Happy and gay
I grew up with a mother with a best friend who is a transgender and has a cleft lip. At four years old, I did not understand who a “transgender” was and what a “cleft clip” was. What I understood then was that Ats is a fun-loving human being who was regarded as a family member.
That was the only name I knew: Ats.
I cannot remember a time when Ats was not referred as a “she” at home. She was always a she. She would visit us every other afternoon in her full dancing attire and she would tell my mother stories of her adventures. She fashioned an unconventional “big hair,” a tamed version of Cebuano singer’s Anna Fegi’s crowning glory.
Ats fascinated me.
When she was around, there was overflowing joy around me. My aunts gathered in the living room to listen to her adventures and misadventures. She was generous in sharing her mistakes and gracious in giving out pieces of advice.
She was a dance instructor. I do not know where she worked exactly. What I am sure about was that she choreographed dances and taught people how to dance.
In moments when she was starting to share about her search for love, I recall my mother telling me to go out and play. I could hear them laughing and giggling from afar. I was disappointed that I did not hear that part of Ats’ sharing. I was already a journalist at four years old, restless to know the stories of people.
Ats convinced my mother to join an inter-barangay dance contest, which my young mother (only 22 years old that time) agreed to be part of. It was the early ’90s, a trophy for bragging rights and a minimal cash prize were at stake.
For the most part, I knew they joined for friendship and fun. Mama, Ats and two other friends rehearsed every afternoon on the week leading to the contest date. During those practices, I stood in a corner, observing, listening, laughing. I like Ats. She painted the whole house with a rainbow of colors every time she walked in. Her confidence was infectious. Her dancing was effortless.
In our small village, her presence in our house was quite controversial. I first heard the words bayot and bungi from the neighbors and the neighbors’ kids who were my playmates.
They were essentially relatives. But I did not like some of them especially during the first time I heard and saw them teasing Ats.
“Abnormal! Malasa! Bayot na bungi pa,” they said.
Ats must have been so used to people telling her all sorts of negative things because she just smiled a faint, sad smile. My mother, the loyal best friend, came to Ats’ defense whenever she was around.
Over time, Ats’ visits in our home became more frequent that her presence was later accepted by the surrounding neighbors.
One day, she disappeared.
Mama said she went to Japan for work. I’m not sure if my mother received a call or a letter from Ats, but the last bit of news which reached us about her was her complaint on how expensive Japanese rice is and how she works two jobs a night to earn enough money to save up and go home to Cebu.
I’ve been asking my mother about Ats, but it seemed like they could not trace her whereabouts. We do not know if she came home from Japan. Did she find the love of her life? Did she come home to Cebu? Did she learn to love Japanese rice?
The answers to these questions would have to wait until I meet her again.
In college, I became part of a group called Ligaya (Liberation for Gay Advocates) and I gained great friends from the organization. Several times, I was asked if I were lesbian because of the kind of friends that I have. My friends answered for me: “Babayeng bayot na sya working on a Master’s Degree in Gay Lingo.”
I have more friends from the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer) community than “straight” people. I suspect that Ats and her presence in my childhood days has a lot to do with the love that I have for my gay friends. I also suspect that my love for them was greatly influenced by the way my mother, my aunts and my family treated Ats. I suspect that in my previous life, I was a transgender with a big hair wearing her full-dancing attire.
This is why I take offense when I still hear broadcasters say “talawan kaayo mura’g bayot.” Just yesterday, I reprimanded a Grab Car driver who was talking to his friend on radio who said: “Hinaya modangan anang imong makina, mura’g bayot!” Or when I still hear people saying, “Nag-uwan na pud. Naa gyud ni bayot.”
This society still has a lot of growing up to do in terms of tolerance and acceptance. For now, let it be known that I am not part of the group who disrespects the rainbow flag.
I have nothing but love, respect and admiration for the rainbow.
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