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We are family

Posted August 20, 2008

In the mid-seventies my father had a trading firm in Quezon City and his accountant was a lesbian. How did I know she was a lesbian? She had short hair, a robust body, and she wore blouses that looked like shirts. She walked with a swagger and had a gentle face wreathed in smiles.

She would visit our house every quarter to look at the books. After her first visit, my father walked her out of the house into her car, a cool, blue Datsun. My mother and I were sitting in the living room, and suddenly she said, “Do you know that Tess is a lesbian?”

I was in high school, tall and lean and shy, my face full of pimples. I just looked at my mother, and then she added: “But that is all right. She takes care of her old parents and sends her brothers and sisters to college.”

I was confused. Does that mean it was all right to be a lesbian? Or was it all right to be a lesbian if you care for your old folks and send your siblings to school?

My hairdresser’s name is Dessa. I go to him not only to have my hair shampooed and trimmed and oiled; I also go to him for my month’s supply of stories. Sometimes scandalous stories, yes, because his parlor is near two places dear to his heart--a military camp and a construction site. He likes his men straight and dark and hard of sinew, and he has a cache of stories about soldiers and workers who can be seduced with an excellent haircut or a bag of hot pan de sal and Coke.

But like Tess, Dessa is also the family breadwinner. Sure, his parents are now permanent residents in the United States, after having been petitioned by his sister, now an American citizen. But he still has other brothers and sisters—and their gaggle of children—who come to him with their interminable needs.

Sometimes, he would be cutting my hair and his nephew would climb the stairs and ask him for some money to buy milk for the baby at home. Dessa’s round eyes would just look at me, he would shrug his shoulders, then dip his fingers into his small, brown handbag.

Gay market?

The columnist and UP professor Michael Tan said that there is no such thing as a gay market in the Philippines, in reference to the slew of advertisements talking of gay-niche marketing. In the Philippines, he said, there is only the gay (and lesbian) breadwinner.

The Filipino family in the new millennium is no longer composed of the father who works, the mother who stays at home, and the children who go to school. Since the 1970s, with terrible poverty besetting the land, millions of Filipinos have left.

There are now eight million Filipinos abroad, fully 10 percent of our population of 89 million. These Filipinos are fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts. They left behind children, nephews and nieces, siblings to be fed and clothed and educated.

Some of those who left are gays and lesbians who remit the dollars that prop up our dismal economy. Some of those who stayed here are gays and lesbians who care for the children their parents left behind. They work by day, go home to tutor the children, make sure they are fed and cared for. Along with the grandparents left behind, they, too, constitute the new Filipino family.


In this nation of migrants, the fabric of the Filipino family has not been torn, it has been altered. It has been patched, with new designs and new colors added. It has verily become a fabric different but still the same. It has been said that the Filipinos are some of the warmest and most spontaneous people in the world. You only have to attend family reunions to see vivid examples of these.

But in these reunions, the gay uncle is quiet because he does not want to be asked when will he marry, and the lesbian aunt is busy puttering about the house, making sure everybody is fed.

These are stereotypes. Gays and lesbians in the millennium have changed, too. Some of us are into relationships with fellow gays, or with fellow lesbians. There are still those who sleep only with straight people, with dire consequences for their pockets and for their self-esteem.

But more and more people in our community are into relationships based on mutual love and respect. The relationships last for months, for years, even for decades. Love, like desire, springs eternal in the human breast.

And as the years pass, more and more are adopting children—the children of their poor relatives, the children of their house help, the children left on their very doorsteps, like in the melodramatic Tagalog movies. So the mainstream protest has shifted to same-sex parenting.

In 1998 we hosted an afternoon of discussions with presidential candidates. One of those who graciously attended was the late Senator Raul Roco. We asked him if there is a provision in the Family Code that would prevent a same-sex couple from adopting a child legally. The context of the question is an opinion from the Department of Social Welfare and Development that a lesbian or gay couple (or individual) cannot adopt because there would be no role models for a male or female parent.

Senator Roco said that was only an opinion and it has no legal leg to stand on. He even suggested that we could do a test case here and go to court.

Condoms and contraceptives

The American Psychological Association and the American Psychoanalytic Association have separately issued statements supporting the rights of gays and lesbians to adopt. Categorically, they have affirmed studies done over the last 20 years that “there are no notable differences between children raised by straight or gay parents.”

Ironically, the Marriage Law Project—an organization whose mission is to reaffirm the legal definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman—commissioned analysts to examine the 49 studies in which researchers found no difference between children raised by gay and straight parents. Shaking its head, incredulous even, the Marriage Law Project had to concur with the validity of the scientific findings.

You can see this miasma of confusion in the current debate between the Catholic Church and the reproductive-rights advocates. The end-point, from where I stand, is that the Church should continue teaching people in their natural family planning clinics how to count correctly so their natural birth-control methods would work.

As it is now, with illiteracy and innumeracy hounding the poor, they cannot even understand the basics of the natural method. On the other hand, health centers should carry condoms and other contraceptives, as well as accessible information on family planning, so that the poor could limit the number of their children.

For the very poor who has P10 in his pocket would rather buy a packet of noodles to feed their children than a condom for himself. In the end, I think it all boils down to choice.

Sexual violence

Moreover, there is the silence of the church on the sexual violence inflicted on young members of the flock. Even Pope Benedict has publicly apologized for what the pedophile priests have done in Australia and the United States. Gobbledygook, a member of a gay yahoo group, said, “It’s truly sad that the Catholic hierarchy condemns homosexual [acts] when it has treated its erring gay priests and lesbian nuns who figured in molestation/rape/sexual harassment cases with kid gloves. If there are closeted gay clergy who engage in homosexual practices, what does that make of the Catholic hierarchy that condemns homosexuality? I think it only makes the Church look ridiculous.”

Mr. Brown adds: “There are some gay priests hiding in the confessional boxes, afraid to come out in the open. What we get from the newspaper headlines are only a few isolated cases. Most of the young and helpless victims are afraid to speak out. Yet we hear of condemnation of gays high up in the pulpit.”

In fairness to the Catholic Church, when I asked a bishop about this, he said the CBCP should be given a written letter about incidents of pedophilia, and they would investigate the matter at hand. So the table is now open for a test case.

Luigi, Mika

I want to end with a self-serving story.

My sister’s husband recently died of leukemia. Now she has to raise Luigi, her now 12-year-old son, who wants to go to medical school. She works hard and has saved some money, but I do not think it is enough to send a son to medical school in the next 20 years. So I told her I will help send her son to school.

Recently, I adopted the daughter of our yaya of 20 years. Mika is now seven years old, a big-boned and bubbly girl who is topping her class in grade school. I am sending her to a good school and one of the pleasures of my life is to call home every night and ask her what good thing she did in school today.

Thus, happy-go-lucky me who only buys books and clothes for myself and who lives abroad every two years now has to send two kids to school. Our house is loud with a teenager’s voice and the poem being memorized by a bright girl.

Every night I check if the aircon is not too cold for them, and if the yaya has tucked them well for the night. I think of vaccinations and medicines and sweat drying up on their backs. But in turn, the boy breathlessly tells me stories about what the manga he has just drawn, and the young girl calls me “Daa-dee.”

I do it not out of a sense of obligation but of love. Now that these two children have another “Daa-dee,” our little house on the prairie is complete.


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