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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Putting It Out There

One of the things I like about submitting my posts to certain online outfits is that I get to receive feedback from their readers. I was doing a review of some of them in an effort to survey the kinds of articles I have sent, and I have to say, it wasn't all that pleasant as far as experiences go.

Some of the criticisms were downright nasty and personal, and had nothing to do with the article I wrote. In one instance, one reader, upon seeing my picture, commented that I must be a "rich snob" who could easily "spew my views from an ivory tower." Another one commented I look "like a Mongoloid," while another dismissed my article on the first paragraph alone because I declared I wasn't that interested in sports and following teams around.

Then there are those that take the opposite view only because they know my style of writing and the topics I like to discuss; in other words, their opposition is still rooted in who wrote it, and not what I wrote about. Their comments begin with "I've seen his other articles...why do you even publish his pieces?" Or they even question editorial decisions by stating "you're really lowering your standards by allowing this fluff piece to be posted."

I take it all in. I have to.

Not because I am a masochist, but because it makes me realize that in this big, vast world, putting it out there can be returned with unpleasant words or ghastly reactions. Some of them don't even make sense, but by putting my posts up not just in my own blog but to a wider audience, I cannot be accused of simply "preaching to the choir" as my blog readers would make an effort to read my posts.

(Courtesy of the

And I stand in awe of every writer, musician, painter, artist who had the courage to state, convey and communicate what was in their heart and mind, knowing that by doing so, they can be ridiculed, made fun of, dismissed and branded a nuisance and time-waster. They have forged on because they needed to be expressed, these thoughts, songs, sculptures, and while public acclaim is great when you can get it, it is this ability to express one's insides, guts and all, that makes it worthy of doing, over and over.

Not everyone can do this, I realize now. If in some small measure, I was able to give a voice to those who thought like me but are unable to do so, for whatever reason, then I will have done my craft service.

And I thank all those who have taken time out to read my thoughts - and expressing their reactions - because what matters is that by doing so, we have made a connection.

That is a gift I am truly grateful for.


"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." - Winston Churchill

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Someone To Roll My Eyes With

It's odd, but this is what crossed my mind as the day began, celebrating the 17 years I had with my partner.

(Courtesy of

Having just come from the national catatonia known as Holy Week in the Philippines (when pretty much everything shuts down), I made an early start on Monday to shake off the lethargy by getting to the briefing by our investment officer early.

I thought I would be able to enjoy a few moments alone to savor my caffeine fix; alas, that was not to be. Many of my colleagues probably had the same thought of getting things done, so I arrived at the office with everyone all perky, and regaling each other with their Holy Week exploits.

One such person made a pointed announcement of declaring her piety, how she was up at 430AM doing something at the church, the services she attended and helped organized, and how she was telling us this to "encourage" us to be more like her.

I had the urge to look for Art to roll my eyes with.

Having spent 17 years with this man, he already knows - automatically, it seems - what would get a rise out of me, what would make me double over in laughter, and yes, what would induce eye-rolling in me, the type which would enable me to "see my brain," as that Facebook meme suggested.

I'm told that 17 years is nothing to sneeze at, and it must be why we received many heartfelt greetings when we opened our social media accounts. And while I am tempted to say that this has nothing to do with a couple being gay or straight, being half of a gay couple that has weathered close to two decades has given me a changed perspective from the time I was cognizant of my orientation and giddy at the thought of stepping out on first dates, to where I am right now.

The biggest difference between gay and straight couples is that there are no defined gender roles with us, because that point is effectively rendered moot in a same-sex relationship, of course. (And it irks me no end when clueless people have to ask "but who's the bride/woman/less dominant in your relationship?" which is a clear attempt to make it fit into a heterogenous mold, or at least make it "less mysterious" to those who have no idea how gay couples "make it work.")

Instead, we think of our contributions to the relationship as a meritocracy of sorts: if you're skilled/good at (insert action here), then you will be "assigned" that role. Art is an excellent cook, a skill he learned from his parents who ran a carinderia while he and his siblings were in school. I can't cook to save my life - heating and steaming things doesn't really qualify as "cooking" in Art's book - so anything culinary is usually his domain.

In matters where we have to deal with bureaucracies, dealing with inept service, or making our voice heard, I end up taking the lead because I do have a knack for acidic vocabulary as well as conveying when I want things to be done a certain way. I had relegated my passion for writing to the back burner when I first started out in a different field, but I couldn't really keep that almost-faint ember from reigniting the older I got (and realizing I have to do what I want to do now, no longer constrained by "survival" and focusing on doing what makes my heart sing).

And while I have seen changes in how the LGBT community has been received over the years, the incontestable fact still remains that many of the institutions that we hold dear or are of importance still do not recognize our unions, something that I have been taught is a basic human need, the need for validation from others.

There has been little change insofar as receiving benefits are concerned: despite the years we have shared a life, I cannot declare Art as my beneficiary in an insurance policy, nor can I declare him my next-of-kin should I need to be hospitalized. (And of course hospitals only authorize family members as the only ones "allowed" to stay with a patient, even if those particular people have come close to killing each other, with so much hate seething.)

Many LGBT members are still devout and loyal to the faith they were raised in, despite being shunned, ostracized, and even hated by their very religion, a facet that few straight people - if any, at all - will have to grapple with. For many people, their faith is a source of hope, strength, and even love, but LGBT members have to deny a basic, core part of our identity in order to be welcome, being "asked" to remain celibate in order to be "accepted."

It is against this backdrop that Art and I are celebrating our 17th year together. Which is why we cherish each and everyone who took the time out to wish us well, and even more years of "blissful togetherness," as a friend put it.

Make no mistake, there were moments that were hellish - and the future will no doubt be a mix of bliss and hell - and it is at this point that I see our similarity with any other straight couple, whether married or not. Any relationship demands compromise if it is to savor longevity, and gone now is my youthful idealism of declaring that any potential partner "has to accept me fully, no ifs, no buts!" I have stopped seeing compromise as an enemy to individuality but rather - and yes, this may seem strange and the antithesis of that position - as an acceptance of each other's quirks, and making a life together possible, even enjoyable, realizing that we are two different people who have decided to share our time and commitment to and with each other.

Did we celebrate the day in a big way? Not by traditional definitions. We didn't have a band playing our favorite songs, a ballroom reserved to entertain and dine in, or exquisite calligraphy on hand painted invitations to commemorate it.

We went to work, and when Art got home, he wasn't feeling well, so I had to "cook" our dinner (see reference to heating above) and showed off my skill in cooking (the one that passes Art's definition) rice, the one thing he concedes I can do better than he does.

A bit on the mundane side, yes, but it is the sum of the mundane that has made our life together. When you have someone you feel so much passion and love for, that mundaneness can be a thrill. The big dramatic moments - when we had a fight about his dad, or when we received letters from a relative calling us monkeys - are mere markers in the big tapestry that we call a shared life.

Odd, indeed, but knowing I have someone to roll my eyes with makes my heart still go a-flutter.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Holy Week Hostage

As the country comes to a grinding halt on account of the annual Holy Week, I am transported back to an incident that may have sparked my fervent call for secularism, especially where government and public service are concerned.

An incident that took place several decades ago (OK, the fact that I can say this means I am officially old), this was brought back to my consciousness while Art and I were thinking of our schedule for the upcoming Holy Week.

A tradition we had when I was much younger was that we would all gather at my uncle's house to be together for the Holy Week celebration. It was a time I looked forward to for the sole purpose of reconnecting with my cousins, and not much else; I was not really concerned about any religious rituals to do, or prayers to be said, all I knew was that Holy Week meant I would be able to have fun with my cousins. Period.

My uncle's place had a pool, billiard table and various board games, so we would be playing cards and sungka well past midnight, and it was the only time my mom couldn't object to us staying up late.

One such year (the year my "secular" consciousness was awakened), my mom started rounding up all of us cousins and told us to meet them at the big hall. It was close to 6pm so I thought we were having an early dinner, and we probably had some planned activity after that.

I was surprised to find my aunt lighting some candles at the center of the hall, and there was a picture or altar of sorts. (As one of the "late" cousins, I was situated at the back, so I really couldn't see.) After the lighting, my aunt turned to us, mumbled something (my cousin and I were busy giggling about something) and suddenly, everyone started mumbling as well: it seemed like they were repeating after her, and I started looking quizzically at my mom, who was trying to mumble along.

I excused myself from my cousin and went beside my mom, who looked just slightly less bewildered than I was.

"What are we doing?" I whispered.

"It's a prayer...can't you tell? Ssssshhhh."

"Yes, it sounds like a prayer...but this isn't the kind we pray, right?"

"No, we don't. It's a Catholic prayer. Ssssshhhh!"

"Okaaaaaay...if this is a Catholic prayer, then why are we praying along? Because last I checked, we're NOT Catholics."

"Because we're at their house! Ssssssshhhhh!"

Yes, the seeds of secularism were planted in that very moment. It was then that I noticed something pecuiliar that particular Holy Week: we never really had lunch, but my mom kept sneaking chips, crackers and what-not to me and my sister, and coupled with the fun I was having with my cousins, we never really noticed.

Until the evening when we were "forced" to pray. It was then that I also heard a familiar sound: my stomach grumbling. I went back to my mom and confirmed something with her.

"Ma...we didn't take lunch, right?"

"No, your tita is fasting, and since this is their house, we should all sympathize and fast with her. Sssssshhhh! Will you get back there and be quiet? Sssssshhhh!"

"But, I don't want to fast! Where can I get food?"

"Until she eats, we don't eat! Ssssshhhhh!"

(Courtesy of

We did eat a little while after the prayer, and I remember my aunt telling everyone that she made a promise to not feed herself anything until 6 in the evening, and with only vegetables and fish. (So you know what we had that very night.) I don't recall ever being asked to go to a particular church service that time, nor told to go bisita iglesia, but my mom might have been, since there was a moment when the adults were absent and it was just the cousins chasing one another in that big house.

And I don't recall us continuing the meet-during-Holy-Week tradition after that. The extended family did seem to go more separate after that. Some might see this as a bad thing, but I was grateful that I would never have to pray a prayer that went against what I was taught at the time, or do fasting or any other ritual against my will - that right is reserved for my parents alone, haha.

When the Supreme Court ruling on the RH Law came out, I noticed one of the provisions that was struck down was basically a religious test: if a person felt it went against her/his faith, s/he is not obligated to refer a patient seeking reproductive health services or advice if the advice/service provider would be prescribing something "sinful". I cannot help but note the parallels with that event one Holy Week: our aunt is fasting, so even if we weren't Catholic, we "had" to fast. It goes against my belief, so even if doesn't contradict yours, I won't tell you where to get help on the best artificial contraception for your own body.

At least, in the first instance, one could argue "well, you went into their house, you follow their rules!" although that would be an untenable argument at best because being in someone's house doesn't automatically mean surrendering your belief system. But for a PUBLIC health service provider to be able to refuse the law on religious grounds would border on going against our Constitution, which specifically mandates religion and state to be separate, and for no religious test to be required to discharge one's duties in public office or service.

(I can't wait for a Buddhist to head a government agency that would force this entire archipelago to go vegetarian.)

Truly, the personal is the political: this season, Art asked me if I would go bisita iglesia with him. This is someone who knows my stance on secularism, but he also knows I would never ask him to change his beliefs on account of mine, and that he is free to practice his faith - the same way each of us has that inalienable right. I readily said yes, because while I might not get to kneel and pray, I am endlessly fascinated by the piety displayed, and as a lifelong student of the social sciences, it is something I cannot ignore. (Not to mention I get to marvel at the architecture of many churches.)

The one lesson I learned that day at my uncle's place is that you should never force someone to conform to your point of view just because you deem it right. This goes for politics, food choices, and most certainly in matters that people profess by faith. But that right extends to your own body, your own belief system, your own world view. The moment you force someone - obviously against their will - to accept yours as the righteous path, you are infringing on someone's right to call the shots on their own life.

If only some quarters could see it that way, too.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Racism Is Real

The conclusion of this year's Asia's Next Top Model has degenerated into an ugly sight, pitting fans of the finalists against each other online, and using the race card to disturbing lows.

Not the finest moment for fans from Malaysia nor the Philippines.

(Courtesy of World)

When Sheena Liam from Malaysia was declared the winner of the modeling contest (the show's second cycle), displeased fans from the Philippines took to cyberspace to air their discontent and made their sentiments unequivocally known. Fans of the two Filipino finalists, Jodilly Pendre and Katarina Rodriguez, descended on the show's Facebook page to make their views heard.

The exchanges started off in a "technical" manner: how Sheena never won Best Picture in the televised episodes (or what fans of the show call FCO for First Call Out), how Jodilly had 2 FCOs and numerous "almost" FCOs, how Katarina progressed from being criticized regularly to getting 2 FCOs herself, and why the judging process deviated from how it was done by its "mother" show, America's Next Top Model. (Sheena did win one FCO, but the episode was not aired, owing to the Malaysia Airlines tragedy.)

And then racism reared its ugly head.

Accusations of bias and politicking came in, heavily aimed at the producers and judges. The predominant theme of this cycle was "Visit Malaysia Year 2014" and many of the judges were from the host country, adding fuel to the perception that Sheena was a hometown choice. (It didn't help that one of judges of the show's finale started her critique with "as a Malaysian, I'm so proud of her," referring to Sheena.)

Then came the comments comparing Sheena to a fish, shrimp, and various other animals; Filipinos saying "let's give this to them, after all this isn't a beauty contest which we always win, this is the only time they get to win anything, have you seen Sheena's face?!? Ugh!"; others have said that they hoped it was Sheena who crashed in the Malaysia Airlines incident; Sheena's fans have retaliated by calling Filipinos sourgraping losers, and calling them "mostly maids and servants," and to just accept that Filipinos can never be the modern face of Asia. 

There has been wholesale labeling of both Malaysians and Filipinos as "stupid" and the issue has definitely reached the show's producers because, one by one, two of this season's judges - Nadya Hutagalung and Joey Mead King - as well as Jodilly herself, and season 1's winner Jessica Amornkuldilok have made statements on the show's Facebook page, pleading for sobriety or explaining that it was a collective decision. (Nadya has since taken down her post since she was largely perceived to be "pro-Sheena" and received many negative comments on her post.)

It's a car crash, a train wreck, and I can't look away.

It's an incisive study into how we think of ourselves and others from the same region, and a validation of my stance that despite our best efforts to hide or deny it, we are racists. I raised similar points in an article I wrote after the FIBA games last year, and many comments denounced me as being unfair, saying that I was merely representing a personal view, that most Filipinos are friendly and that I was being anti-Pinoy for stating what I did.

After seeing the race-tinged comments, I knew I was right, my points were validated, and it's not only us, it seems there is a "hierarchy" of sorts in the Asian region, and many of our neighbors have voiced their low regard for us since the Filipinos they come into contact with are domestic workers/helpers.

The sad part is, if my points were in fact validated by this recent exchange of tirades, why don't I feel victorious?