HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated February 20, 2011
The first gay person I met was in prep at the Ateneo de Manila. He was a strange, effeminate boy who immediately invited ridicule and persecution from our more aggressive classmates. I could never understand why someone who, just because he was different, and even when he was not hurting anyone, had to endure such cruel taunting and ridicule.
I had no bias at all against gays in school. In fact, I took pity mostly because they were always the reluctant whipping boys in our all-male environment. They never asked to be teased but got large doses of humiliation all the time.
As we moved to the higher grades, I noticed there were more of them. It seemed that the more we moved up in age and grade, the more they appeared or manifested. It reminded me of something I read in biology class where some in the male species will exhibit female characteristics and eventually become fully female to: a) balance the sexual count in their environment and b) maintain harmony and lower the aggression among males who share the same space.
I have often wondered how it felt like being gay at the Ateneo when we were growing up. As most of us looked across the creek towards the lithesome ladies of Maryknoll (now Miriam College) when we got to high school, the gays must have looked longingly at some of their classmates. There must have been a lot of frustration and guilt they had to deal with being in a Catholic, all-male institution like the Ateneo, so much so that I often wondered how most of them seemed to manage at all.
How did they survive sports, class nights, sharing toilets and showers, proms, school activities with self-esteem bravely intact (at least that’s how it looked to us)?
Last year, the answer to all my questions came when I met Raymond Alikpala, a fortysomething lawyer and dyed-in-the-wool Atenista who courageously went out of the closet quite late in life. He had written a book and generously gave me a copy. The book is called God Loves Bakla, a searingly honest account of how he went through a complete Ateneo education from prep to law school, and how he maneuvered mostly successfully through the maze of personal, parental, church and societal expectations until his outing.
The book spans many years, and a lot of life stages, and the personal and spiritual battles he waged. From his early experiences of boyhood crushes to an unexplainable attraction to certain people as he was growing up and advancing in age, he talks candidly and thus rivetingly about his complicated emotional dilemmas, thoughts, and his denial of his sexual orientation which resulted in so much self-loathing. His was a journey of long psychological and sexual suffering before he felt the healing power of complete self-acceptance.
It is not a kiss-and-tell book. But it is a well-documented one. It helps that he kept a diary. He mentions important events in his life but many times spares the identities of those who may feel compromised by the stigma of even remotely having had any type of relationship (even a non-sexual one) with a gay person.
When I read the book, I could not put it down. Every reference to his years at the Ateneo, and its academic and religious practices , its spiritual formation, is portrayed from the point of view of a gay person in denial. His account is that of a silent voice that was never heard, and even if it had been, it would not have been taken seriously. In fact, it may have been cause for expulsion to express anything as candid as this then, and arguably even up to now. He had to wait for a less hostile time, or at least a more moderate environment before he felt that his story could be told. Mostly, it had to wait for him to finally and totally embrace himself as a gay man before his narrative could be shared.
What is quite amazing is how clearly and honestly Raymond could express his painful moments as he grappled with the possibility of being a gay person, or the constant effort of putting up a manly persona and his fear of being found out, or even his pathetically funny attempts at having a heterosexual relationship to “cure” himself of his gayness.
I won’t say anymore since I don’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of discovering a good read.
Lately, my old classmates and I have been getting together socially, including a gay classmate who has lived abroad all these years. Ube Abeleda recently decided to come back and retire here. I still remember him in high school.
In a way, he was lucky. He was our resident gay and many of us were fond of him. He was easy to like and his gayness did not “threaten” anyone. We were strangely protective of him. It was quite comical to see some of the macho guys in class shout “Quiet!” to silence everyone when the shy and meek Ube was called to recite or speak in his soft, frail voice.
Many other gays I knew from school have done quite well, too, and seem to have gotten over a lot of the macho drubbing they got while growing up. It seems so since many of them often attend class socials and school homecomings.
I have heard stories about gay boys being beaten up by their fathers or siblings to “straighten them out” but I have not heard of any successful macho conversions. While I know a lot of self-proclaimed religious people who abhor gays, I also know more men who do not. Maybe things must have started to change with my generation. Hopefully, gays will have an easier time now than they did during my youth.
In my view, the media in the Philippines does a disservice to the gay community by keeping their image locked in stereotypes. There are the screaming fags, the shallow commentators whose idea of humor or intelligent commentary is gay lingo gobbledygook. I would like to see an openly gay, dignified man who can coolly talk of substantive things and not let his sexual orientation detract from what he says. Boy Abunda and director Joey Reyes come to mind. There should be more.
In our lifetime, we have seen communism collapse, capitalism shudder on its knees, China’s dramatic ascendancy, Arab despots teetering to inevitable oblivion. It is my hope that someday soon, the time will come when gays will be accorded full equal civil rights in matters of love and family.
Yes, I do believe in gay marriage. And as much as I know how abhorrent this may sound to some of my more conservative readers, I imagine how unthinkable and equally disgusting it must have been to have once held the thought that slavery and apartheid were fundamentally wrong.
Sex is a taboo that is hard to break and it is probably because it is that area of human activity where people express themselves most uniquely. “My own belief is that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror,” W. Somerset Maugham observed.
But abhorrent, complicated or unacceptable the issue may seem to some people, I do share the view that the God who made a world so wonderfully complex and nuanced in multi-dimensional ways must love ALL her children.
Yes, God loves bakla, too. We should do no less.
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1) Join my Songwriting Workshop on Feb. 26 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. This is a fun, challenging workshop where the student is taught the elements of good songwriting from melodic, structure, lyrics, arrangements, etc. Hits from all genres and styles of music are analyzed. The “hook” is discussed and applied at length. Most importantly, the student is challenged to actually write songs during the one-day workshop. Students must know how to play an instrument.
2) Go beyond a point-and-shoot experience. Let me teach you how to use it. I would like to invite you all to a workshop in Manila . I am offering a Basic Photography Workshop on March 12, 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. If you enroll in this class, you can get a discount from Canon when you buy cameras and accessories.