Ay, sayang, ang pogi mo pa naman,” said my mom’s office colleague after I confirmed that I was gay, and now out of the closet. She wasn’t the first to respond to me with those exact words, but I’ve never really understood them: Roughly, what a waste, to think you’re so handsome. Has part of me really gone to waste simply because I’m gay? Would people have reacted differently, or accepted the admission with more ease, if they thought I was ugly? All of these questions ran through my head as I nervously smiled and instinctively thanked her for the “compliment.”
“Buti ka pa, hindi halata,” said my friend before launching into a rant about his experiences with flamboyant gays. He was saying: It’s good it doesn’t show. A minute ago, I had finally told him something I’d kept a secret for 15 years, and now I was listening to him fervently describe the reasons he absolutely could not stand gays who spoke with a high voice, and how disgusted he was the first time he saw a crossdresser.
Over the next five minutes, I was reminded of why I spent 15 years lying to my family, friends, and almost everyone else that I knew. The bell rang, and as we parted ways to go to our respective classrooms, I had to look twice at the ground and remind myself that the line he just drew on it wasn’t actually there. I decided not to tell him about the crush I had on one of our mutual friends, and almost had a heart attack when I saw him going through the TV shows on my laptop, only to breathe a sigh of relief when I remembered that I had deleted my copy of the latest season of “America’s Next Top Model.”
“Alam mo kasi, Paolo, okay lang maging bading pero kasi yung iba sobra sobra na eh,” explained a member of my high school’s student council. You know, it’s okay to be gay but there are others who are just so excessive. A branch of our student council had planned a slew of activities that aimed to promote gender awareness in line with Pride month, and certain members of the faculty—my teacher included—had expressed their disagreement with the project. I approached him to ask what the faculty had told them, and why they felt so concerned about it. He explained that some teachers were scared that it would make some students feel too “comfortable” with their gayness. He said that the faculty had always been accepting of gay students, but that they might go “too far” if they see that the school actually consented to talks about different gender identities, and pubmats regarding pertinent LGBTQA issues. I asked him what they meant by “too far,” and this was what he answered—“Okay lang naman maging bading etc.”—before putting a hand on his hip and changing his voice, “…like too much na” with matching kembot.
“I swear if another gay guy tries to flirt with me, I’m going to leave,” professed a stranger at the party I was attending. He was tall, built, and over the course of the night had repeatedly taken his shirt off whenever he noticed a group of girls passing. The person who had most recently ticked him off was at the bar asking for ice, clutching the side of his jaw that was beginning to swell from the punch he wasn’t able to dodge fast enough. I asked him if he had told the bouncers about what had happened, and he said that they laughed at his story and told him he was asking for it.
I turned around to talk to the party organizers whom I knew, only to see the bouncers already escorting the shirtless giant out of the party. A girl had complained that he kept hitting on her despite her repeatedly expressing her disinterest. She tried to walk away from him but he grabbed her by the hand a little too tightly and asked her why she was being such a stuck-up bitch. She politely explained that she was a lesbian, and he said she just needed a real man to turn her straight and moved in for a kiss. She kneed him in the groin and ran to the nearest bouncer, who immediately rushed over to escort shirtless Romeo from the party.
My friends ask me why I don’t flirt with anyone at parties, and I always tell them I don’t want to end up with blood in my mouth and ice on my chin.
While these anecdotes may seem like isolated cases, they echo the same sentiments and double standards that most people who claim to be “accepting” of gay people have. Unfortunately, what these people don’t know is that what they exhibit is not acceptance. It is simply tolerance.
At face value, there’s nothing wrong with being a tolerant society; if anything, it is leagues better than one that blatantly discriminates or harms gay people. The problem with tolerance is that on its own, it is hollow. It is a dead end on the road to acceptance, posing as the finish line. It gives people a sense of complacency that they are liberal and accepting of others, without actually having to compromise their own boundaries or comfort zones. Instead of them learning to be comfortable with the idea of gay people, they impose subtle standards on gay people and reward those who conform. The burden no longer rests on society to be accepting, but on gay people to be “acceptable.”
This pressure to become an “acceptable” gay has become so overwhelming in society that even gay people impose it upon other gay people. Many of my more flamboyant and effeminate gay friends have told me of their experiences with gay dating apps which they thought was a safe place to meet guys they could actually date, only to be harassed and pelted with the same disgusting slurs they would hear from aggressive straight men. I have personally been told to “tone it down” by a guy who initially expressed interest in me, but was put off by the fact that I watched RuPaul’s Drag Race and enjoyed Lady Gaga’s music.
True acceptance may be far from where we are at present, but one that I believe we can reach within this lifetime. All it requires of us is that we build bridges instead of walls, and that respect be mutual.
Jose Paolo T. Sison, 18, is a freshman at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
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