This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBTQIA people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”
Gem A. Cabreros, 54, was a “late bloomer” in a way. “I think I was 25 or 26 when I fully accepted that I am a gay person,” he said.
Originally hailing from Cebu in the Visayas (though he moved to Metro Manila in 2003), he – nonetheless – knew he’s “different” because he was (somewhat) effeminate.
Looking back, he knew that he didn’t experience being “discriminated.“ “It was more of bullying. People taunt you, they call you ‘Faggot.’ I was not physically bullied; it was more of teasing, which can have more effect on a person,” he said.
As a coping mechanism, “I just slowly accepted myself. I just ignored them. I continued playing with my female classmates. What I did was just to focus on my studies. Even when the teachers didn’t do anything to stop the teasing, I still found ways to just ignore them. I let them be. Whatever they say, I say, ‘Whatever!’, or something like that.”
MARTIAL LAW YEARS
Gem was around five years old in 1972, when Martial Law was declared. “So I was between 5 to (my) tweens – until 12 – when the Martial Law was being imposed in the Philippines.”
Looking back, and even when he admits he was quite young then, “even at that early age, my parents already told me, ‘Don’t act gay outside. There are soldiers who are roaming around’.”
He added: “We were made to fear the military. We were to fear soldiers. We were made to fear the police. They’d tell you, don’t act in such a way. The authorities may reprimand you, or they may bring you somewhere. And impressionable as I was at that age, of course there was fear. You become afraid.”
It was, in Gem’s recollection, “ a patriarchal society back then since we had a dictator as the head of government. So men couldn’t wear women’s clothes; and when – as a man – you’re outside, you had to act masculine. Drag queens, at that time, were unheard of. No one ‘cross-dressed’. Or if there were, perhaps they were hidden, or only in secret gatherings. The LGBTQIA community was silent. It was a difficult time for the LGBTQIA community.”
Gem has two siblings; he’s the middle child and the only boy in the family.
“I think my family knew I’m gay from the very start. Even when I was young, I was effeminate… in a way,” he said.
There was one time when an aunt felt compelled to tell his parents he’s gay without his consent.
“So, right after that, my father – who was already distant even when I was a child – became even more distant. And my Mom stopped talking to me for about a week,” Gem recalled.
But slowly, “my relationship with my mother went back to normal. So I guess she already accepted that I am gay.”
Gem’s parents separated when he was in his mid-teens. “My father was then working abroad, and my mother was here when they decided to separate.”
Nonetheless, “I never had a close relationship with my father. Every time he’d come over our place when he was on vacation from working abroad, he’d see us., his kids. We spent time together, but there was this distance, these awkward moments between you and your father since you’re not close.”
Unfortunately, said Gem, “I didn’t finish college. I dropped out of school in my second year in college. But I had to drop out after my parents decided to separate. I had to take the responsibility of financially supporting my mother and my younger sister who was in high school at that time.”
With many LGBTQIA people playing the role of breadwinners, Gem said: “Just because your’e LGBTQIA, you’re automatically expected to financially support your family. Even your straight siblings also have responsibility to look after and financially support their parents or members of the family who are financially distressed.”
ALL ABOUT LOVE
Gem has a partner; they’ve been together for 13 years already.
“It wasn’t really difficult on my part to find a partner. For some members of the LGBTQIA community, they find it hard. It’s because they have these standards that their potential partners have to meet. If you become realistic about it, or don’t have too high standards on the partner that you’re looking for, you won’t have any difficulty,” Gem said.
Gem aded: “When you reach this age, already in your 50s, it’s hard to be alone. You may have a stable job, and you may still have your family – like your siblings or even your family, but there will be times you’d feel alone and sad.”
Gem now works as a Community Access to Redress and Empowerment (CARE) officer for TLF Share Collective Inc. The program he’s in – which is called CARE – is a platform wherein they facilitate access to redress and justice to persons living with HIV who face discrimination or violations of their human rights.
For Gem, “having LGBTQIA organizations is important because this is a support system. Where LGBTQIA people can go to if they need someone to talk to, if they need help, if they need moral support, if they need advice.”
Gem thinks there are still issues the LGBTQIA community should focus on – i.e. “The first one would be the absence of a law that would grant equal rights to members of the LGBTQIA community. Second would be discrimination. And then third would be the physical violence.”
Gem thinks younger LGBTQIA people are luckier.
“You are more empowered. Society is more tolerating and accepting of the LGBTQIA community, unlike before,” he said.
And so he is thankful for the changing of people in the community.
“To the community in general, thank you for having a more open mind, and for being more tolerant of accepting of the LGBTQIA community. At least I experienced a situation like this. Compared to before when we were considered as pariahs. I even remember a time when we were told we have psychological illness for being gay. And that we’re sinners. So thank you not just to society, but also the church, and to many people now who are accepting of the LGBTQIA community. Thank you,” he said.
All the same, he knows not everyone is truly accepting of LGBTQIA people.
So Gem said: “To family members – or even our relatives – who still don’t accept LGBTQIA people, be open-minded. Not to close their minds, and to accept the reality that we – the LGBTQIA community – are here to stay. And we’ll never go away. We’re part of society, and it’s a reality that they must accept.”