Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Boyhood Games and Cruel Torments

This is a guest post from Bro. A as he narrates his not so pleasant childhood experiences and the resulting emotional pain and trauma that he went through growing up. Thanks bro for this extensive tell-all narrative. I know how it feels to carry this terrible pain of rejection and loneliness all by yourself at a very vulnerable stage of one's life. I am beginning to realize that all these have a purpose and meaning.

Ah, childhood games. To most men, the topic is sweetly nostalgic, but to me, it is tinged with much pain. I can't touch on the subject and not expose myself anew to some of the most hurtful rejections in my youth. To be traumatized by near-death at birth and to feel rejected by one's own father should be more than enough for anyone, but to be rejected by one's own peers! Now, that's far too unbearable. I don't know how I survived it all. It must only be by God's grace that I did. Then again, maybe I haven't yet, for why do I still recall the past and not miss shedding a tear, if not of pained remembering, then of regret from time to time.

I remember the old games for what I didn't play because I didn't fit in. I felt and believed I didn't fit in simply because that's how people around me reacted. Other than I wasn't very much interested in most of the games, I also presumed I was inferior at them had I tried, and if found, would only be shamed or get embarrassed.

Dirty games

Among the earliest games I watched from the sidelines involved some marbles, coins or softdrink caps, and rubber bands as playthings. I remember how these games were played on the bare ground, often on sandy soil, with at least two players, often more. These games had someone, the “it,” striking these things on the ground and scoring out of a hit. The truth is I never learned what exactly the rules were because I never tried these games. Each game struck me as dirty, and besides, I never felt I belonged, and since I assumed I'd no sooner be exposed for being unfit than if I tried, I felt threatened. This pattern was repeated in almost every other game of my childhood that was exclusive to boys.

I can't remember the first taunt uttered against my person, but I must have been shamed too much, for I’d wince each time such a similar shaming incident happened. I can easily recall, for example, that female neighbor named G- who called out to me from her room window, “Bakla, bakla!” (Gay/Faggot!) for no other reason than making the mistake of showing myself to her line of sight. I am especially not fond of G- because of this backstory that someone from my family called her a klutz or a clumsy person and she allegedly cursed in response this way: “Sana yung magiging anak nyo ganun din!” (“May your future child be a clumsy bastard too!”) and the curse seems to have fallen on me. This little story was relayed to me as a joke in which everybody who heard it tittered, and now that I recall it, there's nothing funny about it at all, for it turns out my being a klutz and being taunted for it plus the silent torment I have painstakingly endured throughout the decades were a kind of a curse. I felt I was, and sometimes still feel am, accursed! I’ve always wondered then how I could counter this evil spell in my life, if it was indeed an evil spell or hex.

I also remember another female guest (most probably a boarder) who would embarrass me to my face at about four years old whenever it was just the two of us in the living room. One time I was playing alone with my toys by a passageway, and I remember how she shamed me by telling me in a very bossy way that I was blocking her way. It made me feel like I was a worthless mass blocking her existence. It made me feel ashamed of strangers or at least people who were not members of my family, so that during parties at home when people I didn’t know were invited, I tended to face the wall and scratch it self-consciously, rather than mix with strangers and risk their ire or disapproval.

Safe games for softies

Of course the taunt from my fellow boys early on hurt even more. My own brother, the one who came after me, used to tease me by calling me “bakla” whenever he didn't get something he wanted from me or whenever I pissed him off. I also caught my cousin D- making fun of me that way. One time, in a Practical Arts class in which he was my classmate, he suggested I was effeminate within everyone’s earshot by gesticulating with his hands a sissy boy’s overly soft or limp-wristed mannerism.

Nevertheless, I do not consider myself a desperate case, for I remembered at least having played wooden and plastic toy guns, toy trucks and toy soldiers too, and enjoyed them. But I drew the line at slingshots, which scared me, and that made a difference. I thought they were too dangerous for me, and I didn't have the heart to kill beautiful wild birds with it or accidentally blind someone or break the glass window pane. I felt I was too nervous to be mercilessly tough like the other boys.

I also played with spiders, which the other boys kept in matchboxes, for spider fights, which were often exciting, but I was more interested in collecting the spiders for private pleasure, observing their behavior like a museum curator or zookeeper would.

There also were those interludes of mercy, however, in which games were not restricted to boys. There were the “agawan base,” “siato,” “Pepsi 7-Up,” and other ‘coed’ games. Yet even in these games, I could hear the meaner of the girls bitch aloud about me being a "di tiyak" (meaning “of uncertain gender,” like certain Tagalog pronouns we learned in school) or "alanganin" (“unsure”) by gender. When I got friendly with some of the girls, however, like a few of my female cousins, I felt at home with such girls' games as jackstone, Chinese garter (although I stopped at level 2, not being able to jump higher than that), hula hoop, limbo dance, etc. I think I even tried hopscotch out of curiosity, though to be fair, I found it boring, like riding a carousel.

Later, I took to games that were so safe and thus thoroughly enjoyable to me. It was my female cousin D- who introduced me to pickup sticks, Snakes and Ladders, and Scrabble, which I enjoyed better than most kids because I was quite good at words. Most board and card games, I found, were gender-neutral games that spared me the usual scene in which I would be ridiculed or embarrassed for being so inept; they were instead an opportunity for me to show off, to make up for my many insecurities. These games include backgammon, Monopoly, Millionaires' Game, Trivial Pursuit, etc. (I noticed, however, that Games of the General, which I played with B-, was a board game that girls never played with us.) The Trivial Pursuit-type of games was especially my favorite because I could compensate more fully by showing off what's inside my brain despite lacking in brawn and maleness.

I tried my hand on playing cards too, but because I was bad at math, I stayed away from them, or I’d show another source of insecurity on top of the existing ones.

Exclusive boys’ games

When I approached my teens, the games became more and more exclusive to boys. When the yoyo craze popularized by Coke hit town, I joined the fad with delight, but I felt too inept to do any of the tricks a lot of boys could easily do. I felt somewhat inadequate and inferior, even for such a kid’s stuff. It further reinforced my feeling so small.

Well, there were the trump cards too, which was quite a different matter. When trump cards were all the rage among the boys, I easily fit in and enjoyed the game because, although it involved the very manly subject of cars and locomotives, it also required dealing with nerdy details (horsepower, speed in kph, distance traveled, etc.) in which the nerdy me felt quite at home, never mind my allergy for numbers.

The rest, however, were little utter tragedies, especially the native game of sipa and ball games. Not only did I NOT enjoy sipa (which involved hitting a shuttlecock-looking spur with one’s foot) because I found it boring, I also found it too hard for my uncoordinated body. I didn't know how to score just one point even if I tried. Worse, I felt too ashamed, or too proud, to admit I didn't know, so I was sure to stay away each time the boys grouped themselves for these games.

The greatest horror of all among the ball games was basketball. (Volleyball was a cinch, but it was also the favorite of girls and gays – too embarrassing to try and enjoy visibly.) I dreaded each time a classmate would suggest that we played basketball in an oven-hot court somewhere. I'd invent all sorts of alibis just so I wouldn't ever face the danger of possible ridicule or the exposition of the dark secret that this boy, believe it or not, didn't know how to play ball when it was practically a national sport. (The pervasive assumption was, no hot-blooded Filipino boy doesn’t know how to play basketball.) Such a discovery would be nothing short of making me feel like a handicapped or what oldies would hurtfully call inutil (Spanish for "useless"). Predictably, I resisted the slightest opportunity to learn because I was too proud and afraid to admit I didn’t know and didn’t like it in the first place. School intramurals or sport-fests were, therefore, always dreadful events for me, giving me a phobia for unduly exposure of secret weakness (which, laughably enough, everybody knew anyway).

Solo games

I enjoyed playing solo games more, maybe because being a loner was free from the risk of possible taunts from peers. Aside from collecting various spiders, I especially enjoyed mixing the various chemicals and medicines I could find around the house. Being at play in my own private laboratory was terrifying, for I could surely hear a thing or two from my mother, or worse. I simply loved experimenting, but even this innocent fondness, I would soon found, would be put down as a nerdy preference. It merely underscored the feeling I was abnormal.

In high contrast, I fondly recall the imported expensive toys that Uncle Z-, my aunt's seaman husband, sent us his nephews back then. One day, when I was about 7 years old, he gave me and my younger brother several toys we never realized were high-end until we lost all of them to wear and tear and maybe even theft. We got a battery-operated motorized toy boat and one toy filled with water and colorful objects that swirled and made funny moves when you pressed a button, etc. The most memorable is the horse-racing track that winded and dipped this way and that, with metallic horses and jockeys bobbing up and down along a hard plastic ‘paved’ road lined with plastic pine trees. While playing solo was satisfying, it did nothing to nurture my need for social interaction and peer approval.

Only the town fairs or amusement parks have no such unpleasant memories associated, or haven’t they? Like any other child, I loved each single moment spent riding the Ferris wheel, caterpillar, and horror train, as well as throwing darts and hoops, watching magicians make magic tricks, being horrified at the most pitiful human oddities, and being beguiled by flying trapeze artists, acrobats, and smart trained animals, while I munched on popcorn, tugged a bite at tough elephant ear cookies, or pawed my pink cotton candy. I also loved zoos for the same largely solitary happiness I felt. But the clincher is I was always accompanied by my grandmother or aunt during these fun jaunts – surrogate mothers who were strong-willed women. (For some reason, my own mother, far too gentle by comparison, was also unavailable, always busy with homemaking.)

It was quite different when it came to the town plaza, where there was a wide children's park which had those concrete and iron slides I was too afraid to try because I found them too high and I had acrophobia (fear of heights). My fear increased exponentially whenever there was a kid my age who I thought was watching. Woe to me especially if it was another boy who happened to be a bully in school and a town gossip.

Other male pursuits that were normally considered fun in the oncoming years likewise didn't agree with me: body building/workout, exercise, marathon runs, hiking, driving a car, camping... I saw exercise as a fruitless thing that I'd rather wash the dishes or sweep, wax, and scrub the floor. Riding a bike and swimming were especially painful because I had -- still have -- a perforated eardrum so I lacked the sense of balance required. Because of this nuisance handicap, I never learned how to swim right, too, and especially to roller-skate, unlike my cousin D- who looked effortless at it. I looked on with secret envy at anyone else who could, secretly wishing I could do those too just to prove I was normal and thus likeable.

Other torments

Probably I never dared try because the curse was deeply embedded, or so I thought. One would think I could easily eat pain for breakfast, but the truth is I never lost the fear of being so maligned despite my long personal history of being insulted, taunted, and put down. The fear never waned, and so I have always been a ball of nerve. It’s quite easy for me to recall the rest one by one: In one required boy scouting incident, a fellow scout I didn't know called me “bakla” for no reason. In grade school, another boy told me the same in a random fashion as he approached me while walking down the street towards my direction. In my grandmother's barrio, some children derided me openly with the hated B word. A distant aunt, T-, once laughingly called me "Girlie" when I made the mistake of riding a motorcycle the way a girl would have mounted one: seated sideways with my legs daintily pushed together, like a dainty princess would, instead of sitting my with face to the front and with my legs in a macho wide-V position just like the driver starting the motor did. At my boyhood friend D-'s house, two brothers openly laughed at me and another effeminate friend, G-, we were with at the time, just because we impressed the boys as being too soft. (The two nasty jerks happened to be good-looking, so the reaction doubly felt rejecting of G- and me.)

During Christmas, the youth group in our neighborhood often organized house-to-house caroling, which I treated as another game. I can't forget how my next-door neighbor, M- (a girl), referred to me then as a "di tiyak" (or “alanganin,” unsure) very audibly behind my back, perhaps due to the way I sang or acted. It was quite a torture to sing one happy Christmas tune after another with much ironic bitterness toward someone.

At home, I was called other nasty things: “negro” (“nigger,” for I was dark-skinned), “alagain” (“the weak one”), “iyakin” (“crybaby”), “pasosyal” (“trying-hard social climber,” because I pined for housework and had a strange taste for fine things), etc. By this time, my world was closing in on itself, with me hiding deep in my own shell like a nautilus, living in a world of fantasy where everything was as I dreamed and desired and pined for, completely divorced from ugly reality. I began to hallucinate that I was a pretty boy, a spoiled-brat mestizo, who's so confident about himself, who could do whatever he wanted, say whatever he wanted and yet was still loved for it, with wealthy, well-educated and well-bred mom and dad, and an older brother who was fiercely a loyal mentor to me. Unsurprisingly, it was during these times that I secretly discovered playing with myself, a game I found to be literally exhilarating, much unlike all the games I knew. I was 11 years old by this time.

Being on the wrong team

High school naturally wouldn't be an exception. I gravitated towards those considered as weaklings, the non-jocks, the social rejects: J- the stringbean-thin guy (my childhood best friend who was a neighbor), B- the younger (by a year or months) unassertive one, R- the fat one who was always called Baboy or Mr. Piggie, J- the smartest among us but also the smallest in height, D- the hick from a far-flung barrio. It seemed a shame just to be associated with them, but what could this boy do? It scared, even terrified, me to be intimates with the others, especially those popular with the girls and the teachers, as I felt too intimidated and probably afraid of their impending rejection, even though I must have secretly craved their approval, affirmation, and acceptance.

There were rare instances when somebody was too honest or frank as to blurt out what the rest most probably thought of me. There was our one-time class president J-, who said audibly and in a disappointed tone, "Ay, bakla!" when she heard me chortle to a joke with probably a girlish "Ahihihi" instead of a baritone “Ho-ho-ho-har-har-har.” J2- never stopped teasing me about my not having a girlfriend yet “after all these years”; I wished she could have more diplomatically asked, “Are you gay or what?” and I would probably have answered honestly. I also once heard J-'s mother telling my mother, "Having J- as a son feels like having 10 children. Lucky you, your son seems a homo." I can still remember how my mother and another mother conversing with her at the time suddenly turned mum, totally shocked at the remark. Another classmate, N-, once made a pun on my name that inserted the most hated B word in it, and I remember not being amused at how very much audible it was and how it trivialized my secret hurt too much.

These people helped me form my self-identity in a wrong way, but even with such an acquisition of a false self through an increment of years, I couldn't fully accept it. I longed to be one of the boys no matter how much I didn't fit in. I knew I vehemently didn’t like what I had become. I, therefore, treasured whatever friendship from ‘straights’ I managed to squeeze in between without an effort, especially the friendships offered by P- (he copied from my assignment papers, that’s why), E- (he was also very needy that he was friendly to all), and M- (he was said to be a drug addict everybody avoided, and he was courting me to be his private algebra and trigonometry tutor). I especially relished the friendship of G-, whom I secretly admired and considered my fiercest rival intellectually, but I strongly suspected to admire me as well, judging by the special way he treated me, a fellow fierce rival-friend.

Miscellaneous torments

The homosexual pain seemed constant and never-ending throughout my life. I also once caught an uncle who lived down our street who, upon visiting our house one night, blurted out that he thought I was gay – in the very presence of my father, who surprisingly didn’t run amok. Without this uncle knowing, I overheard his remark, and I cringed at how hurtful it was because it was said behind my back and therefore rang even more hurtfully true than the rest.

In college, at a disco-for-a-cause held in a plush hotel, a male stranger in fashionable hair and getup walked up to me and whispered the magic B curse to my ears, as though I still needed to be informed about it after all those years. In the university campus, I overheard a bitchy girl dismiss me as "bading" (gayspeak for “bakla”) even without me doing anything so much as to wait in a long queue for a theater play to start. I felt like my mere presence was an affront to her and other people, and I hated that lady with my guts, particularly since she looked hideous to me herself that I bet no one would ever dare ask her out on a date.


I can go on and on with the places and personalities that remind me of hurt in the past. My officemates A-, J- and M- once confronted me by popping the question in my face, but I denied the truth, which makes me feel guilty and sad up to this day, sometimes. How dare they, when they were three compared to one? I thought. I would have admitted my open secret had the question been popped up in confidence and with unmistakable charity. When we held games like Truth or Consequence, I naturally chose Consequence without fail because I’d rather not be aggravated by the truth. I also remember my officemate M- who, one drunken night, accused me of being gay after I refused to join him going to a prostitution den in his expressed desire to become my ninong or godfather to my devirginization (ostensibly with the paid services a willing woman). (Technically, I was no longer a virgin as a friendly neighboring gay guy molested me at around age 5, awaking my sexuality so very early on.) There was also F- who made fun of me in front of so many other officemates when he jokingly threatened to box me with his fists and I jokingly tried to box him too but was only met with an awkward try, a shocking revelation of my inability to box like a real guy, which of course he noticed with a public reportage, as though with a megaphone.

These days, I have old men for neighbors, policemen types, alpha males whom I didn’t have natural affinity to. My brother, who drinks beer with them sometimes, confided to me in a roundabout way how the men once questioned him for my curious sexuality. These men are my father's age, and it surprised me why they even cared. I ignore them most of the time for they are not my type, so perhaps that’s the reason -- they are resentful of me for appearing to be such a snob and thus are driven to be suspicious of who I am. I can't blame them, though. In case I do drink beer, I only drink with D-, my naughty college student-friend and his equally naughty friend M-. I enjoy their company more for obvious reasons. With them, it's like repairing for lost time, recovering a lost boyhood, and undoing the bad memories of the past.

Letting go

I figure that the only way to let go of this endless nightmare is forgiveness, a once-and-for-all forgiveness and an ever-continuing one. I owe it to myself to give myself such a favor. Forgiveness especially for my father whom I have long blamed for not giving me the love I needed so as to feel secure as a human being and as a boy and a man. I need to forgive him for memories of hitting my butt as a baby when I did something wrong, for embarrassing me in front of people with angry humiliating remarks, for forcing me to swim in the beach by pushing my head underwater (in a tight embrace, though) until I gasped for breath and, when I panicked, for calling me “peyote” (pejorative term for “cowardly sissy”), and for failing to shower me with manly affection in my formative days up to my pubescent period, the time I needed fatherly direction and inspiration the most.

All of them, my tormentors, without exception, were just being good people, in a way. They were all just being honest, maybe too rudely frank, but honest just the same, although they were right only up to a certain extent: that's merely how they interpreted me. Maybe it just means people are simply xenophobic, naturally afraid of what is strange, abnormal, irregular.

I also need to especially forgive myself and continue forgiving me, for feeling different, for feeling left out in the little boys' world and the many manly ways I didn't acquire. I deserve the right to commit such blunders for I am but an imperfect, fallible human being -- just like the rest. I forgive myself for constantly envying countless boys and men for the most trivial of traits that attracted me as being boyish and manly, then sexualizing and eroticizing my envies, and thus sapping my precious energy.

I have to admit and accept the fact that I was being too proud, too. I couldn't countenance the truth that society had a problem with not so much me as my effeminacy. I was wrong that couldn't accept myself; I wrongly hated myself so much because they all seemed to hate me as much.

Wrong sense of validation

I had a serious fault here, most assuredly. I was mistaken in that I based my sense of validation on mere human beings. I was so insecure that I cared too much about what others said about how or what I should be. Ironically, I am myself guilty of exacting the same standards, looking down on people not to my liking. I was also as bitchy and as critical as the worst of the lot. And I am most critical and unforgiving of myself.

Do what they say and think matter to me now? Well, I'm still wary of them reappearing in the strangers I meet today and the persons I have yet to meet tomorrow, still scared of what they might think of me, of how lowly they might regard me. I am afraid they'd reject me and see me as nothing.

I know that's such a loser thing to do. It never occurred to me before that what they think doesn't matter, because, at my core, I am not what other people think I am; I am what I wish to be: to be who I am as God intended, a man! It never occurred to me that I should not fear -- why be afraid when people will always judge me anyway, thinking of me as that anyway, no matter what I do? Worst of all, it never dawned on me that they all do think that way anyway, but so what? I don't need their validation, much as I craved for it. It never occurred to me that only God's validation matters. As Mother Teresa famously said, "It's never between you and them. It's always between you and God." My challenge now is what Mother Teresa added at the end of that quote: “Love them anyway.”

Search for meaning

What does all my suffering mean? Was it really a curse? Was it all a punishment to make me humble because I was so proud? I don’t know. Maybe.

I am not Jesus, the Messiah, the savior of the world, but if my painful wound, my heavy cross, can ever be used as a merit to win the good of others in this ongoing battle in the universe between good and evil, I have no serious objections.

I just want to be happy and contented and at peace in the here and now and be saved in the hereafter. I realize these are what God desires of me, too, because he is good and just and, most of all, loving, unlike all the cruel men and women I’ve encountered in life. God is a sweet lover, I have found, and I just have to trust in his unconditional love no matter what. Perhaps I just have to put all my hopes in that one thought and I will be fine. Let all the remaining arrows come and I shall not be moved and as distraught as before.

Tired of living a lie without letup, I figure it's good to try living a life without resentments and regrets. Instead of constantly regretting the past that is gone in the hope of repairing a future that’s far beyond my grasp, what I can do concretely right now is work on all the things I had missed out, day by day, little by little, as God would allow. I will do those NOT because I need to repair the past so I can have bliss for a future, but because living a half-full life is now past, because I want to live out my true self this time -- to the full.

What is my true self? I hereby declare my true self to be that blank canvas I was born with as a child: open to anything, trusting, anticipating the love and acceptance of the universe.

With this new identity, my core identity all along, I can see plainly that I am not what they had told me I was. There's probably no harm now in trying my hand again at all the good childhood stuff I had missed, and who cares if I blow it and bungle again? I wouldn't be less of a person because I know that I am loved by God anyway.

I could also use some humor to laugh at my own faults. I can't be too serious about this, for life can be such an enjoyable game to be played, with the winners and losers shouting hurrahs for the win and conceding defeat for the loss, but after the game, there's nothing much about winning and losing, for it's just a game, after all. It’s the playing that counts; what's important is I played the game instead of being just a mere spectator in life, confined to the sidelines.


Maybe this prayer of perfect contrition I have received as a text message called The Miracle Prayer is most apt as an ending for long-time same-sex attraction sufferers like me, a kind of an antidote to the 'curse':


“Lord Jesus, I come before you, just as I am. I am sorry for my sins. Please forgive me. In your name, I forgive all others for what they have done against me. I give you my entire self. I invite you into my life. Jesus, I accept you as my Lord and Savior. Heal me. Change me. Strengthen me. (Close your eyes and allow God to speak to you. Listen and you will be surprised of the miracles in your heart.)


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