A.J. Bautista and Benedict Q. Bernabe have already been chatting online for “quite some time,” when they decided to catch up in person. “Horny lads we were back then,” Bautista laughs, then, seriously: “I was new in Metro Manila, and I wanted to check some heritage sites, to visit the City of Manila of the olden times. I remember it was around the National Heroes Day… we ended up walking around the dusty streets heading from gay Malate to (Manila Z00). We’re not doing that again (as it was more of an asylum for animals, I must say), but that was our first date.”
Bernabe begs to differ – at least some points of the recollection. “It was actually the other way around,” he smiles. “We went to the zoo first, and then walked along the streets of Malate and Ermita, and (headed) to Rizal Park.” While he couldn’t “exactly recall why we went to the zoo – I figured it (may have been) a great way to start the (discovery of the Old Manila),” he recalls, though, eyes twinkling, that Bautista “was really, really naughty. He had his hand in my front pocket by the time we reached Malate Church.”
The attraction started before the meeting, though.
“I can still remember him telling me that laps were a nice place to sleep on, and I asked him if he wanted to sleep on my lap that night,” Bernabe recalls. “I really wanted to meet him the night we chatted, but he was sleepy, as he always is, I found out.”
Bernabe adds: “I really try to stay away from ubermushy discussions because it tends to become too serious and weird… but, yeah, it was love at first sight for me. And a relentless pursuit soon afterwards. We went through a dating friends phase, a friends only phase, a dating again phase, an exclusively dating phase, a mutual understanding phase, and, finally (he) mentioned the L word. And I said I do.”
Bautista is more playful on this. “Love? I never really believed in love at first sight… (more like) lust at first sight,” he says, laughing. Then, turning serious: “We started out with phone calls, and we ate around here and there. He then introduced me to his friends, (and) I introduced him to my family. And, well, in a dreary Christmas week (Bernabe corrects Bautista here, saying: ‘You’re not getting the facts right, baby. It was not a Christmas week. It was a Halloween weekend. I went to Baguio City to visit you while you were recovering from your bout with dengue, and I took care of you when you were sick.’), I told him I love him.”
For the couple, it hasn’t really been THAT hard to be out as a gay couple.
“Well, it hasn’t been for me,” Bautista says. “I’ve never been one to dally around the confines of my closet – well, maybe a bit when I was searching for myself or when I thought that I’d never be able to score a hot stud, so…”
Being out, adds Bernabe, is important. “I haven’t experienced any difficulties with being out with him. I think people create their own difficulties anyway. Life can be so simple if you want it to be. Why sign up for all the drama,” he says, adding, nonetheless, that “I do admit to being self-conscious from time to time when we kiss in public or when we hold hand, depending on where we are. If they talk about us holding hands, maybe they just don’t have other things to talk about (read: stupid and shallow). But you know, if we don’t start to hold hands now, when will we? If we want to be accepted but refuse to come out, how will we be accepted?”
Both believe that hindering acceptance of same-sex relationships (unions, even) is the pervading belief that same sex relationships do not last – a wrong one, of course, since “(failure also comes to) heterosexual relationships, but who’s counting them,” Bautista says.
“Society tends to expect too much from a relationship that people tend to be more focused on meeting those expectations than working on the relationship itself. I’m personally aiming for forever and I’m committing myself to making what we have now work,” Bernabe says. “And I don’t think of what other people think because they’re not in this relationship and they can suck it, for all I care.”
Bernabe is not big on same sex marriages (“Why impose such a heteroproblematic system on gay people? Marriage, I believe, is anti-women,” he says), though he does believe “that there should be options for (same sex) couples to be legally bound and enjoy all the civil rights and benefits that (heterosexual) married couples also enjoy,” he says.
For now, though, the focus is on building a stronger relationship.
“Everything, really, has been good. It’s such a sappy unbelievable thing to say, but the rollercoaster of this partnership just makes life a bit more of a joyride. It’s just nice to know I can share this bit of happiness with someone I know I can live with until God knows when,” Bautista says.
And as for Bernabe: “In a way, (being together) adds more spice into my life compared to when I was single. And I don’t think I’d ever want to go back to that. I think this is for keeps.”
UPDATE: As stated in a message sent to Outrage Magazine by Benedict O. Bernabe on February 15, 2013, the two are no longer together.