Male matters
LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - September 19, 2020 - 12:00am

Yes, we’ve heard what’s wrong with the Pinoy male. They are just boys who grew up and are now loaded with testosterone and muscles. They treat girls either as Mary Magdalene or the Virgin Mary. They have a fidelity quotient below zero.

Now that we’ve expelled the bile, let’s talk about the good things about the Pinoy male. Yes, they exist, and here are some of them. One, they’re good-looking. I lived briefly in Singapore and one day, the cast and crew of Bridal Shower came for the Singapore International Film Festival. Since it was directed by my friend Jeffrey Jeturian, I went and watched again this film I’ve seen earlier in Manila. The Singaporeans – blasé, rich and comfortable – marveled at the scenes showing the classiness and style of Makati. And more: the two girls beside me nearly screamed when they saw Alfred Vargas, Juancho Valentin and Douglas Robinson taking off their shirts and showing off their buffed bodies.

“Are you from Manila?” they asked me after the film showing, their eyes still glazed at the sight of such male beauty.

“Yes,” I answered, smiling sweetly, for I knew what the next question would be.

“Do you have such really cute guys walking on the streets of Manila?”

“Oh, yes. There’s more where they came from!” I answered, and the girls tittered with delight.

Because our race is such a mélange of cultures – Malay, Chinese, Arab, Indian, Spanish and American – we have some of the cutest guys in Asia – or even the world. The Eurasian mix never fails to impress, whether the hyphenated Filipino is walking in Greenbelt, on Fifth Avenue or Piccadilly Square. The brown-black hair, those almond eyes and aquiline nose, that skin the color of honey never fail to get second looks.

Filipino men are also cosmopolitan. When I lived in Malaysia for years, I went to the gym to put some order into my day. In between the huffing and the puffing, I would read the magazines. FHM Malaysia and Singapore had interviews of women who always claimed that they favored Filipino men over the rest of maledom in Asia. And why?

“Because they are sophisticated and cosmopolitan,” said one lovely woman who grew up in Sydney. “They won’t coop me up at home, would let me take a career, even balance that career and a family life.”

All along, I thought that these things we take for granted are already part of life in the rest of Asia. But they aren’t. Freed from the constraints of chauvinism and patriarchy in the last 20 years, the Filipino male is now cool about equal rights and such. Whether he is a househusband or a professional, he doesn’t give a hoot about who makes more money. As long as he gets cable TV with 500 channels worldwide while pulling and pushing that crib with the baby in it, he will be OK.

Pinoy men are light-hearted. When I studied in the UK and the US, my classmates were always amazed at the Pinoys they met. “Why do you smile all the time? Crack jokes at yourself and your country? Have the sun smiling on your faces?”

Well, because I guess it’s the only thing we have – our wit and our humor. Sure, gas prices just rose again, that 12-percent E-VAT made us cut down on our fine dining. But our incurable optimism will make us endure, survive and, I am sure, prevail. Because in our hearts we know that gas prices might go down later, that the E-VAT might be struck down.

Pinoy men are fashionable. More and more, even straight men are veering away from their careless looks: fat bodies in sweat-stained T-shirts, mega-hyper baggy jeans and super-clunky shoes. With bad skin to boot. Now they go to the gym to trim and tone, wear slimmer shirts and jeans and even have skin treatments for that deep-down clean look. They go to good barber shops or parlors, indulge in the spa and put on moisturizer to hydrate skin exposed to the sins of the times – pollution, smoking and late nights out.

When I was in Boracay last year, I was amazed to see men in their thirties and forties look as if they were 10 or more years younger. Their chests were not as hard as shields and their thighs not as big as your gym trainers’, but there was enough hardness, muscle and tone to make heads turn, and turn again.

They’re also multi-lingual. And I don’t mean just foreign languages. I mean in the many Philippine languages, too. They can switch from their native Ilonggo to Filipino to English, and then from there to Spanish or Nihonggo or French. Or to the new language of the world – Mandarin!

It must be my generation, but there is something sweet about a Pinoy who can do Taglish without trying hard to do so. In my book – and academic research bears this out – those who are good in English are also good in Tagalog because they had excellent teachers in school. And the contemporary Pinoy who switches from Tagalog to English to another mix-mix of languages is doing so not to sound cutesy but to emphasize a point, or a cluster of meanings within that breathless switch.

Whenever I traveled around Asia, they wondered when did I learn English? At age five, in school. Many of you? Well, yes, many in the Philippines. And where did you learn Spanish? asked the Latino cab driver in New Jersey. In school, also, for two years of my life, memorizing conjugaccion and Jose Rizal’s Mi Ultimo Adios and the poems of the 19th century Spanish writers. Where did you learn Chinese? asked another. Oh, the bad words, from my classmates from Xavier School. And French, the last asked, why do you understand them? Oh, just a few words, from watching the subtitles of French films that used to be shown at the Ayala Museum in the 1980s, when it used to show foreign films – a true oasis of its times.

Finally, they’re tall. It must be the mixture of all those races, the milk we drank or the shrimp crackers we munched in school (shrimp crackers?), but many Filipinos are growing taller and taller.

Even without the benefit of elevator shoes, stretching exercises or those painful operations that stretch your bones, I see more Filipinos who are 5’8” and above. And for me, that is good. When I was growing up, I was one of the very few tall students in school. I was so self-conscious about my height I would slouch when I stood and slump when I sat. Until one day, somebody told me to be proud of my 5’11” height.

Now I feel like a dwarf among these young men I see strutting down Loyola Heights, up Gateway, or into Glorietta. Cute, lean and leggy, they strut their stuff like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Their spiked hair like small torches in the air, they have finally learned to walk tall, and to walk free.

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