Op-Ed

Where there’s no space…

It just hit 6:00AM, and I was walking through the streets of Manila, trying to figure out whether to go home or head elsewhere to continue the fun from last night’s party. I was at a (gay) club, dancing, touching/being groped, drinking for hours, getting lost in the pumping dance music…

I know where my home is, but as I soldiered on as the glaring sun started to make its way to the middle of the sky, I felt sad leaving a place I (also) felt as a “home”.

And this is what these (pockets of) spaces are to so many members of the LGBT community. Places for freedom. Where, while there, we don’t have to (always) take note of our surroundings in order to simply express who we are; unlike that fear that crawls up our throats even while walking on the streets or sitting on a public place with our being LGBT made apparent for others to see/notice. In “mainstream” areas, we have to pay attention to our SOGIE – e.g. when talking to strangers, family members, colleagues/schoolmates… But here, we don’t need to worry about being who we are/expressing our otherness, from being “queer”, holding hands/embracing, showing PDAs, and so on… Others may say these places just promote hedonism, but if being in a place where one can be what one is is hedonistic, then so be it.

It was already late in the afternoon when I woke up, and even as I stayed under the covers, I could still recall the hours I spent lost in that gay space the night before. Perhaps particularly, I remembered the looks of the people around me; their faces not tinged by fear as they partied. While there even for a few hours, we all had nothing to be afraid of. In those hours, that space meant “safety”.

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I looked at my phone, and my newsfeed took me out of my reverie. Fifty individuals – most of them LGBTQI – were shot to death in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

A community bled.
Pulse (the place where the shooting happened) was suppose to be a place for freedom, a safe space.
Alas that, too, wasn’t meant to be.

But that very instance also made me recognize privileges/lack of privileges perhaps particularly within the LGBT community.
I, for one, acknowledge my privileges; the same ones that afforded me to access (gay) spaces that not all LGBTQI people can afford to access.
I am lucky.
But not everyone is as lucky as me.

We need not look far for our privileges/lack of privileges to be checked. Metro Manila, in particular, has so-called gay spaces that charge upwards of P500 (even P800!) for them to be accessed, so that – belying even my own way of looking at these venues as “safe spaces” – apparently not all of us have that “right” to be safe/have fun without worrying that someone may harm us.

Hard it may be to admit, but there’s this seeming festering from within when we worry about “safe party spaces” while others worry about basic needs to live – e.g. PLHIVs kicked out of their homes, trans people refused to enroll because of their gender expression, HIV-positive Deaf men who have sex with men unable to get treatment because of lack of interpreters, et cetera.

It’s also seemingly trivial when the focus is placed only on what may just be a symptom of acceptance/non-acceptance.

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We need to work on all fronts.
The Anti-discrimination Bill continues to languish in Congress after almost 20 years (that’s almost 20 years!). Anti-discrimination ordinances still have no Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRRs). Existing laws that could help LGBTQI people are not properly implemented (e.g. RA 8504). LGBTQI-related hate crimes continue to happen (e.g. Jennifer Laude comes to mind). And yes, access to so-called safe spaces continue to be untenable for everyone…

The fight is far from over; there is still a lot of work to do. And we must not stop working until all of us are safe. No matter the space where we choose to be who we are.

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