MANILA, Philippines – Much brouhaha has been made over the defacement of a gay couple’s billboard along Guadalupe (1). Reasons have been given, fingers have been pointed, and even discussions about the very nature of advertising were brought up. But regardless of what actually happened, there is still the plain truth that none of this would be happening if it weren’t for homophobia. Without homophobia, no one would even think of putting up such billboards in the first place. In a world where everybody already understood that love was love was love, seeing two men holding hands wouldn’t be a big deal at all.
But to be honest, I’m quite tired of lambasting homophobia, especially since the people who need to hear it are rarely the ones who sit up and listen. So for this article I figured I’d do something different: I’d admit that I used to be homophobic, and then tell you how and why I changed my mind.
I came from a very conservative Born Again Christian background and grew up honestly believing that LGBTs were living a lie and were going to hell.
In high school, when a couple of my girl friends started getting girlfriends, it worried me. I’d tell my Christian friends about them in the context of praying for their lost souls. Another friend of mine said that the lesbians who were “preying” on my friends were selfish and just out to take advantage of them. I believed him. I was told so many other things — that they were possessed by demons, and that their desire was a perversion — all of which boiled down to the single point that that was not how “God” made them to be.
There was no malice in my holding such beliefs, so I’ve also had a bit of trouble with the way homophobia has been easily equated with hate. I believed that LGBTs shouldn’t date, have sex, or marry simply because I did. I was a God-fearing Christian, and this was what I believed God said. Period. It wasn’t personal. I didn’t enjoy the misery of the marginalized. I hadn’t even realized that they were being marginalized. I just thought that they were people who needed to be fixed, and I had no agenda for thinking so.
In college, however, I became a bit of a “fag hag” despite my beliefs. I had not yet learned of the specialWill & Grace bond that many women and gay men tend to share, but it started happening anyway, like some kind of magnetism I couldn’t really explain. A few gay friends voluntarily took me under their wing. When I was a pathetically clueless performer who didn’t know how to put on makeup, they took great joy in making me look my best. They also pushed me in other areas, like when shyness or laid-back mediocrity was getting the best of my singing. And on empty days when there was nothing to do buttambay, they were great company, with an extremely witty and irreverent kind of humor that I didn’t get from anyone else.
Of course, it helped that I wasn’t vocal about my beliefs around them. I knew what tact was. I knew the basics of getting along with people despite differences. I knew there was no point in sparking conflict when all you were doing was eating lunch and walking to class, and you actually liked each other. But one night, one of my friends felt down and conflicted about where his sexuality put him with God. “Oklang naman, diba? Pwede naman, diba?” I just looked back at him sadly, not knowing what to say.
Growing to see LGBTs as perfectly whole and legitimate took a long time for me. But getting to know them as good, intelligent, and funny people was a start. I guess it also helped that I was always asking myself questions. One of the things that bugged me was how their sexual preferences seemed to have just as much conviction as mine did. I was sure I liked men. No one could force me to change and suddenly like women. And since I believed that being gay was wrong, I started wondering how I could possibly flip them back to the preference they ought to have — except I was never able to figure that out because I couldn’t imagine flipping myself. I never found the switch.
GENDER AND SEXUALITY CLASS
I took a scintillating class under a brilliant Gender and Sexuality professor. I don’t remember if he was the first one who brought to my attention that restrictions against homosexuality were just a few lines away from restrictions against polyester blends and eating seafood in the Bible. He walked us through the journeys that the fields of psychology and science have made on the subject, from dark beginnings up until the part where the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973.
But what ultimately changed my mind weren’t solid scientific figures, or the fact that homosexuality also occurred in penguins and other animals. What changed my mind was an afternoon walk I was taking by myself under the huge acacia trees that lined the UP Academic Oval.
A lesbian professor of mine drove by and waved at me, with her partner in the passenger seat and their fluffy white dog grinning out of the back window. At the time they had already been together eight years. They filled my Facebook feed with pictures of home cooked meals, cakes, pies, stories of how they first met and how they continue to celebrate it each year. There were also announcements from the worried but faithful bantay when one of them ended up in the hospital.
If what they were doing was wrong, then the right thing to do was to split them up. I proceeded to ask myself what that would possibly achieve.
1. It would break their hearts.
2. Actually, I think that’s pretty much it.
And that’s when I first started to believe that maybe it really was better to leave them alone. What won me over were quiet, unassuming pictures like that. Just people loving, being thankful, and taking really good care of each other. And of the many things I was capable of being irreverent in the face of, I had no doubt in my mind that this was sacred.
(1) Reference was blurred due to print-advertising relations
Originally published in The Philippine Star SUPREME (21 February 2015)