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[IRL] FAMILY PRIDE

By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento


As Pride Month winds down, we reflect upon the LGBTQI (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer-Intersex) whom we know and celebrate every day. Some are close to home. On my mother’s side, one of the first openly transgender women in Iloilo was a member of her clan. Miss Gustilo, as she was known, was already teaching at the Iloilo Public High School before the second World War. Mom recalled how the more mischievous students would press against her to feel her falsies while a flustered Miss Gustilo scolded them and placed her books over her chest. This was long before underwires and wonder bras. Family lore was that Miss Gustilo’s mother had always wanted a daughter. Through her childhood, Miss Gustilo had worn frilly pinafores and satin bows. I saw her many decades later, during an Easter procession of carrozas bearing the entombed Christ trailed by His many attendant virgins and saints, each one representing a prominent Ilonggo family.


“There’s Miss Gustilo,” a friend whispered, pointing out a white-haired old lady, watching the procession from her 2nd floor window. She was in her 80s by then, dressed in a nondescript duster, her thinning white hair pinned in a scraggly bun. She had grown into her sedate life as a retired public school teacher. She might pass for any other elderly woman, watching the world go by. Miss Gustilo had none of the showbiz drag queens’ eleganza extravaganza. Here was one transwoman who had comfortably faded away into the everyday.


On our late father’s side, there was the unmarried aunt who had lived with her best friend, an older, also unmarried woman, for over six decades. They had migrated to the States together, then still together, had retired to the province. We all accepted our aunt’s partner as our aunt too. She was considered the more reliable one, who handled their finances and made major household decisions. Our aunt was the pretty one, who couldn’t be bothered with anything more stressful than the next teleserye episode. She outlived her partner, alone but well provided for in her remaining years. If only all cis gender or typically hetero wives were as lucky.


Mass media has perpetuated LGBTQI stereotypes such as the feisty tomboy, the flamboyant and swishy parlorista, the snippy couturier, the temperamental movie and theater types. It is usually much quieter in the more mundane professions of real daily life. Sexual identity is not all-defining. Humans are far more complex and multifaceted than that.


A slight fragile boy named Joy was mercilessly bullied in our college when he came in a mini-skirt, and with multi-colored barrettes in his hair.


“You have no right. Cover yourself up,” snapped a senior who considered himself our resident fashionista. “Oysters and shellfish would grow on those knees.”


Joy was gone for a month and returned as Joey, badly bruised, and dressed in army camo and boots. His policeman father had put him in a hard-core Born-Again program to transform him into what God had intended him to be. Then, Joey disappeared again, to get his stomach pumped after overdosing on vodka and Valium. Detoxified Joy returned, as a Goth girl, with her problematic knees masked by torn fishnets. His father stopped trying to change him or speaking to him.


Young people shouldn’t have to risk their lives just to determine where they are on the sexuality spectrum. It’s not always either blue or pink, just fluid, a teenage niece explained. In my generation, a cousin who couldn’t graduate because of ROTC, tearfully came out to his mother who had two PhDs, and to his Army General father. His parents assured him that his well-being mattered more than the piece of paper certifying him as having a baccalaureate degree. For our cousin, home was his safe space. Sana sa lahat.

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Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.



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