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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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Sunday, January 22, 2006

entry arrow11:29 AM | A Call For Lynching (Revised Version)

These are increasingly dangerous times for those who want to be who they are, because intimations of murder seem to come so easy for some people.

Look at the world around you. Smell it, and feel the undercurrents of the everyday. Unless you live with your head buried under the proverbial sand, you know that there is a cultural war going on around us, the stake of which is our very soul. And yes, our necks.

It is a war that puts frailty in our freedom, the kind that tells us we have the right to live the life we believe we should live, if only to be true to the human beings beneath our skins.

But it is also about how much of this world imposes on us the frightening notion that there is no such freedom at all -- an idea that makes many unfortunate people believe that some just have no right to exist. That it is actually better if there are laws to properly lynch them away out of existence.

Kill them, for example. Maim them away to oblivion.

If you are thinking, What a Hitlerian thought!, you are right. This is the very same intolerance that drove the engines of the Holocaust in World War II, a Nazi genocidal project that wiped away -- through torture, hard labor, and the gas chamber -- the so-called “undesirables” from the face of Europe.

But this essay is not about history or old wars. It is about the world we live now. It is almost too ironic to consider this debate again in the heels of the releases of two movies that dare declare the humanity of gayness. Much has already been said about Ang Lee's new film Brokeback Mountain, and how it is unleashing a new level in the old debate about alternative lifestyles. An award-winning film based on the acclaimed short story by Annie Proulx, the story revolves around two cowboys who, while working in the quiet of Wyoming's mountains, find themselves falling in love with each other almost against their will. It is also about the 20-year affair they hold in deep secret, and how the silence and prejudice wreck havoc in their lives, and in the lives of the women they marry. Today, that film has become the water-cooler subject of conversation from all corners of the Western world, creating panic in some places, and outright sighs of relief in many others.

In the Philippines, this debate about sexuality has centered not around Ang Lee's film, mostly due to the fact that it has not yet been released for showing in our shores. The debate has instead circled around Aureus Solito's equally well-received Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, another acclaimed film that was the surprise hit in local cinema at the end of last year. A fresh and endearing story about an effeminate boy and his loving family of brusko men and the chances they make in their lives in the slums, the response to Maxi inmany quarters has been electric and positive. It is even translating that critical and commercial success to the fact that it is receiving its North American premiere in the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, the first Filipino film to be included in the official competition.

But some, of course, predictably steer along the ultra-conservative route (I call it the scourge of ignorant fundamentalism), and has virtually pronounced the end of the world via a Gay Apocalypse. Some have even said that the debate -- and the two movies along with it -- is not necessary. I've read more than few bloggers and some paper scribes talking about raising their eyebrows at the fact of having to mind another gay movie. "What's the big deal about the gay life anyway?" most of these people ask, often with a tint of the self-righteous, often with the deadpan tone of the bored and the miffed.

What's the big deal? I'll tell you what's the big deal. Here is a perfect example to illustrate the necessity of this debate. Last December, The Freeman -- a major Cebuano daily -- published an editorial in the heels of the Wesy Quisumbing controversy. (For those not in the know, Mr. Quisumbing, the transgendered son of a prominent Cebuano businessman, filed a harassment case against the father for being, above all things, an abusive homophobe.)

In any given day, an article that smacks of homophobia no longer raises my ire. But this was an editorial, not just some column by a hack journalist, in a paper that dares call itself "The Freeman". (How ironic. And yes, I used to write for this paper.) If an editorial is supposed to be the very soul of a newspaper, what then can we make of this tirade?

The editorial reads:

The Gay Issue Beyond the Quisumbing Case

An editorial by Jerry S. Tundag

The issue raised by Wesy Quisumbing against his father, industrialist Norberto Quisumbing Jr., that of allegedly stripping him of his positions in family owned corporations on account of his being gay, wouldn't have been any less interesting had the personalities been different.

Forget about the Quisumbings because that is their personal affair. But it is perhaps time that the issue of gay people and how society relates to them be given ample time for healthy debate.

To be sure, we do not advocate same sex marriages. The notion itself is revolting and we do not aim to go that far. But gay people are in our midst in increasing numbers and the sooner society draws parameters on how to deal with them, the better.

Not that it is even necessary to draw parameters. But let us face it. Society can never be unanimous in its feelings toward gays. There will be those who accept gays and those who don't and those who don't are what can prove to be troublesome down the line.

For down the line, as the gay population increases, they will interact more and more with the "normal" population (pardon the adjective for lack of a better word) and those who accept them will accept them, but God knows what will be on the minds of those who don't.

You do not hear about this in the news because it is not talked about in public, but in certain countries in the Middle East, gays are actually wasted, and it is up to you to determine what that means.

Here in the Philippines, where we have a more tolerant society, gays can even occupy the same high positions in society that the "normals" occupy. But that does not mean everything is all hunky-dory out here, as the Quisumbing case in fact shows.

Maybe the Quisumbing case is an isolated one. Or it can be just a scratch on a surface that is hidden under layers and layers of pretending that a problem does not actually exist. But sooner or later, we will all have to deal with the problem, or situation, if you will.

We like to pride ourselves as the only predominantly Catholic country in Asia. Well, even the sitting pope, Pope Benedict XVI, has finally chosen to seize the bull by the horns, so to speak. The matter of gay men in the priesthood has at last become the subject of papal edict.

The Regional Trial Court in Cebu has issued a gag order against discussing the merits of the Quisumbing case and we are not about to violate that. But there are issues that go beyond the instant case that now need discussion, perhaps even action, by our lawmakers.

It is virtually a call to lynch all gay men and women in the country. Prospects of genocide? Most certainly. But what frightens me most may be the silent knowledge that a lot of the people we know -- perhaps even those whom we are familiar with intimately -- will not hesitate to agree.

I sent the editorial to some of my writer/journalist friends in Manila and around the country. The fictionist Susan Lara countered the editorial's argument by sending in a famous essay by the economist Richard Florida whose idea of the "creative class" as being the engine for economic growth declares that cities without rock bands and gay people will be economically marginalized. The essayist Lani Montreal also emailed me this short note: "I couldn't finish reading the article. It made me real sick. But yes, I will finish reading it and maybe forward to Sunday Inquirer with my own comments. I just need to be in a different space right now."

Poet and gender theorist J. Neil C. Garcia wrote: "Thanks for letting me know about this bit of distressing news from Cebu. It's a pattern in our country, I guess: at least one or twice a year, something homophobic makes it to the media. I remember many years back in Manila we had our fill of gay-related news, and predictably enough, their accompanying stupid, bigoted, utterly disgusting commentaries (gays in the military, gay managers abusing their talents, etc.) our lives are fodder for such media carnivals, and while I used to think the best response was combative (in other words, fight fire with fire and write angry letters to the editors left and right), now I'm of the opinion that ignoring the entire circus is the best course of action. (This seems apt here, for the journalist in question is obviously incompetent and daft after all). But there are limits. Do keep me posted about any additional noise on this issue. If things get interesting -- or worse -- I suppose we in Manila can raise a heavenly stink and perhaps get some stupid reporters and columnists fired (wishful thinking.)"

And stink we will make.


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