At Large

Outings and awakenings

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The “outing” of Anderson Cooper, respected American TV journalist and son of lifestyle icon Gloria Vanderbilt, has elicited a number of reactions. Although, if I recall correctly, the news was somewhat anticlimactic, as word on Cooper’s sexual orientation had been leaking for years.

But his admission of being gay, made to a blogger and made public with his permission, does mark a first, the first confession I know of by a “serious” journalist regarding his sexual orientation.

Not that it matters, I think. Followers of his public affairs show on CNN and his own talk show on network TV have received the reportage and opinion aired in it regardless of Cooper’s personal or even sexual life. What mattered more to me, as one of his followers, was his credibility and the work he put into his reportage and the incisive manner he conducted his interviews. His sexuality hardly factored—factors—in his work. In this sense, I guess Cooper has scored a point for gender blindness, or for letting one’s work, one’s competence and professionalism, speak louder than the private details of one’s personal life.

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But as Cooper’s friends have pointed out, including some of them in the media, by revealing the truth about his gayness, he has opened the door to more discussions, more debate, more openness and ultimately greater acceptance of members of the LGBT community. The value of his revelation, it has been pointed out, is most important to the thousands of young men and women still searching for validation or in the throes of doubt about their own sexual orientation. In the United States, the plight of these “questioning” young folks, many of them teased, bullied or threatened for their failure to live up to social expectations, has resulted in an epidemic of teenage suicides or in hate crimes—that is, in beatings or killings based on the victim’s sex or sexual orientation.

Violence against those belonging, or merely suspected of belonging, to the community of lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgenders is likewise a central issue of Ang Ladlad, the party-list group seeking a seat in the House of Representatives.

From what I understand, there is as yet no definition of a “hate crime” in our laws. But this defect in our laws has not stopped criminal elements from preying on those whose sexuality they deem offensive. The offenses, ranging from harassment to extortion, violent bullying to outright beatings and killings, have grown to such an extent that LGBT leaders have been calling for dialogues with police and other law enforcers to urge greater awareness and enforcement of laws against gender-based violence.

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Last month, I took part in the launching of a memoir titled “Of God and Men: A Life in the Closet.” The book is actually a new version of a book previously reviewed in this space. At the time, the book’s title was “God Loves Bakla,” a deeply personal and searing account of the long process of “coming out” by Raymond Alikpala, a lawyer whose search for meaning and identity included a stint in a Jesuit seminary and work among displaced people in Cambodia. Raymond himself described the book as “a Filipino gay Catholic’s quest for love and meaning,” admitting that he set about writing the memoir and searching for a publisher with “missionary zeal.”

“Of God and Men” is published by the Irish publishing outfit Maverick House, whose publisher John Mooney, in a message read for him, praised the work for its “honesty,” which is, he noted, “a rare commodity in the literary world.”

Malou Marin, a friend from college at the Ateneo of Raymond’s, remembers him as “serious, straight and morally upright,” although she would hear of his coming out some years later. Reading the book, she says, she was struck by how it was full of “fear, shame and loathing,” and how it seemed to be “80-percent angst and 20-percent bliss.”

Coming out with his first draft in 2007, Raymond sent the manuscript, at the time a rather clinical telling of his story, to friends, one of them a Japanese woman. His friend had a single piece of advice for him: “Cut a piece of your heart and put it on your pages.” Mindful of this, Raymond said, he rewrote his entire manuscript, resolved to tell the whole truth, including his deepest feelings, in his memoirs. It was also then that he decided not to use a pseudonym.

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One of the most affecting parts of the book is how Raymond finally found the courage to tell his family about his entire self, including his sexual orientation. Though he said he had an inkling that his mother had long sensed his gayness, when they read the first draft of his memoir, they at first were repulsed and appalled that he would speak so publicly about his sexuality.

But at the book launch, Raymond’s parents were both there, as were other members of his family, which spoke volumes about how they had come around to accepting him and indeed being proud of his courage and fearlessness.

His mother Ciony, speaking at the launch, acknowledged that it is not easy mothering a gay son, more so because “it is not easy to be gay in the Philippines.” “Gayness is not a sin,” she declared in Filipino, “God knows how he has lived, and God sees into our hearts and reads our minds.”

It was important to her, she said, “to try my best and show my love and support” for Raymond. “I am very proud of my gay son,” she declared, urging parents of gay children to love them because “they need our love more in a cruel and judgmental society.”

Anderson Cooper would have approved.

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