Malate by night
- Reynaldo "Bart" Fajardo () - April 19, 2009 - 12:00am

THIS WEEKS WINNER

Reynaldo Cabusao Fajardo is a Sony technical support representative from Alorica Philippines. He is a multi-awarded singer whose name is a byword in amateur and professional voice competitions. He is also a part-time wedding singer and dance instructor, teaching tango, swing and boogie.

This is a story about homosexuality. It is not a defense of gay rights, which is a moot and academic subject, anyway, because all of us possess inalienable human rights regardless of sexual orientation. It is not an apologia or advocacy either, because in each and every one of us lies our birthright of innate dignity. It is not even a plea for understanding.

It is only a glimpse of a world that is…different.

It is a milieu where people wear masks but shed their inhibitions; where people avoid emotional hang-ups while trying to find true love; where friendships are forged among those who have been stabbed in the back so many times.

Why is there such hysteria from certain quarters about topics that go beyond the male-female paradigm? The world of heterosexuality is just as full of betrayals and dangerous liaisons. Rustom goes into the PBB House and emerges in NAIA as BB, and the world is still turning on its axis, the “sun still shines, the sun still sets,” to borrow a line from one of Tiffany’s songs. Mountains are made without even a single molehill in sight. It is…strange. And they say that gay people are weird.

I have a friend named Vincent. I’ve known him for over a decade. He looks like Marvin Agustin. Really. He got into the flesh trade at 14. Along the way he has lost count of the strangers he’d become intimate with. I even became closely acquainted with some of his boyfriends. Oh, yes, he’s bisexual, but you wouldn’t know that just by looking at him.

You wouldn’t even suspect that he’s also HIV-positive.

I’m supposed to write about a book, and I’m trying to figure out how to segue gracefully without breaking the narrative flow. Is it merely a coincidence that this particular book features a character who’s also named Vincent?

Is it also another coincidence that this literary Vincent is a bisexual with HIV?

It is very tricky to issue wakeup calls through a novel. (Rizal’s Noli was being obvious during the debates between Crisostomo and Philosopher Tacio although it was magnificent in the scenes with Sisa and her sons.) But this technique was splendidly conjured by Louie Mar Gangcuangco in the groundbreaking novel Orosa-Nakpil Malate. This tale dares to break the taboos on the seeming conspiracy of silence against HIV-AIDS. It is there, woven into the narrative tapestry, embedded into the scintillating night-life eroticism. This is a book about Filipino gays but it should be read by every Filipino of legal age if the blindfold of stereotyping ignorance is to be eventually unsheathed.

The hero, John David de Jesus, is not your average guy (with special emphasis on the last word). Dave graduated valedictorian in elementary and high school, and magna cum laude from the UP School of Medicine, with a degree in Integrated Liberal Arts and Medicine. He’s been derisively called “STD wizard” because of his ideas about safe sex, by his school rival, Michael, who is revealed later as also being bisexual and molests Dave in, of all places, a cemetery, but that’s getting ahead of the story.

Dave’s entire life is shown including his innately effeminate mannerisms since childhood. One of the most poignant scenes is when his mother Malou is crying, telling him that he’s bound to be teased and insulted in the course of his life. The narration is like a letter to a friend. As the story opens with Dave’s graduation from med school, the novel, in loose translation, goes:

You may be a pig in the sight of some, but you are still a son of God. You were not created to be condemned. Everybody, even those in the third sex, has a mission in life. For you, the true measure of character is how true you are to you mission, and not what your gender is or what your heart is telling you.

Dave starts life as gay but a funny incident makes him assume a more masculine, more attractive, persona. But of course everybody in Malate knows he is gay. But then again, almost everybody there is, apparently. He is taken by his best friend Dana to the Barn, a popular hangout for bisexuals. There, Dave meets Jeremy and Kester, and is attracted to them both. Imagine his shock when he learns that his fantasy studs are…lovers!

Things are not always what they seem, especially with people. Dave has a boyfriend named Eric who dresses so simply that you’d think he’s poor, but he lives in Pearl Drive in a mansion, he has his own driver — that sort of thing. Some of his so-called friends are gossiping about what everybody has done to everybody, going into hair-raising details, giving a “blow-by-blow account, literally,” writes Louie Mar.

Indeed, pretentiousness is a human condition; it doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female or in between. Dave’s sixth lover, Celso, carries lots of money but lives in a smelly hovel.

Celso is actually one of the major characters although it is Ross, who apparently looks like Piolo Pascual, who is the good guy. Celso, labeled as “pentasexual,” seduces Dave. They meet at the Barn while some semi-naked guy is dancing. Dave is outraged, not because of the dancing, but because the song is My Only Hope.

Celso introduces himself, “You’re Dave, am I right or am I left?” Celso’s English enlivens the entire story but nothing can ease the weight of the ending, where, like Hamlet, the principal characters are dangled like puppets by the strings of tragic fate. At any rate, the scene with Dave and Celso in the taxi alone is worth the price of the book. You will not be disappointed if you’re expecting heavy-duty X-rated scenes in the novel, like what happened in the FEU men’s room, but you have to read the book.

Everybody, come to think of it, should read this book. I learned so much information, including about ELISA or Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay, the blood exam that tests if one has HIV. This is the question that makes Dave quiz bee champion, beating Michael. The novel takes root in my mind deeper and deeper as the story unfolds, and the characters take a life of their own. You may hate some of the characters, but in the end you will find that their humanity is no different from your own. With that comes understanding, and with understanding comes forgiveness, and when we have learned to forgive…like Dave, like Vincent…we’ll find, finally, healing and redemption.


ALORICA PHILIPPINES CELSO CRISOSTOMO AND PHILOSOPHER TACIO DAVE DAVE AND CELSO ENZYME LINKED IMMUNOSORBENT ASSAY INTEGRATED LIBERAL ARTS AND MEDICINE JEREMY AND KESTER JOHN DAVID LOUIE MAR
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