Pilgrimage to self | Inquirer Opinion

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The bus rumbled and I jolted awake. It was as if I was resurrected from a three-day death trance, even though I only slept for an hour. Beside me was Mando Jr.—whom we nicknamed Jay-ar.

“Where are we?”

“We’re still far,” he answered.

I made an exasperated face. My legs were itching to walk on the youth campsite. According to the driver earlier, our exodus from Manila to Zambales was going to take approximately five hours.

Our guide played the movie “Moana” on the bus’ smart TV. The movie ran for almost two hours. It was the usual journey of self-discovery, and I liked it.

More than an hour later, we finally arrived. We were greeted by a big concert dome surrounded by numbered houses. There was also a lagoon nearby and some obstacle courses covered in mud.

Our guide led us to house number 10. The house had triple-decker beds. At the end of the room was a door that led to the bathroom.

“This is the dorm where you’re going to stay,” the guide explained, “The girls will head to dorm number 12, since boys and girls should be separated.”

I sighed in relief, knowing that we will have the dorm system instead of sleeping in tents. At least we’re safe from the assault of sharp weeds and mosquitoes.

Covered in sweat, I went to the common bathroom. The common bathroom had rows of sinks, shower cubicles, and toilet cubicles. I entered a shower cubicle. A few minutes later, I heard other guys entering the shower. For some reason, I quickened my bath. Upon leaving the shower cubicle, I was surprised by the topless figures of my dorm mates. My body heated up. Conscious and confused, I hastened to dress up so I could get out quickly. In the bedroom, there were other guys dressing up. I diverted my sight away from their muscular biceps and the godly sculpt of their abdomens; afraid that I would be caught staring.

I was disoriented, because I had only felt this with girls before. In an attempt to silence my thoughts, I went outside with Jay-ar, to eat with the others in the cafeteria.

After our meal, we went to the concert dome. I’m pretty sure that I developed partial deafness from the piercing screech of electric guitars and the throbbing beats of the drum, from the band that was performing a religious reinvention of the songs of The Chainsmokers and other artists. After some skits and dance numbers, a pastor went up the stage.

He preached about avoiding cigarettes, alcohol, premarital sex, pornography, and getting a tattoo. But what really caught my attention was when he talked about queer people.

“Aside from those sins, we should also talk about the bakla and the tomboy,” he started. “When we were born, the doctor would say ‘congratulations, it’s a baby boy’ and ‘congratulations, it’s a baby girl.’ Have you ever heard the doctor say, ‘congratulations, it’s a baby bakla’ or ‘congratulations, it’s a baby tomboy?’”

The crowd laughed.

I felt uncomfortable. I looked at the gays behind me, checking for their reactions. And as expected, their faces were a collection of dismays masked by uncomfortable smiles.

Relief washed over me when his speech finally ended. Had my 14-year-old brain known the words, I would judge that pastor as homophobic and transphobic. At that time, I had no idea about those terms, let alone my sexuality. To tell you the truth, I was actually convinced by his idea that desiring a person of the same sex was a sin. I felt condemned, like I committed something illegal. Jay-ar, who was beside me, appeared unaffected, he seemed “used” to those kinds of words.

After that incident that seemed like a punishment, we had various activities. Some of them went to pool baptism. It was a depiction of being spiritually dead and emerging from the pool with the “new you.” We also had open-field activities, such as tug-of-war on slippery mud and an obstacle course that included crawling on the mud.

Being 14 years old who hasn’t had any growth spurt or major muscular development, I struggled with climbing the obstacles. An older guy then lifted me suddenly so I can jump over the obstacle. My stomach felt ticklish with the roughness of his strong hands on my sides. During the entire obstacle course, I wasn’t looking at him because I was so flustered.

Back home in Manila later, I dropped onto my bed with a newfound epiphany. As if I bit the forbidden fruit and it sparked the flames of my bicuriosity. As years went by, I was like the Israelites exploring the wilderness to find the promised land—my sexual and gender identity.

After a long journey, I unlearned the harmful ideologies that made me suppress my authentic self. And last March, I confessed my identity to my family. Fortunately, they had no violent reactions, unlike that pastor in the youth camp a few years ago.

—————–

King Czar Mardi T. Dignos, 20, studies literary and cultural studies at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Sta. Mesa. He writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. He loves petting street cats and owns two black cats.

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