Darna, my hero
I’d be proud to share with my future children how I witnessed five Darnas soar over the course of my life.
I saw Darna, as portrayed by Angel Locsin, fly when I was five.
Four years later, at nine years old, I watched Marian Rivera’s version take down bad guys while suspended in the air.
At 23, when many would tease me for getting excited over a fictional character I had somehow left in the attic of my childhood, I saw her zoom over the clouds in the faces of Iza Calzado and Jane de Leon.
I will tell them that Darna is my ultimate Filipino superhero. When they’d ask why, I’d whisper, “She and I were the same.”
Like her, I transformed by wearing a sando bra, a pair of tiny shorts, a towel in between my legs, and a t-shirt wig.
I’d sport my Nanay’s heels, which I had stolen from her rack to complete the ensemble, and jump as high as I could as if I’d landed from the sky, and punch the air furiously as if I were in combat.
Playing Darna was fun until Nanay starts looking for her pair of shoes, or Tatay discovers I’d been playing dress-up while he was at work.
Tatay, who grew up in a conservative family, never liked, or ever imagined tolerating, the idea of his eldest child, his little boy, being gay. He despised it. Sumpa sa Diyos. A curse to God. These were his words whenever he was enraged by my feminine expression. While I looked up to Darna as a role model, he looked up to God in the same way.
He used him to justify his actions toward me.
I had no choice but to lead two lives. In public, while Darna was busy saving the world, I was occupied being Narda, her mortal form, a simple pretending-to-be-straight little boy who kept an open secret. In private, as Narda went about her daily activities, I played Darna, lifting the weight of Tatay’s crushing disapproval off my shoulders.
At the time, I had to stand as my own hero.
I couldn’t be a child—seen, saved, and secured. Tatay was hell-bent on punishing my dressing-up through severe penalties he masked as “discipline.” Once, when he got vexed, he tied me upside down from the ceiling, locked me alone in the room, and left me there crying the entire day. Nanay would try to rescue me, but her efforts would be in vain because Tatay would immediately admonish her for meddling. For him, I had to be chastised because my behavior was a fundamental biblical offense.
Then, whenever he came home drunk, he would wake me up and interrogate me all night, asking if I was straight or gay. I would whimper in fear. Nanay would do her utmost to save me from suffering by begging with Tatay to let me sleep. She would pull me toward her and wrap me around her arms, only to end up in scars and bruises the next day. Despite Tatay’s terrible actions, he never raised an eyebrow, even out of pity. He maintained that by punishing me, he was foiling the works of the devil.
My ordeal at his hands led me to wonder, “What would Darna do if she saw children like me suffering?” It took me a long time to come up with an answer. But when I did, it arrived at the perfect time. Darna would have done to me what Nanay had managed to do. She would fly to my aid, talk me out of crying, and make certain that I slept soundly at night. When I was in distress, I’d convince myself that she was looking after me. Then, I’d stare at Nanay, who banished Tatay from our house with all her power.
During the decade that Darna was not on television, I looked to Nanay for inspiration, much as Darna’s creator, Mars Ravelo, made the superhero as a tribute to his mother. I learned to stand up and defend myself. I embraced the idea that Narda and Darna didn’t have to be two separate people, one out in the open and the other hiding in plain sight. Both can exist at the same time.
I expressed myself without feeling obligated to appease a father who enjoyed playing the villain or to adhere to the skewed standards of a patriarchal household. If I hadn’t tried, I would have given up on life a long time ago.
With the power I held, I vowed to defend those who faced gender-based violence everywhere. But I didn’t count on my abilities alone. I collaborated with like-minded people in the Iloilo Pride Team, a network of Ilonggo LGBTQIAs that aims to bring awareness to the community’s issues through social conversations.
Even without my makeshift costume now, I’m confident that I’m fulfilling my Darna dream through the advocacy work I do to combat domestic abuse and guarantee that no women or children, regardless of sexual orientation, have to go through what I experienced. As today’s Darna would say, “Ang pinakamalaking kasalanan ay kapag may kakayahan kang tumulong, pero wala kang ginawa.” (The biggest offense is when you have the ability to help but you did nothing.)
When my future children ask where the fifth Darna is, I’ll pull out a photo album and show them a picture of Nanay cradling me as a little boy, and right before they surrender to the placid night, I’ll whisper in their ears — Darna lives in my heart. She lives in yours, too.
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Leandro del Mundo, 23, is a writer from Antique. He looks to gugma (love) and hustisya (justice) to find kamatuuran (truth) in society.
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