by Danton Remoto
June has traditionally been the Pride Month of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. It all started during the Stonewall Riots in 1969, when gays mourning the death of Judy Garland were chased out of Greenwich Village bars by macho cops. To the cops’ surprise, the gays fought back – with stiletto heels, with their bags, with their feet, and their fists.
No longer would gays take passively the routine harassment being done by the police. For days and nights on end, a pitched fight ensued – and thus was born the Gay Liberation movement in the West.
It took decades for its ripples to reach the Philippines. In the early 1990s, gay groups were born – the ones who had workshops on gender awareness, HIV-AIDS information, pride in one’s being different and gay.
And exactly 17 years later, Ang Ladlad would file its papers for party-list accreditation, which was promptly torpedoed by a pro-administration Arroyo presidency. The LGBTs were no longer in the closet – they were already in the center of the room.
The Web site of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism carried everything wisely and well – the reportage, the investigative work, the sharp quotes. One such document they featured was a report allegedly from the Office of External Affairs in Malacanang. Not content with its head honcho being put as a party-list nominee, it listed the party-list groups whose accreditation and victory should be avoided, at all costs. And along with the usual suspects – Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Anakpawis, Akbayan, Anak ng Bayan, Sanlakas – was our LGBT group Ang Ladlad.
We knew we were politically strong – an LGBT voting population of ten percent (4.5 million of 45 million registered voters as of May 2007) is enough to vote three people into Congress, as part of the party-list system. It is also enough to compose half of the votes a senator needed to land in the safe, number ten spot in a tight senatorial race. But since "Burjer King" Abalos was there, he chose to anoint his brother, a former taxi driver, to run under a party list of tricycle drivers, among other abominations.
I remember all of this now because I got a wicked text message from Dexter, one of our most active members in Ang Ladlad. His message read: "Don’t say pare when it doesn’t sound right. Don’t push yourself to be straight-acting when obvious gay behavior surfaces. Don’t say you’re discreet when your face pics are posted on gay Internet sites. Don’t say you’re merely straight tripper and straight curious, when you are real gays. So Pink People, be proud. Have pride. Embrace your sexuality. Love it. Admit it. Flaunt it. Who cares if you are men who love other men? Happy Pride Month."
I am sure that I will get nasty e-mail messages again for this column you are now scanning in your computer screens. As Atty. Katrina Legarda said in our meeting last week, you cannot please everybody.
And I’ve never meant to. In the interest of what is known as reader-response critical theory, which says that a reader’s response is shaped by his upbringing, education, taste or lack of it, I have let most comments be.
I remember when I was editing the Saturday Special section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer more than ten years ago, I received hate mail every week. Those were the days before e-mail and text messages, and the comments I got would not pass through the receptionist in the pager system. Thus, the avalanche of hand-written letters full of venom and spite.
One such comment came from somebody who claimed she was studying in a conservative Christian university. She sent me a drawing obviously taken from a painting of Hieronymus Bosch, of people with horns and tails, carrying pitchforks. They were all writhing in agony in my letter-sender’s idea of hell. Then the comments in a balloon: "You will end up here." Was I scared!
I showed the letter and the drawing to Ceres Doyo, who promptly pulled her drawer open to show me similar scary stuff. She added, "In this paper, Conrad de Quiros, Rina Jimenez-David and I get this. Now, you’re the fourth. Welcome to the club!" I was happy to belong to such company.
Another time, I wrote a column to defend the showing of Schindler’s List, which the Board of Censors wanted to ban because "they showed the backside of Liam Neeson and they showed two breasts. The guidelines said you can only show one breast." I wrote that Liam Neeson, who played Oscar Schindler, was shown tumbling in bed with a sex worker to show that he, too, although noble in the end, was a character who was neither white nor black. Like all of us, he was gray, complex and multi-dimensional. And I said he was shown butt-naked because, pardoneme, you do not have sex with all your clothes on! It would leave you with skin rashes and nicks from the zipper bites and such.
Moreover, the women who were shown naked were about to take a shower. If you knew your history, the Jewish prisoners were told by the Nazis to take a shower because they would be sent back to their homes. So the gleeful people did that, and there was a long shot of many women crowding into the toilets to take a shower.
I think only a pervert would be aroused by the sight of all those women in the shower, since the audience knows they would all be burnt to a crisp. In fiction class, this is called irony of situation, when the readers or the audience know what the characters in the book or film do not.
Homosexuality is unnatural?
And I added, in my very limited exposure to the breasts of women (my mother’s, when I was a kid), if you’ve seen one breast, you’ve seen the other. They, indeed, look alike. So the guideline about a Filipino film showing one breast as OK, but two breasts are wrong, seemed to be pointing at the wrong direction.
More coup de grace moments happened was when I moved to the Manila Times, edited by the brave and brilliant women of Philippine journalism – Malou Mangahas, Chit Estella and Glenda Gloria. One day, we headlined news about a powerful politician and unsavory, triple-checked facts against him. The next day, his gracious wife came, with baskets of ensaymada. She was distributing the puffy merienda to everybody when I said, I think loud enough for the entire newsroom to hear, "Hala, you’ll never know, this might be poisoned!"
But the politician’s wife had the charm of the devil. She just smiled, went to me and gave me not one, but two ensaymadas. That’s what you get for being atrevida.
But the conservative realm would not leave me alone. One day, I received this plaintive letter from one of them.
"Dear Mr. Remoto," it began. "We hope you will stop writing your disturbing columns about homosexuality and other unnatural, disordered things. We in our Catholic Order and in our university have included you in the list of people we are praying for every day. We are praying for your conversion to heterosexuality."
I read the letter and smiled. Then I drafted my column for the day. I quoted their letter in the first paragraph. Then I wrote my answer.
"Dear Christian Friends, your prayers have been answered. I have been converted to heterosexuality. I am now a woman."
After writing it I saw our publisher, Robina Gokongwei, passing by. I waved her to come near me. Her eyes brightened, and she walked to my table. I pointed out to her the draft of my column. She read it and laughed Then she closed her eyes and said, "But we cannot publish that."
"Ateng," I told our perky and unflappable publisher, "I will return to the Inquirer if you censor this."
Again she cackled with laughter, muttered something about what would her mother say this time, and then said, "Go ahead. Make our day!"