“When I saw him, I knew I wanted him,” said William “Bill” Buckley, recalling how his attention was first caught in a gay club in London by Rommel Siangco Catalan, a Filipino originally from Cotabato City, then working as a nurse in the UK. “And when I want something, I go for it. Things may not work out, but at least I give it a go.”
The attraction was driven by Bill’s preference for “people not like me (i.e. Caucasian),” he said, laughing when it was suggested he is a rice queen – that somewhat derogatory title given to usually Western gay men who only go for Asians. Before then, Bill was in a relationship with a Briton of Caribbean ancestry for 16 years (“We grew apart,” he said, “but we’re still friends now”).
Fortunately – though only after some wooing for a month, said Rommel with a smile – the attraction was returned. That was in 2008, when the relationship “officially” started. Bill’s “sincerity won me over,” Rommel said. “I knew he was serious with me.”
It actually didn’t take them long to decide to marry.
Rommel’s contract was about to end, “and I said: ‘If you want me, follow me (home to the Philippines)’,” he recalled, smiling. Bill’s response was, instead, to offer him a life together as a married couple.
When Rommel’s mother visited London, “I decided to ask for Rommel’s hand in marriage,” Bill said. The goal then was for the two to get married before Rommel’s mother left for the Philippines again. “That he considered asking my mom was sweet,” Rommel said. “Bill’s sweet that way.”
The proposal was actually not the most romantic, if you ask Bill, since “half my face was swollen (from an infection),” he recalled, though with a laugh now. “I was thinking: ‘I didn’t look my best, and just when I’m about to ask someone to spend his life with me’.”
It still did the trick, anyway – Bill was, said Rommel with a smile, “persuasive enough.”
For Bill, “marriage will work for all gay men. No matter the context, it’s the legal tie that matters.” In their case, their marriage enabled Rommel to stay in Great Britain.
Cultural differences are challenging, said Bill. “British people are (very) direct,” he said, “but not so with Filipinos, who can be too polite.” These differences, nonetheless, are “what you have to work on,” Rommel said.
Asked about the relevance of marriage, Bill turned poetic. “It’s like being washed up in a safe, sunny shore after a turbulent travel,” he said. “It feels like… a safe adventure. That’s an oxymoron, but it works well.
Bill is big on marriage to “highlight we are like them (non-LGBTs),” he said. The concept at work is, yes, “equality.” On pushing for equality, he said: “You can’t let the others take the responsibility to equality.”
This is why he is also big on openness – a must in their relationship. “Being out is important to me. When one is not out, I wonder: ‘Is this a source of shame to him? Is our relationship a source of embarrassment?’”
Being together as a married couple, said Bill, is life-changing. Before, when discussing the “sanctity” of marriage, it seemed inconsequential to him since “I thought I could not have it – ever,” he said. “Well, apparently I could.”
Now, said Rommel, everything is a “couple thing”. And on this, Bill agreed. “Everything became ‘us’,” he said, “and that is all good.”
*WITH RONALD ERIC E. MANCESA AND M.D. DELA CRUZ TAN