Friday, July 20, 2012

Are you gay?

*my column in the July 22 issue of Cordillera Today (with Vani's permission)

I had the same conversation with my mother when I was about 16 years old. We were having dinner and after eating, she asked me to stay at the table because she had to talk to me about “something important.” She gave me a long preamble about having a lot of gay friends, how fun it was to be around them, etc., and then finally popped the question: are you gay? Having been in theater for a couple of years already by then, she must have noticed that I was beginning to speak the gay lingo that was the de facto official language of the theater world. Easily half of my friends then were gay.

Years later, I asked my son to join me at the porch after dinner – I wanted to talk him about “something important.” A long talk, that’s what we called these serious one-on-one sessions, and his siblings teased him when they heard that I wanted to have one with him, “hala ka, kuya, Papa wants to have a long talk with you! You’re in trouble!” He just laughed it off, but I could feel that he was quite nervous about it. Though I told myself that I wouldn’t do a preamble like my mother did long ago, I found myself rambling on and on about, well, having a lot of gay friends, etc., but since I was quite sure about it, I didn’t ask a question and instead told him, “I just want you to know that I know that you’re gay, and that you have no reason at all to hide it from me.”

I first had a feeling that he was when he was about nine or 10 years old. He loved Hillary Duff, and that show, “Lizzie McGuire,” and the family had no choice but to watch the show along with him whenever it was on. I liked the show, Lizzie’s father and brother were so funny. His sister would tease him about having a crush on the Disney teen star. For some reason that was not how I saw it.

Then, I always made sure that I gave them a half hour or so before picking them up for school to give them time to play with their friends and classmates. His younger brother and sister would be all over the school playground with their classmates, roughhousing, climbing and jumping off the monkey bars while he would be in one corner with his girl classmates, talking, giggling and laughing a lot. And watching them from afar, giving them invaluable playtime before bringing them home, and I noticed: he talked, laughed, smiled just like Lizzie McGuire. I found it so cute.

Some friends noticed it too – he was quite effeminate, they would say, and that maybe I should talk to him about it already. I didn’t’ think so. I mean, should I talk to any one of my children at nine or 10 about his or her sexuality if he or she showed signs of being heterosexual?

Then one time, I was called to the principal’s office of his school. The school principal and my son’s adviser had that look of grave concern on their faces, and I was so nervous thinking that my son must have done something seriously wrong. And then the principal said, “we called you in today because Mr. _____ thought it was best to inform you about your son’s ‘condition.’” What condition, I asked? Then the adviser said, “I noticed that your son has been showing signs of being a homosexual, and I talked to him about it.”

"And what did you tell him?" I did all I can to prevent myself from raising my voice. And then he said, “I told him that it’s wrong, but it’s ok, there are things we can do to correct his situation.” At that point, I had to raise my voice already if only to prevent myself from punching the self-righteous smirk off his face, “how dare you!” The adviser was surprised at my reaction, and proceeded to explain why he had to do something about it, I could hardly understand him as he rambled on about God and the Bible and “corrective measures.” He then asked me what I thought should be done about it. “Do something about what, his being gay? Absolutely nothing!” I replied. “How dare you impose your own twisted sense of morality on my son, and tell him that his nature is wrong!”

I didn’t tell my son about my encounter with the principal and his adviser then, but a couple of years later, that night at the porch, he was already entering his teens and and I thought it was time. He blushed, paused for a moment and I was quite surprised when he replied, “But I’m not gay, Papa. I know I act this and that way in front of my friends, but that's just because it's fun.” I felt bad that he denied it, and I thought that perhaps he found it easier to stay inside the closet than tell his father face to face that he was. I thought about all of my gay friends who talked about how hard it was for them to come out to their parents. “But I really believe that you are, son,” I told him. 

Later, he would tell me he was, in fact, being honest at the time - while a lot of people around him thought that he was gay and some even talked to him about it, and that he himself also has thought about it, he really wasn't sure yet if he was at that point.

I told him that, ok, I will go along with his denial, and still talked to him about  sexuality and sex in general for at his age, he should be informed about it before his Catholic school or anyone else start telling him it’s a sin to be gay and that sex is dirty. We talked about sexuality, sex, being responsible. I told him about how our society still has a long way to go in accepting the fact that some of us are attracted to the opposite sex, and some of us aren’t. I told him about how I wish we lived in a more ideal society where people weren’t judged based on their sexuality, nor, for that matter, the color of their skin or the clothes they wear or the kind of car they drive. But that’s just the way it is now. So while the sneers, the teasing and the tasteless jokes about gays were all wrong, I told him to be careful out there, and at least try not to invite all that. But if he ever decides to be the gay guy who dressed up in women’s clothes, I would still proudly walk alongside him down Session Road and be the first to defend him from the bigots of the world.

Acceptance? That night, I told my son that I did not need to accept his being gay just as there was no need for me to accept that his siblings aren’t.

Marko Angelo, my eldest son, also known as Vani, a fine, fun, sometimes mean but most of the time protective brother to his younger siblings, a very respectful, responsible and very loving son to his parents, the life of the party to his friends, and one of the five children I am so blessed and proud to have.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Violators will be apprehended, maybe

At the top of Session Road, where the rotunda is, people risk life and limb squeezing between concrete and iron barriers, playing a potentially fatal game of patintero with motorists, brazenly and oh so easily ignoring the huge signs that say, “no jaywalking” and “violators will be apprehended.” And what’s worse is that the scene repeatedly happens right across the office of the city’s traffic management czar. And what makes matters even worse is that even policemen do it.

It’s the same thing at the bottom of the Session Road where the city’s so-called experts on traffic management had this bright idea of closing the pedestrian crossing lane right across Mercury Drug. While I believe that the move was anti-pedestrian, elitist even, a rule is a rule.

At the upper part of Abanao Street, they left open a few meters of the rest of the center island fronting a gasoline station, just a few meters from the newly-constructed pedestrian overpass. This un-barricaded part of the road has now become an open invitation to the lazy to again violate a rule – people of all ages can be seen darting through traffic in this area instead of using the overpass.

What’s all the ado about jaywalking? Because it says a lot about us as a community and Baguio as a city.

For every jaywalker that gets away with it, that’s one person who believes that the law isn’t something to be taken seriously. That’s one person who will find it easier to park his vehicle illegally, beat the red light, not segregate his garbage, smoke in public buildings maybe even right in the heart of Justice Hall in full view of the public like someone I know, cheat on his taxes, not issue a receipt if he owned a business, drive a colorum taxicab, be an illegal vendor or a legal vendor of illegal merchandise, and so on and so forth. Am I exaggerating? Look around you.

Our government flaunts all these laws that in the end aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Take the seatbelt law for example: when it was introduced not so long ago, every motorist in the city obeyed simply because the law was strictly enforced. Well, at least for a while. I was once apprehended for not wearing my seatbelt and I remember thanking the policeman for the reminder. But that law has since been forgotten and today, even most taxi and jeepney drivers don’t even bother to pretend they have a seatbelt on by just placing the lifesaving contraption across their chest without actually locking it in place.

You let them get away with one, you encourage them to try to get away with another.

Late at night, if you stop at a red light even if it’s clear that there are no cars approaching, you suddenly become the stupid one when the car right behind you starts honking his horn egging you to violate the law. At the lane crossing Mabini Street, you’re the dumb one who waits for the pedestrian light to turn green even if there’s no car coming down the street as everyone else starts crossing, at times you even get screamed at by those behind you for being in the way of their being a scofflaw.

What’s the point? If you can’t enforce it, scrap the law! Take out the No Jaywalking signs because yes, our police allow jaywalking. Take out the signs that say Violators Will Be Apprehended because violators don’t get apprehended.

For if our government cannot implement even the simplest of laws such as the one jaywalking, how can we expect it to lift a finger at all to enforce more complicated laws that, say, protect and defend our environment and our right to a healthful climate?

Saturday, July 7, 2012


The small town has gone to bed for the night – it’s half past midnight and except for the husbands struggling to get on their motorcycles to go home as the town’s lone watering hole was closing its doors, the policemen struggling to stay awake on another quiet, uneventful evening, hardly anything else stirred.

A statue of the Sacred Heart, dramatically lit in the churchyard next to it, watched over the scene. We drove past the elementary school along the national highway where she learned how to read and write, we then turned to a narrow street to the house where Ciano lived all of the 93 years of his life, the same route she used to walk as an elementary pupil some three and a half decades ago.

We stopped in front of the “dakkel nga balay,” though it wasn’t really that much bigger than most of the houses on the street. In fact, the house stood rather inconspicuously surrounded by various trees including one with pretty white flowers that seemed to glow in the dark. While for decades it was indeed the biggest house on this street – two floors, a receiving area, kitchen and dinning room at the first floor then another living room on the second and a couple of bedrooms, Ciano never found the need to add to it, except maybe to replace the nipa with G.I. sheets for the roof, concrete flooring for the first floor instead of the old one made from dried, packed, buffed carabao dung – he didn’t need to, the bachelor lived alone for most of the last three decades.

She stood infront of the gate now made of iron instead of bamboo as she did as a small girl, “Taaaaang! I’m home,” she would call from the street, afraid to enter the gate where Ciano’s geese once roamed freely and defended their territory fiercely by chasing after any intruder. Ciano would get up from planting corn, or feeding the chickens and pigs in the back, and fetch her and protect her from the geese. With her Tatang holding her hand, she felt safe.

Once, on a rainy day, Ciano led her to the edge of the house where the water dripped from the edge of the roof, making tiny holes on the ground below. When the rain stopped, together they planted corn along the neat line created by the dripping. Together they tended, watered when there was no rain, and watched the corn plants grow, until they bore fruit later that year.

I watched her stand infront of that gate, unmoving for a moment, with me foolishly expecting her to call out, “Taaaang, I’m home!” This time she opened that gate herself – there were no more geese in the front yard. After a few moments she came back out and together we unloaded all our bags, got back in the car, and drove a few meters down the road to the hospital.

I met Ciano myself about a decade ago when he visited Baguio. Dressed sharply in slacks and a crisp polo shirt, he kept on joking about how he can still “paint the town red,” and how just recently, while at the market, the tinderas teasingly flirted with him. A small man of just about five feet, with a gentle voice so calm it soothes, Tatang Cien, as she called him, spoke flawless English. She remembers his daily ritual of reading before dinner, aloud, which started her own fascination with the written word.

We’re at the hospital, Ciano is lying in bed with his eyes closed, struggling with each breath. Gently she runs her fingers through his hair, and gently speaks into his ear “Tang, it’s me, I’ve come to see you. I’m right here, Tang… I’m home.” Ciano struggles to reply with a moan.

One by one she introduced her children to him, “this is Leon,” placing her son’s hand on his forehead, “and this is Gabriela and my youngest, Aeneas.” Then finally she whispers, “thank you for taking care of me when I was small.”

While I silently thanked the man who helped create wonderful memories for my wife, and helped define the woman I fell in love with forever.