said.

“I’m not telling you to tell her right this minute. Tell her when you feel like it, when you have the confidence. It could be sooner or later; it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that she knows. Anyway, you’ll be hanging out with her; if she’s so dumb she misses the signs, then she doesn’t deserve your friendship. And please stop calling yourself purple. You’re a lesbian, is what you are.”

These days I find myself playing the role of a fairy godmother to those having difficulty coming to grips with their sexuality, especially the public side of it. Coming out as gay should have been a no-brainer by now, what with all these gay celebrities, soap operas on gay romance, and homoerotic billboards. The fact remains, though, that lots of gay people still feel trepidation about doing so. The hesitation is common among those who, like Shiela, can easily pass for straight, which kept them under the radar longer than their more obvious counterparts. They’ve worn this camouflage for so long they feel shedding it would mean giving up the safety of their old lives.

During the early days of our friendship, which began in college, Sheila would never call herself gay, but instead prefers the phrase “having lesbian tendencies,” and would disclose about these tendencies to a few close friends.  I would snort every time she would say that.

“I’m a girl who just happens to like other girls,” she said.

“True, but the problem is, to many people, you’re not just any other girl; you’re a lesbian,” I said.

“I just hate labels,” she said.

“I’m sorry, but until people have come up with another names to call us, to them, a boy who likes another boy is bakla, and a girl who likes another girl is tibo. ”

Sheila has long dropped the “tendencies” but has yet to soften to the usual labels for a gay female. Her favored term now is “purple”, which makes me think of her as someone who mistook for sun tan lotion the indelible ink used during elections.

I know where Sheila’s aversion to labels stems from. For any gay guy in the Philippines, his most painful childhood memories include being taunted by other boys chanting “Bakla! Bakla! Bakla!” But then, for all the derision these labels are dripping with, they somehow have helped in making us gay people more visible. For instance, take the label paminta. A gay guy who acts as if straight, supposedly as cover-up, a paminta is  often depicted in popular culture as one who frequents the gym to body-build as much as to cruise. Though based on gender stereotypes, the label at least widens the spectrum of images people have on the gay guy: We are not always beauconeras; we can be basketball players, too (Thank you, Jason Collins). No, we don’t always join the varsity team to play the field. Most of the time, it’s for the love of the sport.

If life throws you lemons, then make lemonade – my attitude towards being gay, in a nutshell. If people call you beki, then be the sexiest beki that ever walked Earth. This doesn’t mean, however, that you’d keep your face up at every insulting epithet spat your way. To be called bading is one thing; to be called a pedophile when you’re not is another.

All these labels function in the same way as the other – though not as derogatory – ones we’ve worn since birth. They bind us to communities, whose causes we take up by adapting these labels. It’s like those scarves with embroidered chrysanthemums the rebels wear in The Curse of the Golden Flower.  So in the grand scheme of sexual politics today, neither being anonymous nor ambiguous would advance the revolution. You must be either “straight “or “gay”. You must make up your mind and take sides.

When we come out, we do it not only for ourselves. We do it for the man who dressed in women’s clothes and the woman who dressed in men’s clothes who walked down the streets and were thrown stones at for doing so. We do it for every man and woman who confessed love for a same-sex crush and was rejected. We do it for every gay man and woman who gave a lot before us so we could enjoy lots of freedom and lots of love now.

We do it for the lonely boy or girl in the locker room who is thinking of killing his or herself.

Now, you don’t always have to come up with a melodramatic speech to come out. If you have a knack for words and theater, then by all means, make your coming out like the opening of the Tony Awards with Neil Patrick Harris as host. But if you’re on the shy side, sometimes, you could make use of the little, less flamboyant but not less effective, things. Put in your two-cents whenever gay issues are brought up in the family. Comment on the cute guy/girl you see in the park when you go jogging with a friend. Or you could joke about it.  From time to time, in the presence of her parents, Sheila would crack “purple” jokes. “Ewan ko ba kung bakit type kita. Hindi ka naman guwapo,” she would say. “Siguro dahil maganda ka.”  (I don’t know why I’m falling for you. You’re not in the least cute. I guess it’s because you’re pretty.) Soon they will pick up on your hints.

Since we left college, Sheila already has none of the previous apologetic tone when talking about being a lesbian, and would sometimes express exasperation over the disapproval of homosexuality by her religion, of which her family is a devout member. Though her sexual orientation remains something her family would not talk about over dinner, she has become less guarded about it, the walking-over-landmines feeling gone. Baby steps, but brisk ones at that. I’m looking forward to the day when she brings home a girlfriend.

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Film, Personal Experiences, Social Issues

Messiahs in our minds

Image source:  Interaksyon.com

Image source: Interaksyon.com

I like observing people and thinking about what their individual actions say about the entire culture. Recently, I’ve been noticing a particular attitude among Filipinos: most of us harbor what I have come to call as messianic mentality. In the face of problems, instead of tackling them ourselves, we tend to turn to a supposedly more powerful entity – the messiahs who would bring us salvation.

As a city hall employee, I get to see this attitude play right before my eyes. The offices of the mayor and the councilors are paid visits everyday by constituents who each have their own requests: a mother wanting to avail her son of Mayor’s scholarship grant, an elderly seeking financial assistance for her medication from Councilor So-and-so.

Every time I show these people the way to those offices, I feel frustration creep in. Can’t they really fend for themselves that they have to rely on dole-outs from politicians? Have they really ran out of opportunities that they are now simply expecting solutions to their problems fall whole on their laps like manna from heaven?

My own family has had our own share of hard times but we never relied on anyone from outside to get us through them. I remember my mother doing odd jobs to provide for us when we were young. When money was tight in college, I took on part-time work, and eventually left school to work full time. No one of us headed to the city hall looking for Councilor This-and-that.

While I sound as if it is the people who are solely to blame, I acknowledge that our leaders have a lot to do with this. Philippine politics has never been about policies but personalities. It has become the norm for our leaders to act as patrons who have to ensure their constituent’s loyalty through favors, practically buying it.  In this arrangement, we the citizens have turned into clients who have to be continually pacified – numbed – into obedience with scholarships and assistances of all kinds, like children fed with candy by their parents.

This, too, is the logic behind political dynasties: Having bought them with favors, politicians regard their positions as private properties, something they could pass on their kin like inheritance. Like repeat buyers, Satisfied Constituent-Customer votes for Mayor’s Son.

No wonder the appearance of politicians in community events like a wake or a flood drill often feels like a visitation from the gods.

Messiahs aren’t found in city halls alone. This messianic mentality also explains why games shows are big right now. Not a few times have I heard an ecstatic winner of these shows babble something like, “Bossing, hulog ka ng langit!” (Bossing, you’re a godsend!). Willie Revillame’s shows have always had a cult-like feel. Willie’s studio audience is often from far-flung provinces and had to borrow money from their neighbors for bus fare, which is not unlike what pilgrims do. All those dancing and chanting of boom-tarat-tarats resemble scenes you would see on an El Shaddai service.

Ishmael Bernal would probably turn in his grave to hear this, but Willie Revillame’s show often brings to mind his film Himala. Both Willie and Elsa have devotees who are mostly poor elderly. The Ultra Stampede incident also bears echoes of the conclusion of the classic film.

I believe this messianic mentality is also  the reason many Filipinos have fallen for countless scams, and many young Filipino men continue joining fraternities.

And the root cause of it all is our deeply religious culture. Religion never encourages critical thinking and demands unquestioning obedience to its dogmas. Believers are made to transfer their agency to a god.  This god says, Cast your burdens upon me. This god says, Blessed are the poor for they will inherit the kingdom of God. We heed his words, inherit his kingdom, and we remain poor. Worse, we remain infants, constantly needing a parent to go about life.

If we are to mature as a people, we need to banish the messiahs in our minds. That includes every Mayor, Son of Mayor, Councilor, Willie and Elsa we have now. If salvation would have to be brought by anyone, it would have to be ourselves. rcc

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Personal Experiences, Social Issues

My Christmas Wishlist

1. November has started and before we knew it, it is Christmas already. Christmas, in a Christian and capitalist society like the Philippines, is one of the most anticipated holidays – if not the most anticipated – of the year.  So TV newscasts, for the whole year the monger of stories about politicians bickering over issues of National Interest and the networks’ contract stars falling in and out of Love, have also appointed themselves as purveyor of Christmas gift ideas, providing Really Useful Information on where to buy the cheapest China-made toys to give our children – Christmas, after all, is for children, right? –  and trinkets to decorate our homes with.

2. Many people in my Facebook network – also known as “friends” – have also started doing some purveying of gift ideas themselves in the form of Christmas wish lists. These so-called wishlists are lists of items which the list writer would really love to receive on Christmas. Each item often comes with a picture and a concise definition similar to those in an Avon catalog,  the items ranging from a Maybelline lipstick to a Nikon digital camera. So if someone is thinking of giving you a gift this Christmas, he or she need not go to so much trouble asking your friends for information in secret. He or she only has to see that list on your Facebook account. Come to think of it, a wishlist saves peoples’ time, so you are even doing your possible gift-givers a favor.

3. Moreover, it saves you, the list writer and eventual gift-receiver, the disappointment of unwrapping yet another Good Morning face towel, the 127th since the office Christmas party.

4. There is something unsettling with this. I find wish lists a little too functional. It strips the practice of gift-giving of its emotional context, reducing it into nothing more than an act of exchange of objects among people.  And much of what we do gains value because of the emotional context within which this act is carried out.

5. I have always believed that the charm of a gift lies on the knowledge that it was given to you despite you not asking for it. If you ask for it or pester people for it, it becomes something else. Perhaps a reward, a payment, or  a bribe. But not a gift.

6.  When I was younger, on school Christmas parties, our teachers would require everyone in the class to bring in gifts, to be raffled off later. Not a few children went home disheartened, having received a Good Morning face towel, a comb, a water bottle, or anything as functional and that is not a toy.  Even then, I would stress myself out lamenting silently the forcedness and fakeness of this classroom gift exchange.

7. This, along with telling children to put on their best selves the whole year so they could expect a gift from Santa Claus on Christmas, though well-meaning, has unintended ethically unsavory effects. It reinforces the materialistic value system of a hyper-consumerist society. It means that you become happy by possessing things, rather than nurturing relationships.

8.  Because Christmas is originally a Christian ritual, let me get an example from Christian mythology. Christians believe that before Jesus, humanity was so fucked up that they are better off as kindling for the fires of hell, whatever that is. Yet God, taking a cue from Willie Revillame, was so generous that he gave them a savior still – who was no less than his son, his only begotten son at that.  And that act of godly generosity is what is supposedly celebrated when people give gifts at Christmas.

9. Perhaps gift-giving is simply that, an exchange of objects among people, nothing more. You give gifts to your parents, the people who fed and clothed you, the first people to tell the lie about you being handsome and talented. You give gifts to your lover for the sex and the respite from the butt-of-jokes status of being single. But let’s pretend. Let’s pretend we don’t have an inkling on what the persons we sit next to or sleep beside with want this Christmas, but we don’t ask them upfront, so we instead turn to their other friends for that precious information, cautioning them all the while not to tell anything about it to our beloved. Let’s pretend that we, as the beloved now, never got wind of our lover’s info-fishing expedition, and at Christmas, when they finally hand us the Gift, we remove the pretty glossy paper with poinsettia prints ever so slowly, savoring each delicious second of anticipation. Let’s pretend that we give and receive gifts out of that beautiful feeling that wells from some mysterious place within us, otherwise called love.

10. Having said all these, I am now bracing myself for the sight of an empty stocking on Christmas morning.

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Books, Personal Experiences

Can we just stop and read awhile?

I’ve been often asked how I’ve come to love reading so much. I got this question most frequently when I was in high school, but I would sometimes be asked the same thing in college. The most practical answer I’ve come up with is – the least sentimental and the least philosophical – it’s a behavior nurtured since childhood.

I was raised in a household of books. If there is anything I appreciate about my packrat mother and grandmother, it’s the collection of books we’ve amassed over the years. Textbooks from my sister and my elementary years,  my uncles’ hardbound reference books on architecture and graphic design, stacks of Reader’s Digest from the 1970s, their pages brown  and brittle with age.  Though no one in the family studied law, we also have a sizable collection of law books, leatherbound and emblazoned with gold-lettering. These were originally owned  by a neighbor which was a family of lawyers, who, perhaps wanting to make space for newer, more updated law books, threw them in the subdivision dump site, a piece of land which was just beside our house. My grandmother, lover of the unloved, salvaged them from the dump and gave them shelter in our home library.

Many of the Reader’s Digests had pages scribbled over with overlapping orbits in blue ink. My mother says the culprit was a three-year-old psychopath let loose with a blue ballpoint pen. That psychopath is supposed to be me.

With books filling every nook and cranny of our house, it stands to reason then that I would grow up a voracious reader. Then again, and this really puzzles me, why am I the only reader in the family? It turns out, as I’ve realized now, that my mother and grandmother’s penchant for saving books is not so much out of love of reading as out of compulsion to indiscriminately gather things, nothing more. Now my mother would pick a book from my own collection now – novels, creative writing textbooks, poetry and essay anthologies – and ask, “How much?” Because I can’t possibly remember book prices, I’ve learned to answer that with, “I got it from the second-hand shop,” which was what the majority of my books really are.

Readers in the Philippines have always been regarded like unicorns.  Love of reading is, unfortunately, not a widespread cultural trait. Train passengers would rather plug their ears with earphones or occupy their hands pushing buttons on their mobile phones than read a newspaper.  Even an author of paperback romance, which is enjoying much readership in the country now, would never be a Danielle Steele.

Readers in the Philippines have always been regarded like unicorns.  Love of reading is, unfortunately, not a widespread cultural trait.

What exactly is love of reading, anyway? How does one know whether someone is bibliophilic or not? At its most basic, a bibliophile is someone who can’t not read, who feels a gaping hole inside him when a day goes by without him opening a book. Not because the final exams are underway, but simply because it feels good.

Various theories have been put forth to explain our apathetic attitude towards books, the most common being economics. Someone from a third world country like ours would rather buy  rice than buy a second hand novel, which, based on current rates, can be as much as three kilos of rice.

I recently came across this article on Filipino’s communication styles published on the UP Forum (Filipino Culture and Access to Information, Celeste Ann Castillo Llaneta, UP Forum, May-June 2011).  A professor was quoted as saying that Filipinos are not a reflective people.  Florangel Rosario Braid, the professor, observes that we tend to prefer the trivial to the significant.

This statement sheds much light on the issue at hand. The very act of reading is an act of reflection. You stop and take a seat with the book in your hand, with nothing but the author’s thought and your own in your mind. If done the right way, soon you start digging deep into yourself, asking questions, challenging your existing biases.  And this is something that many Filipinos are averse to doing. We would rather ask esteemed people in our community – a parent, a teacher, a priest– about something we know little about than read up on them,  says another professor, Benjamina Paula Flor, in the same article. Probably because it is safer that way. We’d rather not look behind the surface of things than plumb their depths because doing so would inevitably expose their uglier side. We prefer the status quo. This is why the most vocal people I know, unafraid to speak their minds, are also well-read ones. Is it all those centuries of colonization, those centuries  of conditioning to always shut one’s mouth and accept the existing order of things?

Sometimes, I wonder whether Filipinos would ever give reading the love it deserves.  Given the encroachment of the Internet and the supposed perils it brings to people’s attention span and Filipinos’ infamy as passionate social media users, will we ever muster the attention to read something lengthier than a 140-character gibber from a celebrity? I hope we do so, because we are missing a lot.

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Personal Experiences, Social Issues

Emosyonal

CJ Corona is emotional

IMAGE SOURCE Kevin dela Cruz for Abante Online

Para akong asong nakarinig ng kaluskos nang marinig ang balita tungkol kay Chief Justice Corona ilang araw na rin ang nakararaan. Naging emosyonal daw ang punong mahistrado sa harap ng kanyang mga taga-suporta na nagdaos ng rally sa harap ng gusali ng Supreme Court. Hindi naman talaga ako mahilig manood ng balita sa TV at hindi ko sinusubaybayan ang proceedings ng impeachment trial sa senado, pero noong hapong iyon, nang naging laman ng mga balita ang emosyonal na mahistrado, palipat-lipat ako ng channel.

Hindi, hindi ako gaanong interesadong makita ang punong mahistrado, isa sa pinakamakakapangyarihang tao sa pamahalaan, ang malabathalang tagapagbigay ng hatol, na nagiging emosyonal. Mas interesado ako sa headline ng mga newscasts. Ewan ko kung nag-usap-usap ba ang mga writers sa iba’t-ibang istasyon at nagkaisa silang isang salita lang ang gamitin upang ilarawan si CJ Corona, dahil halos lahat yata ng headlines sa lahat ng istasyon, ganito ang sinasabi: CJ Corona, naging emosyonal sa harap ng mga taga-suporta. Katulad nito.

Ang ipinagtataka ko, sa dami ng maaring salitang gamitin, bakit emosyonal pa ang napiling gamitin ng mga newscast writers. Bakit hindi na lang “naiyak” o “napaluha”? Iyon naman talaga ang nangyari kay Corona, at may mga video na magpapatunay dito.

Hindi ito ang unang beses na narinig kong gamitin sa mga newscasts ang salitang emosyonal. Madalas, naririnig ko ito sa tuwing may bagyo, baha, landslide, sunog, o kahit anong sakuna. “Naging emosyonal si Aling Bebang habang ikinukuwento ang pagkawala ng kanyang limang-taong-gulang na anak nang bumaha nang matindi.” (Ang mga salitang water world at kalunos-lunos ang top 2 at 3 sa mga pinakamadalas gamiting salita sa mga balitang sakuna) Syempre, naririnig ko rin ito kapag may isang artistang nakipagbreak sa kanyang boyfriend o girlfriend. “KC, emosyonal sa interview ni Boy Abunda.”

Maraming uri ng emosyon, at sa pagsulat ng balita, kailangang tiyak at accurate ang facts. Sa paglalarawan ng damdamin,wala nang mas lalabo pa sa salitang emosyonal. Anong emosyon ba talaga ang tinutukoy ng emosyonal? Saya, lungkot, pighati, galit, o deadma?

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