I remember back in my senior year of high school, our teacher made us do this project in our Arts class (what is now known in the current K-12 curriculum as MAPEH—Music, Arts, P.E., Health) where we had to create our very own wedding invitation. You know, the really fancy kind you often get in the mail when a friend or relative gets married: the promise of a romantic event made out of premium card stock or parchment and flourished with intricate design details such as embossed letters or digitally printed photographs of the bride and groom. If the couple had money to burn, you’d often get an invitation that was even made out of even more expensive materials than just plain printed card stock. Immediately after our teacher presented us with the details of our art project, I never once hesitated that my wedding invitation would feature my name next to another boy’s name.
A disclaimer before I continue with this anecdote: I have always been aware of my sexuality from a young age that I did not need to “come out” in a traditional sense to my friends and family, and thus, I was largely accepted for being true to my queer roots. And though attending a private school with a zero-tolerance policy against discrimination would be considered an advantage, there was always that petty undercurrent of ridicule spoken behind my back due to my extroverted nature. That being said, I worked hard to make my invitation the best it could possibly be; a competitive edge driving me to make sure that my “gay wedding invite” would surpass that of my heterosexual classmates. I submitted the finished product to my teacher where—to my slight surprise—she never batted an eyelash nor did she voice out any homophobic remark upon seeing that the person whom I was “to marry” in the invitation was a boy’s name. For that month’s art project, I received one of the highest marks in class.
Years after that indelible memory, I would come to grow up and face an era where gay marriage was no longer an impossible dream, but a tangible reality that someone like me could one day attain with the right man. Sadly, living in a country like the Philippines has largely prevented me from achieving the kind of happiness that many gay men and women in North America and Europe have experienced in recent years. But the meteoric rise of the internet and social media in the past decade has been crucial in keeping me well-informed of any and all news and issues concerning LGBT topics, which was instrumental in educating me that the world beyond the archipelago I lived in showed me that being gay is okay and that it was possible for me to get the civil and human rights afforded to straight people.
But despite such rainbow-colored optimism flaunted in many LGBT-friendly places, I am not that naïve to think that the community I belong to still doesn’t face negative judgment in various levels. Countries like Russia and Uganda both have a horrifying stance against homosexuals—too often based on ultra-conservative religious principles—that often becomes violent. LGBT people don’t even stand a chance if they live in the Middle East, where at the very worst, an extremist terrorist group would gladly execute gay men on camera and proudly defend their actions to the world disturbed by such blatant inhumanity. And even in highly developed countries like the United States, there is still so much hatred by Americans of different shades and shapes towards gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people that the Supreme Court’s monumental decision to approve same-sex marriage in June 2015 feels like a feeble triumph of a small battle in an epic war that has yet to be fully won.
From my perspective, the Philippines at large has largely been tolerant of the gay population. Emphasis on the operative word ‘tolerant’ because to use the term ‘accepting’ would be pushing it too far considering the social climate of this country. Granted, the LGBT minority of this country may not face the ruthless kind of persecution that other nations in the world exact upon their homosexual citizens, but we are still facing problematic issues that need to be addressed now that we are in a time where gay rights is a hot-button global concern not just for the everyday populace, but for the leaders of church and state trying to wrap their heads around the fact that gay men and women desire to have the civil rights so easily bestowed to the straight majority. This brings me now to the recent trainwreck surrounding Manny Pacquiao and his controversial statements against the gay community in general.
At this point, I’m sure I don’t need to rehash the sordid details of how he essentially compared same-sex unions being “worse than animals”. Nor do I need to recount the swift backlash he immediately received in the media upon uttering those comments. But what unsettles me deeply is the fact that someone like him—a high-profile individual in a position of power—is running for public office and preaching antiquated beliefs based on religion; beliefs that, whichever way you look at it, ultimately places the Filipino LGBT population at a social disadvantage. The fact that his supporters are defending his convictions gives a startling implication that they are enabling Pacquiao to dismiss our human rights and our identity as queer individuals. The firestorm surrounding this controversy has been nothing short of incendiary on all sides as I scroll through the news feed of my Facebook account and I often find myself wondering these things where the answers are just as elusive:
- Are there really so many few and genuine straight allies on my Facebook that they’re the only ones condemning the tactlessness of Pacquiao aside from my LGBT brothers and sisters?
- Are the religious and/or political conservatives really that ignorant about what we in the LGBT community strive to achieve when we say we want to get married and receive equal rights?
- Why is there a sizable contingent of Facebook users telling everyone to “move on from this issue”/”live and let live”/”let’s just all get along” when these are just pathetic euphemisms that LGBT concerns should just be swept under the rug and never to be prioritized in favor of more lighthearted topics?
- Do you mean to tell me that it’s only the intellectuals and well-read individuals who are fully aware of the stark differences between gender identity and sexual preferences?
- And because this year happens to be an election year, will the political candidates exploit the faux pas catalyzed by Pacquiao in order to pander to the bruised dignities of the LGBT Filipinos as spearheaded by the likes of Boy Abunda and Vice Ganda?
- And on that note, will this conversation about LGBT issues in the Philippines fade or sustain long after the votes have been cast?
Questions upon questions keep piling on top of one another as I’ve read status updates and post comments giving their two cents on the aftermath of Pacquiao’s fall from our gay graces. One thing I am not ashamed to admit is the sense of schadenfreude I relished deeply upon seeing the flames surrounding the beleaguered Filipino boxer burn hotter with every passing minute since he uttered those fatal words against the LGBT population. I am not going to apologize for indulging in such emotions, nor will I remain quiet about this particular issue because it’s high time that everyone is reminded that me and everyone else in the Philippines who identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender have been living under the rule of straight privilege chiefly defined by centuries of upholding an attitude of patriarchal machismo and underscored by literal interpretations of Catholic dogma.
I cannot in my deepest and gayest conscience respect anyone that undermines my identity as a human being, especially if that person is clearly in a position of power and not using his influence to teach the audience at large that love and acceptance—not bigotry and mere tolerance—transcends above all and showing the world that we can be just as progressive as those countries who value their gay population. Instead, I am presented with Manny Pacquiao; admittedly a proven star athlete who has brought recognition to this country for being talented in a particularly popular contact sport but outside of the boxing ring leaves very little to be desired if gender politics is concerned. What Pacquiao and the rest of his predominantly heterosexual vocal supporters don’t realize is that they are abusing their straight privilege right in front of our faces and they expect us to just sit there and be passive observers while they enjoy the benefits of civil rights that they think we do not deserve.
Yes, people: straight privilege is a real thing that exists and it’s something I will not tolerate. You may not notice it at first glance, but it is right there in plain sight if you open your eyes and look closely at the details. It’s there when a straight teenage girl gets a gay best friend but only treats him as some sort of “fabulous accessory” and not as an equal to share her darkest fears, her fragile hopes, and her brightest dreams; it’s there when a bunch of straight twenty-something men drinking on a weekend joke around in the club and say “Dude, no homo!” whenever one of them does something even remotely gay in their actions like an innocent touch on another’s arm; it’s there when a mother scolds her young son publicly for choosing a pink-colored toy in a store and forces a blue-tinted toy in his hands instead because, as she firmly believes, “pink is for girls and blue is for boys”; it’s there when you overhear your friend say “Oh my God, that’s so gay!” as a casual insult and you are literally within earshot; it’s there when people applaud and cheer at transgender beauty pageants but could care less about the violence inflicted upon trans women by their abusive lovers, both foreign and local. Straight privilege in the Philippines is, quite frankly, a pestilent infestation on mainstream society and whose victims are the LGBT Filipinos quietly suffering from the disease spread by heterosexuals ignorant or blind to our plight. We aren’t asking for much, but for the simple demand of respect, representation, and rights owing to the fact that straight people in general do not know what it is like for someone who identifies under the LGBT umbrella.
They don’t know what it’s like for so many gay sons in ultra-conservative families still trapped in the closet and forever forced to live a life that is essentially depriving them of their true identity. They don’t know what it’s like for the several lesbian daughters out there traumatized from being raped by a man under the very orders of their own families, thinking that being sexually assaulted by a man will turn them back to being a “normal woman”. They don’t know what it’s like for the hordes of bisexuals out there being publicly ostracized in a narrow-minded society because they can go both ways and not just stick to one sexual preference. They most certainly don’t know what it’s like for the countless transgender men and women out there having to deal with mental and emotional anguish (as well as threats of murder) all because they do not identify with the biological body they have been born with. And also, they definitely don’t know what it’s like for the asexuals having to constantly deal with their obliviousness and prejudice because they cannot comprehend that there is such a thing as people not being sexually or romantically attracted to another person. Because God forbid that gay people only serve as functional stereotypes in the rose-colored lives of straight people but when those rose-colored glasses are removed from their eyes, they would rather see things in black and white than let us exercise and enjoy the very rights they have been taking for granted since time immemorial.
Usually, when school projects are submitted to the teacher, students don’t often get them back. But in the case of my gay wedding invitation—a flamboyant and fragrant display of a scented candle swathed in lavender tulle and ribbon with the text printed on expensive parchment paper—I managed to steal it back from my art teacher by purloining it from her cabinet months after it was handed over so I can bring it back home. I remember the feeling of hope as I unfurled the scroll of creamy parchment paper from its soft tulle nest and holding in my hands the possibility that one day, something I created in art class could be a real thing that I could send to my friends and family so they would come and celebrate that special occasion with me. But if people like Manny Pacquiao continues to be venerated by the Filipino masses despite his beliefs that are as archaic as the holy book he purportedly reads every day, then I’m afraid that hope would be nothing more than a dream transformed into a nightmare that I will share with my LGBT brothers and sisters whose basic human rights continue to be diminished with every passing year that political and religious leaders continues to ignore our very existence.
So in the words of our most sacred Queen Bey—herself in the midst of an ongoing hot topic regarding race relations in the United States—I implore and urge my fellow LGBT peers and sincere straight allies to get in formation and continue to fight the good fight against this malignant injustice towards the Filipino gay community until we reach the moment where equal rights truly means equality for all the citizens of the Philippines and not just exclusively for her straight constituents.