An LGBT children’s book?

Koji Arsua - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - It’s easy to dismiss a boy’s effeminacy as a “phase,” something that he’ll grow out of. Often, families sheepishly excuse a boy’s penchant for dolls as something he picked up from his sisters or cousins before abruptly changing the topic. Yes, these things are willfully ignored, in hopes that if they ignore the signs, it’ll go away. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “the pink elephant in the room.”

An article came out a few months ago about how parents should “correct” a boy’s growing homosexuality, failing to acknowledge that maybe some boys are happier with other boys, that they can identify with the opposite sex better. Granted, children are too young to understand the complex ways of human sexuality, but depriving them of their happiness can result in an identity crisis and poor self-esteem.

For author Rhandee Garlitos, homosexuality is not a choice, but an identity. And it is with this idea that he wrote Ang Bonggang Bonggang Batang Beki, the first children’s book on effeminacy in young boys. While it is not focused on sexuality per se, it teaches us that living outside the norm is okay and that not fitting in is not the worst problem to have. Ang Bonggang Bonggang Batang Beki is a touching story of an innocent boy who likes to live life by his own rules. Illustrations were done by Tokwa Peñaflorida.

Supreme got the chance to interview both the author and the artist on what inspires them, if homosexuality is a disease that must be “cured,” and if they ever felt alienated as a child.

SUPREME: Your book is possibly Asia’s first children’s book on homosexuality in children. What was your inspiration for writing it?

GARLITOS: Before I start, I would like to make it clear that this book is not about homosexuality in children, but effeminacy in young boys. I dread to think that effeminate boys who have not reached puberty already have a concept of same-sex attraction, so I would like to make that disclaimer, lest I be misinterpreted as promoting homosexuality in children.

It is probably the first book of its kind not only in Asia but also in the world to tackle effeminate boys as a subject of a children’s storybook. There was no book on gay children, too, so I decided that I would be the first person, at least in the Philippines, to write about children that we consider beki but not (totally) “homosexual.”

Some sectors might say that we shouldn’t be tolerant of this, that we should “correct” it while kids are still young. Is homosexuality a “disease” that should be cured?

GARLITOS: Homosexuality is not a lifestyle, not a choice, and definitely not a disease. It is an identity, how a person sees himself/herself, a life defined by his own preferences. How can you cure somebody of his identity? Same thing with effeminacy. Male children who are effeminate are not “confused.” It’s the people who insist that these boys are doing something wrong who are confused.

PENAFLORIDA: What’s the worst thing that can happen if a little child grows up to be different? All of the greatest and most inspirational people I know, in history and personally, are different. I think we should focus more on teaching how to love rather than hate.

These days, society is more tolerant of homosexuality. Do you find this to be true?

GARLITOS: People in general are more accepting because they live with gays and lesbians. In the larger picture of society, they help build and improve society. And who wouldn’t want to have a gay or lesbian friend around? They are the best people to enjoy life with!

PENAFLORIDA: Yes. But we still have a long way to go. Let’s not aim for tolerance, let’s aim for this-shouldn’t-be-an-issue-at-all.

This book is going to be an interesting read for both children and parents. What is your message for them?

GARLITOS: They have no obligation to change for others simply because they love pink. They should accept who they are and embrace it. Parents need not be alarmed if Junior is more interested in girl stuff. Love your child more than ever, because whoever he is and whatever his choices are, if he is reared by the most loving hands, he will become a person whose ideas can change the world, a person you will be proud to call your own.

PENAFLORIDA: We accept, we move on, we live. Be a parent — give them strength and make sure they know that no matter happens, you love them. Life is not easy growing up, let’s not make it harder.

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Tweet the author @kojibberish.









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