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.”
“What I want to say to people who can’t accept gays and lesbians is to close your eyes. When we walk by, just close your eyes,” laughed Felix Brillantes, 53, from the Municipality of Padada in Davao del Sur, south of the Philippines. Then turning serious: “Seriously now: You don’t know that even if we’re LGBTQIA, we can help you. If you’re really against us, if you hate seeing us because we’re flamboyant, we really can’t do anything about your way of thinking. But people like that should just accept us wholeheartedly. Because… that’s just how we are; we’re LGBTQIA.”
Felix sort of always knew he’s gay.
“I remember before, before my Mom would leave the house, she’d put on make-up,” he recalled. “After putting on her make-up, I did the same. I put powder on my face; I used lipstick. So maybe even then I already knew I’m gay.”
Felix has seven siblings; he’s the seventh child.
“In my family, when they found out I’m gay, they didn’t have any reactions. Everything continued as they were; they just accepted me as gay. When I was younger, they already saw the way I moved, the way I looked, and I was already openly gay then, but none of them reacted badly.”
There was an instance, though, he remembered his being gay was used against him.
At school, Felix recalled belonging to the class of bright students. “When I got lower grades, that was the one time I heard a sibling say something bad: ‘Your grades lowered because you’re living flamboyantly as a gay person! That’s what you get for being loud!’ That was the only time when something bad was said about me being gay. That’s it.”
Even in the community, Felix said he never really encountered being discriminated.
“Maybe because there were older gay people in the community. And because they were already aware of the existence of gay people, they didn’t react badly to gays anymore,” he said.
But Felix admitted that it may also be because of… heteronormativity.
“But it may also be because of the way I presented myself. With the way I walked, the way I dressed up, people couldn’t immediately say I’m gay,” he said, meaning he presented himself as any stereotypical heterosexual men did. “The way I dress now, that’s how I dressed then. I didn’t sway my hips when walking on the streets. I wasn’t screaming like some queen. Maybe that’s why people never mocked me.”
For Felix, “based on my experience, it’s not that hard to be gay here. As long as you help your community, and as long as you show goodness to your community, your neighbors and your family. But – maybe – if you’re a flippant gay guy, that’s when you’d be mocked. This is also due to your actions.”
Felix completed Bachelor of Secondary Education at Cor Jesu College in 1998. After graduating, he worked as a teacher; but after 10-12 years, he stopped.
“Teaching is not the line of work that interested me,” he said. “To be honest, we didn’t have money. I wanted to take up nursing or engineering. My dream then was to complete nursing or dentistry. But my mother couldn’t afford to pay for these degrees. She said if I’d pursue these, I won’t graduate. She can only afford to pay until my second year in college. So I was forced to take up Education. Just to get a degree.”
Now he is an event organizer, and at the same time an event choreographer.
“When there are school activities, I choreograph those. For example, Buwan ng Wika, graduations in schools. They hire me. With event organizing, I am available to organize any party,” he said.
Yes, Felix said, he helps out in his family’s expenses.
“When I have earnings, I buy rice and viands. But – for instance I already bought rice and viands; or pay a nephew’s tuition – I then treat myself. I spend to wander around, give to boys… As long as I already fulfilled my financial responsibility,” he said.
“One time a sibling told me I kept spending to wander around, and that I have not helped in the house’s expenses, asking me where my earnings are. So I started thinking that I should help because no one else will help you but your family. So for me it’s just fair that family members help each other,” Felix said.
Felix remembered one time, when his mother told me not to consider getting married.
“I thought then: ‘Mother, I’m not getting married. Why will I do that?’ She never asked me to get married so I can give her a grandchild. They never asked this of me,” he said.
There may be other gay men who marry women, Felix said, “but I don’t think I can do that. I’d find that peculiar.”
Felix added: “Actually I’m getting old as I’m 53 already. When my mother dies – and in life, we’re headed that way – what will happen to me, considering I don’t have a child who will look after me? But I don’t think some of my siblings will not look after me. I don’t think the nieces and nephews I also helped will not look after me.”
LOOKING FOR LOVE
Right now, Felix doesn’t have a partner.
“Is it hard for LGBTQIA people to find love in Padada? Not so. Why do I say this? Because most of my friends have partners,” he said.
In Padada’s context, however, in the case of gay men, it is apparent that the “traditional” transactional arrangement is still what’s commonplace. Here, gay men and/or transgender women financially support heterosexual men if the former want the latter to pay attention to them.
“Heterosexual men here are… familiar with dealing with gay men. This is why entering a relationship with them isn’t that hard,” Felix said.
Felix added: “But for me, this is also a reality now: Heterosexual men won’t approach gay men who do not have money. Why? Because these men ask for money to buy cigarettes, to grab drinks, to hang out with friends. They’d ask for money. And who would they approach? Gay men with money. It’s rare for heterosexual men to approach gay men without money. Even if they approach you, it’s not to have a relationship with you.”
This is, obviously, an unfair arrangement.
“Heterosexual men choose gay men with money. This is unfair. What happens to gay men with no money, who are unemployed, who do not have their own business? They are unable to find men. And sometimes, this is a hindrance to gay men,” Felix said.
There is a local LGBTQIA organization in Padada – i.e. the Padada Gays Association (PGA).
For Felix, “it is very important for any place to have an organization composed of LGBTQIA people” particularly since “LGBTQIA people here have many issues.”
For one, HIV remains an issue and “people here are scared of getting infected with HIV. Because gay men indiscriminately have sex with multiple partners, they may be infected with HIV.”
Now, “drug use is very rampant in many places. There are some gay people who are involved in drugs,” Felix said. “How do we help gay people involved in drugs? We talk to them. We tell them that drugs destroy people, and they do not do you any good.”
Felix segregates the young LGBTQIA people in Padada in two broad groups – i.e. those who are “gallivanting all over town” and those who are “just at their homes because their parents control them.”
He thinks attention should be given to the former.
“For those gallivanting all over town, we tell them – if possible – do not stop your studies. Because most of the older gays did not finish their education. But if you’re unable to complete college, get hold of scissors. Come to the parlor to practice offering make-up to earn. Scissors and comb to cut hair = money. Use hair brush and apply make up (on people). The result? Money. Don’t stop dreaming,” he said.
And yes, even if he didn’t experience this, he knows there are family members who can’t accept gays and lesbians as family members.
“I just tell the parents, ‘Mader, accept your child whatever he/she may be, gay or lesbian.’ Why? You don’t know if he/she will end up helping you, help your family. Accept them wholeheartedly. ‘Mader, he/she is your child. You don’t reject your own blood.’ They usually just laugh. They say: ‘Yeah, we just have to accept them even if this pains us.’ ‘Mader,’ I say, ‘you can’t do anything. Your gay child will sashay’,” Felix ended.