Recently, there’s been a lot of negative backlash against cartoonist Pol Medina for his comic strip that talks about how single-sex exclusive Catholic schools are basically breeding grounds for gays and lesbians. Look here:
Now, I was raised Catholic. I also went to an exclusive Catholic school for boys when I was young, and there is some truth to Medina’s cartoon. At least three other members of STRAP, including one of our fabulous founders, actually come from the same high school. So why are people so angry at Medina for pointing out the obvious? All these negative reactions, to me, simply reinforce society’s homophobic sentiments – that it is innately wrong to be queer, and subcultures that tolerate them should be rooted out.
But I do have one comment about the strip. Medina writes that these schools tolerate being queer (and calls Catholics hypocrites along the way). The hypocrite part, I totally get. What I don’t understand is how he can say that queers like me were tolerated by the school administration. It is true that we were encouraged by our more nurturing teachers to be ‘true to our selves’, whatever that meant. We were encouraged to be creative and be free to indulge in the arts – our class performances were always amazing, our reports were always entertaining. It’s like early on, we were pushed into a box labelled queer, and that box came with expectations of creative output. I suppose it’s the same for the straight boys – they were expected to be good at sports, we queers were supposed to be artsy.
For someone like me who loves the arts but is not incredibly creative or good with crafts, this was always terrible. My penmanship has always been bad – the first fine art we learned in our home economics class was calligraphy, and of course I sucked at it. We were made to make Christmas Lanterns every holiday, and mine were always embarrassingly simple. We were expected to be good at delivering orations (that one, I did pretty well), and excel at dancing and performing (no hand-eye coordination here).
But we were smart, so we weren’t bullied much and most teachers loved us. We were tolerated.
And there is the problem. Tolerance is like acknowledging that something is there, but keeping mum about it. Tolerance leaves very little room for acceptance and a lot of room for homonegativity and brainwashing. Allow me to demonstrate:
When I was in the sixth grade, my friends and I were called into the year-level prefect’s office, and she opens with “Your teachers tell me that you’re all very effeminate,” then goes on about how a proper Bedan gentleman was supposed to behave and act. At this point, I had no idea what the word effeminate even meant; I was just being myself, performing my self in ways which were most comfortable for me. I wondered what was wrong with that. On the plus side, I learned a new word. She also asked if the other boys tolerated our effeminacy and forced us to reveal which boys were flirting with us. After she dismissed us, she asked those boys to see her in her office for what, I assume, would have been a stern talking to.
When I was in freshman year in high school, our class adviser thought it would be best to pool all the queer kids’ parents and tell them to keep an eye on us and watch for signs of queerness. I thought it was a gross betrayal of our trust in him as class adviser, and a severe invasion into our private home lives. He basically stole our ‘coming out’. When my parents got home, they asked me, “Sabi ng teacher mo, bakla ka daw.” To which I replied, “Eh bakla din naman siya.”
I also remember another gay teacher who was very loud and flamboyant. One day, while my friends and I were at the library researching (or looking at the boys?), he came over to us and said he wanted to talk, which basically meant we needed to shut up and listen to him. So he went on and ranted about how difficult it was for him to be a single adult man with no wife and no kids to take care of him when he grows older. He then started telling us that being gay makes life hard and that if we wanted an easier life, we should seriously start thinking about ‘becoming’ straight.
Now, does that sound like an environment that tolerates queerness?