As I watched Boy Abunda’s interview with Charice Pempengco a few days ago, I felt my heart beat twice as fast as it normally does. Here was a woman laying her heart on national television and admitting to everyone a truth that she knows can very well cost her a lot, such as her family and friends, her fans, and possibly even her career. Here was a woman who, in her admission of being a lesbian, was probably aware of the risks she was taking, and is still taking them anyway.
In those moments, I was filled with so much pride about her standing up and finally having the courage to admit who she truly is. A Filipina celebrity, an international singing star no less, was coming out on live TV. We don’t see that every day, and curious millions tuned in to hear her revelation. Along with that pride, however, a heavy unease was settling on me.
As the interview was unfolding, I was also observing real-time updates on social networking sites where people were stating their opinions about the interview. Surprisingly, there many expressions of support, and inevitably, a deluge of homophobic sentiments. In the midst of these polar opposites, however, some people were also questioning the relevance of what Charice was doing. These people were asking if it was even news, were wondering why anyone would even care, and why it was being prioritized over other relatively more significant issues.
Naturally, I prefer such comments over the hate-filled ones. Who wouldn’t? They indicate the presence of people to whom being gay is not an issue anymore, not even newsworthy. Their nonchalance says that being gay doesn’t deserve all that fuss. This indifference is the ideal: a marker of a utopia where being gay is finally a mere fact about a person, like their blood type or skin color.
At this time though, they are very, very wrong.
Charice’s coming out matters simply because being gay is still a big deal. It matters because it’s still normal to hear of people being disowned due to their sexual orientation. It matters because the CBCP has published a statement saying that Charice is merely undergoing an identity crisis, and that being homosexual is okay but performing homosexual acts is not. It matters because such hypocrisy is still rampant; gay people are useful only to entertain and make people laugh (or pay for expenses since they’re usually the single aunt or uncle), but many don’t want gay sisters, brothers, daughters, or sons. It matters because in Philippine society, “bakla” or “tibo” are still derogatory terms, used to insult people and bring them down. It still matters so much because the reality remains that gay people are verbally abused, physically tortured or killed just because of who they love.
Coming out of the closet is usually a bittersweet, sometimes dangerous, experience for the LGBTQ. Telling our social circle about out gender identity can cause us to be hated by our families, rejected by our friends and even cost us our careers. But we need to do it not just for ourselves, but for countless other people who are still hiding in fear. Increased visibility of LGBTQ people sheds light on the validity of our identity; it shows the world that we are not mere stereotypes, that we are normal people who lead normal lives.
When a person comes out of the closet, he or she automatically gains the ability to empower and lift other people. It is not enough to say we are okay with ourselves and then keep quiet; we need to tell everyone we know so we can make the road less painful for others who will follow in our steps.
The unease I felt while Charice was being interviewed was because I knew that a lot of closeted gay people will be reading those hateful comments and feel every single one directed at them, can feel and imagine them echoing from the mouths of the people around them. I know firsthand how much it hurts to hear those things even when we are not the actual targets. Personally, they made me feel empty, worthless and less than human, and nobody deserves to ever feel that. With that apprehension, however, one truth remained:
With relief on her face and a smile on her lips, Charice said that she felt free and happy like never before. Despite the difficulties she went through, I believe that for her, coming out has been well worth it, as it will eventually be for everyone brave enough to do it.
And yes, beautiful LGBTQ people everywhere, we are all perfect as we are.