Saturday, July 21, 2012

Are you gay?

*my column in the July 22 issue of Cordillera Today (with Vani's permission)

I was asked that same question by my mother when I was about 16 years old. We were having dinner and after eating, she asked me to stay at the table because she had to talk to me about “something important.” She gave me a long preamble about having a lot of gay friends, how fun it was to be around them, etc., and then finally popped the question: are you gay? Having been in theater for a couple of years already by then, she must have noticed that I was beginning to speak the gay lingo that was the de facto official language of the theater world. Easily half of my friends then were gay.

Years later, I asked my son to join me at the porch after dinner – I wanted to talk him about “something important.” A long talk, that’s what we called these serious one-on-one sessions, and his siblings teased him when they heard that I wanted to have one with him, “hala ka, kuya, Papa wants to have a long talk with you! You’re in trouble!” He just laughed it off, but I could feel that he was quite nervous about it. Though I told myself that I wouldn’t do a preamble like my mother did long ago, I found myself rambling on and on about, well, having a lot of gay friends, how fun it was to be around them, etc. But I wasn’t exactly wondering about it, in fact I was quite sure about it. So I didn’t ask a question and instead told him, “I just want you to know that I know that you’re gay, and that you have no reason at all to hide it from me.”

I first had a feeling that he was when he was about nine or 10 years old. He loved Hillary Duff, and that show, “Lizzie McGuire,” and the family had no choice but to watch the show along with him whenever it was on. I liked the show, Lizzie’s father and brother were so funny. My other children would tease him about having a crush on the Disney teen star. For some reason that was not how I saw it.

Then, I always made sure that I gave them a half hour or so before picking them up for school to give them time to play with their friends and classmates. His younger brother and sister would be all over the school playground with their classmates, roughhousing, climbing and jumping off the monkey bars while he would be in one corner with his girl classmates, talking, giggling and laughing a lot. And one afternoon, watching them from afar, I noticed: my son talked, laughed, smiled just like Lizzie McGuire. I found it so cute.

Some friends noticed it too – he was quite effeminate, they would say, and that maybe I should talk to him about it already. I didn’t’ think so. I mean, should I talk to any one of my children at nine or 10 about his or her sexuality if he or she showed signs of being heterosexual?
Then one time, I was called to the principal’s office of his school. The school principal and my son’s adviser had that look of grave concern on their faces, and I was so nervous thinking that my son must have done something seriously wrong. And then the principal said, “we called you in today because Mr. _____ thought it was best to inform you about your son’s condition.” (Emphasis on that last word mine to give you an idea about how they lingered for a moment or two before actually saying the word, as if the actual word was such a terrible thing to utter) I had a feeling about what they meant to say, of course, yet I still asked. What condition? Then the adviser said, “I noticed that your son has been showing signs of being a homosexual, and I talked to him about it.”

"And what did you tell him?" I did all I can to prevent myself from raising my voice. And then he said, “I told him that it’s wrong, but it’s ok, there are things we can do to correct his situation.” At that point, I had to raise my voice already if only to prevent myself from punching the self-righteous smirk off his face, “how dare you!”
The adviser was surprised at my reaction, and proceeded to explain why he had to do something about it, I could hardly understand him as he rambled on about God and the Bible and “corrective measures.” He then asked me what I thought should be done about it. “Do something about what, his being gay? Absolutely nothing!” I replied. “How dare you impose your own twisted sense of morality on my son, and tell him that his nature is wrong!”

I didn’t tell my son about my encounter with the principal and his adviser then, but a couple of years later, that night at the porch, he was already entering his teens and I thought it was time. He blushed, paused for a moment and I was quite surprised when he replied, “But I’m not gay, Papa. I know I act this and that way in front of my friends, but that's just because it's fun.” I felt bad that he denied it, and I thought that perhaps he found it easier to stay inside the closet than tell his father face to face that he was. I thought about all of my gay friends who talked about how hard it was for them to come out to their parents. “But I really believe that you are, son,” I told him. 

Later, he would tell me he was, in fact, being honest at the time - while a lot of people around him thought that he was gay and some even talked to him about it, and that he himself also has thought about it, he really wasn't sure yet if he was at that point.

I told him that, ok, I will go along with his denial, and still talked to him about sexuality and sex in general for at his age, he should be informed about it before his Catholic school or anyone else start telling him that it’s a sin to be gay and that sex is dirty. We talked about sexuality, sex, being responsible. I told him about how our society still has a long way to go in accepting the fact that some of us are attracted to the opposite sex, and some of us aren’t. I told him about how I wish we lived in a more ideal society where people weren’t judged by on their sexuality, nor, for that matter, the color of their skin or the clothes they wear or the kind of car they drive. But that’s just the way it is now. So while the sneers, the teasing and the tasteless jokes about gays were wrong, I told him to be careful out there, and at least try not to invite all that. But if he ever decides to be the guy who dressed up in flamboyant clothes, I would still proudly walk alongside him down Session Road and be the first to defend him from the bigots of the world.

Acceptance? That night, I told my son that I did not need to accept his being gay just as there was no need for me to accept that his siblings aren’t. Having to “accept” him, to me, is practically admitting that there’s something wrong with him. And to me, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with his being gay.

Marko Angelo, my eldest son, who likes to be called Vani, a fine, fun, sometimes mean to his siblings but most of the time a very protective brother to them, also a very respectful, responsible and very loving son to his parents, the life of the party to his friends, and one of the five children I am so blessed and proud to have.

5 comments:

  1. Just read this one. This one really made me cry. :')
    How I wish na sana lahat ng parents ng mga taong gaya "namin" ay katulad ng "MAGULANG" na nabasa ko dito. :')
    Big respect for you po. :)

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  2. Good evening, Mr. Karlo Altomonte. My name is Bryan Eusebio. I'm 18 years old and I'm openly gay. I came out to my family when I was 17 years old on the day of my birthday.

    I was browsing through my mother's Facebook when I saw your blog post with that title. (BTW, my mom said you were her classmate way back in Project 6 Elementary School) i instantly thought, "Is it something like an online quiz to help you find out if you are gay!?" or is it something like a post from a homophobic's point of view? I clicked the link and as I continue to read, I got really interested. I was kinda holding my tears back for some awkward reason. I can relate to this as I have experienced being sent to my high school's office for showing signs of homosexuality. In my case, that is wearing eyeliner on my eyelids. They said that they would call my dad and tell them I was gay. To me, it sounded like they want my parents to scold me or do something about it. I remember crying and crying, and crying while walking home . It was an awful experience cause it felt like this is something wrong, like I should find a cure for it. But I was open minded enough to keep myself from getting affected and try to change who I really was. Ever since my childhood, I am sure of my sexuality. i'm gay, and I'm proud of being my true self cause I dont have to pretend to like girls, to like robot and gun toy stuff.

    I'm openly gay and no one in the family has ever made me feel like I should hide it or look at it as a sin. Never in the family have I encountered the things that the outside world has done to me. Bullying, making fun of me, etc. I am free to laugh, to cry, to dance, to do make up and other stuff, all those little things without having to pretend. I was one of the lucky gay people in this world who has a family who are like you. Someone who knows that love for their gay son is far more important than what others will say. Truly, acceptance begins at home.

    Thank you Sir Karlo for making me feel better. For letting me know that there are still some people like you who has this kind of understanding. I think your son, if he ever realizes that he is gay, is the most lucky person in the world above anyone else because he has a father who will be proud and happy about his gay son when everybody else would try to bring him down. Now, I couldnt help my tears from streaming down my face. :(

    Hope that there will be more people like you in this crazy world where it's hard to live as gay.

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  3. Thank you Ianne. And Bryan, yes your mom was a classmate, and yes, my son has come out and is proudly gay, as I am proudly his father :)

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  4. Wow!!! This is nice!!! Naalala ko tuloy when my mom asked me kung bakla ako. Ang sagot ko, "I think mom it's about time na malaman mo. Hindi ako bakla, lalaki po ako pero umiibig ako ng kapwa ko lalaki. Hindi ba pwedeng maging normal ang tawag sa akin. Then my mom cried. She hugged me and she accepted me for being gay. I am responsible, caring and a real man. My other relatives were against me and telling me its not normal. Pero ano magagawa ko? Nagdadala ako ng boyfriend pag may party kami sa bahay and nakita naman nila na walang problema sa relasyon ko with my bf. Na -immune ang mga lola mo. hahahaha. Thanks for sharing with this amazing story! :)

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