On the eve of Christmas in 1989, Dr. Margarita Holmes’s first BODYMIND column came out in Manila Times. “While realizing that it had the format of an advice column, I wanted it to be one with a twist, so to speak. I wanted the answers to be given by a clinical psychologist with appropriate training, and, hopefully, also a heart that understood – or at least had an educated idea of the pressures/stresses the letter writer was going through and the resources he had at hand,” recalled Dr. Margie. And then she added with a smile: “I didn’t want to be ‘Tita Margie’ who gave homespun advice based on her opinion (based on anecdotal evidence), or worse, her personal experience. I wanted to be Dr. Holmes who shared her knowledge of current research and also her clinical training and expertise (or so I like to think). And when I gave my opinion, I reminded myself to always be professional enough to distinguish between my personal opinion and knowledge based on evidence based studies.”
Gay men were among the first ones who wrote to Dr. Holmes.
“Many letters were from adolescents who were seriously considering suicide because they believed that God would punish them for their ‘abnormality’. I was furious and wanted to explain the difference between the opinion of some moralists and what current research said about homosexuality,” Dr. Holmes said. “And the mantra I had was that the sex/gender of the person you loved was not as important as the way the person loved — was it with integrity, honesty and passion or was it just a lie?”
Dr. Holmes – who received her A.B. in Psychology and was one of seven Magna Cum Laude among more than 2,500 graduates from the University of the Philippines in 1973 – has been trailblazing in various areas. For instance, she created the first-ever Philippine-based show to deal with psychological issues (“No Nonsense with Dr. Holmes”), aside from hosting a segment (“Magtanong Kay Dra. Holmes”) in daytime talk-show Teysi ng Tahanan; writing for Abante/Abante Tonite, Business Mirror and Opinyon; and publishing 16 books. One of her first books was “A Different Love: Being a Gay Man in the Philippines”, which – in so many ways – helped mainstream LGBT (particularly gay men’s) issues in the Philippines
Dr. Holmes hopes she helped make sex “become a legitimate topic for discussion in mainstream media,” she said. Before her upfront column, “sex was usually discussed in antiseptic terms in academia or stereotypically in media. I hope that my column helped sex to be discussed intelligently but not boringly.”
Dr. Holmes believes that “not purposely announcing that I was an ‘advocate for gay rights’ gave an important message: that gay people were no different from straight people in terms of the needs they had, the resources they needed, and the help/understanding that was necessary to help them blossom into fulfilled human beings,” she said.
There are now many “real experts on LGBT issues, people who have made it a point to excel in and make LGBT concerns their major area,” Dr. Holmes noted. “And that is a good thing because so much has been happening in so many different fields regarding LGBT concerns/issues that experts are really needed. I hope, as a further contribution, I was able to make it easier (if only in a teensy itsy way) for scholars/counselors to be more free when making and then announcing their choices (of what to study, et cetera).”
Dr. Holmes believes in empowering minorities.
In addition to gay men and women who wrote to her, many others who also didn’t fit the ‘norm’ wrote. These included women who had premarital sex, men who were premature ejaculators, and men who had been betrayed by their partners rather than being the ones doing the betraying. “I hope that I was able to provide a perspective they could use as a springboard for their own special perspective – one that said that, while they may not choose to announce their sexual preference to the world (you do not, after all, ‘throw your pearls before swine’ – the one Biblical passage I know by heart) being a non-virgin, gay, ‘unfaithful’ when you never said you would be faithful anyway, was nothing to be ashamed of,” she said. “I am happy that many other psychologists, social scientists, advice columnists, et cetera have taken up the cudgels for those of us who are described as ‘sexual minorities’.”
And what more should we expect from Dr. Holmes?
“I have no way of knowing for sure the following will happen,” she smiled.
But there are things she still hopes to accomplish.
“In the same way that I supposedly helped make sex a legitimate area for concern, I hope I can make mental illness just as legitimate. Mental illness is still a taboo subject, and it is here that I want to shake things up so people will be more open about this,” Dr. Holmes said, adding that she hopes that her first book on clinical depression (“Down to 1: Depression Stories”, published by Anvil in 2010) has started the process. “But I intend to do a lot more, showing how many mood affective disorders and even schizophrenia can be managed well enough so that a person with mental illness can have a meaningful and fulfilling life.”
Neuroscience is also a field of interest. “The more we know about neuroscience — the workings of our brain and how its neural connections can help us help ourselves — the more we can heal ourselves and, hopefully, even prevent certain events from causing such pain to begin with,” she said.
And then she also intends to “maybe (do) more research and/or books on sex, love and aging,” Dr. Holmes said with a naughty wink.
Looking back when she first received those early letters from gay men, Dr. Holmes said that “while I did not intentionally say I would be an advocate for gay rights, when gay men wrote me, how could I not be an advocate? How could anybody stand by when gay men (and women) were persecuted by moralists who didn’t know a thing?” she said.
And for that, the LGBT community – truly – has been better off.