‘Ano ka, bakla?’ Dad sounded annoyed. At what, exactly, I did not know. He only came across my journal, and I guess something there displeased him. A lot. It must be my wanting to look at the colors of Mom’s make-up, especially when she put them on. Or how I didn’t like the toy guns I got from him last Christmas – my sister’s life-sized walking dolls looked much cooler. Or that I liked playing with my sister’s dresses, especially since the fabric was softer to the touch compared with my denim. Or that I liked Billy, the new boy from Manila, a lot – hanging out with him, horsing around, skipping classes… ‘I’m asking you a question!’ he said.
‘I’m not,’ I said. There’s supposedly something wrong, really wrong, with being bakla. And no man would, or should ever, want to be identified as such. But no one could tell me why this is so. ‘Not bakla, I mean.’
‘You better not be!’ he barked, then, before he turned away, added: ‘And for your own sake, start acting like a real man.’
And so I did.
I was only 11 when I learned that alcohol is best guzzled while puffing cigarettes. And I was a late bloomer, at that, with many in my circle having started as early as eight. I knew Dad wouldn’t want me starting when, as I knew he would put it, I am yet to support myself to do shit, so I did try to say no. At first, anyway. Even when the contention forwarded was that it was what real men do – as I saw Dad do, too. But the urging was always ended with: ‘Ano ka, bakla?’ And then I was a goner. By the time I was 12, I bet I could outdrunk even my father – had he known how much of a drunkard I turned out to be to prove I was no gay guy.
I first fucked when I was 13. She was quite old, in her 40s, I think, but she was more than willing to accommodate us. It was to be an important moment in our growing up to becoming real men – an initiation into manhood of some sort. But I almost backed out. I guess I should have. I was the fourth of eight guys who screwed her that night, and she wasn’t at all pleasant, smelling a mixture of sweat, cheap perfume, and almost overpowering odor of cum that flowed down her thighs no matter her occasional wiping.
‘C’mon!’ Billy, who was by then the leader of our ring, urged. ‘Ano ka, bakla?’ I felt sick somehow, wanting nothing but to look at his nakedness, standing there in front of me with his dick still half hard after he finished his turn fucking.
And so I did. Without knowing what I should have been feeling while doing it. Just the logic that I was doing as any man would. And I should have found comfort in that.
I had sex with another man before I turned 14. Jake was his name, in his 30s. He was okay looking, I guess. For a gay guy, I mean. Especially since he didn’t look gay – crew cut, muscular build, and all. Nothing girly about him whatsoever. But he liked sucking young boys’ cocks. Or so my friends said. And I guess they should know. They’ve all been sucked by him already, after all. It was but normal for me to be sucked, too.
‘Just let him do everything,’ Billy told me, leading me to Jake’s room. I was the payment for his kindness to us – he paid for everything we consumed in the bars we hopped to the whole night, and that was more than I could count. ‘You’ll enjoy it.’
And maybe it would have been fun. Except that I was trying not to have fun. I wanted to return the butterfly touches. Even wanted to initiate some of the moves. The licking. The wet kisses. The slow, which gradually turned frantic, sucking. The blinding cumming. But I didn’t. I knew I shouldn’t – though not why that was so.
‘Thanks,’ I wanted to tell Jake, uncertain how to deal with the situation. But my friends told me to get more than a ‘Welcome.’ I was supposed to get paid, for having given him fun – though I wasn’t sure that I did. ‘Ano ka, bakla?’ they said when I wanted not to get anything anymore from him. ‘That’s their role: to pay up after using us.’
And I didn’t want to be unmanly.
Something yellowish, somewhat puss-y, was coming out of my dickhead. And it was starting to get hard to pee. It hurt, as if something was burning inside me.
‘You have it, too!’ my friends said when I mentioned it to them. No sense of panic, whatsoever. There even seemed to be pride in their statement. ‘Real man, indeed, having had sex with so many women we’ve lost count already. And only 15, at that.’
I know I should have been proud. Even with the disease. But, ‘You’re the man!’ they said. I ought to take comfort in that. Even when the burning pain subsisted even after medication.
16 stitches for my 16th birthday. We got into a fight after a jerk bumped against my girl in a club. He wouldn’t apologize, at first, said it was accidental. And then he said sorry latter, if only to avoid a scuffle. But I didn’t like the way he delivered his explanation, arrogantly looking my way. He even blamed Mandy for moving too wildly while dancing. So we took the fight out in the street. And it ended up with my 16 stitches.
Mom was furious. ‘What did I do to deserve such as son as you?’
But Dad only laughed the matter off. ‘A boy’s got to do what a boy’s got to do!’
His approval made me go red in the face. It didn’t come easy, so I could savor whatever he gave for all it’s worth.
I was 17 when Mandy got pregnant. And I had to marry her – if only to give the child a name. That was, after all, the manly thing to do.
‘Ano ka, bakla?’ Dad said. And I would have been gay if I didn’t stand up to my responsibilities. I don’t know how that is so, but I have heard it too often to question it, to not accept it as true.
And so we wed. I was a man doing what was expected of men to do.
Billy immediately got furious in one of our outings. We were looking at a group of gay guys – they were giggling while pointing at boys they found attractive. And then they would approach them, sometimes try to talk with them, though more often just dance beside them, their bodies occasionally bumping against those that they liked.
‘Faggots!’ Billy said, loud enough for them to hear. Then, ‘He touched you?’ Billy asked me, referring to one of the openly gay guys who bumped against me.
‘Ahhh…’ I didn’t know what I was expected to say. We were, after all, in one of the most crowded areas of the bar
‘That fucking fag!’ Bud said.
We stormed out of the bar. And then waited. And waited. Soon enough, the gay guys came out, too. And Billy didn’t wait a second to confront them.
‘What are you talking about?’ the one he was blaming asked. He was ready to pick a fight.
‘Let’s go, Bill,’ I said. ‘It really was nothing.’
‘You’re turning into a faggot now?’ he said to me, viciously. And then he turned back to the guy, slapping him hard so he fell on the dirty road. He tried to stand, but Billy kicked him. Again, and again, and again.
‘Hit him hard!’ Bud said, urging me on as the others joined in the fight.
And I did. At first only tentatively. Then I couldn’t stop myself from hitting him. Over and over again. Without minding, or even noticing, the punches I got in return from the widening brawl. I just kept on hitting. Because by hitting him, I was hitting myself.
Pain of Conforming is part of Queer Side Stories, a collection of MSM-related narratives told to, and then told by Michael David C. Tan.