Wednesday, August 23, 2006

[Essay] My Best Friend’s Gay!

Perception on homosexuality has changed over the years. This isn’t about praising homosexuality, nor is it condemning them. This is merely an observation of my high school, and how that tiny microcosm is applicable on a macro level.

I used to be a student in an all-boys, Filipino-Chinese school run by Jesuits. The dominant attitude there, at least back when I was still a student, was quite conservative, as you’d expect from a school that would segregate its students based on gender. Running the statistics (much like calculating the chances that one member of a boy band is gay), there’s bound to be a homosexual in each batch, especially when you factor in our cramped learning environment (i.e. overpopulation doesn’t only apply to the country). Some schools in Metro Manila will develop a reputation for the tendency to have homosexuals in their student population (i.e. “this school has lots of lesbians, this school has lots of gays.”) but the school I went to didn’t have that kind of reputation. If anything, one of my schoolmates took pride in the fact that no one was openly homosexual during their tenure as a student. At least back then.

Not that hints of homosexuality was totally absent in our environment. It was always there, sometimes in the way you talk, or a certain effeminate quality you had. Whatever pegged you as gay, you got teased for it. “Bakla” (gay) was a very common insult back in my day. Of course while there were students we suspected were gay, no one expected them to act out their sexual orientation, nor did we expect them to admit that they were homosexuals. Denials were the norm.

That was the case for the longest time. My seatmate was clearly gay, although he never admitted it during all four years I was with him. It wasn’t until college that I heard rumors that he had come out of the closet, and that he even had a boyfriend. I don’t think anyone was really surprised (except perhaps my mom, who only heard him through the phone, and thought he had a manly voice and suggested I should be like him).

Whether you were effeminate or truly gay didn’t matter in school. You got bullied nonetheless. Me not wanting to be judgmental, I assumed that everyone was the former rather than the latter. I had a best friend (there I go contradicting myself f several years worth of blog entries) in what seemed like the interval between grade school and high school (yes, I know it’s called “summer break”) and while he displayed the symptoms of the stereotype gay guy (he listened to Mariah Carey songs, adored Sailormoon, and had a fashion sense), I always assumed he was effeminate. I even remember him talking about liking (but not physically attracted to) a certain girl when I was sleeping over at his house. And to top it all off, we did what most geeks, I mean guys, our age did: we played video games, video games, and more video games. Oh, and we slept over at each other’s houses, called each other up on the phone when a new book or anime had just come out, and played cards with each other.

It’s only lately that I found out he was gay (uh, reading it from a blog entry doesn’t exactly prepare you for it). It caught me completely off guard, although it’s not I didn’t see all the hints. But as Gerry wisely put it, it all doesn’t matter. He’s still my best friend from grade school/high school, and we can be our genuine selves around each other.

However, I’m sure there will be schoolmates with whom it won’t sit well with, and to them, the word gay will always be an insult.

Of course the stories I hear about my school nowadays have changed. More and more students are coming out of the closest just as they enter high school, not waiting to graduate before revealing to the whole world a part of who they truly are.

Personally though, I can’t help but ask, who else among my schoolmates were gay? Not that it’ll changed how I act around them, but I wonder how that one fact is so integral to their personality that they had to keep hidden, and how it would have changed them, whether for better or for worse.

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