Serious


My desk is just a clutterfuck right now. I still have piles of documents from my old office mixed in with paper credit card bills I’ve been meaning to stack away; the IRA rollover forms I have to submit and tax papers I should be attending to. There’s also my old IPOD and sticky notes filled with names, numbers, IM handles and email addresses of countless notables and forgettables. (Finance and management books I hauled away from college which are bookended on the corner seem like the only ones in any semblance of order.) If I spilled my coffee on this desk right now, then it would be like (french roast) lava running over villages of paper. I wish I were a lot like other homos who have this compulsion to organize. I mean I am basically a neatfreak, (I get bent out of shape when I see dustballs on my [pre-war] wood parquet floor and I think the Swiffer is god’s gift to people everywhere with parquet flooring.) But is there such a thing as selective OCD? I wipe my kitchen clean every night and scrub the tub of mildew like there was no tomorrow every time but I think the compulsion ends at my desk. (I’m pretty sure the computer has something to do with it. My compulsion displaces itself onto multimedia. Putzing around online seems more cleansing than cleaning though. Maybe if my PDA were charged in the kitchen, then things would be a lot different. Hmmm…) Then again, wishing that I had compulsions similar to other homos could be misleading. OCD may not be such a bad thing (unless you’re dating someone with a severe case which has happened to me) but there are a lot of other compulsions out there that I’m happy not to be subject to.

I saw Rock Bottom last night at the Quad. This is a docu that follows the lives of 7 gay NYers who are addicted to crystal meth. There is an ex-porn star, a current porn star, a web designer, an HR executive and a caterer. Their backgrounds run from whitebread professional to black blue-collar to twink hustler. But no matter how disparate their backgrounds are, they all share the same destructive and fatal crystal meth obsession. Apparently, the given reason for this addiction is that primal desire for the ecstasy of unobstructed and unadulterated sex. I learned that crystal meth allows you more than 12 hours of non-stop sex. But more than the time, it is the state in which they do it that matters. Instruments for altered states like alcohol and pot break down ego barriers and diminish inhibitions leading to a more free-spirited interrelation. Meth does more than unleash the free-spirited; it ends up being free-wheeling (and, apparently, also always unsafe.) A lot (if not all) of these men are HIV-positive and indulging in meth affords them an underground by which they forget their disease (including the stigma attached to it) and only remember the pleasure of sex pre-infection. But, as always, sex and objects of addiction including meth are never acts isolated in time and space. They are consequential in a continuum and the effects narrated in the docu are disastrous and ultimately fatal. They are fired from their jobs; get others sick and themselves even sicker; go even deeper into the hole of alienation that they have dug for themselves. (I can’t forget the story of one of the interviewed wherein he would go to bathhouses while on meth and get blown by a lot of other men on the same state even though his dick was then oozing green gonorrheic pus.) One of the men interviewed even dies in the course of the filming due to complications from drug overdose and disease.

I was actualy surprised to find someone I know of in the film. I recognized Ben, the ex-porn star’s (now former) bf. I had met him during one of the parties in my Fire Island house 2 years ago. It really was an unremarkable encounter since he was quite quiet and aloof. Henry, my friend whom I saw the movie with, and I were caught off-guard when he started opening up about his relationship with CJ, the ex-porn star meth addict. He recounted how he would be tolerant during CJ’s many instances of physical abuse through the course of their relationship owing to the latter’s meth intake. CJ had hit him in the face one time (while he was driving) and he was understanding enough of the moment by blaming the drug and not the user. (I always believe that the drug does not take itself; there needs to be a user who is basically and ultimately responsible for the choice.) I didn’t know what was sadder; his crystal-stoked bf hitting him in the face or himself sober putting up with it. I’d like to think it was because of love but I can’t convince myself of such. I think he was just turning a blind eye to the reality of abuse because that need to be with someone and that fear of not being with anyone outweighed the reasonable and, needless to say, available option of being alone (and healthy and happy) yet not lonely.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the problem is basically that human condition in an overbearing sense of loneliness. I distinctly remember the web designer’s narration of one of his sexual experiences while on meth. His fuckbuddy who was also on meth was smoking and chatting endlessly about his mother on one end of the bed while he lay on the other end, whacking himself off and saying nothing. He described the scene as a state of two hells on the same plane, where even though they are on the same bed they lie worlds apart and, yet, somehow are able to foolishly give themselves the comfortable illusion of being together. They want to be with and yet are unable to offer nothing more than a zombie version of themselves to the other. It is a cycle of regression into irredeemable isolation and, ultimately, death, both metaphorical and physical..

But it doesn’t have to end in death. Hope can and must always have the final word which is the sentiment of Eric’s mother shown in the docu’s end. Eric, one of the meth addicts featured, comes clean and celebrates Christmas sober for the first time in so many years. His mother and family welcome him with open arms and shower him with love. Sober and sensible enough, he breaks down in tears and in recognition of the warmth around him. Meth-free, he is able to respond back in love, pure and powerful.

I know that no one wants to be lonely. I believe that no one should be alone. Yet, it is how we search for company that defines the human from the inhuman. It is how we treat our own selves as well as who we find that separates the dammed from the loved.

Advertisements

My aunt died 5 days ago. She was 71.

She was my dad’s older sister, the second in a brood of 5 girls and an only boy. She lived in Manila as well as spent a few years out here in NYC during her late 50s. She has always been regarded as the siblings’ wild child, partying hard during the 60s with the high-flying friends she had met while in the country’s top university. (It’s pretty hard to imagine how she could have trumped the playboy antics of my dad who was simply seen as one of the boys, nothing extraordinary. I guess a playful woman is viewed as more difficult to manage than a playful man owing to the overtly sexist lens of that era.) Her carousing even led her to be a mistress to a wealthy businessman in a Southern town with whom she adopted a child. The businessman has since died, her youth gone and her wealth and health gravely diminished. She has since gotten around aided by a cane as well as by a female servant; her adopted daughter all grown up and with her own kids, still dependent on her and yet highly unreliable for any semblance of payback owed to gratitude. My aunt underwent a successful tumor operation but suffered a fatal cardiac arrest a day into her convalescence. Her life, in a Joan Didion moment, was gone in an instant.

My tricoastal family has since assembled to meet for the funeral in Manila — my mom and my sister’s family flew in from Honolulu; my aunts from Queens. I wasn’t able to go since I couldn’t afford any vacation right now. I’m starting a new job in a month and have not accrued enough days in my old one to get paid leave for such a trip. I am staying here in Brooklyn while I confront my grief over this event. Or my lack of it.

I really wasn’t close to her to begin with. Except for the occasional holidays that our small family would spend together (since except for my dad and 1 sister, everyone else are spinsters), there hardly was constant contact. Yet, this death is particularly poignant as it becomes the first in this small family that I have lived through. It is a chilling reaffirmation of mortality that hits terribly close to home. We are all going to die. My aunt has just gone; someone else will be next. Will it be my dad? another aunt? me?

Morbid thoughts really aren’t healthy expressions of grief, if they are at all. (Joan Didion, my new guide into the wasteland of human death looks into grief as the wellsrpring of consolation.) They are nothing more than dull needles that prick into this cushion of petty bourgeois indifference that I call my life. My self-absorption has apparently gone pathological that I could hardly be affected by a family tragedy. (To make this claim guiltlessly is quite disturbing. I was, after all, a product of a Catholic all boys'(!) high school and a few Jewish boyfriends.)

I was watching the Golden Girls on Lifetime [yes, that TV for women and gay men] this morning (since I took a day off work) and serendipitously caught an episode on how the girls dealt with the death of their cranky neighbor, Mrs. Claxton — they put her in the cheapest casket they could find and hurriedly held her wake. Rose, bless her soul and Betty White’s, eventually saved their pitiful efforts by scattering her ashes on a grand oak tree on their block which prevented its getting cut after being designated as a “burial ground” due to that selfless act. She battered her naive Midwestern brain for some meaning for the death and found something more. She found something redeeming.

I know that to look to pop culture references for a response to this tragedy is pathetic. (No matter that the reference in question was the long-running, Emmy-winning, Bea Arthur immortalized, homo canonized Golden Girls.) But I find myself challenged by Rose Nylan to wrack my burnt out tropical mind for a proper response. (My aunt did get cremated and, no, I am not going to look around for a Save-a-Tree organization that needs to instrumentalize her ashes.)

But maybe the problem with this whole post-Golden Girls dilemma is that I think I can come up with a more substantial response than a twit-minded sitcom character. To even want to respond to (a) death, as if in a duel, is in itself a conundrum. To be challenged by death is really quite confounding; it is also ultimately hopeless. Death will always eventually win. But it is what I do in between — after it happens and before it happens again — that is of significant consequence. (We are, after all, a people of consequence.) What I do after my aunt’s death and before the next, even my own, is ultimately the response that seems to have been most elusive. I quickly remember the analogy of the fish in the aquarium my junior philosophy teacher luvd to use back when I was in school: it is hard to realize you’re in it if and since you’re immersed in it. I am already dealing with her death by just going on with my life.

I took Tim (my bf and a disavowed Baptist) with me to a Jesuit church last Sunday where we lit a candle for my dead aunt. There were no tears, only a quick prayer before we headed out for a Chelsea brunch.

I have always held on to my life as one big journey. Every day is, as it is, a measure of time’s passing; every night a stop for rest and recollecting. I see no specific final destination though since I do not live my life as a tourist. I inhabit each place as hopefully a native would, struggling to know how people do and, in the painstaking process, learn more of who I am.

I am currently living in NY and have known so much more about myself in the past 7 years than I ever did in the previous 22 in Manila. Yet, as I travel deeper into myself, I feel running into that great risk of, and, actually fear, forgetting who I was back then. So integral in this journey is unraveling my mystery and remembering who I was back then is inevitably linked to understanding how I am now. I know I used to be a totally different person. But, also, I find great comfort in knowing that my good friends back then have remained good friends till now. This sense of consistency, no matter how fragile, anchors my history in a sense of soulful (and, needless to say, sane) continuity.

In my journey where meeting new people are considered routine stops but making new friends a milestone, I find keeping (really) old ones a treasure, ultimately gift. I may not know where I am going but I am assured of who I can always come back to. I have never travelled there yet but these old friends who have shown me where I have been inspire me to go where I could and should.

I remember them dearly as some of them celebrate their birthdays this week.

The previous post reminds me of those beauty contests in a popular daytime show I used to watch as a kid. There were introductions, talent displays and interviews (which are staple for this kind of pageantry). The twist was in the contestants — they were all men. Of course, it was more a parody than it was honest competition. The audience ate this up because it was amusing, and nothing more. The other in the transgendered (as opposed to the homoseuxal since these men are more female than gay male-identified) is desexualized and objectified as mere entertainment. When the penis is cut off and there is nothing more to look at but the drab wig and the gaudy make-up on the face that dishes those funny one-liners, then it is okay to consume and even to be amused by. In hindsight, it was a tacky Filipino version of Will Truman doing drag.

The lazy and unintelligent clumping of all these gender identifications into the gay label is Manila’s big problem. No one seems to bother with the definitions. The parlor-prepped transvestite is lumped in with the gay yuppie in one big box. Until people see the distinctions from being a homosexual to being a transexual to being bisexual, then the respect that comes with each of these identifications will never happen.

There seems to be a lack of a thoughtful homo intellectual class who will initiate the significant dialogue of gender studies. I am not blind to the macho culture imbibed from the Spanish legacy (where to be effete is to be weak) and the heavy patriarchal class perpetarted by the Church (to whom the feminine is deemed inferior) that makes such a discussion a public impossibility. (Needless to say, the whole doctrine on sin remains a big block to even entertaining one’s own scientific analysis of the subject. Hellfire, after all, is served for all the abhorrents of creation.) But I believe that there is where the challenge lies for the initiated. The time to chip away at the wall of ignorance through history and enslaving tradition is always now.

The middleground is apt for homosexuals who live in Tehran where even posting a profile on a gay chat website is enough to get one hung. But for those who live in Manila which prides itself on its respect for intellectual freedom and of one’s pursuit of personal happiness, then the middleground is not enough. Homosexuals need to get off the fence of ignorance and adopt a more groundbreaking stance of radical assertion of their need for definition and sexual distinction and, utlimately, respect. Until that time commences, then they will continue to be relegated to the shadows bordered by discrimination and disrespect borne of ignorance. They will remain to be boxed in as nothing more than a group of screaming faggots and horny freaks.

Having spent the last three weeks or so in Islamic South East Asia has made me appreciate how easy it was for me to be gay here in Catholic Philippines.

My work tends to bring me to countries abroad that have a significantly more open, more vibrant gay community than what we have here in Manila. I’ve always loathed how despite the relative freedom gays have here, we actually have to fit in that oh so stereotypical fag image (along with the advertising or beauty parlor career) to get the respect and men we all deserve.

And so a big chunk of the gay guys here think of themselves as girls. Girls, who want “real men” to marry and mother. There is a whole culture of “straight men” who sleep with gay gays to finance their wives and kids.

More recently, the “straight-gay” culture has emerged. Now you have guys who are revolted even with the thought of even seeing a vagina let alone touching it but call themselves bi since they act butch.

The gay community is polarized between gays who act like men versus the gay guys who want to be women. Thank goodness at least both divides share the love of the most important thing of all — beautiful tight bodies and gorgeous faces. Otherwise we wouldn’t even see each other.

When you see how the gay community, particularly the gay youth of Europe are becoming, you would feel so deprived of what our community chooses to be. There, men celeberate their masculity by sleeping with other men. There they dress up like girls and yet act butch, they hold hands, get married, adopt. They decide what gay means without having to select from the current social norms.

But then, being in countries (even for just 3 weeks) where sodomy is a crime and where homosexuality can lead lead to stoning, the choices I have to make, limited as they may be, seem to be worlds better than anything they can ever have.

I really didn’t intend to visit my dad in Manila anytime soon. The only family trip I was planning this year was my Thanksgiving visit to my mom and sister in Honolulu. But life seems to hit you in the most disruptive spots when you least expect it. So I did a whirlwind trip last week to Manila and back to make such a visit. My dad is sick so I flew to Manila to be with him. It reads so simple in 13 words but the reality is much severe.

My dad is sick. I first heard of this from my mom when she called one Tuesday afternoon to tell me that he was taken into the hospital. Then, one bright spring Friday morning, I am surprised to see 3 missed calls register in my cellphone — my mom’s in Honolulu, my cousin’s in Dallas and my aunt in NY. I thought my dad had already died. I called every single one of them at lunch time and they echoed the same sentiment. He was very close to dying. He suffered a heart attack and had been taken to the ICU of St. Luke’s Hospital in Manila. Apparently, the doctors did a good job. They pumped the water out of his lungs and managed a successful angioplasty. Three of his arteries remain to be blocked which necessitates a triple bypass procedure. It was discovered that he has had a long history of addiction to painkillers which somehow neutralized its effects in his body especially when needed. The angioplasty ended up being a painful procedure considering that the anesthesia wasn’t completely being effective. The whole family is rallying for him to undergo the triple bypass. The whole family wants him to live. He wants to forego the whole procedure. He has thrown his hands in and given himself to fate.

So I flew to see him. I was supposed to fly out to show support as he undergoes his triple by pass surgery. But at that point that he still did not want to do it, then I asked myself what I had flown in there for. The initial reason for the trip suddenly became moot. I needed to grapple with a much more satisfying reason. I flew out there to be with him in our family’s time of need.

I remember distinct conversations with family members. My aunt spoke in imperatives: “When are you going home — this week or next?” My brother spoke with a dramatic bent: “Do you want to see him when he’s alive or do you want to see him when he’s dead?” My dad spoke in what seemed to be a genuine plea: “Yes. I want you to go home.” Ultimately, hearing the latter cemented my decision.

I would like to think of myself as the callous if not prodigal son. I had left and wandered away and seemed to not want to turn back. (I was indeed gone for over 7 years and felt neither the need nor want to go back until absolutely necessary.) Of course, there is that propensity for self-imposed drama that this thought process manages to satisfy.

But I am not as insensitive as I would like to think or portray myself as. I was distraught when i first heard the news. I had been moved by my dad’s plea. I remain to grapple with the meaning of this ongoing event. The process is integrally an emotional event. To reflect on something is to be affected by it.

A good friend here in NY mentioned something that struck me to the core a few nights before I left for Manila. Here was a man who had just witnessed sheer trauma — coming home to his Chelsea apartment on a weeknight and finding his roommate hanging from the beam in his room — and all lI could come up with when I spoke to him were staid, (un)funny (if not less appropriate) one-liners. He said that I was unfeeling — that I lived without emotion. He observed this with my responses regarding this situation with my father. The unsaid part could also be true with my responses regarding his own situation. Hollow humor never spoke much if anything. When all is said and laughed at, there remains no real response to hold on to and bring home to one’s solace. (Maybe the same can be said for petty whining.)

Am I unfeeling?

I flew out to be with my dad. What did to be with someone mean?

Interrelation is key. But intellectualization ultimately is not. But it cannot be denied that to be is inevitably linked with an object, a someone. I cannot be by myself. The other is always a constant (subject-object) presence. But my problem has never been the absence of knowing. It can probably be too much knowing — excessive intellectualization can lead to it being impulsive. Instead of instinctive affectation, I instantly succumb to the defense of the antiseptic thought process — sinking into myself and not stretching outward to risk the other’s unknown response of either acceptance or rejection. It is always a safe and satisfying and purely egotistical and self-serving way to be.

I was always raised to be self-absorbed. But to grow older always presents itself the opportunity for change, whether slow or salvific. Just because I was self-absorbed does not mean that I should continue to do so.

I’ve always held strongly to my dad dying if he wanted to. Let people die if they want to. No one is indispensable. The world will continue to turn. But people are not abstract concepts. Not everyone remains to be statistic. The world is not the sum of 10 billion people but the few who matter around me. When they do die, they will flow into being a mere statistic in the anthropologic record of death but they will forever be an integral part of my life, my history, my being. These people are not indispensable. No one can replace my father.

Him dying is much in my own mystery dying. People spend their whole lives trying to figure out who they are and, yet, forget to seek answers from the flesh and blood who brought them forth and nurtured them in those most important years of formation.

No one can replace my father. I flew out to Manila to be with him because he is sick. It sounds so simple that it risks betraying the gravity that the weight of the statement holds.

But, as sick as my dad is, he is also just as stubborn. It seems I underestimated how stubborn my dad was. (This is quite a small surprise since I am an old mule myself.) I flew out to Manila on Sunday and it was not until that Friday that I along with my family managed to drag him to the hospital to see the doctor.

It was interesting how everyone began that day beaming with hope that my dad might finally submit to doing the bypass procedure. The car ride out to the hospital was a big cheerleading routine meant to entertain and to encourage my father to do so. We finally made it to the hospital and into the doctor’s clinic. The doctor turned out to be this effeminate guy in his mid-40’s who dished out lots of medicalese (supposedly because he was in a roomful of doctors — my dad, my brother and his wife, and my other brother — who would manage to understand his jargon.)

The whole exercise that was the check-up was meant to elucidate what was already known. My dad’s heart is deteriorating. The normal systolic rate was 55 and he was already undergoing mild to moderate cardiac sclerosis since his was at a rate of 40-45. His heart is suffering regurgitation and is already becoming enlarged by the day. His medication can only do so much to alleviate his condition. Ultimately, he needs to undergo heart bypass to alow the healthy flow of blood in and ou of his heart. Foolishly not doing so is fatal. (I found it particularly striking how he compared dying unexpectedly, or as Joan Didion would succinctly call it — life ending as you know it in an instant — after eating a hearty plate of salty fish.)

What I did not know but quietly expected was how dad my remained unbudging in his refusal to submit to the operation. He was very adept at selling his own agenda of making the doctor believe that he was already feeling better, already too well to even need to undergo the surgery. Suddenly, medication trumps operation. His sister admirably tried to do all the talking. She looked to us for support in what was turning out to be a lost cause. My brother stepped up and asked about the surgery’s schedule at which point my dad just stood up and abruptly left. I couldn’t say anything. I remained to be torn between my pragmatic self — live and let die — and my reflective self — my dad is indispensable. The dilemma shut me up. My other brother clammed up as well. We ended up having what turned out to be a futile discussion. The object of our attention was not even in that room anymore. He had already stepped out and had been anxious to leave. I remember the trip back to the house being a lot less energetic, due to a sense of deflation. We had gone to he hospital expecting something good but had gone back to the house frustrated and defeated.

My dad is indispensable but I can only do so much to prevent him from choosing to make himself so. He knows he has a death sentence if he doesn’t do it and yet, he maintains his fatal stance. He is dying off his own decision and he is killing us along with it. A big part of ourselves dies when he dies. We are already all dying together, for now, painlessly, with each anxious moment. Life, as you know it, unfolds its ending, in every waking moment.

I said farewell to him before flying back to NY. Our hands touched each other in a clasp for a few seconds before the van sped off. It was the most poignant moment we’ve had in a long time. For a man who hasn’t said much in 28 years, moreso, act out how he felt, that heartfelt touching was a welcome surprise. It was more than a meaningful gesture, it was a testament to the hope that remained in him. I believe it was a sign that he still has a few surprises left in him. He may choose death now, but I would like to believe that he remains to grapple with the decision that will affect him and his family. I would like for him to pull off another surprise, an even bigger one this time. That is where my hope is.

I went to the Holocaust Museum and was awash in a sea of overwhelming emotion for a full 4 hours. I told Kevin that the last time I was affected so personally by an exhibition was when I went to the JFK Museum in Dallas. But even that pales so much in comparison. (That feels like comparing the view from the Water Tower in Washington Heights to one atop the crags of the Grand Canyon.)

I know of the Holocaust. I have even read Elie Wiesel. But nothing could have ever prepared me for the horror as told by the museum. From Germany to Bulgaria to Austria to France to Poland, thousands upon thousands of Jews died in the most horrific manners. Men, women and children all suffered the same fate under the inhuman hand and darkest heart of the Nazis. Hangings. Firings. Burnings. Mutilating experiments. Lethal injections. Gas chambers. Death marches. All these went on simultaneously and endlessly against people picked solely by the arch of their nose, the color of their skin and the blood through their veins. Voices of Auschwitz survivors recounting their stories filled one room. (How much sorrow can one room hold?) The uniforms of internment camps were hung on poles. (How much anguish can a piece of clothing carry?) The shoes of the dead were piled one on top of the other in a muted yet most powerful display. The hairs sheared off the Jews before they were tricked into the gas chambers (believing that they were being led into a delousing shower) formed a sad, still ocean of gold and brown and grey wavy locks. Pictures of men and women and portraits of families that were the only remnants of a Russian ghetto after a series of pogroms and the execution of the “final solution” on the community rise up into a towering wall of testament to the tyranny of absolute evil. Video footage and still photos that documented the indescribable inhumanity of the Nazi empire rumbled on and on in most frightening displays. It ended in 1945 but it was already too late. The irreparable damage had already been done. Hellfire that was Hitler’s army had already razed so much of the earth on Western and Eastern Europe for almost 10 years. Whole communities had died and whole centuries of culture had already been wiped off the face of the earth.

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness,” said Elie Wiesel. This was the inscription at the end of the museum exhibition which led into the Hall of Remembrance. This space was shaped like the Star of David. The hall jutted into a towering dome whose top was swathed with sublime panes of glass. They filtered the warm rays of the sun into the solemn space lit by a hundred candles which lined its corners where on black walls were written the many internment camps and gas chambers where the Jews were murdered. Dachau. Treblinka. Bergen Blesen. Auschwitz. The candles continued to flicker as if defiantly, raging against erasing the memory of this most horrifying chapter in the annals of human history. Even higher up on the walls were inscriptions from the Torah that echoed the cries of humanity to the Father which until now commuted to sheer soundless screams that shook the very stone foundations of the Hall. At its center was one bright flame which illuminated the hope in all as described in the Book of Deuteronomy. To remember is not only to honor the memory but is also to fulfill an oblitgation to one’s conscience. Man was once a monster (absolutetly as perpetrator and also as bystander) and never again should he be allowed to be one. Only if we continue to remember will we learn to not be condemned to the same evil.

I have never cried so much for so many people in a single hallowed space. I feel as if I can never cry enough. I can only try to remember and remain witness. I can never do enough and yet I am compelled to do what I should.