It is 2018, and it is the second year of the Great Purge. Sebastian hurries down Hibbard Avenue in the dusk, head down low, careful not to cover the Rainbow Badge on his shirt like he and other people like him have been instructed to do. From somewhere, he hears the tolling of the bells. Real news is scarce these days. All the television channels are showing reruns of old episodes of The 700 Club. But the rumours. There are always rumours. People whisper about the concentration camp being built up north, near Canlaon. "People like you will be herded away soon," someone hissed to him earlier that day. Sebastian trembles. He wonders which among his so-called friends -- or even his family -- will be the ones to call the religious police on him. It doesn't really matter. All he can do now is wait. Under his breath, he curses ever so gently: "Love wins." #SpeculativeFictionForTheseTimes
I was chatting with someone a few days ago because I was hoping to enlighten him about the institutional abuses gay men and women have endured over the years, and to illustrate the point, I sent him a photo of gay men about to be hanged in Iran for being gay. "But that's not a Christian country," he replied. I should have sent him this picture: Germany in the Second World War, a "Christian" country, and the men with the pink triangles in concentration camps -- a story about the Holocaust you don't hear too often. It can happen again.
During his lecture yesterday on the songs of Joni Mitchell for the Edilberto and Edith Tiempo Creative Writing Center at Silliman University, New York Writers Workshop co-founder Tim Tomlinson played two versions of one of her most iconic compositions, "Both Sides, Now": the precocious original from 1969 and a tonally different cover she made with an orchestra in 2000.
That last version broke my heart: it was a totally different song, with a deeper kind of gravitas -- and I guess it's because the pain in the lyrics has been leavened so thoroughly with the sound of experience. When the last line comes -- "I really don't know life at all" -- it finally becomes devastating because truer. Our art becomes different when we grow older, I guess, and the best of us learn to turn our adult mistakes and misadventures into a kind of poignant confession: we're just winging at life. I don't think she was romanticising her pain. I think she was just being true.
"This is my simple religion," the Dalai Lama once said. "There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness." I've had bruises the past few days, so this is going to be difficult. But fine, let's try this tack. The philosophy is kindness.
"There are people who think you're less human because you deviate from the norm. The harshness with which they express their hatred at you is directly proportional to the intensity of their own self-hatred. They see your freedom, your individuality, your creativity, your courage -- and it makes them angry because they lack those qualities in themselves. They feel trapped in a cage of crazy rules that they never bothered to question -- and they're furious that you dared to be free. Be Free. Be Individual. Be Creative. Be Brave. Show them how it's done."
Yesterday was a watershed, but it won't wash away in one go decades and decades of entrenched homophobia. Take a look at the above image, for example, which I got from a religious website. [I don't want to give them the name with which they are linked to the Saviour, because they don't deserve the name. I've cleaned the image up and taken away the meme to reflect this.] The past two days, I have seen some fundamentalist zealots calling me and my kind a tree, a duck, a dog, a horse, a cat, whatever. It only serves to reflect what we are to them: certainly not human beings deserving of dignity or love. That is the very definition of bigotry.
Hitler once began his campaign against the Jews by calling them vermin and cockroaches. The metaphorical link to animals is an old method of dehumanising people, so that you can go on to treat them the way you want to treat them. Be careful of your metaphors, even if you're saying you're just "exaggerating" to make a point.
Okay, this video that YouTube made just made me cry.
This reminds me so much of my own coming out when I was in my 20s. The thing is, straight people don't have to come out and declare they are straight: it's a privilege they have for living in a heteronormative society. They don't know the anxiety, the fear, and ultimately the courage that come bundled with the act of "coming out," which is centred around one question: "When I tell the people I love that I am gay, will they still love me?" Because in the end, it's really all about love.
When I came out to my mother, it was a mini-disaster of sorts -- she was quoting Bible verses again and again over the dinner we were having in Don Atilano. She was hoping I'd "change my mind."
I would know of her acceptance of me only very surreptitiously and only much later, when a visiting relative commented in a disparaging manner on very gay artwork she found hanging in my old bedroom in the family house. I was just outside the door, listening in to their conversation without them knowing I was eavesdropping -- and then I heard my mother, virtually a deaconess of her church, start to defend the art work, and then defend my life, and then defend the way I love. I teared up.
My mother still has no idea I know what she did.
People have no idea how wonderful that feels, to be affirmed by people you love for being who you are.
This is St. Catherine of Alexandria, patron saint of Carcar. And Dumaguete. I like the idea that two cities known for writers would have as a patron saint someone who is entirely fictional. She doesn't exist except in the ecstasy of our mugna, literary and otherwise.
A street in Dumagete is named after her. In her essay "The Streets of Dumaguete," the sociologist Lorna Makil writes: "Calle Santa Catalina was named after Dumaguete’s patron saint, St. Catherine of Alexandria, known as the 'Warrior Saint.' We read that she was chosen to be the town’s patron saint due to the great need for protection against the southern slave raiders. Legends about her courage and physical prowess were narrated by the townsfolk who had observed that her image on certain mornings would carry amor seco (a grass weed) clinging to the hem of her dress, and making them believe that the saint had gone out at night to drive away the pirates."