LGBT matters

LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - June 12, 2021 - 12:00am

June is the pride month of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender (LGBT) community. The community has become bigger, embracing queer, intersex and allies in its ranks, thus the longer appellation: LGBTQIA.

Ironically, some sad things happen during the supposedly happy and gay month of June. One of them is the shaving of the heads of lesbians in Maguindanao, perpetrated by the Muslim ustads, or teachers. However, the Philippines does not have a state religion, neither Christianity nor Islam. This is clear as day in the provisions of the Philippine Constitution. Therefore, the ustadz in Maguindanao who had ordered the shaving of the heads of six lesbians to shame them before the community tread on shaky grounds. When last I checked, we are not yet being ruled by the Talibans of Afghanistan.

One keen Mindanao observer said that “this is not new. Several years ago, it was reported that people were encouraged to throw paint at transgender women in Marawi City… In 1994, contestants of a gay beauty pageant in Datu Piang, Maguindanao, were rounded up and beaten. This shaving is just an addition to the long history of discrimination and violence committed against the Moro LGBT by the religious right.”

One of my friends from Jolo said: “This ustadz is overacting. In Jolo where the people are more religious, they practice tolerance and peace as preached by their religion. Gay people are free to express themselves. That ustadz should be investigated for violating the human rights of the LGBTs in Maguindanao.”

A lawyer-friend of mine asked: “Are they able to enforce religious rules because they’re Muslims who live in an autonomous region and thus are able to observe Sharia Law and perhaps, other Muslim-based legal codes?”

The Mindanao observer said: “De facto, yes. While the MILF is now part of the new Bangsamoro government and must be governed by the laws of the land, the MILF as an organization has a law-enforcement, religious and judicial wing that enforces edicts. Why they circumvent the existing laws needs a better knowledge of this dynamics.”

*      *      *

The dynamics of coming out and expressing one’s sexuality is indeed a complex process. I only had the nerve to come out when I met Zach, a Filipino-American writer who was then auditing some subjects at the University of the Philippines. I used to visit him at the International House, the dormitory for foreign students at the State University. He lived there. As the days passed, we began talking about gayness and the repression that he felt in Manila. He used to be out and proud in Hawaii, where he lived.

Since I now had a companion in Manila, we decided to come out together. I fetched him at his dorm one Saturday night. Our first stop in Malate was The Library on Adriatico Street. Now Zach was tall and good-looking and when he entered The Library, all eyes were suddenly turned on him. I was absolutely ignored. Now, I thought, I know how Cinderella’s stepsisters felt.

After that, I attended a party in Malate sponsored by The Library Foundation and The Third Group. I was invited by a young playwright whom I had met years ago at the University of the Philippines Writers’ Workshop. The other guests ran the whole sexual spectrum – some were straight-acting gays while the others, flaming queens with invisible flowers in their hair. It was a smash.

I saw a few friends and even classmates at the university whom I had not seen in years! They were there, that night, at the party in Malate. It was like a reunion and a revelation. There were good-looking gays who could make you insecure with their small waistlines; there were also handsome hunks who looked like movie stars.

The party broke up at around two in the morning. Afterward, my playwright-friend said that we should go dancing. We walked the four blocks to Subway. The tight black uniforms of the waiters showed off their sculpted bodies. The laser lights glittered, so many colors piercing the bodies gyrating on the floor. There were more gorgeous guys in the deeper, darker caverns of the disco, posing or nursing their nth drink. Some of them were dancing as if their lives depended on it.

The heart, as Carson McCullers said, is a lonely hunter.

The next week, I was at Blue Café in Malate, also with Zach. I was telling him about the lovely party that I attended a week ago. I also told him about the reggae that thrummed in Blue Café. The upholstery of the seats were impressed with the faces of Hollywood celebrities. I always sat on the seat impressed with the face of James Dean.

On the other side of town was Cine Café. By this time, Zach had already returned to Hawaii, so I went to this café alone. I met people who were also into culture and the arts. They were witty, sad and charming, and they offered great conversation. And so, deep into the night, we watched My Own Private Idaho, starring Keanu Reeves who could then barely act, or wishing we could meet somebody dark and melancholy like River Phoenix.

One day, one of my friends invited me to attend the Healthy Interaction Values (HIV) Workshop being run by The Library Foundation at the university town of Los Baños, in Laguna province. I had a roaring great time, laughing my head off during the gay beauty contest, where even the most butch gays donned mermaid gowns that they had fashioned from curtains in the dormitory.

But I was also sad. My shoulders were always wet during the workshop sessions, when younger gays would cry their eyes out as we talked about coming out, about our different loves and the indifference of a God fashioned by the conservative Catholic Church. For this Church, God was outside the gays’ lives, so far away, paring his fingernails.

But we were coming out together, and in that warm circle we knew that we would never be alone, again.

*      *      *

Email: danton.lodestar@gmail.com. Penguin Books has just published Danton Remoto’s novel, “Riverrun.”

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