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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.


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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

entry arrow5:50 PM | Crucify Them!

I remember an old joke which I first heard when I was a child, and which, for me, crystallized the carefully and subconsciously constructed social stigma about being different, sexually. Most of the details of this particular joke I have already forgotten, but I do remember the punchline verbatim. It went this way: "Ang mga bayot, ilansang sa krus!" (All gays should be crucified!)

And I remember how people laughed so hard. I was a kid, and I laughed, too.

Today, I think back on all of that, and this is my realization: How can intimations of murder be treated as a joke? And why did people laugh so wholeheartedly?

Or: Have I just lost my sense of humor? Am I too politically correct?

But if the joke's on you, would you appreciate it as something merely humorous?

I remember only too well a Conrado de Quiros essay about the not-so-innocent nature of the jokes we say. He once took to task, in his wonderful essay "Brown Skin, White Masks," the actress Vina Morales for laughing at an Aeta joke, and labeled it racism:

Its very innocence is the crux of its guilt. It's the sort of thing that can easily be waved off by saying one is sorry, one didn't mean any harm by it. Which will probably be well meant. But that is how the indigenous people are trampled upon in the worst of all -- innocently. By remarks that people are compelled to ignore or accept or laugh at at risk of being called humorless, or fault-finder, or makulit.

In that light then, no joke is ever free of sin.

And in the light of the punchline I've mentioned, this seems to be a truism for our times: Perhaps only the strongest person can ever be gay, and thrive. Even strong ones die for no other reason, except that they are different -- and for so many people that very difference necessitates even murder itself.

I write this in the memory of Matthew Shepard, who did die.

Who was Matthew Shepard? "Matthew was not very large, at 5'2" and 110 pounds, but he had a big heart and was extremely brave," says Winnie Stachelberg, a human rights activist, of the memory of Shepard, whose life and death has been movingly chronicled in the play and HBO movie The Laramie Project. "He had the courage to live honestly and openly in less than ideal circumstances. Unfortunately, like many gay men and lesbians, there is often a high price to pay for living a life of dignity and respect."

(Dignity and respect? Some people did not even think so. "MATT SHEPARD ROTS IN HELL." "AIDS KILLS FAGS DEAD." "GOD HATES FAGS." These were just few of the protest signs put up by one Rev. Fred Phelps and his supporters, as they picketed the Shepard murder trials.)

When they found Matthew Shepard's unconscious, beaten body on the morning of October 7, 1998, they thought he was a scarecrow.

He wasn't. He was a young man soon to die from fatal wounds, dying for being -- in a world of intolerance and moral fanaticism -- gay.

He wanted everybody to call him "Matt," a nice-enough nickname which conjures a personality that was aptly him: an affable college boy in Laramie, Wyoming on the brink of a life full of possibilities.

On October 6, the 21-year-old met Aaron James McKinney and Russel Arthur Henderson in a bar. After he confided to them that he was gay, they deceived him into leaving with them in their car. He was robbed, brutally beaten, tied to a fence, then left for dead for 18 straight hours -- tied to a wooden fence outside Laramie, 30 miles northwest of Cheyenne. McKinney and Henderson also found his address and proceeded to burglarize his home.

Shepard was discovered 18 hours later, alive and unconscious. He died in a hospital on October 12, 1998. The blood on Shepard's face had been partially washed away by tears, indicating that he had been conscious, for some time, after the beating. He had been pistol-whipped 18 times with a .357-caliber Magnum.

The wages of hate, indeed, is murder.

Today, outlined in a recent book published by the late Pope, gayness is even considered "evil." As a lapsed Protestant but full-time Christian and humanist, I considered it a point of pride that I once looked up to this man as a towering symbol of spirituality, muscular intellect, and integrity. He was a man usually unfazed by tiring traditions, ready to embrace necessary change to reflect the spirit of the times. He wasn't like that primitive Pope who once forced Galileo to recant his astronomical sacrilege. But was he?

What happened?

There are no words to explain why, and I will let my good friend, and extraordinary logophile, James Dalman to say the things I want to say, but can't:

Poor us. With the Vatican's hateful opinion of homosexuals everywhere, we have officially been lowered to the level of the banal, the perverse, and the debauched. To say that we are evil is to justify the Laramie killing and a host of others before it. To tag us as un-Christian is to animalize faith. If there was anyone in the world who should bestow sympathy on us, it should be the Pope himself. After all, he personifies God and embodies his soul. Is bigotry of God's? It's of the devil's.

For a while, it seemed like gay men and women have come a long way from the dark days when homosexuality was considered a psychological aberration, and necessitated electric shock therapy. (It took the American Psychological Association until 1974 to strike homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.) But the 1990s was a decade of slowly growing tolerance. Then George W. Bush, in a paranoid post-September 11 world, stepped in and led the way to a resurgence of institutionalized "moral" crusades.

In the Philippines, that institutionalized hatred against gay men and women takes the form of regular news stories showcasing the arrest of gay people caught in the middle of lewd acts in various spots of clandestine meetings: movie theaters, parks, city streets, bars, and bath houses. Stories such as these have taken such regularity in news programming, it isn't even news anymore.

What is so newsy about theater raids conducted by the moral police and a television crew? It's a regular rite of crucifixion and shame, seen almost every month with such vicious regularity. And for what? Ratings. According to a reliable source, "gay" news always gets top ratings for any news show.

Think about that. Media as capitalist vulture, donning the cape of morality not for the latter's sake, but to give prurient news bites in the name of journalism.

And yet, and yet... Gay men and women are everywhere. In Sis, a popular morning show in GMA, the Raging Divas have a segment all their own. That's a daily dose of transvestitism unseen in the whole history Philippine television, save that quaint pioneer, the Super Sireyna segment of Eat Bulaga. Even Mel and Joey features drag queens regularly, and GMA greenlighted the first openly-gay TV show, Out. It has now gone off the air, but that is to be expected of all pioneering efforts. (Think Ellen, which eventually paved the way for Will & Grace.) There's now Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. There's Queer as Folk. There's Six Feet Under and Oz. There's Brini Maxwell giving Martha Stewart a run for her money.

History and all of civilization has been shaped by gay men and women as well. For a long time, though, that wasn't the case. Gerald Unks once wrote:

Within the typical secondary school curriculum, homosexuals do not exist. They are 'nonpersons' in the finest Stalinist sense. They have fought no battles, held no offices, explored nowhere, written no literature, built nothing, invented nothing and solved no equations. The lesson to the heterosexual student is abundantly clear: homosexuals do nothing of consequence. To the homosexual student, the message has even greater power: no one who has ever felt as you do has done anything worth mentioning.

That has of course been proven wrong. What would the West be if Alexander the Great had not redrawn the political maps, and led to the grandeur that was Greece? Julius Caesar, who loved both his oysters and his snails, so to speak, did the same thing and led eventually to the greatness of the Roman Empire. And where would literature be without William Shakespeare, or Oscar Wilde, or Walt Whitman, or Marcel Proust, or Nick Joaquin? Fashion without Calvin Klein and Tom Ford and Inno Sotto? Film without Ishmael Bernal and Lino Brocka and Jeffrey Jeturian? Music without Cole Porter and Elton John and Melissa Etheridge? Art without Andy Warhol? Economics without John M. Keynes? Heroes without Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt? Movie magic without Marlene Dietrich, James Dean, Montgomery Clift, and Rock Hudson? The Bible without King James? Philosophy without Aristotle?

They are all great men and women, and they are all gay.

Newsweek had a recent article about gay men influencing the very notion of relationship -- often heterosexual -- itself. The article posited that what we know today as the cultural arbiters of male-female dynamics largely spring from the minds of gay men.

James Poniewozik writes:

A curious thing is going on in the U.S. Even as the nation is writing gays out of the definition of its most exalted relationship, gay writers -- like Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry and Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy -- are behind the TV shows that are most provocatively defining straight relationships. HBO's Six Feet Under, the multilayered story of the lives and loves of a family that runs a funeral home, sprang from the mind of gay screenwriter Alan Ball (American Beauty). Before it, HBO's Sex and the City, which set the standard for frank talk about women and love, was created by Darren Star and later run by Michael Patrick King, both gay. (Later this year, King debuts The Comeback, an HBO sitcom starring Lisa Kudrow as an actress trying to revive her career.)

In fact, that notion goes into almost everything: Your sense of celebrity? Gay Hollywood. Your ideal of femininity? Gay men behind all of our beauty pageants and beauty queens. Your street language? Extracts from old sward vocabulary. Dedma. Keber.

The paradox becomes this: while much of the world expressly disdain homosexuality, they gloriously -- often without clue -- make themselves part of a culture largely shaped by gay men and women.

This point was made manifest to me one time when I went to a party, and The Village People's "Y.M.C.A." suddenly blared out of the speakers. The catchy and familiar dance tune drove everybody to the dance floor, and everybody was soon spelling out the acronym with various body parts. Everybody. The girls. The guys. The machos from school. And I smiled to myself and said: Do they even know this used to be the Gay Anthem of a bygone era? That the song is a story about a young man, an innocent country bumpkin, who comes to the big city, and finds love and intimacy in the showers and bedrooms of the YMCA hostel, which in the 1970s was a famous New York mecca for up-and-coming gay men?

Which makes the current homophobic air a paradox, really. A few months ago, I knew of the first instance of gay bashing in the darkened corners of Escano Street off El Camino Blanco in Dumaguete. And two still unsolved murder cases in Dumaguete involved gay men. One was that of a public school teacher. The other a well-known fashion-designer who was hogtied with his own phone wires, and then set afire.

We can ask why, but there are no forthcoming answers.

The psychology of homophobia is actually quite interesting. Why do some people hate gay people with such viciousness, and often without due cause or effort by their victims?

It's all about "mirrors," a friend once told me. Some people, confronted with a kasarian so much like theirs but "perverted" in a queer fashion, "see" the sexual possibilities of their own "straight" selves. And they are so afraid of what they see, they will rather beat that representation out with hurtful words (like "Bayot!" or "Bakla!"), or murdering tools.

In other words, if you hate gays so much without any direct or clear reason, chances are you're gay yourself, and deathly afraid of it. So, if you think about it, if you are ostensibly "straight," and yet you find yourself rising to anger just seeing gay people, quickly look into your self. The anger might not really be about the people incurring your wrath. It could be your own sexual insecurity speaking. Most homophobes, strictly speaking, are closeted gay men and women. Consider the recent case of Jim West who, as a conservative Republican mayor of Spokane, Washington, was well-known for his rabid anti-gay views. It turns out, he was very gay himself -- only a hidden or closeted one. From people like him, their jeers and judgments become their shields, their deflectors. (Somebody should tell the macho Tulfo brothers this.)

So, tonight, I watch another news story detailing yet another raid in, of all channels, NBN. A significant part of me, of course, says that the police is right: a movie theater should never be a place to procure sex. It is, for the lack of a better word, malaswa. A private act is a private act, and justice -- especially when it comes to prosecuting those whose libido goes towards minors -- knows no sexual preference.

But I can't help but think it goes beyond that. The raid is a manifestation of a systematized stigma for gayness: the humiliation is complete, with handcuffed men being forcibly shone with lights and a microphone thrust to the office to get some kind of contrite confession.

Examine regular newspaper headlines concerning crimes, for example. When a straight man rapes a girl, the headline objectively reads: "Man rapes 12 year old girl." But when a gay man rapes, the gayness is always taken into account: "Bakla gumahasa ng tinedyer." Why is this? Think of the otherwise. Do we see headlines like, "Heterosexual man rapes girl"?

The message seems to be this: If you are gay, we are going to humiliate you on national television.

Going back to that joke I wrote about in the beginning of this essay... The last time a joke so much like this became very popular, it was then to equate Jews to useless rodents in pre-World War II Germany. The result: six million people slaughtered in the Nazi holocaust machine.

No joke is ever innocent. Eventually, things like these are no laughing matter.

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