Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Filipino Aristocracy

"Are you sure you don't want to get married?" my mom asked me the other day when I went to go visit with her.

I replied back, "Actually, I do want to get married. Just not with a girl."

"Oh, " she says with a long pause, then asks, "And so, then you'll just adopt?"

"Yep," I answered.

My mom has always been supportive of me in her own way and in so many ways. She's been supportive even when she hasn't always understood why I do the things I do. Her main concern, though, seems to be that she doesn't want me to have to experience that fear and rejection. A part of her still thinks I can choose to be straight. She even claimed that she didn't realize that I'm gay when I was younger. I think it's easier for her that way - to be in denial about the fact that I'm not going to marry a woman. If she clings to the idea that I can be straight ("again") some day, then I can be spared the tears. But the tears have come and gone.

So as I exit the closet, my mom enters it - not wanting anyone to know that she has a gay son . . . .

She's still trying to sort it all out for herself - not just the gay thing, but also my decision to leave my job voluntarily because I'm gay and then to pursue the vision of Catalyst - to do what I feel led by God to do. I told her that it hasn't been a quick and easy decision and that it has been very difficult these past several months. It wasn't/isn't easy deciding to leave something I care so much about. It wasn't/isn't a simple and easy process of reconciling my faith and sexuality when it's contrary to the majority and mainstream view. Fear and rejection is something that has kept me in the closet for 30 years so rejection by many of my mainstream Christian friends is something I have to be prepared to endure.

I wouldn't go so far as saying that I think she's ashamed of me. I just think she doesn't understand it and she's doing her best to love me the best she can - as she always has. But she doesn't want any of my aunts and cousins finding out that I'm gay. She doesn't want them to say harsh things about me. I told her that i'm not going to intentionally hide anymore and that people will talk regardless. But i'm still sensitive to the fact that she has to deal with hearing the family gossip. There's probably a part of her that blames herself. (She's also likely to blame my dad since he's gay - - "you got it from your papa!").

I'm patient with her though. She's gotta go through her process and she'll come out of the closet when she's ready - just like I was.

I realized some kewl things when I last talked to my mom this past Sunday.

First, I learned that another cousin of mine on my mom's side of the family is gay. She had been living in Texas with a girlfriend and is now wanting to move back to Southern California. My mom is helping her find a place to live. My first thought was that I should've known about my cousin. Go figure. My second thought was that I was impressed that my mom was still helping her out. Rather than rejecting her, my mom gives her the attitude of "well, okay. If that's what you want to do" (referring to her being a lesbian). Then she goes on to help her niece. When my mom was telling me this, I just remember thinking, "wow, she is supportive of family regardless." She said the same thing about one of my sisters who has been dating a guy that my dad, brother and sister don't really like. She told my sister, "well, if that's who you want to be with, okay". So I learned a bit more about my mom's character in this conversation.

Second, I learned a lot more about my family history - some fascinating things actually (to me). I've never really been motivated to go back to the Philippines. We left when I was about 3 years old and I haven't been back since. I've blogged before about my issues with ethnic shame and so I never had a strong desire to go and visit with my distant relatives. As I spoke with my mom this weekend, her sister (my aunt) came by and I began asking about our family tree. My aunt was the one who remembered most of it. Apparently there's a bit of blue blood in our family.

My great great great great grandfather was somewhere in the Spanish royal line and his son (my great great great grandfather) came from Spain to the Philippines. This occurred during the late 1800's. Somewhere in this time period, he changed his last name because of one of the wars. It was either the Spanish American War in 1898 (an 8 month long global war between Spain and the U.S. with ground fighting in the Philippines - the filipinos were unofficial U.S. allies) or the following Philippine American War (a war local to the Philippines only, from 1899 to 1902 (or 1906) between the filipinos and the U.S.). So anyway, with this new last name, he became the mayor of a city and was very well known among residents. He had two sons and a daughter. One of those sons produced future mayors and congressmen so the family name remains prominent in that region. The other son, my great great grandfather only had one son - my great grandfather. Since he was the only child, he inherited quite a bit of wealth. Through an arranged marriage, he married a woman from another prominent and wealthy Spanish family. They had three children, one of which was my grandmother who married a prominent lawyer in the region. My grandmother was the first in all those generations to break the tradition of arranged marriage. They loved each other and so they married despite the mild disapproval of the other family elders. They had six children (now that's love!) one of whom was my mother. (Cue the awwwww . . . .)

Here's the interesting thing. Because my grandmother was the first to break the arranged marriage tradition, she always told her children (my mom and her sisters and brothers) to always be with the person you love. So I imagine my grandmother often spoke with the same attitude as my mom, "well, okay. If that's who you want to be with, then alright."

The other interesting thing was that my grandfather was a sort of family bridge builder and reconciler. Way back up the family line, I mentioned that my great great grandfather only had a single son. Well, after this son was born eventually his wife died. He eventually remarried another woman and had other children. This woman ended up committing adultery and so that entire side of the family was disowned and disinheritted by my great grandfather (the single son from the first marriage). When my grandmother died, my grandfather decided to make peace with that dejected part of his wife's family. He gathered everyone together for a family reunion and people began to reconcile. My aunt says that every person in the family had tears of joy. My grandfather was the one who brought grace and forgiveness to the family.

So now, for the first time, I really want to go back to the Philippines and learn more about my family history. My mom and aunt say that there will be plenty of people who will welcome me with open arms because of my mom's family name. (Of course, I carry my dad's last name).

Most fascinating to me were that my grandparents were tradition breakers and bridge builders, and that I come from a family of shapers - people who affected their region both politically and socially. That's what I want to do. I want to affect my world. Maybe not politically - but socially and spiritually. I want to reinvent the GLBT culture here over the next 30 years.

I suppose it makes sense why my mom would be hesitant to have relatives find out I'm gay considering the filipino aristocracy in her family that still influences that region today.

This also makes sense why my mom has always been on me regarding a well paying job. Recently, she's been telling me, "I've been expecting you to get a very good job that pays alot!" But I tend to go for the community-based stuff which pays zilch and it boggles her sometimes. I know she's proud of me, it's just that she knows my potential. Now, knowing some of the family history, this brings a bit more context as to why she was placing such expectations on me.

At the end of the day, I know she loves me and supports me. She wants me to be happy. I think her being in the closet about me being gay is just her trying to protect me from the baggage that comes with the family name and its history. She knows that one day I'm going to go back to the Philippines and she would rather spare me any heart ache and humiliation.

The thing is - 30 years in the closet has made me stronger. She doesn't need to spare me from tears because I've shed more than my share. Now, it's her turn to gain the confidence, and when she's ready, come out of the closet about me.

5 comments:

Mark said...

Great History & Insite

Be Well & God Bless you
and your mom too !

Mrs Zeke said...

As parents Zeke and I know there comes a time regardless of what we may think we have to say If that is what you want. Regardless of the circumstances as long as the person is of sound mind. Whoever you are, likes, dislikes, sexuality, belief and the list can go on, within who you are your personal choices or rather you are who you are and then you choose your behaviors within that. Our children are not extensions of ourselves they are who they are independent of me or Zeke.

Which is a good thing cause to many of us would be boring :)

Your loved

Elizabeth said...

I read your post, and almost was in tears because I know how you feel. My parents seem to think that someday I'll be straight. My parents are actually less supportive. They would rather ignore it completely than address it at all. They told me so one time. Ah, acceptance.

The important thing, I have found is love for oneself, even if others will judge you or say what you are is a sin. Inside me, I know I'm okay.

Kiturgy said...

Wow. that was a lot in one post! If your dad is also gay, there's clearly a story there--your mom is dealing pretty well, considering cultural and family baggage. perhaps she wants you to make money so you can have all the things she perceives you might need and not be in debt?? consider yourself blessed to have a strong faith and a mother who loves you, and while she'd rather things were different for you, perhaps, will clearly deal with your choices

JOON said...

Oh the "F" word... in this case, Filipino...lol Like u, I have issues with my ethnicity...even though I didn't leave Flip-land until 1990, I was 17 (yikes!!! My age is revealed). But I grew up there where many people thought that being gay meant wanting to be a girl, working as a beautician, etc. It's a lot harder for our moms to come to terms with the gay thing. Today, it's easier because people are exposed to "mainstream gayness". People now can deal with Brokeback, Will&Grace and Queer Eye and be ok with it...well...almost.
My mom just turned 70. She was already 36 when she had me after having 5 daughters first. So even though it still frustrates me that in many ways she doesn't understand me, I have to accept that it's just part of the generation gap. She doesn't have to fully understand me to love me. And as much as I love her...there are so many things that I can't talk to her about... oh well... sorry if i rambled on and on