On my last trip to the then freezing tundra that is New York City, I met up for dinner with a few old college buddies from Ateneo. We always have a laugh and a half recounting the days when we were much younger (and thinner), remembering old friends and former teachers, and seeing how drastically our lives have changed (of the three of us in that cafe who began as BS Biology majors, only one actually became a doctor).
Two of those buddies are a married couple and brought along their two sons—a long-limbed 13-year-old who wants to be a stage performer (given that he’s from an artistic family, I’m not surprised in the least), and a 9-year-old seemingly more concerned with just being 9 than anything else. At that dinner, the boys’ mother confided that her teenage son had just come out to her. I was impressed; at an age when other teens are figuring things out, here was one that knew what he was.
The mom went further to say that she had felt a little bit of heartache with her son’s revelation. I can understand that, as a mother. The future that a parent envisions for his/her child includes a wedding and grandchildren. Three words would seem to throw a monkey wrench into those plans: “I am gay.”
I would go out on a limb here and say that no parent is ever truly prepared to hear those words from their young son or daughter. Each parental situation is unique and I can only imagine varied possible reactions, among them the utterance of “God,” followed by “Why hast thou forsaken me?” A tearful mother might turn to the rosary. An angry father might punctuate a “No son of mine is gay” outburst with a beating of the “errant” child. Maybe they’ll throw him/her out.
One reaction stands out in my mind. When my good friend Jay Kuo (cocreator of the Broadway-bound “Allegiance”—he wrote the music and lyrics and cowrote the book) came out to his dad, the response he got was: “Well, I must now think of gay people differently.” Later, I asked Jay when he realized that he was gay. He said he had known at age 5, when he wanted an Easy Bake Oven for his birthday. Besides spending much of his time on “Allegiance,” he’s also a lawyer. Plus, he knits.
You presume correctly if you think I spend much of my time around gay people. Some of it is purely by circumstance but a lot is by choice. One of my best friends in the whole world, Victor Lirio, is gay, and he stood as Bride’s Best Man (aka Gay of Honor) at my wedding. Whenever an opportunity for us to spend time together arises, travel plans are made. We have worked hard together, and played just as hard together.
The concept of sexuality was something that, as a young child, I didn’t understand. Although I was always surrounded by gay men and women (my first director and musical director were lesbians), I didn’t know to that greater extent what being gay meant. I mean, when you’re 9 years old, singing “Tomorrow” in a room full of other actors in rehearsal, the only things you look out for are staying in tune and not getting bitten by the dog playing Sandy.
Earlier, at age 7 or 8, I had met relatives of mine who were gay—an aunt, an uncle, a few cousins. Around that time, I was introduced to a younger half-brother, Jeffry Salonga. His sexual identity didn’t fully emerge until later in childhood. Now in his 30s (he looks 25), he’s completely bloomed. He’s a regular entertainer in comedy clubs. We call each other “Sis.”
In my late teens and early adulthood, I had peers who started making their identities more known, though not always explicitly. Monique Wilson, when we were working together in “Miss Saigon,” never took me aside to tell me that she was gay, but the implicit signs were there: a girlfriend visited her dressing room on a regular basis, and I never saw a male suitor. Not that it mattered to me at the time; as long as she did her job and did it well, I thought, that’s what counted. Last I checked, she’s in London coupled with Rossana Abueva, an investment banker, and is a staunch advocate and activist for women’s rights.
I cannot categorically make blanket statements about homosexuality, as I am not an expert armed with scientific facts that state the whats, hows and whys of it. Is it genetic, or circumstantial? If a little boy plays with a Barbie doll, does that make him gay?
Let them be
For the record, I never liked playing with dolls, always opting for books and my brother’s toys. I liked assembling remote control cars that Gerard would then take to Greenhills and enter in races (he may have won one with the Hornet). I took things apart and put them back together. Thankfully, my mother never once discouraged this behavior, and instead allowed me to just be me. Which, at the end of the day, is what we as parents, grandparents, teachers and mentors have the responsibility to do for our children: Let them discover their true selves.
That’s what gay people ultimately are—men and women on this adventure we call life, navigating it with much uncertainty, fear, anxiety and hope. They are our friends, lovers, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, coworkers, rock stars, doctors, lawyers, lawmakers, teachers, artists, actors, writers, directors, musicians, authors, businessmen, store owners, designers, athletes, singers, dancers, and students. They are all ultimately human.
It’s time to think of gay people differently.