I have been gay since I was five. Playing with toy guns or miniature race cars were never my game. Instead, I fancied baby dolls and their flamboyant dresses and silky, curly locks. I considered them alive—my little friends and fairy godmothers with whom I shared my innermost desires.
But my Mama had a great distaste for watching me play with my little girly playmates and would pinch me hard to restore my male consciousness. After all, dolls are for girls and I was meant to play with less delicate things. To get back to my pink world, I decided to play with my dolls in a place where I thought we could be protected—behind the bushes in front of Mama Mary’s grotto in our backyard. Like the mists of Avalon, the bushes concealed us from the great perils of time and my mother’s disapproval. We played roles, had tea parties, and fairy dances. But our favorite musical act was Sister Act 1’s “I Will Follow Him,” in which the fake nun Whoopi Goldberg infected the world with happiness by reworking a boring church hymn into great song-and-dance number. It is the song that would best define my gay childhood. It carried me to beautiful heights of happiness and divinity.
But I fell from grace when Mama caught me fixing my toys and costumes in the backyard after hours of divine celebration. Mama grabbed the costumes from my hands, flinging my dolls to the ground. I backed off and could only watch in horror at my Mama while she tried to rip my treasured costumes. She failed to rip them to shreds but she was able to tear my ears and heart with her admonitions. When she had spent her anger, she threw down the costumes, turned back, and left.
I buried my dolls at our sacred spot where we played. I placed large stones on their graves and wept.
The following year, I turned to drawing to channel my frustrations and to free myself from my repressions. It was the image of Mama Mary from which I drew my first inspirations. I became fascinated with her divine and immaculate beauty. Her regal and statuesque pose was mesmerizing and it soon became an emblem of feminine power — my feminine ideal.
Later, I found more interesting subjects to draw. I got access to encyclopedias and found images of nude women in the world of art—Venus de Milo, Venus de Urbino, and Olympia, which found their way into my sketches and amateur copies. I became obsessed with drawing the female form as it also became clearer to me that I belonged more in the female world.
I valued my drawing notebooks so much. It was a diary of my progress as an artist and my awakening to new views regarding my sexuality. I felt that the nude drawings were a display of the barest parts of my thoughts and my desires. But then I could not be left alone and comforted in my new world. Another tragedy befell me.
It was a day in Grade Four. At recess, I went to buy a sandwich at the canteen and left my bag in our classroom. When I came back I saw my classmates crowding over a notebook at the doorway. I immediately recognized that it was mine when I saw my nude drawings splayed on the pages like rape victims. I felt the blood rush to my head. I angrily asked my nosy classmates who had masterminded the rape of my notebooks. All fingers and eyes pointed to Anna, a scrawny Barbie with thick eyebrows. She was crouched at the corner behind the teacher’s table—a little criminal found out and trying to find comfort behind a symbol of power. But she was defeated by guilt, and crocodile tears streamed down her face along with her muddied black eyeliner. I raged at her, rushing at her like a tiger, my hands like claws. She stood up and made a dash towards the door but I was in her way. I grabbed her hair and pulled it like I was playing tug-of-war.
Anna tried pounding me with her fists, but my anger was ten times more potent than her need to defend herself. I shoved her face to the floor. I pushed and mopped her face on the newly-waxed floor, my fantasies of Cinderella claiming me in a twisted way. My classmates urged me to stop. But I had already become deaf to their pleas. I snapped back to my senses only when I saw her face red with what I thought was blood. I pushed her away from me and looked at my hands, red with my crime. In a panic, I thrust my hands to my nose — they smelled of floor wax.
Our teacher came. My anger and shock turned to fear. She pulled me away from Anna and my classmates rushed to Anna’s side and comforted her. I stood on my spot, alienated and betrayed. In my mind, I kept repeating, I was the victim, that I deserved their sympathy more than Anna. I was convinced of the unfairness and injustice of the situation. Then one of my classmates, fat and stubby-fingered Allen, gave my notebook to my teacher, pointing at it as the root of the fight. After seeing the contents of my notebook, my teacher raised an eyebrow, looked at me with such disdain, and threw the notebook at my face. I cried. She told me she would send me to the principal’s office early the next day. I tried to explain to her that what I had created in my notebook was art, their legitimacy proven in the encyclopedias I have taken them from. But my teacher was a Philistine who could not distinguish between pornography and art. She raved about immorality—skewering the lewdness of my art with the immorality of sexuality. I was struck silent by her words. I felt it was too long before I had the strength to turn around, take my bag, and go home wailing.
When I got home, I found my grandfather sitting under the tambis tree. I ran to him and he received me with a warm hug. He looked at my face, red and wet from crying and asked me why I was crying. I poured out my guts and anger. The look of understanding in my grandfather’s face melted my anger away and I once again found love and comfort.
But Mama eventually found out about the classroom incident. When she did, she slapped me hard on the face. This time, I could not cry. I could only run to my bedroom and shut the door. But her words chased me through my room’s quiet walls.
“Be a man!” she shouted after me. “Ayaw pag binayot kay walay ganahan sa bayot!”
But how does one become a man?
Playing with toy guns or miniature race cars? Puffing gazillions of cigarettes until I cough my lungs out? Filling my belly with beer and rolling like a log after? Lifting weights and growing strong, hard muscles?
No. Even if I wear clothes meant for women, I am still a man and it’s not just because I have a penis dangling between my legs. I am a man because I keep my word. I am a man because I respect other people’s rights.
I am a man because I am true to myself.