An edited version of this appeared in TEAM Magazine.
When English journalist, novelist, and racist (he did write "White Man’s Burden", after all) Rudyard Kipling wrote, “For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack”, I bet that a movie about douchebaggery starring Bradley Cooper wasn’t how he envisioned his idea to permeate pop culture.
Then again, it does make you think of the power of stupid people in groups. A stupid individual acting alone will probably do little harm--but give him an army (or a gang to do #squadgoals with), and you have a Hitler or Kim Kardashian ready to tear a country or a pop star to pieces.
A disclaimer though: I am not calling everyone to shun society and go all hikikomori on life. What I would admit though is that my fear of echo chambers coupled with general anxiety made me wary of being part of anything involving barkadas--specifically, gay barkadas.
Blame my slow coming to terms with my sexuality, for which my mom and our religious affiliation was largely at fault. Bullying from peers was one thing; being told that you were condemned to a lifetime of hellfire as a teenage boy was another.
“You will live a miserable life,” my mom told me, sensing early on that I was different. I had been already withdrawn from people as a kid, but I had decided that staying away from other gay folk would spare me from a condemned life of paying for sex and haunting gay bars. What does a gay guy do with other gay guys, after all, but drool over go-go boys and be creepy lurkers waiting to pounce on unsuspecting neighborhood men? A beer to get them drunk, or the sly Rohypnol slipped in a young boy’s drink, or perhaps the lure of money to guys of a lower socioeconomic status?
I was like Peter denying the crucified Christ, except I was the gay guy watching other gay men being vilified: “Aren’t you one of them?” No, not me. I wasn’t like them. I was a different breed altogether. I was better. Look at me, I overachieved! I never cross-dressed! I didn’t fawn over men in gay bars!
There was the constant looking behind my back, fearing that someone will judge me for sinning. That was precisely, simply it: a constant fear.
And this is perhaps how internalized homophobia begins: the fear of one’s own identity, of being found out. I was scared of my own shadow, of how every gay guy was a glaring mirror image of myself. I loathed looking at the multifacetedness of our community that I tried so badly to distance myself from it.
The fear of the idea of being part of any group (gay or otherwise) stemmed from an attempt to further shelter myself from judgment. But this isolation exposed further my frailties, without the protection of my kindred’s kindness. While, yes, echo chambers are a reality and hive minds do exist, being surrounded by people who shared my, your, and our same pains allowed me, us to bring our weaknesses to the front and polish our roughness.
Vaccines are useful because they protect the herd, because the herd is only as strong as its weakest link. A group as fragile as our community can only fight for our rights if we stick together and support each other. In the absence of rights that will help us defend ourselves, we must have each other’s back.
When I think about it, does it mean that I have to excuse the stupidity that gay men commit in groups? Straight people do not do the same way for straight people. Evidently, the choice to engage with other gay men can transcend beyond the bare minimum that is our sexual orientations. While it does and will definitely influence our life choices (and even our pop culture references), sexual orientation does not necessarily have to be the end-all and be-all of what unites friends of the same sexual persuasion.
During the last Pride March, I marched with the largest gathering of the LGBT community here in the Philippines. There we were, showing that we existed, that our experiences transcended the negligible individual. We are the body politic, united in this one cause as we all lived varied lives. This was the intersection: that we understood, that we empathized with how it felt to be the other, much as we are othered as well.
Not to be a bleeding heart, but what I know is this: having found friends who were also part of the LGBT community has strengthened me immensely as a gay man. More than talking about RuPaul or crying over Looking the movie, being with other gay friends teaches me that I am both special and not special. I am not so special because there are people who go through similar pains; I am special because I have friends who are ready to fight with and for me.
It wasn’t and it isn’t, as my mom had predicted, a miserable life. Her prophecy would’ve come true, however, if I continued to believe in what she said. Just as what the recent Harry Potter book taught us, we don’t have to live out the prophecies we’re handed--and friendship allows us to multiply the little that we are and have.
Like what ultimate gay hero Walt Whitman once said:
“COME, I will make the continent indissoluble;
I will make the most splendid race the sun ever yet shone upon;
I will make divine magnetic lands,
With the love of comrades,
With the life-long love of comrades.”
Here I come then: out, ready, standing in solidarity with my gay friends. We're changing history by merely asserting our personhood, by the unabashed existence of our gay barkada.
The butchness of camaraderie is a very glorious thing.
HELLO, MY NAME IS EVAN TAN.
I'm a writer and communications professional based in Manila, Philippines. Outside of my regular job, I like to travel, work out, volunteer, watch movies and plays, go to art galleries/ fairs and museums, read books, and eat vegetarian food.
More about me here.