I’ve always said my life is an open book; what you see is what you get. One of my friends even say knowing me is like reading a good book.
With the recent popularity of social media sites, everybody has taken to the internet to reconnect with the rest of humanity - me included. We all post blow-by-blow accounts of how our day went on our status, post photos from trips and of activities, advertise and announce plans, etc. Like many others, I also post stuff about the current state of my lovelife and while I certainly make some family members and acquaintances cringe from all the mushiness, I have to admit I do it consciously.
I am an LGBT activist, a human rights defender of sexual minorities. My advocacy work is a difficult one because unlike certain public interest causes like the environment, women’s welfare or children’s rights which enjoy some popularity, mine still doesn’t have that degree of “acceptability”. Imagine it as a numberline; while others start off at “zero”, LGBT advocates begin at “negative 1”. While no one would openly challenge the legitimacy of advocating for the environment or the human rights of other sectors, we always have to contend with opposition from the religious and the conservatives.
Moreover, as human rights defenders, we not only fight for the rights of others, but for our own. We know what we are talking about because we are victims ourselves, or are actually exposed to the very same risks. Nowhere else is the saying “what is political IS personal” than in LGBT rights advocacy.
Thus, indulge me as I post sometimes very sensitive matters, topics which may still seem “controversial” to some such as same-sex couples, transgender rights, or gay parenting. That is exactly my objective – to sensitize my friends and colleagues to LGBT issues through a peek at my own life.
Indeed, I am still your sister, your cousin, your best friend, your classmate, your sorority sister. We grew up in the same household, played together, had the same upbringing, yet I still ended up falling in love with a person of the same sex. I studied and worked beside you, worried for exams and had crazy fun as you at university. You liked me then and befriended me for the person I was…does it matter now that I am married to another female?
You may not like it about how I share my happiness at falling deeply in love, the same way that you offered no sympathy for each heartache I experienced because you believe relationships like ours were not meant to be. But I want you to be on the same emotional roller-coaster ride and decide for yourself if my experiences were any different from yours when you met your future husband or broke up with your first love.
Today, we worry about the same things – doing household chores, paying bills, raising our kids. We go to work, we change jobs, we sometimes even go to church on Sundays and visit our elderly parents. I suspect we view our concerns with the same importance as you do yours. So tell me again why we need to be treated differently?
Let me just say this – when I first had a lesbian wedding thirteen years ago, not everyone we invited came. They made up flimsy excuses such as doing some grocery shopping or overtime work at the office. Family members couldn’t believe it and even laughed.
When I had another commitment ceremony this year, well-wishers were congratulating me for three straight weeks. Greetings came from all over the globe - from former classmates, to sorority sisters, ex-colleagues and even to officemates. Finally, the world had changed enough for people to understand how significant this day was for me…Finally, people know enough to allow me my happiness in this life, too.
This being the National Filipino Family Week, I’ve decided to write about some things that have been bugging me for quite some time. When people talk about “family”, it always relates to “children”, “marriage” and “the home”. They always connect it with “wholesome” things…sometimes even Christian values and nation-building. Always “family” is about the politically-correct, the highly “acceptable” and society’s “noble” aims.
Yet the reality is that family matters also deal with sensitive subjects as sex, domestic violence, and child abuse. The basic societal unit that is the Family is faced with challenges attended by sexual infidelity, alcoholism, drug addiction, separations and abandonment. “Broken homes” are more prevalent than ever and issue of teen pregnancies is still a concern, but didn’t quite work as an argument to support sex education and the RH law.
God forbid, where does “the Family” stand now in terms of LGBT rights and SOGI issues? But avoid it as much as we can, nowhere else is LGBT human rights and the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity more relevant than in the realm of the home and family.
Although there is still a common misconception that “homosexuality automaticall equals pedophilia”, and “ALL LGBTs are sexual predators”, maybe people should take a look again at child sexual abuse statistics. Facts and figure have consstently shown that a great percentage of child abuse is committed by adult males against female girls. Clearly, pedophiles and pederasts are not just gay men, and very rarely do we hear about lesbian pedophiles.
Instead of looking at LGBTs as perpetrators all the time, let’s take the additional lens of “minority” and look at the case of LGBT youth. For child rights advocates, it’s time to do something for young LGBTs who get subjected to corporal punishment by their parents. Ask adult LGBTs now, and 8 out of 10 will say they experienced their first instance of discrimination or violence from their own families. Parents who couldn’t accept their kids’ homosexual tendencies resort to desperate measures - from verbal to physical abuse, to taking them out of school and depriving them of education, to subjecting lesbian daughters to corrective rapes. Ever listen to Gloc9’s rap song “Sirena”? That simply came from a bad joke about a father who kept dunking his gay son in a barrel of water while asking him if he was a boy or a girl..eventually the almost drowned son gasps “I’m a mermaid”.
Documentation and researches done by LGBT activists about Pinoy LGBTs identified families and homes as one of the primary societal institutions that perpetrate homophobia, discrimination and violence. While one’s family and home is usually a person’s sanctuary, a refuge and a source of solace…for LGBTs who are not accepted by their parents, it is a great stressor. So for an LGBT who is already unable to come out to classmates, friends or officesmates, or is regularly subjected to discrimination in the community, there is simply nowehere to run if even your family doesn’t have your back.
Again, for young LGBTs, when the personal turmoil caused by one’s sexual orientation and gender identity proves too much to bear, it drives many to self-destructive behavior like substance abuse and even suicide attempts. Ask any “out” LGBT, and while they many seem stable and confident now, you wll be surprised how many passed the stage of attempting to hurt themselves when they were young and scared.
Recently, I have been interviewed by several psychology students from an assortment of schools and universities like Perpetual Help-Binan, Letran, San Beda, and PUP. I am happy to note that many of them have an honest-to-goodness desire to contribute to the database of knowledge on LGBT psyche and to recommend more positive strategies in dealing with LGBT issues. One thesis is looking into how supportive parents and families influenced well-adjusted and successful adult LGBTs, another research is touching on the effect of LGBT advocacy groups on more LGBT individuals “coming-out of the closet” and living honest, productive lives, and another study is about the increasing visibility and availability of “positive” LGBT role models for the young.
I remember the days when it was only Margie Holmes who gave a respectful and sympathetic perspective of LGBTs. And even when the Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP) already gave a position supportive of LGBT human rights, many psychologists and psychiatrists still went on Philippine TV to promote gay conversion therapy and call homosexuality a mental disorder. Heck, both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association removed inversion and homosexuality from the list of mental disorders in the 1970s!
While many women NGOs have taken up the cudgels for LGBT rights, I am still hoping more child rights advocates will also stand with us. Most of all, those working for “strengthening and keeping the Filipino family together” consider how LGBTs are treated within our own families. Even with the theme “Unity Across the Generations”, ever wonder what happens to ageing and sick LGBTs who have long been disowned by their families and are now alone and impoverished? Who takes care of these “golden gays”?
And what about children of LGBT parents, will you add to the stigma and marginalization by not recognizing their households as “real families”? Just because the DepEd course modules still teach the “traditional” family composition of “father, mother, kuya, ate, baby, Dog Tagpi and Miming, the Cat…shall we continue to emphasize gender roles and patriarchal systems, instead of true family values of love, respect and mutual support?
I have recently become a parent and this concept of family has more meaning to me than ever…I try to inculcate in my kid everything I learned from my parents and my own family ever since childhood. But while she has enough male role models to look up to, I don’t think she bothers too much with gender stereotypes. What is important to her is that we eat breakfast together, say “goodnight” and “I love you” before we go to sleep, and walk hand-in-hand whenever we go out. It seems clear to her that THAT IS what we mean by FAMILY..
My travel agent, Ms. Vickie and her family took an unintended holiday to serve as our tour guides the day we arrived in Capiz. Eager to make our first visit memorable, she took us to the nearby municipality of Panay which also happens to be her husband’s hometown. Panay is the second Spanish settlement founded by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi when they left Cebu for lack of food. With meandering river networks criss-crossing the land and the lush mangroves constantly inundated by the sea’s tides, food sources were clearly abundant. The Spanish then built ports that were used for the galleon trades and even a shipyard at one time for constructing their boats. One river channel actually boasts of a sunken galleon, and when it’s low tide, some fishermen claim they can still see part of it under water. Unfortunately, this attraction has been closed to the public when some local politician insisted on claiming it’s on his private property.
Besides being one of the oldest towns in the Philippines, Panay was also the original capital of Capiz. Crossing over from Roxas City proper to Panay town, Ms. Vickie pointed out that the bridge was destroyed and blown up numerous times in history; but that has saved them from virtual massacres that happened to Roxas City’s people. Houses along the road enroute to the famous Sta. Monica Church used to be so numerous, but they were also burned down by the Spaniards after discovering these were Katipuneros’ homes. In church, they wore these red bandanas on their necks while attending mass as a sign of protest until the local friars found out. What remains now are rebuilt homes of the descendants of these early settlers.
Sta.Monica Church is already a common tourist destination in the travel brochures. As one of the oldest in the Philippines, it was the first parish established on Panay island. Like its contemporaries, this church was constructed by the Augustinians, hence, its imposing and formidable design. Made up of coralstones bound by molasses and eggs, it has side supports similar to the church in Paoay, Ilocos Norte.
It boasts of a gigantic bell – the largest, and possibly, the heaviest in Asia. While it has a replica of equal size near the church entrance and beside the convent, the actual bell is housed in the 5-story belltower. One must climb the 60-or-so steps of some very steep stairs and brave the heights before one can experience its magnificence. Constructed using 70 sacks of coins collected from the townspeople, the bell was cast in 1878 and weighs 10.4 tons. At 7 feet in height and 5 feet in diameter, it dwarfs its companions, the 8 other bells that share its tower.
There is also a clock on this belfry, but its mechanical contraption has long ceased to be. One can still see its old, rusted mechanism on the last platform before the bells. They say when the bell tolls, it can be heard for miles across the plains of Capiz, the same area that can be viewed from atop the belltower.
The church and its giant bell aren’t the only attractions at Sta. Monica. Beside it is the parish convent that houses both the parish office and the church museum. Although recognized as a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Institute in 1997, Museo de Sta.Monica was only opened in 2008. The museum contains church relics and artifacts that range from old priestly garbs to statues and carvings of saints and other religious images, to even remnants of the original hardwood used as church foundations which can be bought as souvenirs.
Most interesting was the Old Spanish Well at the back of the church. Still intact in its original state, it has long dried up, but it once served as an important water source for many generations. Beside it are 12 pots of chilli pepper plants reminiscent of the same potted plants sent over in 1570 by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, the first Governor-General to King Phillip II of Spain from the settlement of Panay, Capiz.
Sta. Monica has its own local tour guide, and he explained that the church compound used to be built like the walled city of Intramuros. Not only was it a church, it also served as a fortress for the Spaniards. Hence, throughout history, even the Americans and Japanese used it as a military fort. And as a grim reminder, the area at the back of the compound used to be a dumping ground for those executed by the Spanish and Japanese alike. It is said that there used to be a dirt path going to a cemetery, but sometimes soldiers didn’t even bother for a decent burial anymore. Hence, it is no wonder that people tell of eerie stories in the area. Although now densely populated and with several constructed houses, people still speak of hearing strange moans and groans, of women and children crying in the dead hours of the night. It is also not surprising that some houses seem unoccupied and have difficulty selling. Ms. Vickie admits even her sensitive-travel agent friend who came for a visit complained of feeling weird about the place when they dropped by the church.
The richness of the historic significance of Panay cannot be highlighted enough. Ms. Vickie’s own home is evidence in itself. As her husband, Marlo’s ancestral house, their family heirlooms alone make for interesting museum pieces. In fact, Ms. Vickie was right on the mark as she is in the process of transforming their home into a mini museum. She has bricks from the old sugar central, original bottles from the Spanish distilleries, porcelain plates and genuine, heavy duty silverware. In their backyard, while they were developing it as a restaurant and butterfly garden, they uncovered an old Japanese latrine-bath area. Old folks say it was because the neighboring public school was also used by the Japanese during World War II as their headquarters. And so this lends credence to the fact there may be hidden treasures in and around Capiz itself, as some Japanese tourists keep coming back to the province with strange maps, looking for secret locations even the locals know nothing about.
A taste of Capiz left me wanting more, and so I promised Ms. Vickie, and myself, I will return one day for another sampling on Capiz’ wonders.