Totoy San Antonio*, from Makati City, was 16 when he first had a sexual experience with another man. “I was in my fourth year in high school then,” he said to me, “and was somewhat ‘forced’ to let a gay classmate give me a blowjob; his girl friend will only let me touch her if I agreed to this, so I did. I didn’t cum with him; I did with her.”
I first met Totoy years and years ago, as a neighbor in one of the barangays in Makati City. Skinny and somewhat short (he claimed he stands at 5’2”), many of the gay men in that community “recommended” him because of what he can “offer”. In fact, even his other heterosexual-identifying male friends recommended him, too, as the one with the “pinakamagandang hinaharap” (figuratively, referring to a promising future; though used here to refer to one’s “hinaharap” or what is in front, which is the genitalia). I moved to another barangay soon after; but then met him again since he has friends at the place where I live now. And so this interview eventually happened.
That experience wasn’t Totoy’s first time with a girl, but it was with another man; and the act wasn’t seen as “that bad – may gusto naman kasi akong kapalit”. This notion of having an “exchange” using sex surfaced again not soon after. Because it was also around then that “dahil nga kabataan pa, kailangan ng pera,” he said, recalling how being young could be expensive. And so – while staying in beauty parlors with his friends – the next sexual experiences with gay men occurred. “May bayad naman,” he said, acknowledging he did it for “what I get from it.”
Initially, Totoy said he was nervous (“Kinabahan ako”). But this nervousness had to do with “image – ano ang sasabihin ng mga tao kapag nalaman nila na ginagawa ko ito,” he said, concerned about what others will think of him. But that was just at first (“Sa simula lang”); eventually, “nasanay din (I got used to it).”
By the time he turned 21, “wala na ang kaba,” he said – his fears have all gone. He believes “walang masama sa ginagawa ko. Kesa naman magnakaw, ‘yan ang pangit (there’s nothing wrong with what I am doing. This is preferable to stealing; now that’s what’s wrong).”
When asked how he still perceives himself, Totoy provided a one-word answer: “Lalaki (male)”. And so he is.
And what Totoy is, is a male who has sex with other males (or a man who has sex with other men), or MSM.
No, he is not gay; he does not self-identify as such.
His sexual encounters are, for him, only acts; they do not have any bearing with his identity.
And this is an important lesson in better understanding:
- Sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE), and
- The need to realize the diversity of humanity for us to effectively reach key populations in our fights against the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
On SOGIE, worth stressing is that one’s behavior is NOT NECESSARILY aligned with one’s self-identity.
Hindi dahil nakipagtalik ka sa kapuwa lalaki ay ibig sabihin ay bakla ka na.
Hindi dahil ikaw ay bakla at nakipagtalik ka sa babae ay ibig sabihin ay bisexual ka na.
Kung ano ka ay desisyon mo, at maaring hindi ito tugma sa inaasahan ng lipunan na dapat gawin ng isang katulad mo.
And on MSM as a key population, worth noting is how HIV is NOT a “gay disease”, as stressed by those who choose to bury their heads in the sand instead of facing this problem. Heterosexual men are just as at risk NOT because of their identity, but because of their behavior/s. And if they may be at risk, so are their heterosexual female partners (and again NOT because of their identity, but possibly because of their unsafe practices).
When asked if he feels good when he has sex with men, Totoy said “yes”. “Oo naman; halos wala naming pinagkaiba – ‘yung kasarian lang ng katalik mo ang naiiba (Of course it feels good; there’s no discernible difference when having sex with a man or a woman – it’s only the gender of who you have sex with that’s different).”
He added: “Kahit sino ang ka-sex mo, kung hindi marunong, hindi masarap. Kung magaling – babae man o lalaki – masarap ‘yan (Whoever you have sex with, if they do not know what they’re doing, the experience will be unpleasant. If your sex partner is good, it doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or a girl, the sexual experience will still be good).”
Totoy has set some “rules”.
First, he prefers having sex with other men “na kakilala ko” – these may not be his friends, but could be friends of friends. Right off his head, he can name six other men he had sex with, and “madalas may naulit (there were repeats),” he said, adding that he lost count of these repeats already. “Sa mga ulit, lagpas na sa kamay at paa ang bilang.”
Second, the amount is somewhat negotiable. When he was younger, he recalled having “this diplomat – an old man who could no longer have an erection. Hinahawakan niya lang ang ari ko; tapos minsan, pinapanood niya ako tumira ng babae (He fondles me; and sometimes, he watches me have sex with a woman).” At the end of the meetings with this old man, “he gave me – usually – P2,500.” One time, “I was extremely lucky – he actually gave me P10,000!” More commonly, though, the offers are in the hundreds.
Third, he uses condom. “Takot din tayo sa sakit (We’re also careful we could get diseases).”
Fourth, what he will do is also negotiable – “romansa sa mga totoong kakilala (foreplay with those I really know), but for others, I’m (an exclusive top). They give me head, and then I penetrate them. That’s it.” What he found important is “pag-usapan agad sa simula (make agreements from the beginning).”
Totoy, by the way, finished a two-year course (Associate in Computer Science) in one of the more popular technical schools in the Philippines. He wanted to do a four-year degree, “but we’re not rich,” he said. Living with his dad and his eldest sister, he is waiting for the result of his job applications (“may hinihintay lang,” he said).
And does his father and his sister know of his having sex with other men? “Yes,” he said. “At least in a way.” Apparently, after hearing about this from neighbors, both his father and his sister confronted Totoy. “Hoy, namamakla ka raw (We heard you have sex with gay men)!” was what he remembered his father telling him. And while Totoy didn’t outright admit to this, he supposedly nonetheless said: “Kung ginagawa ko man, walang masama, wala akong sinasaktan (Even if I’m doing this, there’s nothing wrong with it, I’m not hurting anyone).”
He never saw the need to tell his past girlfriends about his encounters with other men. But one time, “I told my (female) FuBu (“fuck buddy”, or a no-strings-attached sex partner) about it, and nagulat na lang ako, kasi pati pala siya ginagawa niya rin (I was shocked when she told me she does what I do, too).”
I asked him if what he – and this FuBu – is doing can be classified as prostitution. Totoy laughed. “Kinda,” he said. Then he laughed again, louder this time. “Ganoon talaga (That’s about it).”
Totoy doesn’t think he’d soon stop engaging in having sex with other men (stressing that, for him, “walang masama sa ginagawa ko”). Besides, until he is supposedly desired, “why not naman?” The desire comes from “the truth on what they say about me,” he smirked. “They call me ‘small but terrible’. I’m only 5’2” tall, but that becomes 5’8” in bed. And when they said ‘height is might’, I didn’t get the height part, but what I have to offer (in the size of my manhood) is mighty.”
And then he turned somewhat modest. “Hindi naman po sa nagmamayabang… (I hope I don’t sound boastful).”
And so Totoy continues to serve as an example of the need to better understand the notion of diversity that we in the LGBT community ourselves keep putting forward…
*NAME CHANGED, AS REQUESTED, TO KEEP THE INTERVIEWEE’S ANONYMITY