Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What Your Soul Sings by The ZEN Bitch

By The ZEN Bitch

Like most things in my life, my coming out to my parents did not happen in one spectacular event that shook the world. There was no heart-rending drama: no tears, hysterics, or some other violent reaction to my disclosure. Life went on in its usual pace in my family. The dramatic moments happened later but they would pale when compared to the dramas that have been chronicled in literature and films, even in the lives of some of my friends. If you ask my mother, she would say that my coming out happened the way things in life happen: it just happened. However, on my side, it took months of planning, preparation, and execution.

As I said, my coming out was not one big event. It happened gradually. Since I didn’t have the gumption to come up to either of my parents to boldly declare that I am homosexual, my plan was to leave them little clues here and there until it got to the point where they would have no choice but to ask me outright. Unlike me, my mother has lots of gumption. But as it came to pass, things also sort of fell into place a year before it happened, which further facilitated the process.

Mama and I

You see, I had known that I’m not like other boys since I was 7 years old. In the year of my first communion, I would spend most of the recess looking at older boys as they played basketball. I was particularly attracted to the sight of calves, where the sock ended, dimpling the flesh. Of course I had no way of explaining my feelings then. When I was 10 years old, an older boy–the son of my mother’s friend, seduced me while we were playing in our backyard one early evening. This boy, R, would teach me the first things I learned about sex. As a good (I thought) Catholic school boy my guilt surprisingly minuscule. I’m not sure now what I was thinking then. How I coped with that secret. But then again, when you’re an only child, you quickly learn to keep things to yourself. In college, separated from the company of that older boy, I completely abstained from male-to-male sex. I got so busy with my own life as a college student–the new kinds of freedom I’d been given, new friends, new pursuits (like my crushes on girls), that I didn’t pay attention to that part of my life. I didn’t have sex with another guy until 1993, months after graduating from university. Before that year ended, I was in my first relationship with a guy. This lasted about 6 months. Three months after V and I broke up I met my second boyfriend. This second relationship was more intense but lasted barely 4 months. A week after T and I broke up, I met my third. N was my boyfriend when I came out to my mother.

At work, I never had to come out because I had the good fortune of working for an NGO that was staffed by mostly gay men. In fact, before ReachOut, I didn’t know any gay person aside from our neighborhood hairdresser who cuts my mother’s hair once every month. I volunteered at ReachOut as a telephone counselor in the AIDS HelpLine while awaiting the results of my board exams. When I got my professional license, they hired me as staff. My sexuality was never an issue there. Same with my second job in 1996, as a reporter for Balitang K. I mean, our head writer was gay, most of the production assistants were gay, including 3 other reporters so it was also a non-issue. However, because I was the new guy that time, I didn’t have the clout to demand my own stories so I worked on stories that were assigned to me. Of course, they considered my health background (a nurse who worked in the AIDS field) and my (perceived) sexuality.

My relationship and my work contributed to my coming out.

N, my boyfriend, was a medical representative who was based in Nueva Ecija, a province north of Manila. We would spend Saturdays together, usually in a mall, watching movies, going to museums and shows and around midnight I would sneak him in our house where we’d have sex in my room and then between 3-4am, he’d sneak out and drive back to Nueva Ecija. During weekdays we would burn the telephone lines by alternately calling each other everyday. This was 1996. Mobile phones were a luxury and our landline phone didn’t have NDD. So whenever I called N, I had to go through the operator and this was reflected in our monthly phone bill. I paid for my long-distance calls, which at that time amounted to about USD25.oo a month. This was one of my clues. She wanted to know who I was calling in Cabanatuan and I told her I was calling a friend. When she demanded to know which among my friends (because I didn’t have many friends, my mother knew all few of them) was it, I just told her a friend I met at work.

Eventually, N said he was getting tired of sneaking into my house at night. He said he wanted to meet my parents so he can properly have permission to sleep over. I tensed when I first heard this because I have never let any friend do this. I have slept over at my friends’ houses but they have never done so in ours. But he was persistent and I thought, well, this is another clue. So one Saturday evening, I went home at around 8pm, with N in tow. My mother was clearly surprised to see N. I explained that N was going to spend the night because he was too tired to drive to Nueva Ecija. She then realized that this was the guy that I’d been talking to via long distance. Being a good salesperson, N managed to establish rapport with my mother. She was soon taken by his charm, while my father silently hovered in the distance. After that sleep-over, N would be a frequent visitor in our house. My mother remarked to me that N was handsome, but a bit effeminate. I laughed. N did too when I told him.

A few weeks after that sleep-over, I started work at Balitang K. If I’d been a child actor, my mother would gladly be the perfect stage mother. When I worked for Balitang K, she became an avid watcher of the TV show, eagerly awaiting the airing of the stories I wrote. On the month that I came out to my mother, the line-up of my stories were like the breadcrumbs Hansel threw to lead them back home. Consider this: week 1, my story was on gay HIV(+) Filipinos; week 2, it was on a research on whether eating mussels from Laguna de Bay can make one gay (ridiculous, I know!); week 3, a lesbian-affair-gone-wrong in the PNP; and week 4, covering the LGBT Pride March in Malate.

It happened on Sunday morning, when I went home after spending the night at the studio because we were editing my segment on the Pride March, which I covered on Saturday afternoon till evening. At 5AM, I was barely awake as I sipped the scalding coffee and took bites of the fried rice and scrambled eggs that my mother cooked. The house was silent. She asked me when the segment would air. “Monday po,” I said. She asked me what my story was. I said I covered the LGBT Pride March in Malate.

“Bakit parang puro ganyan ang mga kuwento mo nitong buwan na ‘to?” (Why are stories like this for this month?)

I asked her what she meant but inside I knew that something was up. Finally, I thought. The desire to sleep evaporated.

“Parang lahat kabadingan.” (They all seem to be about homosexuality.)

I chewed on my food longer than I usually did. I didn’t want to pursue this line of conversation. I was waiting for her penultimate question, which I knew was coming because she was fidgeting. My mother rarely fidgeted.

“Anak, puwede ba kitang tanungin nang personal na tanong?” (Son, can I ask you a personal question?)

“Sige po,” (Sure) I said, feeling a ball of fried rice suddenly stopped midway my gullet.

“Bading ka ba?” (Are you gay?) Her chinky eyes were alert.

“Opo.” (Yes.)

“Sigurado ka ba?” (Are you sure)

“Opo.” (Yes.)

“Si N?” (What about N?)

“Bading din po.” (We’re the same.)

“Mag-ano kayo?” (Are you together?)

“Opo.” (Yes.)

“Paano yun, pareho kayong bading?” (How can that be, you’re both gay?)

“Ganun po talaga, para magtagal.” (It has to be like that, for the relationship to last.)

“Bakit, gaano katagal na ba kayo?” (Why, how long have you been together?)

“Mag-iisang taon na po.” (Almost a year.)

She then became silent, slowly nodding her head. By this time, the food was a tasteless mass inside my mouth. The coffee had become tepid. But her face was calm. I was expecting the opposite. Her next statement moved me. “Alam mo, baka mahirapan ang Papa mo na maintindihan ito.” (You know, your father might have a tough time processing this.)

I hadn’t exactly prepared for my father’s reaction, if truth be told. “Sasabihin niyo po ba sa kanya?” (Are you going to tell him?)

“Kung malalaman niya, hindi dapat manggaling sa akin.” (If he is to know, he should not learn it from me.) And when she saw that I had finished eating, she proceeded to clear the table, asking me if I wanted another cup of coffee. As if nothing happened. I was a bit flummoxed. I had prepared an armory of responses to deal with her reaction. But her seeming non-reaction perplexed me and filled me with relief at the same time.

As it turned out, she couldn’t keep that information to herself. Three weeks later, she told Papa what I had told her. My father did not speak to me for months. He and I weren’t particularly close; sometimes a day would pass when we would just exchange nods. But this was utter silence from his end. I understood his reaction. I am an only child. I practically ended his bloodline with my disclosure. He only spoke to me again at Christmas, over a few bottles of beer. It seemed we had reached some sort of understanding, by not talking about it.

Also, my mother’s seemingly cavalier attitude to my disclosure disguised a few other things: apprehensions, fears, some homophobic and stereotypical thoughts. Here came the dramatic moments. It has taken me years to dispel some of the things she grew up with. To her credit, she was never ashamed of me. She and N became friends, even when my relationship with him ended. To this day, they think of each other fondly.

On hindsight, deep inside I think I was scared then on how my parents would respond to knowing that aspect of my life. As an only child who had mastered the art of keeping secrets early on, letting others hear the songs that my soul sings was a terrifying undertaking. Fortunately, my mother chose to react not according to how she was raised but to how she felt for me. Even my father. I love them for that.

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