While working in the office of the late former senator Raul S. Roco, a workmate, upon knowing of my homosexuality, commented how I just haven’t met the “right one” – a woman – for me. “When you do, you’ll realize you don’t really want to be one (a woman); that you’re really a man, a real man, made for a woman,” was how she put it. “God will provide, you’ll see.”
Her way of looking was flawed. In so many ways.
But I was forgiving – had to be forgiving.
This is a woman who believes the funniest person in the planet is Joey de Leon (“She-Man is the funniest. Ever,” she once said); whose major source of “celebrity stories,” as she put it, is Tita Swarding (“She knows the latest gossips”); whose concept of homosexuals is largely shaped by those she saw (and still sees) in TV and films, among other media – Herbert Baustista as Jill (opposite Sharon Cuneta as Jack in Jack & Jill, based on Mars Ravelo’s characters created in 1935), who decided to be straightened out, after all; and Dolphy as Pacifica Falayfay, among others.
Media Awareness Network (media-awareness.ca) cites media educators Larry Gross and George Gerbner, who argue that “the media participate in the ‘symbolic annihilation’ of gays and lesbians by negatively stereotyping them (often consigning them to the margins of entertainment media, playing either ‘colourful’ and ‘flamboyant’ characters or dangerous psychopaths), by rarely portraying them realistically, or by not portraying them at all.” This may be because “the commercial structure of the mass media limits the opportunity for representing diverse characters. Too often networks and film companies shy away from portraying gays and lesbians for fear of alienating or offending advertisers, investors, and audiences.”
Inarguably, the bottom line (read: profitability of businesses) drives the decision – a move that does disservice to the GLBTQIA community, only less worse than, say, the acceptance of the GLBTQIAs, themselves, in playing the roles given them.
Enter Jesus Manuel (JM) Espiritu Cobarrubias Jr., and, alas, there’s proof that the times, they are, as Bob Dylan once said, a-changin’.
After finishing a Bachelor of Science Development Communication (Major in Community Broadcasting) at the University of the Philippines Los Banos, College in the province of Laguna, where he co-founded the UP Alliance of Devcom Students, Cobbarubias first worked as a call center agent for All Asia Customer Services Inc. in the Light Industry and Science Park from 2000 to 2001 (by then, he already had work experiences as a service crew in Jollibee from 1996 to 1997; and as service crew of ACA Video in 1999).
“I wanted a better job than answering calls every day – I graduated from UP, and I had pride in my self that I can do something,” Cobbarubias says. “So, kahit wala ako kaalam-alam sa mga pasikot-sikot sa Maynila (even if I didn’t know Metro Manila that well), I made a decision to resign from the call center, leave all of my friends and officemates (who all cheered for me by the way), and take my chances.”
At that time, he was thinking that, “salary wise, pareho lang din makukuha ko (I’ll just get the same amount); and the Producer (who is now my best friend) was willing to help me around. May support system ako, kumbaga.”
Looking at finding a job in the corporate world (“I wanted to work in the corporate world, to wear long sleeve polo shirts and neck tie and just look slick,” he says), Cobbarubias ended up working for Probe “by a twist of fate.” In 2001, while working as a call center agent in Cabuyao, Laguna, one of his office mates (a high school classmate) introduced him and some friends to a segment producer from Probe Productions. “That producer (who happens to be my best friend now) asked us if we wanted to apply in Probe – they had an urgent hiring (then) for a PA (production assistant), since, apparently, one of the PA’s resigned. We said, ‘Yes, we want to try.’ So our producer friend convinced his boss (Nessa Valdellon, now the VP for public affairs of GMA 7) to extend the application. So, me and my other officemate (a girl) took a leave from work (we were supported by our supervisor – who also was our friend) to go to the interview. After we were both interviewed, we left the office and went home,” Cobbarubias recalls. Eventually, “I got a call. I got it.”
“Working in mainstream media, with no experience (even as an intern), I faced a lot of challenges. You would not believe this, but when I started in Probe, I did not even know how to turn on a PC (personal computer, since we didn’t have computer at home, and I did not really learn from our computer science course in UP),” Cobbarubias says. But since he was hired in March 2001, an election period, “I had to adjust quickly, be a news person” – something not that easy since, at that time, Cobbarubias was impressionable (“Another adjustment for me was on being starstruck – seeing Cheche Lazaro for the first time was like a vision, as she was among the first TV personalities that I got to see in the flesh. And then I remember my first field production assignment, to shoot a video of Richard Gomez in his campaign (he run under a party list in 2001) – I had to have the confidence to talk to him and introduce myself and my crew; I mean, Richard was my childhood fantasy!”).
Eventually, after working as a talent production staff for Probe from 2001 to 2004 (among others, he worked as PA, and then producer/reporter of i-Witness from 2001 to 2003; and as assistant field producer and reporter/producer of The Probe Team Documentaries from 2001 to 2004), Cobbarubias also worked as a talent production staff of GMA Network Inc. from 2004 to 2007.
“What I learned from Probe is to multitask. I started as a PA, but PAs in Probe are not just alalays (assistants). They research, they book interviews, write ex-deal letters, write scripts for spiels, edit segments, and sometimes even do camera-work,” he says, adding with a smile: “I was the best in hidden camera before.” And then in GMA, “I learned to be more flexible and more exposed. Probe was just a little company that held its office in a quiet village. GMA is a major network, so andami nang tao na makakasalamuha (I mingle with a lot of people).”
Cobbarubias’ other positions include serving as host/producer of OUT! (2004), associate producer of Jessica Soho reports (2004 to 2005), producer of Pinoy Abroad (2005), executive producer of Balik-Bayan (2005 to 2007), executive producer of Hot Seat (2007), edit supervisor of Howie Severino’s team in i-Witness (2007), guest host and producer of 100% Pinoy (2007), and edit supervisor of Proudly Filipina (2008).
Still other positions include serving as assistant program manager of QTV News and Public Affairs and GMA Network Inc. (2007 to 2008), and handling of such programs as QTV’s Rx Men, May Trabaho Ka!, and Hired.
For his efforts, Cobbarubias has been given a Certificate of Creative Excellence by the US International Film and Video Festival in 2007 (as executive producer of Balik-Bayan), and the Gold Camera Award by the US International Film and Video Awards in 2008 (as edit supervisor of Proudly Filipina), among others.
Cobbarubias currently serves as the program manager of QTV Public Affairs.
Broadcast media, says Cobbarubias, can be disappointing. “Since we aim for fairness, we can’t let our own personal biases affect our stories – we can’t air a segment that is not complete with all the research, data, statements, et cetera.
So sometimes, even if may alam ka na totoo, di mo pwede gamitin ang trabaho mo (you may know some truths, but you can’t use it at work) to expose it, unless you can present hard proofs,” he says.
And then there’s the fact that “TV is still a business. We can not produce shows if walang kita ang (there’s no profit for the) network. We depend on media buyers, on commercials. Like what happened to OUT!, the first gay and lesbian magazine show in the Philippines, (which) only lasted for three months or 13 episodes because we could not sustain it. Wala kasi (There were not any) commercials, so even if it rated high and was really good to watch, it had to end,” Cobbarubias says.
But Cobbarubias believes that the media can help promote GLBTQIA advocacies. “By making sure that every time we come out with stories that are related to GLBTQIAs, the stories or reports would be balanced, based on facts, and politically-correct in presentation. This way, media helps cure misconceptions and stereotypes on GLBTQIAs,” he says.
Looking back, Cobbarubias recalls realizing being different when he was five years old. “I remember feeling attraction towards this other kid who rides the same school bus (with me),” he says. “That felt really weird. Imagine, may crush ako na boy (I had a crush on a boy)?” Since he was “in denial,” though, he gave more attention to his girl crushes. “I felt it was wrong to feel that way towards other boys,” Cobbarubias adds.
When he turned 18, Cobbarubias fell in love with a guy, and “I made a decision: Tinanggap ko na, na ako ay isang bakla (I accepted that I am gay). But although, I accepted myself already, I still did not want to tell everyone, (just my closest friends).”
When he was 24, though, he was asked to audition for OUT! (“When the original host resigned from the show after his family asked him to”), so “I prayed and looked for signs if it was time. I consulted close friends, some of whom discouraged me from coming out – they said masisira ang (I will ruin my) on-cam career as I was a reporter/producer in Probe that time. But that offer came at a time I wanted to change things. I was tired of hiding. I was so tired of being a topic of conversations. I was tired of feeling insulted when someone calls me bakla (gay). So I took the chance. I auditioned, and auditioning to the show already meant admitting I was gay. So merely stepping into GMA that day, was already a milestone. Ibang joy ang naramdaman ko (I felt a different kind of happiness/joy),” Cobbarubias says.
Even before getting the hosting job, Cobbarubias said he felt good, having been able to tell people upfront that “I’m gay. It was so liberating.”
Cobbarubias says his family knew he was gay all along. “They were just waiting for me to tell them. They told me that they could not accept that I am gay because they thought I, myself, did not want to be gay,” he says, adding that after coming out, “people loved me more. And respected me more.”
It is, therefore, “coming out on OUT!” that he considers as his biggest achievement. “The impact it made on my life and on other people is amazing. To this day, people still remember it. To this day, I get messages about it. I can’t remember how many gay men have told me that because of my coming out story in OUT! , they had the courage to come out, too.”
If there is one regret for Cobbarubias, it may be that “sana kumain ako nang maraming gulay noong bata pa ako, at sana naglaro ako ng basketball (I should have eaten more vegetable when I was younger, and played basketball). My frustration is my height. I want to be taller. I am just 5’7”,” he jokes.
Looking forward, Cobbarubias’ goal is “to make my family’s dreams come true. That’s my mission in life. I want to be able to make them live their dreams. That’s why I am working hard. I know that greater things are in store for me,” he says. “Siyempre, family muna, then community, then bansa na (Of course, family first, then community, then the country).”
He aims to help effect changes, nonetheless. “I want to make a difference. If I can be the first openly-gay Philippine president, why not?!” he says with a smile.
“Right now, (the biggest challenge of the GLBTQIA community) is HIV and/or AIDS, which is fast spreading. The Pinoy gay community should do something about this. We should help prevent its spread and help the ones who have it to not feel discriminated but tulungan na gumaling (help in getting treatments),” Cobbarubias says, adding that some measures that may be helpful include information drives, free check-ups, and giving out of free condoms in places where gay sex is known to happen.
It makes him happy to note, though, that the Filipino GLBTQIA community is more open now. “When OUT! was still on air, it was so difficult for us to get case studies for our segments. Three years after, I did a report for the show 100% Pinoy, and, oh boy, iba na (things have changed). Masculine gay boys danced in front of our cameras – they all want to come out! (and) in my gym, there’s a transsexual who’s not being ridiculed at all (when she changes in the) locker, along with the (heterosexual) guys and straight-looking and acting gays – nobody is talking behind his back,” Cobbarubias says. These are “so cool!”
Cobbarubias believes members of the GLBTQIA community themselves need to take the lead in bettering their situations. “(It is disappointing) when gay people themselves contribute to the perpetuation of misconceptions on gays – take the indie films, puro sex ang tema. Hindi lang naman sex ang inaatupag ng mga bakla. ‘Yan ba ang gusto natin ipakita sa ibang tao? Kung gaano tayo ka-hayok sa sex (take indie films, which mainly deals with sex. Gays go not just deal with sex. So is that what we want to show other people? How sexually deprived we are)?”
The solution, he says, is “if individually, we erase stereotypes and misconceptions on GLBTQI’s in our own environments. Ipakita natin sa nga ka-opisina natin, sa mga kapitbahay natin, kasabay natin sa simbahan, sa gym, sa kung saan man, na ang GLBTQIA ay parte ng kanilang buhay na di nila dapat pandirihan, na tayo ay minamahal. At tayo ay nagmamahal at nakakatulong sa pamilya, komunidad at bansa (Let’s show our peers, our neighbors, fellow church-goers, gym mates, or wherever, that GLBTQIAs are part of their lives and is not source of revulsion; that we are to be loved. And we love, too, just as we help our families, or communities, and our country).”
Cobbarubias is hoping that “sana dumami pa ang mga GLBTQIAs na lalantad para matulungan ang ibang tao na ma-realize na hindi lahat ng GLBTQIA ay ‘yung klase ng tao na nakikita nila sa TV or sa pelikula o sa mga indie films na walang saysay (hopefully the number of GLBTQIAs who will come out will increase to help people realize that not all GLBTQIAs are similar to those they see on TV or films or indie films who can be useless),” he says.
And in that, with his coming out, Cobbarubias is walking his talk, changing representation – thus perceptions – in the media.
Now, if only we can increase the number of GLBTQIAs who will stop discriminating against themselves, thereby depriving themselves of the joys of being gay, as Cobbarubias puts it, then everything may just get better for GLBTQIAs.