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Opinion

A night out with the boys

LODESTAR - Danton Remoto - The Philippine Star

I once met a young writer who wanted to talk about Timothy Mo’s novel, The Redundancy of Courage.

We ended up at a gay-friendly bar in Quezon City. While there, we saw two guys who said, “It’s a bit boring here, why don’t we have a quiz show?”

Edwin was tall and good-looking and he wore a white, long-sleeved shirt. He looked like a bored archangel. He said, smiling at me, “The losers will bring the winners out for dinner.” I smiled back and looked at him. He was an Economics major at university, and now “working part-time,” as he put it. I told him, “I’m really bad at Math.”

“We are just par for the course,” he answered. “I read your articles in the weekly magazine, and your English is really good. That,” he added, “is my weak spot.”

The quiz began, questions about capital of countries, Egyptian gods and goddesses, integers and equations (“Dear Lord!” I gasped to myself), the chemical elements. Fortunately, we won the quiz game. We then began fixing the date for the dinner, found it hard to juggle our schedules and then finally decided to have the dinner that night.

We finally settled on going to a 24-hour restaurant on Timog Avenue. While eating, I was talking to the guys. I only met them that night but I already felt as if I had known them for a long time. You have this feeling with some people, and I had this that night. All of them were straight-acting gay men. Their families did not know of their sexual orientation. Gian already had a boyfriend in the last seven years, while Edwin was single – and determined to remain so.

“Why do you have to have a boyfriend? Isn’t friendship enough?” he asked.

“Of course,” I answered. “But in the end, love really means pure friendship.” I suddenly thanked my Philosophy classes for my answer.

“You see, I’ve had relationships before. But it seems I couldn’t do the things I used to do before I got involved with someone. I was tied down.”

“Well, you can always talk about things,” Gian said.

“Sure, but the same things will just rise to the surface,” Edwin said, spearing a piece of cauliflower and putting it on his plate.

“But that’s the way it is,” I answered. “You can only know each other every day. Does he squeeze the tooth paste from the bottom or the middle of the tube? Does he leave his dirty clothes lying around his room? Straight or gay, it’s all the same.”

“Yes, you’re right,” Edwin added. “But it’s really hard. My family doesn’t know I’m gay. One day, I was already decided on telling them, but my friends said I should not.

“I guess they’re right. Coming out in public – to your parents, to virtual strangers – is a decidedly Western phenomenon. It’s more subtle here, in this country of subtlety and indirections. Sometimes, you have to come out in public. The gay book that I wrote was something that gave me many nights of lost sleep. Until the day it was launched, I wasn’t sure that I should have written this book. But it’s there.”

“I suspect that my mother knows,” Gian said. “When I talk to my boyfriend on the phone, my mother looks at me. She is my mother, so I know what that look means.”

“Of course, they know,” I said. “They raised us. They must have wondered why we never took to boxing or karate and instead read volumes and became volleybelles, er, volleyball players.”

They all smiled. It was a knowing smile, the melancholy smile of the characters in a short story by Anton Chekhov.

“So,” I asked Edwin, “are you really determined to be single?”

“Yes, I’ve been burnt before.”

“Oh,” I said quickly. “I love that word. Burnt. Once I told my class of freshmen university students about the cat that sat down on a hot stove. Of course, it jumped and yelped and never sat down again on another stove – whether the stove was hot or not. The students just stared at me with their huge, freshmen eyes. But I added that we are people, not cats. We know what will burn us or not, more or less. But I think it is less.”

They all laughed.

“You know where my ex-boyfriend is going tonight?” Edwin asked, suddenly shifting gears.

The wonder in his eyes, the light playing there, must have intrigued Gian. Edwin said, without waiting for us to make a guess, “He is going to the lounge act of this wonderful singer at the Mandarin Hotel.”

“Yes, but how did you know?”

“I just guessed, but I think I’m right. He likes the way she sings sad songs. Even her eyes – large and limpid – have a language of their own.”

“Indeed,” I said. “How old are you, Edwin? You don’t look past 25 to me.”

“Thirty-one,” he answered, “going on 32 next month.”

“My age. Hmmmm,” I said, wanting to tease him. “I guess it’s time that you find someone and do what this friend of mine told me to do: sink roots. Sink roots in place, with a person, to anchor you. I guess you’ll find somebody else. I was like you before. I had vowed to myself never again. I knew in the end that I would just be a bitter and old shrew who teaches by day and does cross-stitch at night, swinging in my rocking chair.”

Laughter.

They all nodded – Gian’s eyes disappeared in his smooth face, Edwin the archangel who no longer looked bored but sad. If there was a camera that night, it would show me as the insomniac writer, with dark rings shadowing my eyes.

A night out with the boys. I wondered if the other straight-acting gay men who demolished bottles of beer on their tables could also talk like this. We promised to see each other again during the monthly quiz show, then we strode out of the restaurant.

And like Batmen, we all vanished in the night.

*      *      *

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

GIAN
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