Coming out is important
I used to think it wasn’t. Like it wasn’t important for a heterosexual boy hitting puberty to come out to his parents and say, “Hey, I think I like girls.” But I decided to “officially” come out this year, anyway; I am 29 and independent, and I felt that I had better get it over with.
When I was a little boy, I was neither neglected nor spoiled by my parents. When I realized what I was, I found that although they didn’t say it outright, I knew my liking Jiglyn (the high school hottie three houses down) didn’t make me any less of a son in their eyes. They assured themselves that they raised a son with a healthy appreciation of what’s fair, just and true—although, yes, this particular son happens to like other sons.
I was lucky. Luckier than, I guess, Jennifer Laude, who had to pay the steep price for being true to herself and her family for never minding her being different.
Gays, lesbians, and (to most Filipinos) the hitherto unknown bisexual and transgender people are everywhere. We are your mother’s hairdresser, your sister’s classmate, your father’s banker or accountant, your house help. We are your sissy uncle, your butch aunt, your always-angry brother, your introverted sister, maybe even your dad or mom. Some of us openly share what we are, and courageously face the repercussions that come with it. But some of us choose the safe, but no less easy, route: We stay in our rainbow-painted closets and never come out. Like me in the past.
However, looking back, I found that I have been surrounded by people who came out in one way or another. I was in senior year in high school when my sister became a victim of bullying. She was tiny then, and a magnet for the most heartlessly degenerate bullies in her school. We used to wonder if there was something wrong with her, if she was intentionally making herself the target of these vicious antics. Being the kuya, I took it upon myself to investigate, and found out that her only crime (it broke my heart that I thought of it as an offense) was standing up to the boy who called her brother “bayot” (the Cebuano word for “gay”).
My sister, then 10, came out for me. She understood that however loved and accepted we were at home, there would always be one jerk in the outside world who will poke fun at my sexual orientation. At a tender age, she came out to tell the world how different she was because she accepted her older brother as gay.
In 1998, my deeply religious aunt confessed that her husband had been physically and psychologically abusing her for years. She was 58 then. Her children, all grown and with families of their own, stood by her when she filed for annulment. But her favorite priest chided her and said: You’re old now, why would you want to do this now? What good will it do? Twelve years later, my brave aunt got her freedom back. And she stopped seeing her favorite priest.
My aunt proved to me that one is never too old to come out and be rid of one’s demons. When I asked her about it, she said the shame of being held prisoner by the secret was worse than the shame of having others know what she had been through. “At least I fought back in the end and kept my self-respect,” she said, adding: “Ryan, you should learn from me.”
All over the world, battles are being waged daily by members of our community in the war to secure equality in the most basic of rights: jobs, marriage, family, representation. At home, we have had our share of little battles won: progressive churches that conduct weddings among the LGBT, when esteemed Filipino immigrants dedicate their awards to a murdered transgender woman, heartwarming words from the Pope himself. I remember seeing a front-page report in the Inquirer on two male Communist Party members marrying in 2005. Even that is a win in its own merit.
Unfortunately, in this war, some battles are also lost: in a hate series masquerading as “health columns” by supposed female doctors published in a Davao daily, when powerful Catholic bishops are lukewarm in accepting homosexuals, or when an American is coddled just because his Filipino victim is a transgender woman, as the local government shamelessly expresses gratitude for the business the US troops bring in.
I know someone close who is a member of the New People’s Army and who knows a thing or two about battles and wars. I used to hate him for his decision to quit college and his love for everything logical and inevitable. He texted me once, “There is logic to the revolution, an inevitability: a logic that even the poorest of the poor, weakest of the weak, illiterate though they are, inevitably understand and embrace wholeheartedly.” I need to be out there, he insisted, I need to make myself count and be active in my collective and serve the people without having to always fear if it would cost me my life. I sort of understand him now. Isn’t that the same as coming out and waging the war that inevitably comes with it? Like facing an enemy that is far stronger than you but because of hard work and grasp of superior social realities, you are able to win battles in a much bigger war?
I thank my good fortune for having a stubborn sister, an intrepid aunt and a radical friend, who are not only different but also choose to make the world know it. It is in these times, in the living examples of the brave people I know, that I rethink my position on the necessity of coming out. The people of my community, the LGBT community, can no longer afford to wallow in the safety of our closets in the interest of self-preservation. Because there will come a time when the contradictions in our lives, families, and society will heighten to a point where self-preservation will no longer mean silence or indifference.
There will come a time, like history has time and again so eruditely taught us, when we will need to come out and be counted. What if Andres Bonifacio didn’t inspire revolutionary fervor in the Katipunan, or if Jose Rizal chose to be content in the dubious security of being an ilustrado? What if gays and lesbians didn’t fight police brutality and the Stonewall Riots never happened? What if almost a million people didn’t march down Washington on Oct. 11, 1993, and declare the National Coming Out Day that the LGTB community now celebrates worldwide?
This I realized: Unless the marginalized come out and stake their claim, they will remain so and will continue to be victimized with impunity. After all, as rights are not afforded to invisible people, so do crimes cannot conceivably be perpetrated against them.
Last Oct. 11, I prepared dinner for my father (my mom died in 2005) and my two sisters. When my father devoured the last of his chicken adobo, I came out. The drama didn’t come, as I expected, but I felt like there was a brighter hue in my peripheral vision. The next day, I would find it such a hellish irony that the day a gay man freed himself of the burden of being invisible was the same day a transgender woman became invisible forever.
I have very little faith in a swift and just resolution of Jennifer Laude’s murder case. I only need to look at over 100 years of US-PH relations to tell me that the odds will never be in our favor. But I have a personal stake in this, not only because a fellow Filipino was murdered by an impenitent and unwanted guest but also because it was a fellow LGBT who was the victim. Expect me to come out and be in whatever rally or assembly seeking justice for her.
Come out, I can almost hear Jennifer whisper to every member of the LGBT community like her. Like me.
Ryan del Rosario, 29, is “a mildly successful ad agency creative director.”
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