A serodifferent love
HIV-positive Louie, 34, said that that when you have HIV, sometimes you think won’t find love. But he met HIV-negative Matt, 28, in 2016. And while many people still doubt their relationship, he says: “What’s important is we inspire each other… while loving and caring for each other.”
People think that when you have HIV, you won’t find love, said Louie, 34, from Biñan, Laguna. “But that’s not true. This thought never entered my mind.”
Louie was diagnosed HIV-positive on July 3, 2013.
At that time, “I felt two emotions. On one hand, I was happy. My live-in partner then had HIV, and I knew he was dying. That’s also what I thought before; that when you have HIV, you die. When I was diagnosed to have HIV, I thought I’d also already die. So we can happily die together. (But) on the other hand, I was also sad. I was thinking, what will happen to my family?”
For Louie at that time, “more than my HIV status, I had a harder time accepting that nothing is permanent. Like my live-in partner who died. I had a harder time moving forward from this.”
In 2016, Louie started feeling… lonely. “I realized how I missed being in a relationship. I missed having a relationship no matter its form – as lovers, partners in crime… so long as you love each other.”
He was working as HIV counselor for Klinika Bernardo in Quezon City then, and “we have targets on the number of people we test for HIV. To reach mine, I joined group chats.”
Matt, 28 from Tondo, Manila, was in one group – HTS.
“One time, his photo appeared in my phone (via the group chat). He was skinnier then. I said, ‘Wow, he’s cute.’ So I gave his photo a heart, and I sent him a personal message. I PM’d him, and he answered,” Louie recalled.
Louie also invited Matt to get tested for HIV.
“Every Friday, we (do HIV testing in a bar) in Cubao. Our team from Klinika Bernardo go there to do HIV testing, and give out condoms. I invited him to come over,” Louie said.
They met in a bar in Cuba, Quezon City.
“I asked him (later) if he wanted to check into a hotel so we can be together. By asking him, of course, I wanted something to happen between us. But he had an (alibi not to join me),” Louie said.
On a later date, Matt visited Louie at Klinika Bernardo.
“I told him I wanted to have sex with him. He actually refused me. It was a first time for me, so I asked him: Why not? He told me he only has sex with his BF. I think this guy’s old fashioned. I told him we’re not kids anymore, we’re not teenagers. If it works out, fine. If it doesn’t, let’s part ways,” Louie said.
Louie stressed that “of course I’m aware I have HIV. But I also know there’s no risk of infecting him because my viral load is undetectable. But I also knew how to take care of myself, and how to look after him. This is why I had the guts to ask him to have sex with me.”
Even early on, Louie said he wanted to tell Matt about his HIV status.
“But I was afraid he’d get angry, he’d fear me, he’d sue me, or he’d bash me,” he said.
That moment came after their first catching up.
DEALING WITH DISCLOSURE
In 2015, a radio station interviewed Louie. “I was asked to share my story. They made a ‘teledrama’ out of it. I made him listen to a recording of this,” Louie recalled.
After listening to the recording, Matt hugged Louie.
“I was surprised when he hugged me after listening to the recording. He didn’t say anything. I asked: ‘What can you say?’. It was funny; he said: ‘Nothing.’ I never felt he feared me. I forced him (to react). I told him it’s fine; I’d understand. He whispered to me; he told me ‘I love you.’ He said he loved me more.”
For Matt: “I couldn’t care less. So what if you have HIV?”
As a side note, Matt had former partners who had HIV.
“Three BFs passed away, all from AIDS-related complications. They were diagnosed late. I knew of their HIV status after they passed away,” Matt said. “So when he told me he has HIV, I didn’t care. It’s normal for me to have a PLHIV for a partner.”
This point does not escape Louie, though.
“I had fears. Based on his stories, all his exes died. I thought: Will I be next? I said to him: ‘Maybe you’re cursed.'”
LIVING AS A COUPLE
As a partner, Matt said Louie can be “difficult… he can get moody. At times at night, after taking his ARV, he’d complain about ailments. I really had to learn to adjust.”
But this is something he now relishes; a part of his life.
“Whenever he gets sick, his mom sends me a text message: ‘Come over, (Louie) is sick.’ And so even if I’m supposed to to go somewhere, I go to Laguna from Tondo to look after him.”
In hindsight, Louie said he knew he already loved Matt when “I miss him when he doesn’t send me text messages. If he doesn’t immediately respond to my messages, I quarrel with him. (I like that his) messages are very sweet. Almost every night, we chat over the phone. When we don’t do any of these in a day, I already miss him.”
For Matt: “It’s good to love someone with HIV because it broadens your way of loving. It broadens your adaptability skills. You will experience real love because a PLHIV will love you completely. Those without HIV can still cheat on you. But if you love someone with HIV, they won’t look for another. Like us, he won’t look for another because I give him the love he deserves.”
Louie admitted that “a person living with HIV may not believe he will be loved by a person who does not have HIV. You may think he’s only there out of pity. That he’s only staying with you because if he leaves, you’ll get depressed and kill yourself. That was my thinking (before): I have HIV. Will someone still love me? Processing this took a while.”
Now, “if people ask me if it’s worth it, I say yes. I believe that aside from my ARV treatment, love also prolongs my life,” he added.
LOVE IS WORTH FIGHTING FOR
People may not support what they have, but Louie said “I don’t care what people will say when they discover our relationship. Maybe they just envy us. When we just started going out, some said we won’t last. I know some of them we just joking. Some said we’d be together only for days, for weeks. We proved them wrong. We did not focus on ‘being in a relationship’. We focused on creating happy moments together.”
Some people may also think Matt is putting himself in harm’s way. But “people should not think I am putting myself in a situation that I can’t handle. I am an adult/a grown up. Maybe they just envy us because we lasted long.”
In fact, Matt said, “people asked me: Why him? You had a lot of suitors who were better looking, who doesn’t have HIV. He’s the one I love. What do you want me to do?”
To find love, Louie said: “Just be honest. If the person (you disclosed to) does not accept you, find another. If you’re honest and he does not accept you, that’s not love. In that case, love won’t materialize. But if a person accepts you even if you have HIV, he’d love you for real.”
There’s no “looking forward” for Louie and Matt.
“We sometimes kid: What if we break up? What if (things don’t turn out well)? We discuss these affectionately. But really, we don’t think of the future; we just think of the present,” Louie said. “What’s important is we’re happy. What’s important is we accept each other. What’s important is we inspire each other… while loving and caring for each other.”
In YouTube, follow @PLHIV Diaries.
Five foot eight
Will you date someone who doesn’t conform to the standards you set? What if – by breaking these standards – it means you find the one you’re looking for?
It’s raining again today.
Much to my dismay, I see the sky outside my window. Bleak. Gray. And even with the negative illusion of my dark room that should show that one tiny window as a square of light, it’s more like a faint projection on a blank wall of a Serbian art house film.
I check the clock, it’s barely past seven in the morning, and I will myself up from the sticky, oppressive heat of my bed, which despite the best efforts of my poor, ancient, and overworked air-conditioning unit, feels more like an electric griddle set on low than the dreamy softness that grinning salesboy promised when I bought these sheets. Another day off to a rip-roaring start, to be sure.
Stumbling across my room into the small lav in what could probably be the unsexiest pair of pajamas ever known to man, I flipped a switch and heard a soft moan and a rustle in the bed I just left.
Right. Anton spent the night.
I took a piss, relishing the sound of a steady stream make contact with the toilet water, hoping it would drown out the soft sound of the rain against my window. As I relieved myself, I started to trace back my steps last night.
He smiles: “Like, ‘Wag mo akong ma-Terry Terry!”
We laugh. Mental note: Please don’t do that, like ever again.
“Mike said you’d be here on time. Sorry, I was caught up in traffic.”
Not an excuse for being almost 40 minutes late, but whatever. “It’s alright, I work in the building, so I went down when I could and I figured I could read a bit while waiting.”
He plops down on the sofa directly across me. He’s totally not what our mutual friend Mike said he would be. For one he’s NOT 5’10’, more like pushing 5’8” tops. As a tall-ish guy (About 6’ tall), I do try to date people within my height range.
“What are you reading?”
“Some stuff for work.” He makes a face.
“Really, put those away, you’re off the clock, right?”
I put my papers back in my bag. I will concede this point. “I’m sorry. You have my undivided attention.”
He takes a sip from the bottle of beer that somehow materialized in front of him at one point. “Good. I have been reading up on the Queen and her deliciously sordid relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles and Kate Middleton.”
“Oh really now? And?”
“I haven’t made my mind on it as of the moment.” He continues. Looking dead straight into my eyes.
I confess, I averted my gaze.
“So how do you know Mike?”
“I knew Michelle from college, when they got married, I was dead set against it. Mike is just too short for Mich.”
It took all the strength I had in me not to laugh in his face.
“Anyway, Mike seems to have taken it upon himself to overhaul my sex life, so he offered to introduce me to you.”
I take a sip from my drink, and arched my eyebrows. “And why would he do that? Is there something particular about your sex life that needs fixing?”
He laughs and pats his belly. “I seem to have an awful knack of devouring the souls of all I come across, at least in his estimation. I work in advertising, so I guess he’s right.”
“So tread carefully is the name of the game, is it?”
“You can say that. We can also call it bad publicity and fake news.”
“You sir, are a hot mess it seems.” I raise my drink to him with a slight smirk.
“And you sir, are not in a better place, believe me.” He raises his beer and gently clinks it against my glass.
I take off my pajamas and step into the shower. I turn the tap and turn around to let the water run in cold rivulets down my back. I wonder what fresh hell awaits me back at the office.
I hate Mondays. As Garfield would say, but unlike that goddamn cat, I actually have a reason to hate it. I start to lather up my hair and beard, and I work my way down. Making quick work of washing up the sticky scent of sweat, gunk, and sex. I took care to wash that nasty business back there. I never enjoyed being on the receiving end of penetrative sex: it always makes me uncomfortable the next day. Like legitimately makes me feel out of sorts: like my back is all out of alignment. If it’s a psychological thing, or an age thing, I don’t know exactly: but I keep forgetting to stretch before getting into it. And I have a theory that this hamster is trying to kill me by jackhammering me every time we meet.
“So, Terry: Apart from your riveting work as an auditor for one of our country’s finest banking institutions, and a possible history of homicide involving your ex-husband’s mistress, what should I know about you?”
“Very funny, something tells me, that is your favorite movie.”
“If it is, will you hate me?”
“No. I wouldn’t. But you will be judged. Though I haven’t really seen it.”
“Then I am judging you. Maricel Soriano is a national treasure.”
I snort. This conversation is absurd.
“Oh, mock me all you want. It doesn’t make you superior. Sexier, perhaps, but not superior.”
I snort again. Loudly. People from the other table look at me.
“Okay, significantly less sexy. Are you retarded?”
We both laugh.
“I must say you are turning out to be so much more vexing than Mike initially led me to believe.”
He smiles, “Well, I do try.”
“Room for one more?”
I turn my head and open my eyes to look at him, framed by the door.
“Don’t be ridiculous. This shower wouldn’t fit us both. Go read a magazine or something. I’m still pondering the secrets of the universe.”
He doesn’t listen (as always), and proceeds to slowly peel off his clothes: First that ratty t-shirt, and then those boxer briefs. I stare at him, taking in the lurid little striptease. He steps into the shower and I feel the coarse brush of his chest hair against my back. His arms, thick and strong envelop me in their embrace.
“So troublesome. Must you invade my every waking moment?”
“I intend to invade every inch of you. Must you protest so vigorously every time I do?”
His hands begin to unravel each excuse, each justification. I feel the heat rising in my body for the first time today, as I felt his cock firmly press in between my thighs. I turn around, not without much difficulty, in the small space we now share, and I face him. His eyes glow like obsidian, his lips taste like cocaine.
And 5’8″ seems to be the perfect height after all.
“Go ahead. You can say it. Mike warned me about your height preference.”
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. I made a mental note to kill Mike later.
“It’s not a requirement.”
“That’s good to hear. It would’ve been a shame, you know.”
“Because I only date people who are 6’ and taller. So you’re the perfect height. If we don’t hit it off, I’ll have to find some other giant to climb.”
“Given that the average height for our people are around 5’8″…”
“That implies that you don’t get to climb very often. How do I know if you can climb well enough?”
“Oh I can climb pretty well, thank you very much. You’ll just have to trust me on that.”
“Well, we’ll see.”
Remz and Jessa: ‘Fight for your love’
Meet Remz and Jessa Roque, who – after meeting via Facebook in 2017 – decided to marry even without meeting each other yet. Not everyone agrees with what they have, but “ang alam namin, mahal namin ang isa’t isa at pinanindigan namin yun sa harap ng Diyos (We know we love each other, and God is the witness of our love),” Remz said.
Remz Roque met Jessa in one Facebook group in January 2017.
“Actually, at that time when we started chatting, she was already eager to to meet with me,” Remz recalled, adding that “pareho po kaming OFW (we were both overseas Filipino workers): me in Dubai, while Jessa was in Taiwan.”
It wasn’t easy, Remz said, because of the time differences. But this may have served as their first challenge, since their desire to stay in touch forced them to make “adjustments in life,” Remz said. Jessa, for instance, had to wake up as early as 4.00AM “para lang makausap ako (just so she can talk with me).”
This made them closer, since “mas lalo naming nakilala ang isa’t isa (we got to know each other better),” Remz said.
In the end, this was also what helped Remz realize he already loved Jessa.
“While knowing her deeply mas lalo kong nalaman na mahal ko sixa at yung araw-araw akong masaya dahil sa kanya (I discovered I was falling deeper in love with her, and my every day was happier because of her),” he said.
That feeling was mutual, Jessa said, because “I found my day incomplete without his presence. Yung tipong napapa-smile na lang ako pag naaalala ko sixa (Just thinking of him makes me smile).”
The two nurtured their long distance relationship. And then – even if they have yet to physically meet – they decided to tie the knot by holding a commitment ceremony in the Philippines in February 2018.
“Yes,” Remz admitted, “hindi pa kami nagkita when we decided to get married. Para kasi sa akin, gusto ko na maayos ang buhay ko at mangyayari lang yun kapag nagkaroon ako ng pamilya (we have yet to meet when we decided to marry. For me, I want to have order in my life and this will only happen if I already have a family of my own)”
Jessa has a child from a previous relationship, and this makes Remz happy, knowing that “yun ung bagay na hindi ko maibibigy sa kanya. Mahal ko rin yung bata tulad ng pagmamahal ko sa kanya (I can’t give her a child. I also love her child just as I love her).”
Both admitted that their decision was not met warmly by everyone.
In fact, even from other members of the :GBTQI community, “my partner also heard a bad comment,” Remz said, “especially that our wedding is just a ‘waste’ since hindi naman legal ang kasal namin (our ceremony has no legal bearing).”
But Jessa said that while “masakit na marinig ito sa mga kapuwa mo, hindi na lang namin pinapansin (hearing these may be painful but we just ignore them),” she said. “Nonsense rin naman (These are just nonsense).”
Both Remz and Jessa, instead, focus on the good: that they found each other, and are willing to work hard to nurture what they have.
It also helped that their families were accepting of their love.
Looking forward, they eye to strengthen their (new) family. But for now, this means that they still need to work overseas; and separately, too.
That they found each other at all is considered a blessing by both, nonetheless.
“Ang alam namin, mahal namin ang isa’t isa at pinanindigan namin yun sa harap ng Diyos (We know we love each other, and God is the witness of our love),” Remz ended.
The unexpected couple
Meet Noe and Allan, who may have found each other in an unexpected way, but are now trying to build a loving family while facing the continuing harsh behaviors of many in their community. They both now say to others to “find strength in each other.”
Noe met Allan on April 12, 2014, in a gasoline station at an intersection somewhere in the Province of Batangas, with one road leading to Noe’s town, and the other to Allan’s town.
Prior to that meeting, Noe – who admitted doing sex work – joined “a Facebook group for gays and bisexuals; naghahanap ng mapeperahan (I was looking for a source of money),” he said. “Nag-post ako ng nude picture at isa siya sa mga nakakita nito at agad siyang nag-PM (private message) sa akin. Tinanong niya kung akin daw ba talaga iyon at sinabihan pa akong poser. Pinanindigan kong akin iyon, hangang sa humaba ang conversation namin at nakilala ang isa’t isa (I posted a nude picture there and he was one of those who saw the photo. He asked me if it’s really mine, even accusing me as a poser. I stood my ground. The conversation got lengthy until we got to know each other better).”
On April 7, Noe said – with a laugh – that “niligawan ko siya kunwari (I pretended to woo him).” The very next day, they became an item.
“Basically, naging kami (we became an item) before we decided to meet up… Honestly, nasa isa pa akong relasyon (I was in another relationship) that time at gusto ko lang ng mapaglilibangan at sakto nasa iisang probinsya din lang kami (I was just looking for fun that time and it just happened that we’re from the same province),” Allan recalled.
The two first met – as stated – on April 12, five days before Noe’s birthday.
And when they met, Noe took Allan to his place, “pinakilala ko sa pamilya ko na kaibigan ko (I introduced him to my family as a friend).”
Allan became a “regular” in Noe’s place, so that eventually, “hindi na talaga siya umuuwi. Kaya mga damit ko ang pinangpapaplit na niya (he didn’t head home anymore. He even started using my clothes).”
After approximately four month of, basically, living under one roof, “naging buo yung puso namin para sa isa’t isa.(we became really serious with each other).”
Allan left his BF, while Noe left his GF.
Being in a non-hereonormative relationship ca be challenging, Noe admitted, citing the “mga matang mapanghusga sa aming kummunidad (eyes/people from our community who judge us).” This ia particularly since “kilala nila akong straight guy kaya mahirap ipakita sa mga tao na may kinakasama akong kapwa ko lalake (they know me as a straight guy and so it was initially hard showing to them I now live with another man).”
Noe thinks that being with Allan taught him to be stronger, particularly “humarap sa mga taong nanghusga sa amin ng asawa ko (in front of people who judge us),” he said.
Allan said he is no stranger to discrimination, having experienced this even as a child. “Halos binago ko na ang sarili ko dahil dito para matanggap ng mga tao sa paligid ko (I tried to change myself to please others),” he said. And so now, with Noe, “lagi ko sinasabi sa partner ko na hayaan mo lang ang mga taong bumabatikos sa atin, instead pagtuunan ng pansin ay gawin na lang natin ang tama at ipakita sa kanila na walang mali sa ganitong relasyon (I tell him to ignore those who disagree with what we have. Instead, just focus on doing good and show the world that there’s nothing wrong in our love).”
As they continue braving the world, “marami kaming plano sa buhay (we have lots of plans in life),” Noe said.
For one, there’s to be good parents to their son (Noah) (another family member is Pogs, a baby dog).
They also plan to have a holy union.
And then there’s the plan to grow their business, particularly since, as Noe said, “tinutulungan namin ang mga pamilya namin (we also help our families).”
Everything, said Noe, seems possible because he found “ang kabiyak ko sa buhay (my other half in life).”
And this is what Allan wants others to also perhaps learn about: To find joy in stability, as he did with Noe. “Ganito lang, okay na okay na (Just like this, and it’s already all okay),” he ended.
Over a bottle of rosé…
Patrick King Pascual writes about finding love and then losing it – via the experience of Peter and Richard.
(While Yumeji’s Theme was playing)
His heart was pounding hard when he opened the door. He was greeted with a smile. He never thought that moment would come.
It was half past one in the morning and it was a Sunday.
They went inside his house and stayed in the balcony.
It was the first week of September.
His name is Peter. His friends knew him as a devoted and passionate person.
He was very excited and nervous. Every time their eyes would meet, he would respond to it with a smile.
Richard, on the other hand, is known to be caring and sweet in his own ways.
They shared stories, laughed at each other’s jokes, and flirted in between. He wanted to hold his hand, feel his skin closer to him – but every time he moves closer, a creeping feeling takes over.
Around three in the morning, they decided to end the night.
As they walked out of his house, Richard following very close behind him, he stopped. “Am I going to see you again?” Peter asked. Richard stepped closer to him and answered, “Why not?”
His heart was pounding hard again. He turned and faced him, and gave him a smile. They were just staring at each other. For a moment, it seemed like a scene lifted from a movie.
Peter’s face moved closer to Richard. Their lips met. Without saying a word or moving a muscle, they kissed. It was a slow kiss. It was a long and passionate.
He removed Richard’s glasses. Maybe, to better see his face. Then, they kissed again.
They first met when Peter attended a gathering with his old friends. He was running late and had to leave to early. He felt a bit uncomfortable when he arrived. A few minutes passed, he asked if anyone from the group smokes. Richard, who was with one of his fiends, responded, “I do.”
They went out of the café. He introduced himself to Richard as he puffed on his cigarette. Their initial meeting was brief, but he knew he wanted to know him more. After two sticks and uncomfortable stares from his friends, he asked for his number. They went back inside. After a quick group photo, he left.
Present time. The following evening came. Peter messaged Richard. He can still feel his kiss. It was a memorable one, he said.
Richard arrived at his place half past 12 in the morning.
They went straight to his room and picked up where they left off.
The kiss was longer than the previous night. It felt like it was more passionate, has more meaning, Peter recalled.
They went all the way. They both wanted it to happen. It was intense.
“We might get used to this,” Richard whispered. Peter responded with a kiss.
For a moment, they were just staring at each other, still in bed and naked. He wanted to capture all the details of his face in his mind.
The night ended with Peter giving Richard a tight hug. Richard leaned forward and gave him a kiss.
Peter waited for Richard for five years.
Ever since Richard moved to New Jersey, they consistently exchanged Skype and Viber messages. They, sort of, continued where they left off when they first met.
On Wednesday, Peter went to his house. He gave him a small cake. Maybe it was just an excuse to see him.
Then on Thursday, Edward went to Peter’s house. They stayed in the balcony again. Peter opened a bottle of rosé and a small pack of truffle cheese.
The Script was playing on his phone. He was surprised that the he also knew the words. After a sip and a slice, he noticed they were unconsciously singing together.
And then the strings of Yumeji’s Theme started. Peter walked towards Richard. He took his hand and pulled him closer to his body. Slowly they danced together.
Everything was in slow motion. The music seemed endless. He held his body tighter and laid his head on his chest. It was euphoric.
It was a poignant moment for Peter. He was not sure if Richard felt the same. But he knew what happened was not a knee-jerk reaction.
Richard was scheduled to go back to New Jersey the following week. It was a bittersweet moment for him. He missed his family and friends in Manila, but he needed to go back to fix his citizenship application.
They had not seen each other for several days. Richard and his family went to Davao. But they continued to message each other.
When Richard got back, he stayed home because he felt sickly. Probably he was too tired after the trip.
They were supposed to meet the following night, Richard’s last night in Manila. But Richard’s friends surprised him with a party.
Peter did not reply to his messages.
The following morning, hours before Richard’s flight, Peter received a message.
“I’m on my way to the airport now.”
Peter replied: “Take care.” Then he sent another message, “I’m annoyed because we did not get to see each other before you leave.”
“I guess, I’m not sure, it is better that way. At least we won’t be thinking too much,” Richard answered back.
He was mad. He was sad. He was pissed off.
Richard has been in a relationship with his partner for three years now. Peter is also in a serious relationship with his longtime partner.
Maybe, what happened, they just picked up where they left off when they first met.
“Take care all the time. And always smile,” Richard messaged Peter.
Peter replied, “Yakap :(“
Theirs is not (yet) a love story. At least not the type you were hoping it to be.
But it was something real.
Loving in the movement
Meet Bahaghari LGBT Organization’s Det and Trish, who are happy they share the same principles for social change. This, according to Trish, is what keeps their relationship intact. But conflicts arise, also usually on principles, though the differences are seen as chances to “learn to grow together.”
In April 2014, Patricia “Trish” Muli, a community development student in the University of the Philippines in Diliman (UPD), was choosing a gender class for her summer semester. Trish was advised by a friend to take the class of Prof. Bernadette “Det” Neri from the UPD College of Arts and Letters.
“Teacher ko siya na super crush ko,” said Trish who also saw it as normal for a student to have a crush on his/her teacher/mentor.
Trish credits Det for giving her a new perspective on gender. “Siya ang nag-discuss sa akin ng tatlong layers ng kaapihan ng mga LGBT. Ang kaapihan sa kasarian, ang kaapihan sa uri, at ang pambansang kaapihan. For the longest time identity politics ang alam natin sa gender. Mas naka-contextualize ni Det ito sa Pilipinas (It was her who discussed with me the three layers of discrimination experienced by LGBT people. The discrimination based on gender, discrimination based on class, and social injustice. For the longest time, we know gender as identity politics. But Det helped contextualize this for me in the Philippines),” said Trish.
The classes lasted for two months, but the two didn’t even become friends. Det did not add students on Facebook during the semester, so they became Facebook friends only when the semester ended.
Sometime in September 2014, Trish contacted Det for information on organizations to work with for her course’s fieldwork requirement on community organizing. The two then met in what Trish said was a memorable meet-up since they were able to share “mga personal na bagay (personal stuff).” With that meeting, “nag-start na maging friends kami (started our friendship).”
Det and Trish started to meet more often during the launch of a campaign for justice for slain transwoman Jennifer Laude.
But even if Trish admitted her attraction, Det was apprehensive not only because she’s Trish’s (former) teacher, but also because she was in another relationship then. Det eventually came up with a “three-page PDF file” mapping her “physical, emotional and logical reactions” to Trish’s attraction to her. Det ended her relationship in December 2014; and in January 2015, they became a couple.
Trish’s family already moved to Australia, but she wanted to stay over to “manilbihan sa Pilipinas (serve in the Philippines),” she said. She joined her family in Australia in August 2015, but she returned to the Philippines five months later.
Here, “sa family ni Det, happy (in Det’s family, I’m happy),” Trish said.
Det already met some members of Trish’s family, and “pinaglaban ko talaga. Tinanggap na rin nila (I fought for what we have. They’ve learned to accept it),” said Trish.
A LIFE TOGETHER
Det and Trish are happy they share the same principles for social change. This, according to Trish, is what keeps their relationship intact.
But conflicts arise, also usually on principles, though the differences are seen as chances to “learn to grow together.”
“‘Yun ang pinaka-meaningful. Dahil nago-grow kami together, natututo kami sa isa’t isa (That’s the most meaningful thing. That we grow together, learn from each other),” Det said.
But forming a family isn’t necessarily easy. For instance, in UP where they both work, they are not afforded the same privileges as opposite-sex couples – e.g. “Sa lahat, hindi namin pwedeng gawing beneficiary ang isa’t isa – sa GSIS man o PhilHealth (In everything, we can’t make the other a beneficiary – in GSIS or PhilHealth),” said Trish.
There are positive efforts both highlighted – e.g. the UP Gender Office and the College of Women Studies mainstream LGBT issues as awareness and academic discourses.
Future plans together include making a documentary on LGBT people in indigenous, as well as community organizing.
For now, it’s to savor each other’s company, “motivated by our shared desire to contribute to the movement for social justice and social change,” Det ended.
The new normal
Yes, everything LGBTQI is fast becoming mainstream, as you now see evolving representations of us starting to symbolize what is now normal. And in the Philippines, power couple Aiza Seguerra and Liza Diño is not only helping to introduce SOGIE concepts with the love they have, they also actively push for LGBTQI human rights.
“We always have to come out every day.”
That, in not so many words, was how singer/songwriter/actor Aiza Seguerra described to Outrage Magazine his way of living with his wife, actress/model/former beauty queen Liza Diño. This may highlight Aiza’s somewhat positive take on humanity as a whole, particularly considering how society could be cruel to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) community.
“Ang mga tao, perhaps ignorant lang tungkol sa atin (Perhaps people are just ignorant about LGBTQI people),” he said. “They are not necessarily judging us.”
This is why “we came to a point to be more proactive, not defensive,” Liza said. “We educate.”
And this is also why Aiza and Liza became active LGBTQI activists – a move that is, perhaps, somewhat also forced upon them considering their celebrity status that they now use to communicate to people about what may well be considered as the new normal where LGBTQI people are not seen as unusual.
BEHIND THE NEWS
Filipinos are familiar with Aiza who, basically, grew right before everyone’s eyes. Introduced to local showbiz industry in Eat Bulaga’s ‘Little Miss Philippines’, a beauty pageant for girls, Aiza built a successful career first as a co-host of the noontime TV show, and then as a child star. The acting continued as Aiza grew, but a career path as a singer/songwriter also ensued, with the introduction of highly popular “Pagdating ng Panahon” introducing Aiza as a serious voice in the music industry.
Gossips (if not jokes) about Aiza’s sexuality have been making the rounds even then, perhaps also based on the Aiza’s (stereotypically masculine) self-expression. Comic artist Nanette Inventor, for instance, had a spiel in one of her shows where she gave diva titles to local singers – e.g. Regine Velasquez is “Asia’s Songstress”, Sara Geronimo is “Pop Diva”, and Pops Fernandez is “Concert Diva”. That joke’s punchline was Aiza, who Inventor said is “Di-va-bae”, a play at “Hindi babae” or “Not a girl/woman.” It may just be dismissed as a joke, but it dehumanizes someone for not being cisgender while highlighting lack of knowledge and awareness on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE).
In 2014, Aiza first came out as a lesbian; though that same year, he subsequently came out as a transgender man (according to him, after finally understanding after reading lots of materials about being transgender, comprehension dawning on him on why he was unable to fully identify with being a lesbian).
Aiza and Liza actually first met in 1999, when – after becoming fast friends – they became an item for several months. But timing wasn’t right then, so they broke up and went their separate ways.
In 2012, Liza came back to the Philippines to shoot a film. She messaged Aiza, which led to them rekindling what they had. In 2014, Aiza asked Liza’s parents for the latter’s hand in marriage. And then on February 7, 2014, Aiza proposed to Liza. In December 2014, Aiza married Liza.
Liza herself is not new to the spotlight. A graduate of BA Speech Communication from the University of the Philippines, she acted for Dulaang UP. She joined Mutya ng Pilipinas, winning the title of Mutya ng Pilipinas-Tourism International to represent the country in Miss Tourism International pageant in 2001.
What they now have – particularly since it’s very public – is helping redefine “normal” re relationships, re families in the Philippines; and this is even if, in truth, the only main difference with what they have is the SOGIE of the people involved in the relationship.
“Kahit ako noon, ang akala ko (Early on, even me, I thought) our relationship was that of a gay person’s and his/her lover,” said Liza with a laugh. “But I’ve had relationships with heterosexual men in the past, and what we have (has the same dynamics as those relationships).”
For that matter, relationships are similar anyway, in the sense that they involve people who want to be together.
When the couple had their second ceremony in the Philippine (they first wed in the US, where the country’s Supreme Court upheld marriage equality), Aiza said to Liza: “You have no idea how happy you’ve made me. I feel different when we’re together; I’m so alive… If there’s one person who will love you and accept you for who you are, especially the bad (side), it’s me. Don’t be afraid. Whatever happens, I will be here.”
Liza, in turn, said to Aiza: “As you continue to discover yourself as a person, trust that I will be there to embrace you, to support you 100 percent.”
Liza’s seven-year-old daughter, Amara Espinosa, now calls Aiza “Dad”.
Liza is first to recognize that not everyone may be ready to accept what she and Aiza has. But “we went through a lot to make this happen,” she said in an earlier interview, citing among others seeking divorce for a previous marriage in the US, just so they had “all bases covered.” In this particular instance, the advocacy for the specific right of LGBTQI people to be with people they choose to love is stressed by “standing by what we believe in”.
This is also why Aiza is very protective of Liza – a protectiveness he once said others who are also married would understand. “I think most of us na may asawa maintindihan nila. Ako tirahin nila, wala akong pakialam. When it comes to my wife, siguro doon lang ang ‘di ko kinakaya (I think all of us with a wife will understand. They can attack me, I don’t care. When it comes to my wife, perhaps that’s what I won’t put up with),” he was quoted as saying once.
The couple initially planned to have a baby by vitro fertilization (IVF) by the end of 2016, using Aiza’s egg cell with Liza carrying the child. But the plan was shelved due to financial reasons, and because of the additional responsibilities given to both when they got government positions in the Rodrigo Roa Duterte administration. Aiza is the chairman of the National Youth Commission, while Liza is the chairperson of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP); both will serve in these positions for three years.
CHANGING WAYS OF SEEING
In their respective official positions, Aiza and Liza hope to effect changes beneficial to the LGBTQI community.
As the first transman appointed in his office now, Aiza said that he is “happy this happened. Maraming tinatanggal sa trabaho (A lot of employees are fired) due to their SOGIE and wala silang nagagawa (they can’t do anything about this),” he said. “I’m happy that I don’t have to hide (who I am).”
Beyond himself and as an LGBTQI advocate, “sa youth, napakarami na susceptible sa bullying, suicide, ‘di tinatanggap sa work (there are many who are susceptible to bullying, suicide, not accepted at work),” he said. “This is why dapat ipagalanap ang SOGIE awareness (This is why SOGIE awareness should be extensively taught).”
“Respect and acknowledgement (of LGBT people) doesn’t violate personal paniniwala (beliefs),” Liza said. “You can still be a Christian, for instance, but be respectful of others.”
Liza hopes for FDCP to be able to push forward films exploring LGBT issues (“And those that tackle not just relationships, but day to day truths,” she said) while also supporting Pride-related festivals.
There’s still much that needs to be done, Aiza and Liza admit. Even the LGBT community is rife with fighting, with members “na nag-aaway-away (that are fighting each other),” Liza said. “I’d like to think it’s not just about pera (money) and egos. The community is already marginalized, and it’s disappointing that we further marginalize ourselves.”
For Liza, “our approach should be more encompassing so we become more inclusive.”
But both Aiza and Liza are comforted by the fact that “there are a lot who want to fight for our rights.”
“It inspires me that there are those who choose this path,” Aiza said.
And the path to promoting LGBTQI inclusion need not be THAT grand.
One time, online site Rappler wrote about Aiza and Liza and they misgendered Aiza, using the female pronoun to refer to him. “Nangati ang tenga ko (Literally: ‘My ears got itchy’, though also referring to the sense of discontent after coming across something that is not liked),” Aiza said.
Liza recalled writing to Rappler, thanking it for the media coverage/article, but also asking “if they may want to change the pronoun used,” she said.
“Siguro nakasanayan lang (Perhaps they’re just used to it [the wrong practices]),” Aiza said.
And while at this stage Aiza said he “doesn’t take offense, we have to be assertive.”
And it is this assertiveness that is also being eyed to finally, FINALLY regularize being LGBTQI even as the very definition of “normal” is challenged to include those who do not necessarily conform to socially-dictated stereotypes of “acceptable”. The world can’t change fast enough, after all, to finally acknowledge that it now has a new normal…
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