by Danton Remoto
First posted in www.abs-cbnnews.com
I’ve been accused in the Internet of saying that we should assume that good-looking and bright Pinoy men are gay unless proven otherwise. It was a quote from my dear friend, Jessica Zafra, whose blog is subtitled “Pumping Irony.” I guess irony really is one of the least figures of speech relished in this country. When you write with your tongue stuck to your cheek, some people will take it literally – and consign you to hell-dom in their blogs and in the borderless world of cyberspace. Thus, I am reprinting an essay I wrote two years ago praising, tsa-rannnn, Filipino men. With no irony this time.
Okay, we’ve heard what’s wrong with the Pinoy male. They are just boys who grew up and are now loaded with testosterone and muscles. They treat girls either as Mary Magdalene (pang-good time) or the Virgin Mary (pure and virginal, pang-Misis). They have a fidelity quotient below zero.
Now that we’ve expelled the bile, let’s talk about the good things about the Pinoy male. Yes, they exist, and here are some of them:
1. They’re good-looking. I lived briefly in Singapore two years ago and one day, the cast and crew of Bridal Shower came for the Singapore International Film Festival. Since it was directed by my friend Jeffrey Jeturian, I went and watched again this film I’ve seen earlier in Manila. The Singaporeans – blasé, rich, and comfortable – marveled at the scenes showing the classiness and style of Makati. And more: the two girls beside me nearly screamed when they saw Alfred Vargas, Juancho Valentin, and Douglas Robinson taking off their shirts and showing off their buffed bodies.
“Are you from Manila?” they asked me after the film showing, their eyes still glazed at the sight of such male beauty.
“Yes,” I answered, smiling sweetly, for I knew what the next question would be.
“Do you have such really cute guys walking on the streets of Manila?”
“Oh yes. There’s more where they came from!” I answered, and the girls tittered with delight.
Because our race is such a mélange of cultures – Malay, Chinese, Spanish, and American – we have some of the cutest guys in Asia, or even the world. The Eurasian mix never fails to impress, whether the hyphenated Filipino is walking in Greenbelt, on Fifth Avenue, or near Piccadilly Square. The brown-black hair, those almond eyes and aquiline nose, that skin the color of honey never fail to get second looks.
2. They’re cosmopolitan. When I lived in Malaysia for a year, I went to the gym to put some order into my day. In between the huffing and the puffing, I would read the magazines. FHM Malaysia and Singapore had interviews of women who always claimed that they favored Filipino men over the rest of the maledom in Asia. And why?
“Because they’re sophisticated and cosmopolitan,” said one pretty woman who grew up in Sydney. “They won’t coop me up at home, would let me take a career, even balance that career and a family life.”
All along, I thought that these things we take for granted are already part of life in the rest of Asia. But they aren’t. Freed from the constraints of chauvinism and patriarchy in the last 20 years, the Filipino male is now cool about equal rights and such. Whether he is a house husband or a professional, he doesn’t give a hoot about who makes more money. As long as he gets a cable TV with 500 channels worldwide while pulling and pushing that crib with the baby in it, he would be OK.
3. They’re light-hearted. When I studied in the UK and the US, my classmates were always amazed at the Pinoys they met. “Why do you smile all the time? Why do you crack jokes at yourself and your country? Why do you have the sun smiling on your faces?”
Well, because I guess it’s the only thing we have – our wit and our humor. Sure, gas prices just rose by P1.50, that 12-percent E-VAT made us cut down on our fine-dining, our traditional politicians are still bleeding the country dry. But our incurable optimism will make us endure, survive, and I am sure, prevail. Because in our hearts we know that one fine day, our traditional politicians will die from over-eating, we will survive.
I was having dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant in Megamall one day when I saw a young politician with five of his province mates. They were speaking in Bicolano, and they made fun of everything – from the seaweeds they called rikot (grass), the waitresses’ cheongsam uniforms they called suman, to another congressman they called budos because of his beer belly. It’s this refusal to be downtrodden, to lose steam, and to give up that, I guess, will save us from the doldrums of our national despair.
4. They’re fashionable. More and more, even straight men are veering away from their careless look: fat bodies in sweat-stained T-shirts, mega-hyper baggy jeans and super-clunky shoes. With bad skin to boot. Now they go to the gym to trim and tone, wear slimmer shirts and jeans, and even have skin treatments for that deep-down clean look. They go to good barber shops or parlors, indulge in the spa, and put on moisturizer to hydrate skin exposed to the sins of the times – pollution, smoking, and late nights out.
When I was in Boracay last summer, I was amazed to see men in their thirties and forties look as if they were ten or more years younger. Their chests were not as hard as shields and their thighs not as big as your gym trainers’, but there were enough hardness and muscle and tone to make heads turn, and turn again.
5. They’re multi-lingual. And I don’t mean just foreign languages. I mean in the many Philippine languages, too. They can switch from their native Ilonggo to Filipino to English, and then from there to Spanish or Nihonggo or French. Or to the new language of the world – Mandarin!
It must be my generation (over thirties?), but there is something sweet about a Pinoy who can do Taglish without trying hard to do so. In my book – and academic research bears this out – those who are good in English are also good in Tagalog because they had excellent teachers in school. And the contemporary Pinoy who switches from Tagalog to English to another mix-mix of languages is doing so not to sound cute but to emphasize a point, or a cluster of meanings within that breathless swing.
Whenever I traveled around Asia, they wondered when did I learn English? At age five, in school. Many of you? Well, yes, many in the Philippines. And where did you learn Spanish?, asked the Latino cab driver in New Jersey. In school, also, for two years of my life, memorizing conjugaccion and Jose Rizal’s Mi Ultimo Adios and the poems of the 19th-century Spanish writers.
Where did you learn Chinese? asked another. Oh, the bad words, from my classmates who studied at Xavier School Manila. And French, the last asked, why do you understand them? Oh, just a few words, from watching the subtitles of French films that used to be shown at the Ayala Museum in the 1980s, when it used to show foreign films – a true oasis of its times.
6. Finally, they’re tall. It must be the mixture of all those races, the milk we drank, or the shrimp crackers we munched in school (the shrimp crackers?), but many Filipinos are growing taller and taller.
Even without the benefit of elevator shoes, stretching exercises, or those painful operations that stretch your bones, I see more Filipinos who are 5’8” and above. And for me, that is good. When I was growing up, I was one of the very few tall students in the community and the school. I was so self-conscious about my height I would slouch when I stood, and slumped when I sat. Until one day, somebody told me to be proud of my 5’11” height.
Now, I feel like a dwarf among these young men (YM) I see strutting down Loyola Heights, up Gateway, or into Glorietta. Cute, lean and leggy, they strut their stuff like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Their spiked hair like small torches in the air, they have finally learned to walk tall, and to walk free.