Part of it is denial, part of it is too-soon nostalgia. Maybe it’s the beautiful wedding of two queer Pinays two weeks ago. Or the nearly three-week cold that I’m finally healing from, but I wake up each morning with a deep, deep longing to be home.
Whatever it is, there will be posts upon posts of my three-week trip (expo for two weeks, family & friends for the last one) to the Philippines, no details spared. Before I boarded the plane back to SFO, I’ve made the decision to move back home within the next few years and if not permanently, maybe for an extended period of time.
The expo trip with GABRIELA Philippines was nothing short of amazing. The families, the communities, their struggles, their resilience and unending hope for a better society has strengthened my commitment to the movement. I am in the process of writing and collating notes from the trip, of which I will be sharing in this blog and in a community report back in November. Seeing my high school friends after ten years was also heartwarming, and while we’ve all paved our own paths, I am in awe of our friendship and genuine sisterhood.
Reflecting on my experiences with people and my reintroduction to what was once familiar is a lot of emotional work. I smoke twice as much as I used to, hoping for release every time. Old wounds open up. This level of vulnerability scares me, but I push through. I smoke more, I write more. And on days when everything feels too much, I lay in bed and find solace with the last thing I thought I would comfort me: Filipino films. Not documentaries, not indie films, but the good ‘ol rom-coms Star Cinema comes out with. The films that my mom and my titas would watch at the theaters at Stonestown Mall in San Francisco. Those films.
I’ve been obsessed with One More Chance since 2007 and depending on my mood, I could be team Popoy or team Basha. When I was in Subic in the Philippines, my best friend got some DVDs for my mom as pasalubong. One of the titles I remember her getting was She’s Dating the Gangster which made me raise my brows. Really? A week after being back in Oakland, I sat in bed and quickly Googled the movie, found a link and the rest is history. I’m on team Kathniel already after one movie.
A still from “She’s Dating the Gangster.”
Three rom-coms and bowls of arrozcaldo later, my eyes were puffy from crying. I finally got up from bed, but only to smoke. It was still bright outside, but the sun was already slowly setting. I miss the ease of not having to explain myself. I miss not having to think about what I have to say, or whether I’m saying it correctly. I miss the comfort of knowing that you’re both looking for the same thing and shouldn’t it be that easy?
While I was smitten with the “love teams” and the lines and the screenplays knowing that they would only make sense to Filipinos (not even Fil-Ams, unfortunately), I was also discovering the dissonance between cultures, societal norms and intimacy. Let’s explore love teams for example. I grew up knowing the love teams of Juday and Rico Yan, Jolina and Marvin, Stefano and Camille, Carlo and Angelica. I can’t think of an actor or actress that has risen to stardom on their own because they’re always paired up. These love teams would be each other’s love interest in every single movie that they make. Sure enough, they were adored by the masses. Worshipped by their fans. Love sells. Specifically, love teams sell.
I didn’t realize how this affected the way I perceived intimate relationships, specially after moving here. I remember my therapist telling me once that just because I dated a queer Pinay doesn’t mean that they would automatically share the same vision as I did because where they grew up also matters. And that’s really true, because although I had an almost 4-year monogamous relationship with a queer Fil-Am, we had to learn each other’s ways over and over again until we realized we weren’t compatible. Even though our shared love for gulay and bangus sisig was strong it could overpower any damn diner in the country. The kinds of relationships one sees growing up are essential, and slowly I’m uncovering a very important facet of my childhood. Love teams were a norm, as much as Disney fairytales were.
Ginny and all her feelings in “Starting Over Again.”
The other morning I was late to work, my eyes puffy again. I watched Starting All Over Again and while it’s not your usual love story with a happy ending, I appreciate the lessons. It’s slowly teaching me things that I started to learn in earlier Filipino films like persistence and the reality of one’s mortality. As in, I will tell you how I feel because I might die tomorrow type of shit. But that night’s movie had so many gems — like loving you is letting go. I needed to hear that. I need to move on. I’m here, and maybe I was a different person ten years ago when I loved you. Maybe I was a different person last year too. Maybe it’s a lot of regret, a lot of wanting to reclaim what you think you can regain, but tonight, I’m right here, in the present, with a better version of myself learning and loving the best ways I know how. And I’ll be ok knowing that perhaps I can still love those people, but just in different ways.