This silence in our hearts
People would ask, “When did you learn you’re different?” My quick answer was always, “Since when I was little, at school.”
The question that automatically followed, “So how did you know you’re different?”
First I learned pronouns, then I learned religion.
The first teacher was a She. She taught science. She was married to a pastor, a He. She gave us a homework: construct a minihouse for the She students, and a minicar for the He students.
The following day, I brought a house, painted yellow, two-story, and a car, both made of recycled materials, that my father and I managed to finish overnight.
I didn’t know the instruction. I must have failed to listen. The teacher came near me and said that houses were for girls and cars were for boys.
That was the first lesson I learned that day. The second lesson I learned was that gays will burn in hell. I cried.
I didn’t learn religion through love and compassion, through kindness and respect. I learned it through heaven and hell. The good kid goes to heaven, the bad goes to hell.
It wasn’t the first time I heard about that everlasting fire when my teacher told me I would burn in hell for making a house. Hell was a word my friends in my neighborhood would casually chant: “Liars go to hell!”
First the liars, I learned from playmates, then gay people, I learned from my teacher. I learned that I was destined to go to hell at the same time I was starting to learn the name of planets and grow mongo seeds, at the same time I learned that watercolor and okra could make good art.
The second teacher was a She. She taught Filipino. She asked a question. Everybody raised their hands, and I waved mine. She noticed me. But before I could answer, she threw me a different question: “Miyembro ka ba ng federasyon? (Are you a member of the gay federation?)”
I could still hear in my head how she pronounced “federasyon,” as if mimicking the Spanish sound. I didn’t answer. My classmates did with their laughter, mixed with hers. I cried.
I stood up crying, then I screamed at her, “Isusumbong kita sa prinsipal! (I am taking this to the principal!)” To which she confidently replied, “Then go!”
Upon dismissal, when my classmates had left the room, I approached her to say sorry. I said sorry because I feared she would tell my parents what happened. I feared she would tell my parents I was gay.
I couldn’t count how many times I cried at school for the same reason. This seemingly endless cycle of bullying had me develop a habit of my own.
They ridiculed, I cried, I washed my face, I shut my mouth, I kept things to myself. Repeat.
When situations like this happened, I would excuse myself from class to wash my face and clear my eyes of any sign I cried, so that when I was home, I could look my parents straight in the eye and tell them that I got an ace for that yellow house, that my Filipino class was fun because everyone had their share of laughter.
At a young age, I only had myself. Kids of my kind would not tell their parents they got ridiculed for being gay for fear that our parents would ask questions. I feared my parents would ask me, had they known what happened at school, “Ba’t ka inaasar, anak, lalambot-lambot ka ba sa school? (Why do they insult you? Is it true you’re acting feminine at school?)”
I always knew the answer to this question. I just didn’t know how to answer. We didn’t know how to answer.
So I grew up envious of those little girls who could tell their parents that a bully pulled their braided hair, or little boys who could tell their parents a bully had grabbed their favorite toys. Crying in front of parents and seeking refuge was quite a privilege, I thought. But when teachers and classmates made fun of us because we were different, calling for rescue was not as easy. It was more convenient to keep silent than face questions and take judgments.
So we choose to carry this silence in our hearts for many years, until the day comes that we are bold enough to break it. Until the day comes when who we are is already more important than the judgments of others, and we’ve become as certain of ourselves as they are when they speak of hell.
So how did I know I was different? Because at an early age, there was a silence I had to carry, words I couldn’t say.
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Daryl Pasion, 27, is an assistant professor at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
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