It’s hard to fathom just what happened that fateful after-midnight hours in that pulsating nightclub that’s a haven for people like us. It was June 12, my country’s independence day, when echoed news in my cable feed said that on the other side of the world, about 49 people were gunned down in a supposedly safe space while they were having fun. Orlando, in Florida, in the United Stated of America, where it was just declared last year that people like us can freely marry the love of our lives, people died because of who they were. In a place where they’re protected that way, legally, supposedly, they’re also vulnerable in many ways. Like that time in Pulse.
To be inside the dance place, gyrating, drinking, laughing, singing along the beat, flirting, kissing, loving, existing. To some, they could be having the time of their life there, while some are just there to while away their time until part of their lives passed them by. Little did they know that life could also end, right there and then, in a split second, in a blink of an eye, or the beat of the DJ’s mix. Dead on arrival, no more pulse.
Ah, the time of your life. It could be just a moment of dancing, prancing about, strutting and peacocking, I’m sure. I’ve seen it in our own hallowed halls of party-landi land, back at the time when being gay also meant being really, really happy. And we were really, really happy in common places that were happy to have us. There’s Malate of yesteryears, before all the Korean groceries and eateries sprouted in the area and newer businesses ousted the older ones we’ve come to know and love. I spent a good deal of my twenties there, absorbing all kinds of vibes: from the bohemian to the yuppie, the straitlaced and the carefree, and every formulation in between. And then there were also the openly out and the closeted discreet, and both partied side by side without regret. Where did we do this? Let’s see, there was the very bisexual Verve Room, the artsy come-one-come-all hangout Penguin Café, the smaller venues for the gay guys called Joy then Mint, a favorite lesbian hangout within a restaurant called Café Caribana, and other dance clubs that sprouted here and there within the Orosa and Nakpil street areas such as our very own pulsating nightclub called Bed. Like Orlando’s Pulse, Bed lasted longer in recent years. You’re welcome to grind here, straights and queers.
So you see, all these places, they have similarities within the differences. Orlando’s got Pulse, and Manila’s got Bed. Yes, Bed could have been our Pulse. Easily, could have been. Thank goodness that within this patriarchal society we call the Philippines, there is still that thing called tolerance for the likes of us. We’d prefer understanding and acceptance, of course. But between being gunned down and tolerance, I’d take tolerance any single day.
There were many other places like these, but they have come and gone. All these spaces we termed safe, a place where we could be who we are. People who have nothing to lose probably couldn’t relate to this reality, so they shrug it off and say we’re being drama queens. Why weep for people who lived far from here? Why sympathize with victims who had different lives than yours? Perhaps they don’t realize that there are far more similarities than differences, especially for people like us, here in the margins.
Before discovering who I really was, I never realized that a space could be deemed safe and unsafe for the likes of us, or those who are outside norms. Many spaces are generally restrictive, anyway, and we’ve had our bouts of discrimination and being singled out in spaces that were selective in their acceptance. The Catholic church, for instance, while being an open space for worship, is not safe for the likes of us. Its head, the harbinger of the good news of the lord, he says, always has bad news for the likes of us, saying we are an abomination, and he has references to cite for this quote. The local or national governments, while having small provisions and ordinances here and there to protect people like us, they haven’t been giving us the comprehensive legal protection that’s being taken for granted by every Tom, Dick and Harry (or Juan, Boy or Cesar) walking the street. The schools, whether private or public, even produce teaching materials educating kids not like us to be wary of kids and adults like us. Stories are common of people like us being bullied, beaten up, scared to pursue an education for fear of being outed, so survival is the first lesson we learn outside of our home. And yes, there’s our home, where we are sometimes locked out if we tried to be ourselves, kicked out when we become defiant about who we are, and banned for life, sometimes by the very people who birthed us and gave us our lives to begin with. Where do we go? What space is safe for us?
Space. It is a struggle to find our own, for there will always be fences to keep us out, walls to bar us from re-entering, gates to shut us out. They say closets are for clothes, but the world outside cloaks us with doubts, fears, confusion, and sadness. What do we don now, if we have this gay apparel? This is the reason why we make our own, for better or for worse, since our original spaces–and the spaces that are supposed to protect and nurture us–are sometimes the very first places that deem us as persona non grata. How do you expect us to be grateful, kind, understanding, and caring? But we are. Yes, believe it or not, some of us sometimes, we still are. To a fault.
And this is why we find open spaces, safe spaces, no matter which kind, a solace if they will have us, to love and to hold, as we hold hands with the love of our life, in spaces that welcome us with open arms and open minds.
Do not ask us once again why we mourn with this loss at the other side of the world. For people like us, events like this matter. Because when hate invades a place where we celebrate love, it becomes a problem for us. And if you have some ounce of humanity left in you, I know you will be mourning, too. Hate is a world problem. If we truly are human, and humane, let’s not give in to hate.
Libay Linsangan Cantor is an award-winning Manila-based queer writer, media practitioner and gender advocate. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She blogs at Culture Popper Leaflens and tweets as @Leaflens. She answers queer-related queries at her Askfm leaflens site.
Photos by the author. Some rights reserved.