11 June, 2009

Chained in the Closet [Pride Month Musings 2009 Part One]

A lot of people have asked me before how my family was able to accept my homosexuality, and my answer was simple:

“I really don’t know. They don’t talk to me about it. The unspoken rule was it’s not that big of a deal as long as I don’t bring home any form of shame. I was able to be who and what I am as long as I keep up appearances.”

Now, some of you may think that’s already something that merits an after-school drama special but it wasn’t that difficult for me to do so. I was raised with the sensibility to keep up appearances. It was in high school when I heard this from my mother: “What is disgraceful is to be left to the dust after you fall” -my interpretation of it was don’t get yourself disgraced in the first place and I have lived by it since then.

On the other hand, and not as a judgment on anyone who is, I think my family is rather thankful of the kind of gay guy I turned out to be. Trust me, in the context of old Visayan families, their impression of what a gay guy is turns out to be the effete flamboyant stereotype of the cross-dressing persuasion.

I think I have behaved rather impeccably in their eyes that they seem to have just lived with the fact that I was not like anyone else in the family. Just to be clear, I’m talking about the de los Reyes side of my blood since I was raised by my mother’s side. However, I do know that my Torres side is literally dotted with gay uncles and cousins that when I was younger, my mother would say, “Alam mo naman, may herencia ang mga Torres ng kabaklaan.” [roughly translated in the intent: Apparently, the Torreses have a family history of homosexuality] -I think that was my mother’s way of trying to figure out which side of the line I stood. Hahahahaha!!!

I have heard of but one rather unsettling incident regarding a first cousin of mine who asked my cousin Pinky this: “Pinky, is Niki really gay?”

To which Manang Pinky answered, “Why don’t you ask him yourself?”

I thought that particular cousin knew me well enough having seen me grow and being this close all this time to ask me personally. We were technically adults at the time and I thought she had the maturity to at least ask me in person. Manang Pinky was a bit on the defensive because we were both raised by single mothers who have done well against the odds, and for the lack of a sister, I have her.

My Manang Pinky and I share a particular affection for someone who I consider to be “held back by chains from inside the closet”

In the past few days that I have gotten to know this person, I could definitely say that my heart goes out to him, and that I could only imagine how hard it must be for him to live in a family that is in denial about who and what he is or simply refuses to accept another image of their son, other than the image they have held aloft of him as a straight man.

Let’s call him BOY A… I shant be naming him for I respect his choices under the circumstances.

I have met BOY A when I was around 11 years old, Manang Pinky took us out to watch a Disney movie as she was babysitting him and his elder brother. It was not until 2007 that I would see him. And I tell you, that was a little disastrous because I felt he was a little guarded and abrasive during the dinner. But knowing what I know now, my first impression of him was not who he was at all.

Fast forward to last Saturday when I met him again, while we were waiting for Manang Pinky, we had a bit of a chat. And that’s when I saw his chains…

Take this image into your head: Imagine coming out of the closet far enough to have crossed the threshold outside the door but discovering there is a chain coming from the inside that held you back at your attempt to walk away from it.

That’s what BOY A has to live with.

I really found his discretion and control admirable. For you see, he comes from a Born Again Christian family [and I have seen what fundamentalist families are capable of to outed gay sons], and his brother is in denial about what he is but finds ways to vent his frustrations on him -as I have observed- by treating him as an inferior and showing his irritation at every chance he gets. I do hope I am wrong about his brother, but it is what I saw.

BOY A tells me he just recently moved out of his parents’ house to live on his own. I thought it was for work purposes but seeing how technically close his parents’ home was to where he worked, I knew it was his way of saying “give me room to breathe”.

And he goes, “You know naman, I have never come out to Tita Pinky officially.”
My response was, “Why? You shouldn’t be afraid to do so. She’s the most open-minded person I know. She’s not going to judge you for it. Look at me.”
And then, BOY A makes me realize something with what he said after this, “My older brother is in denial. He knows; he just refuses to accept it. That’s why I like your family, you guys have a very high EQ [equated to Emotional Intelligence], being gay doesn’t seem like an issue to them.

I think he was talking about his observations of our family when he went on vacation and stayed at our ancestral house some years ago -and I wasn‘t even there when they went to visit. Now I realize how lucky I was because I never had to officially come out to my family. I just came to be, and as any family that loves you would, they just dealt with it.

I was able to meet his parents as we were invited for dinner last Sunday. What I pride myself with is my ability to draw out what a person’s biases and figure out where they stand by the very manipulation of the topics of conversation we had over dinner. And from there, I deduced that this was one family that believes in the straight-and-narrow path. I remember later, when were trying to salvage what was left of our Sunday night, that BOY A’s brother suddenly turns irate and tells him, “Don’t wear that here. Go change your shirt.” -it was his way of saying, “What are you wearing? You look like a fag.”- I just stood there, the better part of my manners stopped me from even verbalizing something as simple as, “Why? What’s wrong with the shirt?”

Let me also share why Manang Pinky was very concerned about BOY A. She knows how hard it is for him sometimes and has voiced her concerns that she has seen this happen to most young gay men who leave their homes to get some space. Sometimes they run away or avoid their families entirely; and look to fill the lack of affection and acceptance elsewhere. And in certain cases, they zoom like a rocket never wanting to come back and they crash down or back to much tragic effect. She wanted BOY A to open up to her, for him to have someone who is till family that understands. I can’t judge BOY A for being apprehensive, we all must take our time.

Well, just putting it out there, I’m happy for BOY A, he’s currently in a relationship and it looks like he has a partner that nurtures him. On that one, he’s luckier than me. [Anyone out there? *hint* *hint*]

This being the first of my Pride Month Musings, I’m asking you guys -whether ye be gay or straight- to be a little more tolerant, more understanding, to really know your gay friend, gay brother, gay cousin, or gay student and be there for them if you think they have no one. That’s what being human is in my book; throwing indifference out the window.

And to BOY A -you’re probably going to read this- so let me just say, we are also here for you.

Next on the Barefoot Baklesa‘s Pride Month Musings: How Do You Say GAY?

…thus spake the Barefoot Baklesa


Rosecelle said...

I do love you the way you are Niki.I'm proud to be your cousin and I will support you in anyway that I can.
Peace and Love!
Nang Pinky

Alexis said...

I'm a Born Again Christian and, honestly, it pains me seeing people of the same faith as I judge gay people like that. This is actually something I've been struggling with in terms of belief.

I'm really happy that you never had to go through all the raised eyebrows and prejudice a lot of people have against homosexuality from family --- people who are supposed to accept you.

the barefoot baklesa said...

hey Nang Pinky!
You're finally here... Awwww, that's soooo sweet of you.
I love you too, Manang...

Oo nga pala, thus begins our one year weight loss challenge!

the barefoot baklesa said...

Alexis darling,
everyday I wake up, I'm really thankful of the cards that I have been dealt with.

times are changing, and people will too -that is one thing that is constant- and that is what we must pray to be better...