Sunday, September 25, 2011

Something to Redeem Me by Reighben Labilles

2:32 am | Saturday, July 23rd, 2011
Something to Redeem Me

By: Reighben Earl Wysten M. Labilles also on Twitter
Philippine Daily Inquirer

I remember how I blushed and hid behind walls when I saw other boys. I was five years old. I had crushes on them, I think. How I managed to like anyone other than family, food, or toys back then, I do not know. I always felt and acted on my gayness, even when I couldn’t name it.

When boys came over to play, I would just lend my toys and scamper off to hide in my room. I was taller and rounder than most my age, and there I was, being meek. I did everything to avoid other boys so that they wouldn’t see my red cheeks and my lips breaking into a giggle when they were near.

Puberty made school life complicated. Hiding my reactions to boys got harder because of the effects some of them had on my body when I saw them. A lunch bag or a book helped cover things that could not be seen in public.

But my youth wasn’t all about crushes and the precious little ways of avoiding contact with them.

I was bullied until high school. I was targeted because of (1) being obviously gay even though I kept denying it, and (2) being a weird and mayabang boy. Try as I did to hide my reactions and butch up, the way I walked and the way I talked betrayed my identity. Being a loud, obnoxious know-it-all made things worse.

Something wrong and unforgettable happened when I was in Grade 6. A male classmate handed over a plate of vegetables arranged as an erect penis (a cucumber), flanked by sizable balls (tomatoes). I was embarrassed. My classmates laughed while I stared at the plate of offensively arranged produce. My only recourse was to tell my teacher what the mean boy did.

The most hurtful thing said to me in high school was that I was weak, because that’s what gays are: “weak.” A classmate spat that at me when I failed to do a push-up. If only I had a bit of wit, I would have told him that I couldn’t do a push-up because I was fat.

I finally came out and stopped lying about my gayness when I was in junior high school. I was a little braver, and people were more sensible. I confronted my classmates with how hurt I got when they teased me. So they stopped. They became a bit more inclusive.

College and real life after that saw none of the bullying I had in my younger years. But there were “gay jokes.” And by the gods, were they harsh.

Stereotyped parody

The particularly offending string of “jokes” came daily in my last work place. Morning greetings were in high-pitched shrieks, a perverse, stereotyped parody of the Filipino parlor bakla. Office men would approach me with smiles plastered on their faces and pretend to caress me. Some would even grope my chest and crotch. All harmless fun, they say.

People would address me in awful camp, calling me bakla or bading instead of my name, even in meetings.

They would assume that every man coming by the office would be someone I’d go after. They think that every time I’d be leaving the office early, I’d be out cruising for men. They made sure to make these sentiments known during “joke time.”

Then there were the dark moments. One officemate remarked that gays should be beaten and killed—all said as a “friendly joke” delivered in gay voice.

At the end of the day, when I finally leave, they’d laugh and say, “Mag-ingat sila sa iyo.”

I survived that workplace by rolling with their mockery. I met their rudeness with a farce of my own. I’d make fun of myself. I became a coquette and mimicked their jokes. And just to throw them off and gross them out, I would overshare. I’d tell them of my escapades in pantomime. I’d get laughs, and they’d stop bugging me.

I faced that work life for a year. I resigned last April so I could move on, hopefully to something that can redeem me. I didn’t want to be just a gay salary man subject to the homophobia of unenlightened people.

So I joined Marlon Lacsamana’s Philippine (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) LGBT Hate Crime Watch. Together, we were a ragtag duo, going from one event to the next, trying to get people to support the cause of seeking justice for slain LGBT Filipinos. I did it so I can make something out of myself, so I can dedicate my life to the greater cause of advocating LGBT rights. I had to get out of my complacent, slacker rut and do work that has true social worth. And this was it.

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