Our neighborhood was pretty small: we moved in a then-new housing development in the south during the 90’s, at a time when people from overcrowded Manila began going out of the city for better living spaces. I still remember vividly the few landmarks in the area: Saint Francis of Assisi College, the school I studied in; William’s sari-sari store, manned by Mang William, a forty-something man who sold us those red bubble gums that only cost five cents then; and this small beauty salon close to our home, owned by a gay man named Alfie.
I recall how, back then, when we would pass by that salon during the afternoons, my dad would encourage us to heckle Alfie. We screamed “Bakla!” with delight as Alfie stared, unfazed, a cigarette between his fingers.
Emboldened by this, my brother and I likewise did it to other gay men, mocking them to their faces. The only time we didn’t was when my mom would take us to have our hair cut at Alfie’s salon. We would sit as behaved as we could, holding our breaths as this man we had enjoyed making fun of would trim our hair, us wondering if he would snip our ears off in revenge.
It was those moments when Alfie would touch me which made me cringe, horrified I might catch this “gay sickness” by being close to him. As a kid, I knew I was already different, but I wasn’t sure why and how. I just knew deep inside I wasn’t like the other boys. It wasn’t that I was attracted to any of them, but something in me whispered that I didn’t enjoy how they would tease the girls, or the smutty jokes boys our age would make.
I lived in constant fear that this difference meant that I was turning into a bakla–that I was going to be like Alfie. I dreaded this whenever I would halfheartedly laugh with my brothers while watching Joey de Leon play She-Man, or Dolphy in Darna Kuno. Was I going to end up a campy, crossdressing guy who would be the butt of jokes? Was my dad going to hate me?
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