Nico, 24, first met Ricky*, 29, in the latter part of 2011. “My (also gay younger) brother was with three people when he went to our grandmother’s funeral – this really good-looking guy, a girl, and this other guy. He was that other guy,” Nico said, laughing.
What Nico did not know then was that Ricky was actually wooing Nico’s younger brother, who he met from hook-up site Grindr, and “nabasted ako (I was rejected) because he said he had a boyfriend,” he recalled, smiling. “I wanted to take my revenge via his older brother, Nico.”
But then, what Ricky didn’t expect was falling in love with Nico, so that by September of that year, the two were already an item.
And so started Nico’s relationship with a military man, since Ricky is with the Hukbóng Himpapawid ng Pilipinas (Philippine Air Force or PAF).
Ricky grew up in military household. “My Dad was also a soldier, so he readied me (to join the military) when I was still young,” he said. “Lahat ng ginagawa, de-oras (Everything we did was according to a specific schedule).”
But Ricky knew “perhaps when I was 18 that I like other men.”
When Ricky joined PAF, “lahat ng temptations nalusutan ko (I beat all the temptations),” he said, adding – with a laugh – “being only with men and all that.” However, “nahalata (it was noticed) after three months that I’m not like the others. But I was not discriminated against – mas magaling naman ako sa karamihan (I was better than most).”
Worth highlighting is the expectation for LGBT Filipinos to act in “acceptable” manners, which is usually limited to acting according to socially-defined masculine versus feminine behaviors. This expectation is all too apparent in the military. For instance, in 2009, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) stated that the Philippines has zero tolerance for discrimination within the military ranks. Nonetheless, the AFP Code of Ethics has provisions that can be used to discriminate against lesbian and gay members of the military. An example is Article 5 (Military Professionalism) Section 4.3 (Unethical Acts) of the AFP Code of Ethics, which states:
“Military personnel shall likewise be recommended for discharge/separation for reason of unsuitability due to all acts or omissions which deviate from established and accepted ethical and moral standards of behavior and performance as set forth in the AFP Code of Ethics. The following are examples: Fornication, Adultery, Concubinage, Homosexuality, Lesbianism, and Pedophilia.”
“The policy affecting us (almost always) has to do with immorality,” Ricky said, adding that the identification of something immoral happening is reliant on it being seen/known, so that “madalas, ang ginagawa, tinatago (often, for it not to be known, everything is just done discreetly).”
Not surprisingly, there are other men who have sex with men (MSM) in the military, according to Ricky, and “the common practice is pasahan ng numbers (we give out others’ numbers). If someone looks for a partner, somebody is bound to know someone who can be recommended.” But this practice is “not limited to homosexual contacts; with heterosexuals, it’s the same way,” he added.
For Ricky, things are tolerated for as long as “hindi naman ako nagkakalat (I don’t act in a manner that is disrespectable/frowned upon).” The concept of “pagkakalat” is often associated with being transgender – more specifically, the male to female transgender.
That the military still has a long way to go as far as understanding transgenderism goes without saying. “I went AWOL for two months because I had issues with our team leader,” Ricky recalled. “Ang mga tsismis na naglabasan, grabe – sumama na raw ako sa British na manliligaw ko, naging dancer na ako ni Lady Gaga, at nagpa-opera na raw ako para maging babae (You should have heard the stories that surfaced – that I run away with a British suitor, that I became one of Lady gaga’s backup dancers, and that I underwent gender confirmation surgery for me to become a transwoman).”
After his mother persuaded him to return to PAF, “I did; I was demoted and confined in the barracks for a while as punishment.”
Ricky is cautious when dealing with the unwritten rules of the military, so that for him, yet another one of the “disrespectable” acts is publicly showing his affection for the person he loves. “Walang PDAs – baka may makakita sa amin, pang-gulo lang (No public displays of affection – somebody might see us, and it could lead to trouble).”
Ricky and Nico have been living together since November 2011. In hindsight, “wala nang ligawan (no wooing happened),” Ricky said. “Ganyan naman sa mga (This is what happens with) men who have sex with men, right? Kung kayo na, kayo na (If you decided to be with each other, that’s that).”
But deciding to live together was not easy.
Nico’s younger brother was not at all pleased with the relationship, telling his kuya (elder brother) why Ricky’s a bad choice. “He said maitim ‘yan, pangit ‘yan (He’s way too dark skinned, he’s ugly),” Nico recalled. “Bitter yata (He must have been bitter).”
When they met, Nico was kicked out of his house, so that he stayed for three days with Ricky at the barracks. “I was confronted by a superior who told me not to let Nico sleep there,” Ricky recalled. This superior was not comfortable with Ricky’s relationship with Nico, even if – interestingly – this same superior has a live-in partner even if his marriage to his legal wife has yet to be annulled.
After that confrontation with the superior, the two moved to a hotel, and then eventually decided to find a room, then a house to share.
For a year, when Nico lost his job, Ricky looked after him. “Hindi ako madamot sa mahal ko (I am not greedy when with people I love),” he said.
Ricky’s family knows of Nico, though. “There’s no formal introduction of him as my boyfriend; but I think it’s already ‘considered’,” he said.
Upon closer scrutiny, the lack of formal – and legal – recognition is actually somewhat problematic. When Ricky was hospitalized in a military hospital, Nico couldn’t even visit because he is not a member of Ricky’s immediate family. “Nakakalungkot isipin kasi (This is sad because) he is not considered as my next of kin,” Ricky said.
Ricky added that “what other people think about us end up as key definers of our relationship. Baka kasi may magreklamo, kaya iwas-gulo na lang (I’m trying to avoid having people who are not comfortable with what I have make an issue about us).”
TWO-GETHER IN FOCUS
Ricky is Nico’s 10th boyfriend; while Nico is only Ricky’s second – his first was with a reservist, who is now married.
Ricky and Nico are both tops, so they decided to open their relationship. “But a rule is for us to be there at the same time – hindi puwede isa-isa (meeting others separately is a no-no),” Ricky said.
Getting invited to do it alone is somewhat common for Ricky. “For many, doing it with a man in uniform is a fetish of many,” he said, adding with a laugh: “There are those who even ask me to put on my uniform when we’re doing it.”
They have shared accounts in hook-up sites, “but often, we just meet people to become friends,” Nico said.
There are challenges that they are facing – particularly, for Nico, Ricky’s irregular schedule “because he is always on call,” he said; and the occasional rearing of the head of the green-eyed monster, with the “at times unwanted attention that Ricky gets.”
For Ricky, this may have to do with their lifestyle differences. As a military man, he is active – something that Nico is not, with “malling as his favorite thing to do,” he said. He then added, teasing Nico: “He used to be hot; now he’s… chubby.” Then turning serious: “I worry not only because of how he looks, but also because of his health.”
They now have a “baby” – Annika, an 11-month old Siberian Husky that Ricky walks “whenever I can,” he said.
The two already have plans to travel, “maybe overseas, starting with Asia,” Ricky said.
“And Brazil,” Nico interjected.
Looking at Nico, Ricky said: “He thinks all Brazilians look like models.”
For now, though, the focus is on establishing a life together. Despite the challenges posed particularly by Nico’s loving of a military man.
*NAME CHANGED AS REQUESTED BY THE INTERVIEWEES