Sunday, January 4, 2015

the Whole-y Family

The Sunday after Christmas is dedicated to the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

I recall conversations with young pre-eminent Filipino psychologists over dinners. My understanding: They mentioned how integral to the Filipino psyche the relation to "family" is, as it appears over and over again in various researches. We were talking about health motivation. Filipinos, it seems, would always cite as a primary motivator 'family' for a range of behaviors.

The OFW sacrifices to be able to send money to 'family' back in the Philippines. The budget-conscious adult female squeezes what she can from various saving mechanisms for 'family'. The need to be 'healthy' for the fitness adult is driven by a desire not to be a financial burden to 'family'. The over-achieving adult gay male would be motivated by a need to show 'family' what he has made of himself.

These examples contrast sharply to how Western counterparts are more 'self'-motivated or directed. Individualistic goals of 'being the best I could be', of achieving optimum fitness for 'self' are more pronounced.

Such deep connection also has an underbelly. We can get too caught up in 'family', to the neglect of self and/or other institutions. For gay men, unable to disclose their sexual preference and/or identity, could take such a heavy toll on them. I am reminded of a friend, my age, who never came out to his family. He lived in fear of how he'll be rejected. This was compounded by his discovery of his HIV status. I theorize that his fear made him drop his maintenance medicines for cardio-metabolic disorders. He couldn't bear the double whammy of disclosing his identity and his sero-status, even to his sister to whom he was closest.

He had a massive heart attack, alone in his condo. His body was discovered days after. It was particularly heart-breaking to hear his dear sister mention this during the wake: Sana hindi na-isip ni Kuya na wag sabihin sa amin, sa akin, ang kanyang pagkatao. Alam kong naging mabigat sa kanya na hindi niya ma-amin sa amin. Kung alam lang niya na hinding-hindi magbabago ang pagmamahal namin sa kanya kung alam namin na bading siya. (I wished Kuya chose to come out to us, to me. I knew it was particularly hard on him not to be able to share with us who he really was inside. If he only knew that nothing would change, not our love for him, he chose to tell us he was gay.

I am very fortunate to have truly wonderful, understanding and loving parents and siblings. I am one of the lucky ones. I have been out to them since first year college. And they have just all been very supportive and loving. I introduce my partners to them because I am proud both ways, proud of my partner and proud of my family. It always gives me such peace and joy to have dinners with family and partner.

Yet I can understand the dilemma of those who still feel that such disclosure would be unwelcome, at the very least. For some, the risks are just too high.

A friend of mine confided in me recently about his break-up. He has been with this guy for quite sometime. He is super closeted to his family, a complicated status since he is raising a son from a failed marriage. The guy broke up with him, because he "couldn't see a future" with him. My friend has been grieving to his confidants. One of them remarked "That's the problem when you date guys in the closet."

At first, I couldn't get the connection. What did being in the closet have to do with it? Upon reflection, may be these things were related. Maybe, the compartments of his life have started weighing him down. He is perceiving pressure for longer-term commitment from my friend, having been together for five years. But committing may mean outing himself to his family, to his son. And that may be a future he couldn't bear to see. The pressure from 'family' forced him to give up the only person he could be himself with. Maybe.

'Family' is so integral to a lot of us, for better or for worse. We may be out in different circles and closeted in some. But with the value we place in 'family', with the kind of connection we have with it, perhaps being comfortable to be ourselves among 'family' is something we ought to work for and ultimately deserve.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Simon said...

Awh ;) I wish I had the will to just come out to them its a burden I carry..

Alex Mallari said...

I'm 36 now. I came out to my family and friends starting last year only. I had those same apprehension, anxiety and fear about being rejected. Those feelings were crippling. Should I just remain in the closet and have my identity just be an alibi? Fortunately enough for me, my work as a physician allowed me to see life in it's frailty - that I have to grab my own and live it the way my heart is dictating me to. But that was also predicated on me "coming out to my self". I had to realize my worth, accept fully who I am and believe that no matter how my friends and family react to my revelation of my self to them, I have a God who unconditionally loves me. And it has been all worth it so far :-) The only regret I have is not having had the chance to tell my father about my self last year before he died unexpectedly. Yes, may parang MMK din ang buhay ko hahaha. But in hindsight, it was all in God's plan. Now I'm out to my family and to friends who matter to me. And I just started a relationship with a guy who's out like me. Life is good :-) If I can go back and tell my younger self about the future, I'd tell him, don't be afraid, it'll be all right.