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Gay stories for a BL series

LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - December 26, 2020 - 12:00am

In honor of the year 2020 when Philippine Boys’ Love series exploded on our YouTube screens, I am writing about the gay stories I have heard in my many years of being an LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) advocate. I founded Ladlad Party List in September of 2003; we were denied Comelec accreditation in 2007; and finally snagged it after the Supreme Court decided in our favor versus a then-homophobic Comelec.

The good Philippine BL series this year included Ben x Jim, Better Days, Gameboys, Gaya sa Pelikula, Hello Stranger, Lockdown Boys, My Extraordinary and Oh Mando! They have good acting, plausible storylines, deft direction and smart production values, given the constraints imposed by COVID-19. I am currently watching Win Jaime’s Heart and Meet Me Outside. The latter comes from the formidable team of Juan Miguel Severo as writer and JP Habac as director.

Gameboys and Gaya sa Pelikula have been picked up by Netflix for global streaming, while Hello Stranger has just wrapped up its film version. The other series are raising funds via selling of merchandise and crowdfunding to produce part 2 of their series.

At least two publishers have also asked me to write a Boys’ Love novel in Filipino or to compile my gay stories in English and then translate them into Filipino. The world, indeed, has turned. Whereas 30 years ago, when I began writing gay literature, we had such difficulty getting published, now there’s a beeline outside the door.

The past many years, I‘ve listened to so many stories of despair but also of joy, gladness as well as gloom. As former US President Barack Obama said in his best-selling and well-written books, the best way to learn is to listen: to curb one’s tongue, hold back the swill of words as somebody else, somebody suffering, is telling you his tale. Here are composite stories of tales I’ve heard about the lives of Filipino gay men in the 21st century. The names and circumstances have been fictionalized.

Richard, also called Rich or Dick, works as a copy editor at the Daily Planet newspaper. DP styles itself as a crusading newspaper, fast on the draw against corruption and graft. But really, to the bone, it is owned by a bunch of greedy people with an eye for the juicy morsel of news – and the profits that go with them.

Rich is 29 years old and he studied in the country’s most exclusive Catholic university. He came out after college but still lives with a closeted uncle in a condominium unit near his office. He is also looking for Mr. Right in all the wrong places.

One day, he meets Brent in a gay bar. It is not the kind of gay bar where go-go boys dance with only a blue bandanna wrapped around their forehead. In this gay bar, with its cool aquamarine walls, you can just drink and pose. If you’re lucky, you would meet someone later, talk and drink some more, letting your thighs graze under the tall table. Rich did meet Brent. They go home and talk and make love. Between the night’s afterglow and the morning’s hangover, they decided to live in. Rich is only too glad to leave behind his crazy, closeted uncle who owned the unit he lived in.

Brent, 25, is a college drop-out who is taking up Culinary Arts in a school run by Austrian chefs. He wants to work in a five-star hotel later, and then transfer overseas, to pursue his dreams like millions of other overseas Filipino workers. His dad died when he was five and his mother raised him alone. She runs a small grocery store in España, Manila. She is a cheerful woman who has an inkling into her son’s gayness, but she does not mind. “He’s the only one I’ve got,” she thinks while checking the inventory of her small grocery. She is only too happy to help him in his dream of becoming a chef.

Brent seems cool, calm and collected. But inside him, like a gash that nobody sees, is a fear of abandonment. At first, he didn’t want to live in with Rich. Later, he said “yes,” because Rich made him feel secure and loved.

Rich and Brent try to have a monogamous relationship. Their friends are happy that in a world full of strangers, they found each other. When Rich cooks, Brent does the dishes, and vice-versa. Brent does the laundry but hates pressing the clothes, which Rich can do with such utmost care. And so the guys eat simply but well, have clean and well-pressed clothes, and love each other deeply. They even go to Palawan to celebrate their sixth month together. They dine at the Yamang Bukid Seafood Grill and visit the Yamang Bukid Farm, marveling at the sunflowers like yellow faces golden in the sun.

But later, things begin to change. Brent doesn’t want to have sex any more. He tells Rich that for him, love really means “pure friendship.” He allows Rich to go to the bars again. Rich does this with great reluctance and pain. One day, he meets Cedric at a party. They dance and talk and make love. Later, Rich writes about it in his journal, in vivid and scorching detail.

Unfortunately, Rich leaves his journal lying around. Brent reads it. He knows it is his fault, for letting another man into the relationship. He decides to leave Rich. Sadness falls on the house like a dark shroud. Rich goes home to a house full of silence. He decides to ask Cedric to live in with him.

For his part, Cedric says that Rich is Mr. Right Now. But Cedric adds that seeing each other on weekends is best. There is space but no distance. The other one is just a call away. Rich listens intently, quietly, his heart throbbing in his chest. For who knows, Mr. Right Now may become Mr. Right after all. “Hope,” as the poet Emily Dickinson said, “is the thing with feathers.”

*      *      *

Danton Remoto’s novel, Riverrun, has just been published by Penguin Random House. Email: danton.lodestar@gmail.com

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