Sunday, December 12, 2010

the myth of the king and the queen

“Niel, are you a king or a queen?”

A colleague innocently asked me the question above in one of our coffee bonding. Was she serious? I thought.  I don’t know if it was a compliment or not. I mean, isn’t it obvious?

But then, I paused and reconsidered what I was thinking. Was she asking about my sexual identity – our personal identification of our sexuality? Because if that’s what she meant, I am definitely a queen! =)

“But what do you mean by a king or queen?” I had to clarify what she meant by her question.

“I mean, in relationships, are you more of the male or the female?”  She answered.

“Ah, what you meant is the gender role I play when I am in 
a relationship…”

Gender role is a set of social and behavioral norms -- within a specific culture -- which is widely considered to be socially appropriate of the specific sex. Husbands are expected to do tasks that require physical strength (e.g., moving the furniture) and to financially provide the expenses of the home. On the other hand, wives are expected to take greater responsibility of the home (e.g., cook food, wash the dishes) and take care of the children.  

However, the view that husband and wife roles are universal in intimate relationships is a myth. And,  most people believe (and at times confused) that gays and lesbians also adhere to these gender roles (Peplau, 1993). In same-sex couples, who is the husband, who is the wife? Who is the king, who is the queen?

Studies have shown (at least those conducted in the west)  that cohabiting same-sex couples are less likely than different-sex couples to divide household labor according to culturally defined gender roles (Herek, 2006).  In fact, gay and lesbian couples divide chores fairly equally since most lesbians and gays are in dual earning relationships (Peplau & Fingerhut, 2007).

Kurdek (2005) summarized studies of same sex gender roles when they are in romantic relationships.

1.) Gay and lesbian couples do not assign roles like husband or wife for household labor. 

2.) Gay and lesbian couples are most likely than heterosexual couples to “negotiate a balance between achieving fair distribution of household labor and accommodating the different interests, skills, and work schedules of particular partners”

3.) A gay or lesbian partner is likely to specialize in the household tasks they do efficiently and effectively.  

When I was in a live-in relationship for three years, my ex-partner and I share and take turns at home. Since my ex-partner has more recipes in mind, he does most of the cooking. Since I am comfortable in washing the dishes, I usually volunteer to do it. I know of a lesbian couple who take turns in cooking their favorite dish and both are equally active in parenting their daughter. But when it comes to fixing the broken things at home, they hire an electrician, a carpenter, or a plumber for it.

But how about dates, who pays for it? Most gay men go dutch during dates or modifies by one offering to pay for dinner while the other pays for the movie. But, I am romantic – if it was my idea and I was the one who invited, I would like to pay for the date.

And how about sex? Well, that deserves another blog entry. =)

Gender roles are only suggestions on how relationships can work. These are only preferences. If you want to be a king, be a king. If you want to be a queen, be a queen! In the end, relationship satisfaction is all about relationship tasks done and relationship expectations met. 

But me, answering my colleague's question, "I am a king and at the same time a queen!"

Herek, G. (2006). Legal recognition of same-sex relationships in the United States: A social science perspective. American Psychologist, 61 (6), 607-621.
 Kurdek, L. (2005). What do we know about gay and lesbian couples? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14 (5), 251-254.
 Peplau, L. A. (1993) Lesbian and gay relationships. In Garnets, L. D., & Kimmel, D. C. (Eds.), Psychological perspectives on lesbian & gay male experiences (pp. 395-419). New York: Columbia University Press.
 Peplau, L. A., & Fingerhut, A. W. (2007). The close relationships of lesbians and gay men. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 405-424.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

If I won the 741M, how will I spend it?

But how much is 741M pesos?

  1. Pay my brother’s hospital bills.
  2. Pay all my debts and my family’s debts.
  3. Buy an Iphone4.
  4. Get a Macbook.
  5. Donate to the 2010 Pride March (Manila & Cebu event).
  6. Hire assistant researchers to collect data for me.
  7. Thanksgiving party here at home.
  8. Be a full time PhD student.
  9. Invest on a Jollibee store.
  10. Buy/build a house in the hills of Cebu.
  11. Enroll in a gym.
  12.  Buy a car.
  13. Have an educational plan for my two nephews and my niece.
  14. Facilitate the adoption of my nephew.
  15. Memorial plan for my parents and the entire family.
  16. Buy/build a crepe-coffee-pasta place that has a stage for intimate theater in the heart of Cebu City.
  17. Fund an LGBT research and counseling here in the city.
  18. Backpack to Europe (kaya pa ba?).
  19. Asia trip with my family.
  20. Buy new wardrobe.
Do I still have extra money?

If you won, how will you spend your 741M?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Because of you, I have been changed.

This was read during Francis' Internment Mass (September 4, 2010, 1PM), St. Joseph Parish, Mandaue City.

“September settles softly, leaves starting to fall, I recall the last time you were here, your laughter are melody that lingers still. There is a hole in my heart, and I carry it wherever I go, like a treasure that travels with me down every road. There is a hole in my heart, in a shape of you.” - Jewel, an American singer songwriter, wrote this song for a friend who died of cancer.

(The last time the family was complete, April, 25, 2010. Francis is sitting in the middle wearing a white cap. Francis already had his first operation. I just got home from Manila. Less than a week after, he had another seizure and we were never the same again.)

Teban -- ang akong maguwang na si Francis Kintanar gyud ang nakabunyag nako aning pangalan. Makahinumdum ko na iya kong sugsugon og “Teban Escudero ang nawong morag kaldero.” Og mo tubag ra pud ko, “Pancit palabok bola bola opaw!”

When we were growing up, Francis and I had the most dramatic and sometimes violent fights among the siblings. The name calling, the insults, and the punches (or slaps from me) were exchanged between me and Francis! Seven years among gap, pero kaming duha mag-ilog og telebabad sa telepono. Junjun and Mark, my other two brothers, are more quiet, introverted, and peaceful in temperament. Growing up, I thought I don’t want to be like my brother.

Surprisingly now, people are telling me that I am a physical photocopy of Francis – ang pagkabus-ok, pagbarog, ang buhok, ang smile. I’ve been told that I look like John Lapus or Vaness Wu, but to be told that I look like my brother Francis is the best compliment so far I have received this year. Gipa-tambok gyud siguro ko karon – para kung mingawon mo ni Francis, mo tan-aw lang mo nako, nya ako, mo smile lang.

But I have always known that inside, we are very similar -- that is why we easily get on each others nerves. We are both an extrovert -- talkative and sociable. We have the wit and the humor. We are known to our friends for our patience, but we also have an explosive temper. I would like to think we are both courageous, out of the box, open to experiences, and defy-er of gravity. I think the biggest parenting challenges were only shared between Francis and me. He was once referred as the black sheep (the prodigal son) in the family, whereas I will always be the proud pink sheep. (Francis accepted and was proud of my pinkness too, he liked and forwarded my ImMoral video to his friends!)

But Francis had changed a lot. My mother, my father, and even I were overwhelmingly surprised with the stories we have heard from you, from co-workers, friends, and students. I remember my Mom’s words when we were talking over breakfast, “Francis is really full of surprises, from conception till death.” Na-shock man gud me kung unsa ka pinangga diay si Francis. He has changed from black sheep to a brilliant white sheep (his coffin’s color is very appropriate… and the flowers. I was even joking that the flowers matches with the motif of the whole wake.)

So how did that happened? I am a psychologist by profession and I ask questions like, how does one change from black to white? I think the answer is not surprising to you… you’ve known this. I know it. In fact, Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a song about it:

“Love, love changes everything, hands and faces, earth and sky. Love, love changes everything, how you live and how you die.”


Over the past months, I reflected on Francis colorful life story. I learned that love expressed by the family, love expressed by a partner, a lover, and a wife, love expressed by friends, coworkers, and the community – changed him from black to white.

When Francis was in rehab, I remember my Dad and Mom diligently (without a miss) visited him every Sunday. I was 19 then, I was studying in Manila. I only visit home for the holidays. Siyempre, ang akong mindset kay vacation mode. So, for an adolescent boy like me, every Saturday night is gimik night going home just before dawn. But on Sunday morning my Dad will always wake us all up so that we can visit Francis for Sunday lunch. (Dad’s unspoken rule: Bahala og kadlawon ni uli basta present for Sunday’s visit.) And my Mom prepared the food and the baon every Sunday of that entire year.

I think that’s love. (Oh by the way, today is my Mom and Dad’s 39th wedding anniversary. Bittersweet but happy anniversary Mom and Dad!) Happily and with pride, because of love we survived and conquered the illness of drug addiction.

But fate has another big challenge for Francis and for us after 10 years – the big C. February of this year, a week before his 38th birthday, and when I was visiting Cebu for the weekend, Francis had a seizure. A few days later we discovered that it was due to a malignant tumor in his right brain. Francis was a determined warrior and so we geared up for the battle. My Mom was the source of strength whereas my Dad was the source of hope.

But typical of a Filipino family, we couldn’t have done it alone. My Lolo and Lola, titos and titas, cousins, and relatives here and abroad played major and important characters too. Imagine the expenses and the emotional highs and lows of four operations, radiation and chemotherapy, and 6 months in and out of the ICU/hospital. The enormous amount of financial and emotional support was generously given. I don’t think Francis would have lasted this long if not for their help. I don’t think we, the family, would have survived the battle too.

So in behalf of the immediate family, we would like to say our sincerest THANK YOU… because we feel the love – I’m sure Francis did too. And because of it, we have been changed for good.

“Love makes fools of everyone, all the rules we make are broken… Yes love, love changes everyone… Live or perish, in its flame. Love will never, never let you be the same…”

During rehab, I know Francis was very broken and jaded. But when he got out, I am very happy that he had another chance on romantic love. As a person who studies personality and romantic relationship and as a brother who witnessed his love life, trust me, Francis is passionate but he is NOT an easy partner too.

But Lica, – you changed him and it made lot of difference to who he is now. I could just imagine how YOU picked up the pieces and I admire YOU for patching up the pieces. You were his safe haven and secure base. And you made me believe in wedding vows “to care for you in sickness and in health, to nurture you, and to grow with you throughout the seasons of life.” ACTIONS are indeed more important than words.

Lica, please remember, that no matter what happens, OHANA. I borrowed that from Lilo and Stich, it means, you are family.

So in behalf of my Mom and Dad, Francis’ brothers – Junjun, Mark and me. And I am sure Arav also feels the same way, we would like to say our heartfelt THANK YOU… because we feel the love too. And because of it, we have been changed for good.

”Yes, love, love changes everything, Brings you glory, brings you shame. Nothing in the world will ever be the same.”

I never thought that one morning will make a lot of difference for Francis, for our family, and for a community. I just graduated from college and I came home from Manila. After rehab, my mom requested me to accompany my (during that time) thin, unconfident, and unusually quiet brother to talk to the dean of the College of Nursing in Southwestern University. And I think after this event, wala na gyud mi mag-away.

Nagsabot mi, sige ha, akoy istorya sa dean. Niya ikaw hilom lang ka. Atong ingnon na gikan ka nagbakasyon sa States for one year. Kung pangutan-on ka akoy tubag og kung kailangan patubagon gani ka, tubag ka pero pag-ininglis ha. Sus, perte nakong hadluka lagi. Strictahon og nawong baya to na babae na among ka istorya.

But we were successful with our plan because Francis got into the program. Maybe it was fate, maybe it was chance, I don’t know. But to that person I was talking that day, thank you for the chance because that changed a life, you changed a family, you changed a barkada, and you changed a community.

In school, that was where he met Chad, Vanz, James, and the barkada. You shared your stories with us the other night. You mentioned how Francis had changed you. But with your friendship and love, he was changed too. Francis gained his confidence and groove back. He was the student governor during his senior year, became a well-loved clinical instructor, and graduated Masters in Nursing last March of 2010. Because of the love by his friends, coworkers, and SWU community, because of you guys, Francis changed and, in effect, changed us too.

When he was battling cancer, you and the whole community were our source determinism and hope -- from the benefit concert to the messages you left in Facebook, from your visits in the hospitals to the funny kulit stories you have shared. You made us realized that Francis was loved and I think that made it a lot easier for us to accept this ending.

So to the barkada, to co-faculty members, to students, friends in school, the entire SWU community, we would like to say our THANK YOU… because we feel the love – I’m sure Francis did too. And because of it, we have been changed for good.

According to Mitch Albom, "Death doesn’t just take someone, it misses someone else. And in the small distance between being taken and being missed, lives are changed. One withers, another grows. Birth and death are part of a whole."

I know now why people come to wakes and funerals. It is to be with the grieving family – to distract them somehow, to give them encouraging words and comfort, to share wonderful memories of the dead.

To everyone who have shown all different kinds of support – from the flowers, to donations, baked goods, chocolates and food, prayers and masses, hugs and tears shared, texts, calls, YM and Facebook messages, Youtube videos tribute, your genuine sympathies, and if I forget about you I am so sorry but you all know who you are, your positive unconditional regard, your mere presence – for just being there. We say THANK YOU, because we feel the love – I’m sure Francis did too. And because of it, we have been changed for good.

Thirty eight years is short but let us all learn and be inspired from Francis’ life story. Because of you, Francis changed, and in effect, I have been changed too.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Evolution and Liberation

This monologue was first performed last February 14, 2003 (Friday) at Gahum Philippines, 21 F Don Pedro Rodriguez St., Cebu City for the play Uwag og Gugma sa Bayot og Tomboy.

There were two phases of my gay life -- before 18 and after 18.

I know I was different ever since I had consciousness. Even before 18, I felt that I was a girl trapped in a man’s body.

Mahinhin ako. Pagirl ako. Miyat ako.

Maria Clara
-- I used to idolized her when I was in high school.

Before, when someone asked me how many siblings I have, I would say, “ I have three brothers, " and with pride and a smile I continued by saying, "And I am the only girl in the family.”

They just laughed. I just laughed too. This line actually reached my parents when I was in grade 5, during a parent-teacher conference.

Of course, there were instances that I would lock myself in my room, get a blanket and wrap it around my body… and I would pretend that I am wearing a long beautiful gown. More of that story here.

I would say that those were my girly days.

I started having guy crushes when I was in grade 4! I dreamt about guys, I fantasized about guys, and, -- a bit embarrassed at that time -- I get sexually aroused with guys!

I thought, "Isn't this crazy? Girls don’t get aroused- or at least they don’t get a hardy!"

This hardy was clearly bothering me. And I started hating my willy for it keeps on popping up whenever I am with an attractive guy! And it feels so... unfeminine!

I hate it. I would feel... yuck!

I tried suppressing the feeling and kept it to myself. I would sit with my legs crossed and wear a tight underwear to hide my willy!

My classmates also treated me like their muse in the class. And I like it too. Some classmates would pass some love notes and some would steal a kiss. Some wanted more. So, I had sexual encounters when I was a teen and as I recall, I am always submissive -- the girl, the giver.

I wouldn’t undress. I was not comfortable with my body. Of course, I was slim but more conscious of my erected willy!

So I refused to be touched. I would only give pleasure.

Then it was over. The guy is spent. Done.

And I thought that was love. Love?

But, I thought love was supposed to make you happy. I wasn’t happy. I was sad, tired, dirty, and guilty.

Eighteen. Manila. Jesuit education. Looking for true love. MIRC. Chatting. Eyeball. Baaaam --- paradigm shift!

Ah…. Gay to gay relationship diay na!

Because of how I socialized with different gay men in Manila, I came to understand that the only person who will understand and love my gayness fully is also a gay person himself! If I fall in love with a straight guy, then the only sure thing that will happen to me is an empty pocket and a broken heart.

At least there is hope for me. Hope for real love. Isn't that exciting?

It took a while before I was out of the singles rat race. I shed some tears too. I was also burned. But I kept having hope on love and I wouldn’t allow myself to be jaded.

One day, I met this guy in an audition. He was quiet and mysterious. I thought he was a snob at first. But he has captivating eyes! And when he dances, ugh, uber sexy!

We became co-actors and we became friends. We talked a lot. After rehearsals, we talked while he walked me home.

I was beginning to like him, so I asked, “Are you into gay to gay relationship? Or have you been involved with someone of the same sex?”

He answered, “No.”

Ok fine. He is straight! Next. It was a FAIL moment for me.

But, we became officemates for a theater company.

We continued on talking until three in the morning. We washed dishes together. We shared our lowest and highest points of the day. We played five questions.

But in my mind, I constantly questioned, is he into the kind of relationship that I want? I was gay and he was straight.

Or so I thought.

One time in a training, we were having this activity called backstabbing -- we were to write on something beautiful or a compliment about that person on the paper placed on his back.

I wrote in his… “I like you, saying di pwede.”

I didn’t sign my name but eventually he found out that I was the one who wrote it.

Then he said aloud to me when we were washing dishes, “who knows maybe this time pwede na.”

Sheesh. I was so happy that I discreetly walked out of the room and shouted, “shyet, may pag-asa ako!”

A few days after, when we were talking and disclosing ourselves, he said that he would try this out.

"What?" I tried to hide my excitement.

I was shocked actually but I was so happy that I said yes.

I would say that it was unplanned. But, I will never forget that day. It was already early morning -- around 3:23 am. It was a Wednesday in March. Then, he was the reason why I get up in the morning for work.

Sex was different this time.

I was still submissive at first and there was role playing. I still felt that was a girl. I was still conscious of body and my willy. But one night he wanted me to feel how it would feels like. He asked me to trust him. So I let him be.

He touched, his caressed, he kissed. He made love to me.

It was different. I enjoyed it this time. I was able to feel pleasure.

Naka-ingon gyud ko og, lami man diay. Ing-ani diay ni ang bayot? Lami man diay ma bayot!

I wasn’t conscious anymore of willy. And I thought, I do not need to be a girl anymore to feel pleasure, to feel love. Ing-ani lang ko, happy na ko ani.

One night, I told him, “You made me affirm and appreciate my sexuality. And thank you for that, my olive juice.”

Twenty two months…

Marami na rin nagbago. Marami na rin pinagdaanan. Marami na rin nangyari.

We had our fair shares of rocks too -- lifestyle issues, ideology clashes, sexuality issues.

One night we were watching a gay art film. The protagonist in the film died of AIDS. Another character was there with him until he died. They had this relationship what we psychologist call- companionnate love, the presence of intimacy (sharing and bonding) and commitment (the cognitive choice to stay together) but no passion, no physiological arousal or that feeling to be in union with the other -- meaning no sex.

It triggered a question in me. I asked him, “What kind of relationship do you want?”

After a thought, he said that he preferred companionnate love.

At that point in our relationship, I was insecure of his love. It was fairly invisible. Plus, over twenty two months, I sensed a guilt from him when we make love. So, I was disappointed and hurt, not because I cannot give it to him. I could try. But I admit, I am very sexual as a person.

Then, it triggered other questions too.

If I were a girl, will you hold my hands in the mall?
If I were a girl, will you kiss me in public?
If I were a girl, will you marry me?

"YES," he answered. (Shyet, bilat na sad ang akong kontra!)

"Why?" I asked.

"...because society permits it." was his reply.

I was quiet and I cried.

I got hurt because even my own love discriminates me. I do not want my love to be hidden from the cruel and condemning world! Men and women flaunt ther love, why can’t gays flaunt theirs? Why can’t I shout to the world that I love him.

The only vocation that God wants me to follow is to love others. Magmahal ka.

I know that I have never loved anyone like this before. That is certain.

Magmahal ka. Babae man, o lalake. Tomboy o bakla. Basta kapag nagmahal ka, sapat na yun.

Basta ako, nagmamahal ako.

I hope to get married someday... or a commitment ceremony at least to a guy who will love my full gayness! I will invite my friends, my family, and to anyone who will be there and give social support for our loving relationship.

I dream that one day I will be able to hold hands with my partner in the mall. I wish that I will be able to kiss my lover in public. Ironically, I kiss my girlfriends goodbye in the cheek, but not my boyfriend.

Maybe… someday. Somewhere...
There’s a place for us.
Somewhere there’s a place for us
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us, somewhere

There’s a time for us.
Someday a time for us
Time together and time to spare
Time to learn and time to care

Someday, somewhere
We’ll find a new way of living
We’ll find a new way of forgiving

There’s a place for us
A time and a place for us
Hold my hand and we’re half way there
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there



This is my story. This is my liberation. I am sharing it to you. Now, it's your turn.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Of Romantic Rejection and Pain

Basha: Popoy, umuwi ka na!
Popoy: Mahal na mahal kita at ang sakit sakit na.
-- One More Chance (2007, Film)
Anyone who has loved and has been rejected can relate to Popoy’s pain. Some parting might be such a sweet sorrow, but according to Emily Dickenson, “parting is all we need to know of hell.”

I have heard stories from clients and friends about the pain of being romantically rejected—when your romantic advancement is refused by another or when an existing romantic relationship (real or perceived) is ended. Personally too, this is not foreign to me. I have been rejected—socially and romantically—a lot of times in my adult life.

So, I wondered what science has to say about this and to my surprise this has been studied!

Anyone who has experienced heartache knows that the “ache” is not symbolic but real. In fact, a study has shown that emotional pain like being romantically rejected affects the same primary brain regions as that of physical pain.

Nathan DeWall and his colleagues from University of Kentucky looked into fMRI scans of volunteers who experienced rejection. (Researchers manipulated a computer game so that some players feel excluded.) Results showed an interesting discovery. The brain region associated with physical pain lit up. Thus, the brain experienced emotional pain just as real as it would if the body had been wounded.

The researchers investigated further by asking if taking painkillers will also ease the emotional pain just as it will for physical pain. In a different study, volunteers were given 1000 milligram dose of acetaminophen—the active ingredient in Tylenol— every morning and night for three weeks while others took a placebo. Those who took the drug reported less emotional pain compared to those who did not. Thus, taking painkillers also relieves the emotional pain.

So if you are broken-hearted, take a Tylenol and it will ease the pain.

But we all know that coping with break-up or rejection is not that simple. Even the psychologists who did the study do not suggest popping Tylenol every time one feels broken-hearted. The drug taken frequently and in large doses has side effects on the liver.

Psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Iannon from the University of California in San Francisco think that when we are romantically rejected we undergo a psychobiological (as it also involves neurochemicals in the brain) process of two phases: protest phase and resignation/despair phase. Taking Tylenol makes that brain region associated with physical pain NOT light up but it will not allow one to skip the process.

During the protest phase, the abandoned lover will try everything to win their sweetheart back. We obsessively dissect all aspects of the relationship, establish what went wrong, and strategize on how to rekindle the romance. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist by profession but had studied romantic interpersonal attraction for more than 30 years, calls this frustration aggression–when the romantic love is spoiled, the lover just loves harder.

Another characteristic of protest is what Psychologist Reid Meloy calls abandonment rage. We know that sometimes it is easier to move on when we are angry with our ex-lovers. But, why do we hate someone we loved? “Perhaps because it enables jilted lovers to extricate themselves from dead end love affairs so that they can renew the vital courting process sooner,” Helen Fisher hypothesized.

Over time, we give up and we enter the stage of hopelessness, resignation, and despair. We cry, lie in bed, stare into space, drink, forget to take care of self and become ugly (inside and out). Elizabeth Gilbert—author of Eat, Pray, and Love—said that we know we have reached romantic rejection’s final destination when we have completely and mercilessly devaluated our self.

Some broken-hearted lovers are hopeful and resilient (and romantics!) that they are able to dust themselves off and redirect their energy to fall in love again. But some broken-hearted lovers suffer from clinical depression, die from heart attacks or strokes, or commit suicides.

I think these findings have school, work, or organizational implications. With mixture of pain, frustration aggression, rage, hopelessness, and despair one experience during romantic rejection, I advocate that organizations should excuse or set days for emotional sick leaves. Parents, teachers, siblings, friends, and bosses should take romantic rejections and heartaches seriously because we know and have experienced that unrequited love decreases concentration, energy, motivation, and performance.

If an employee gets sick, one gets a medical certificate from a medical doctor to prove that he or she was sick, and is also given a certificate of fitness to work. I propose that if an employee experiences romantic rejection (or any social rejection), one gets a certificate from a psychologist (like me) to ensure his or her mental health and psychological well-being.

So are you broken-hearted? Take a Tylenol and call me in the morning.
"How cruel, you say. But did I not warn you? Shall I count for you love's ways? Fear, jealousy, revenge -- pain. They all belong to love's innocent game."
These words from a Celtic legend Tristan and Iseult survived for centuries. Now, I agree that the only sure thing about loving is pain. But still I wonder, even if it is painful-- when love goes wrong -- people work, write, sing, dance, travel overseas (wink here), sacrifice, kill, and die for love. Romeo Montague of Verona was right,
"Is love a tender thing? It is too rough, too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Joy of Being a Counseling Psychologist

Ruel (not his real name) is a 12 year old boy who was referred to me for therapy a few months ago. He is quiet, shy, and slow to warm up kid. When you ask him a question, he answers by saying one or two words or by moving his shoulders up and down, then, he continues with whatever he is doing.

Unlike my other clients who are willing to tell stories about themselves, Ruel is very private. Thus, one of my biggest hurdle with Ruel is to build rapport and trust between me and him.

There were sessions we did play and expressive arts therapy. But, I think I hit a jackpot in rapport building when he taught me how to make a crane and a tulip origami.

That afternoon, I took some scratch papers and coloring pens and I asked him to draw. But, he did not finish his drawing, instead, he started folding the papers. At first, I was just quiet and I observed (hoping that I can get a glimpse of his personality). But as soon as I realized he was making a paper crane, right there and then, I asked him to teach me.

And gladly, he did. Step by step, I followed the way he folded the paper. Sometimes, I asked him to slow down and I also questioned the steps if I was confused.
I was an excited student because I was dying to learn how to make a paper crane since I saw Prison Break. =) But in the end, I learned to make a paper crane and a tulip!

You see, Ruel was referred to me for specific reasons. And sometimes, it is frustrating because, at that time, we were faaaar from discussing what he was referred to me for.

I do make plans before I meet up with him, but, these plans are usually not followed. There are times that when he goes inside the room, I just allow him to do what he wants to do. Sometimes, I feel embarrassed to the supporting organization because I think I might not be able to give a concrete behavioral report of his progress.

But, if you read my therapy progress reports, I have a good sense of his phenomenology, I have hypotheses for it, and I have recommendations too. But you see, sometimes, we want results right away, and results mean changes in behavior/s Ruel was referred too.

There was one session before we were about to break for Christmas. With papers and pen in front of him, Ruel started writing letters. And I consider this as a breakthrough!

Letters are perfect data of what is happening in his phenomenology! Plus, I was so happy as he opened himself through these short letters.

I was feeling creative too that I asked him a favor. I asked him to write another letter. This time, the letter should be addressed to me. I told him that I will also write a letter addressed to him. My hidden agenda for that moment was to fish for his ideas of me and these therapy sessions.

When we were both finished writing our letters. I read aloud my letter to him.

Dear Ruel,
I really really want to know you more. And part of it is for you to tell me stories about yourself. But do not to be afraid to tell your stories to me. Only tell what you are comfortable in sharing. But always remember that I will be here for you whatever these stories are.

Also, our next meeting will be a month from now since I will go home to Cebu for the holidays. Be good when I am away. Merry Christmas and a happy new year, Ruel.

Ruel was to shy to read aloud his letter to me. So I read it quietly. I am editing some parts for confidentiality but one line in his letter paid off my long travels from Philcoa, Quezon City to La Paz, Makati City every Tuesday:

Dear Nil…

…marami salamat sa sayo dahil ako ay nag iba para sayo.

Ruel (and he drew two faces, one he labeled as me and the other him.)
I was so surprised! Whoah, wait?!?! What did I do? I thought I might not have done anything concrete, but somehow my presence affected him. If I did not see Ruel writing the whole note in front of me, I would have thought someone else had written it.

Carl Rogers would have been so proud of me and I am happy and proud of myself too. =) This is the reward of what I do. This is the joy of being a counseling psychologist.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Why is Homosexuality NOT Abnormal?

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Public Affairs head Bishop Deogracias Iniguez expressed disappointment over the recent decision of the Supreme Court (SC) allowing LGBTI rights group Ang Ladlad to participate in the party-list elections this May. He said,
“We recognize them, respect them, but their situation is an abnormality. Allowing them to have a chance to take a seat in Congress is approving and encouraging an abnormality which is unnatural.
I do not understand what he means by abnormality. After all, abnormality depends on what normal means. But as a psychologist— a scientist who studies normal and/or abnormal human behavior and mental processes, HOMOSEXUALITY IS NOT ABNORMAL.

But what constitutes something as psychologically abnormal or not? How do psychologists distinguish abnormal behavior from normal behavior?

The concept of abnormality is very imprecise and difficult to define. Criteria have been set, but, what at first sight may seem quite reasonable definitions, it turns out to be quite problematic.

Deviation from the Average
The assumption is that, whatever occurs most frequently in the population is seen as normal and abnormality is seen as those that occur least frequently.

Mosher, Chandra, and Jones (2005) in a US study found that 90% of men aged 18-44 considered themselves to be heterosexual, 2.3% as homosexual, 1.8% as bisexual, and 3.9% as something else. Among women aged 18-44 in the same survey, 90% said they were heterosexual, 1.3% homosexual, 2.8% bisexual, and 3.8% as something else. CNN exit polls during the US 2008 presidential election showed 4% of the voting population self-identified as gay, lesbian, and bisexual.

The Young Adult Fertility Survey (YAFS) conducted in the Philippines reported that 17% of Filipino youths aged 15-25 admitted to having been attracted to the same sex in 1994, whereas 7% admitted to having a crush on someone of the same sex in 2002.

Indeed, homosexuality is statistically rare, however, there is an obvious flaw. If we use this criterion, ethnic and racial minorities would then be deemed “abnormal”. There are about 60 ethnic minority groups in the Philippines that continue to exist and practice their traditional customs. We recognize the aetas, we respect the aetas, but, because they are less frequent in the population, do we say they are abnormal?

Deviation from Ideal Mental Health
The assumption here is that anyone who does not possess the qualities to function normally in society is in one way or another abnormal.

Homosexuality was once thought to be a mental illness because mental health professionals and society had biased information. In the past, the studies of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people involved only those in therapy, thus, biasing the resulting conclusions.

But when researchers examined data of people who were not in therapy, the idea that homosexuality was a mental illness was quickly found to be untrue. Evelyn Hooker (1957) illustrated this by comparing heterosexual and homosexual men who were functioning normally in the society. She concluded that the two groups did not differ significantly in terms of their psychological adjustment.

Almost more than 35 years ago, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 1980), a decision that has been strongly supported by the American Psychological Association or APA (2004).

Homosexuality is NOT a mental illness and is NOT an abnormal aspect of human sexuality. There have been no reliable researches on homosexual orientation impairing cognitive abilities (Tuttle & Pillard, 1991), psychological well-being and self-esteem (Coyle, 1993; Herek, 1990; Savin-Williams, 1990), and overall psychological functioning (Gonsiorek, 1991 ; Pillard, 1988; Rothblum, 1994).

I quote APA’s stand on lesbians, gays, and bisexual people:
Research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different cultures and historical eras. Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding. Therefore, these mainstream organizations long ago abandoned classifications of homosexuality as a mental disorder. (APA, 2008)
Subjective Discomfort
The assumption here is if a person's thoughts or behaviors are causing them personal discomfort or unhappiness, then they will be considered abnormal.

This is very ironic. In my professional and personal encounters with LGBT clients and friends, I have observed that one feels distressed when one is still confused and has not fully accepted his or her sexual orientation. They also report fears of being rejected by family, friends, co-workers, and religious institutions because of their sexual orientation. These counseling experiences are supported by empirical researches. Studies have shown that exposure to prejudice and discrimination based on sexual orientation may cause a homosexual person acute distress (Mays & Cochran, 2001; Meyer, 2003).

Coming out—the process of being aware and acknowledging of one’s sexual orientation, is difficult for other LGBTs, but, not for some. When coming out is successful, one reports a sense of happiness. A perfect example is the recent coming out story of the pop singer and actor Ricky Martin. He shared his struggles in the closet and his sense of happiness as he proudly announced he is a homosexual man.
“… the book was the tool that was going to help me free myself from things I was carrying within me for a long time. Things that were too heavy for me to keep inside…

These years in silence and reflection made me stronger and reminded me that acceptance has to come from within and that this kind of truth gives me the power to conquer emotions I didn't even know existed.

What will happen from now on? It doesn't matter. I can only focus on what's happening to me in this moment. The word "happiness" takes on a new meaning for me as of today. It has been a very intense process. Every word that I write in this letter is born out of love, acceptance, detachment and real contentment. Writing this is a solid step towards my inner peace and vital part of my evolution.

I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am.”
Maladaptive to One Self and to the Society.
The assumption here is that the abnormal behavior is counter-productive to the individual and disrupts and hurts the lives of others.

Is being lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender self damaging? Look around you, we are everywhere and we are NOT maladaptive! We are honor students, inspiring teachers, talented designers, successful engineers, artistic directors, exceptional performers, loving parents, passionate lovers, and best friends. Our sexual orientation was never a hindrance to reach our goals in life.

Did it disrupt and hurt the lives of others? Maybe occasionally, our loudness irritated some pikon homophobic men and women, but, also consider how much stress an LGBT person had to endure like chronic daily hassles (e.g. hearing anti-gay jokes, always being on guard to a closeted individuals) and negative gay relevant life events (e.g., rejection by family, friends, and co-workers, anti-gay violence, and discrimination due to sexual orientation). Western researches have shown that LGBTs are at risk for mental health problems (Meyer, 1995) and emotional distress (Ross, 1990) as a direct result of discrimination and negative experiences in society.

So my dear, Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, careful with what you wish for, because it could be your heterosexism thinking that could potentially disrupt and hurt the lives of others.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why Ang Ladlad?

Nasa balota na, mga pangalan
ng party list pagpipilian

Last Thursday, April 8, 2010, the 15-member Philippine Supreme Court unanimously decided that Ang Ladlad - a network of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersexual Filipinos, and their heterosexual supporters, can run for party-list elections for Congress on May 10, 2010.

This is historical for pro-LGBTI movement here in the Philippines because if Ang Ladlad will get the 2% threshold of the total votes casts, they can be represented in Congress up to a maximum of three seats. Ang Ladlad has five nominees: Bemz Benedito (MA Sociology, Ateneo de Manila University, Lecturer-Researcher), Germaine Leonin (Lawyer, UP College of Law), Cris Lopera (NGO leader and officer from Mindanao), Naomi Fontanos (MA Education, UP Diliman, Lecturer, Open University), Dexter Macaldo (Media Officer)

One would ask, “Why will I vote for Ang Ladlad?”

You don’t have to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersexual to vote for Ang Ladlad. If you believe and support the following reasons, itiman, i-shade ang loob ng bilog na hugis itlog.

1. If you support the Anti-Discrimination Bill that gives LGBTI Filipinos equal opportunities in employment and equal treatment in schools, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, entertainment centers, and government offices and support for the Anti-Discrimination Bill, then vote for #89—Ang Ladlad Party List.

2. If you think setting up of micro-finance and livelihood projects can help poor and handicapped LGBTI Filipinos, then vote for #89—Ang Ladlad Party List.

3. If you believe in re-filing a law, the Anti-Vagrancy Law, that has been used by unscrupulous policemen to extort bribes from gay men without ID cards, then vote for #89—Ang Ladlad Party List.

4. If you believe that there should be centers that offer legal aid and counseling, as well as information about LGBTI issues, HIV-AIDS, and reproductive health and homes for old and abandoned LGBTIs, as well as young ones driven out of their homes, in the key cities/metropolitan areas of the Philippines -- Baguio, National Capital Region, Cebu and Davao, then vote for #89—Ang Ladlad Party List.

I am gay and I am one of the few lucky and fortunate Filipinos who have a loving family, accepting friends, and supportive co-workers irregardless of my sexual orientation. But there are thousands of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, and intersexuals who are fighters and survivors of homophobia and discrimination.

For the future of your LGBTI brothers or sisters, sons or daughters, ang bilog, ang bilog, sa tapat ng #89—Ang Ladlad Party List, ‘yan ang dapat nating markahan.

For the future of your LGBTI nephews, nieces, cousins, and relatives, ang bilog, ang bilog, sa tapat ng #89—Ang Ladlad Party List, ‘yan ang dapat nating markahan.

For the future of your LGBTI friends, frenemies, BFFs, lovers, exes, almost lovers, ang bilog, ang bilog, sa tapat ng #89—Ang Ladlad Party List, ‘yan ang dapat nating markahan.

For me, ang bilog, ang bilog, sa tapat ng #89—Ang Ladlad Party List, ‘yan ang dapat nating markahan.

Gets mo ba? Gets ko na!
Gets na gets na talaga!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sexual Orientation & Sexual Identity: A Response

Ayan, a 16 year old college student, wrote to Migs, Migs posted Ayan’s letter last December 27 titled: “Straight ako when I was in high school, but now…”

Migs asked me to give my opinion as a counseling psychologist. My response was published in the same website on March 29, 2010 titled: Counseling Psychologists Responds to Ayan. I asked Migs if I can repost it in my blog. He said yes. So here it is. Read on. =)

* * * *

Hi Migs!

I am fond of reading your blog.

I am Ayan. Straight ako when I was in high school, I’m sure of that. Marami akong naging girlfriend nun. Until one time, I need to have a tutorial in Math because of my low grades. So, I went to my tutor’s apartment at around 6pm. He is one of the best math teachers in my school by that time, but he didn’t handle our class. I am well-known in our school, that’s why he offered me his help.

Malakas ung ulan nung gabing nun, I didn’t bring my umbrella so I got wet. When I entered his apartment, he told me to take off my clothes— baka daw sipunin ako. Hinubad ko naman kasi ok lang naman siguro un parehas naman kaming lalake, walang malisya un.

Instead of reviewing, nagkwentuhan lang kami.Nakaupo kami sa kama niya then he asked me to turn off the lights, nagtaka ako kung bakit. I didn’t turn it off. Sabi nia sa kin wala daw mangyayari kung hindi ko papatayin ung ilaw. Nagtaka na talaga ako and I decided to go home pero sabi niya wag muna daw, malakas pa ung ulan. So, I stayed.

Nagjoke siya tapos tawa kami ng tawa, then he started to bite my ears tapos ung lips niya umabot na sa neck ko and he kissed it. I begin to feel uncomfortable, dinaganan niya ko tapos hinalikan niya ko on my face, then lips, pababa until he lick and suck my cock. I don’t know what to do. I tried to stop him, pero nakadagan siya sa kin. Gusto ko sumigaw pero iniisip ko na nakakahiya sa mga tao if they knew why I am shouting…

I dont have any idea about gay sex that time. Hindi ko un nagustuhan. I was the only one naked, kaya I immediately took my shirt and pants. I told him that I will go home. pagkauwi ko, nagshower ako agad. Parang nandidiri ako. I keep it as a secret, kasi nahihiya ako sa outcome kapag nagsumbong ako baka kumalat. I noticed na maraming kiss mark ung leeg ko. Kinabukasan, napansin un lahat ng classmates ko. Sabi ko allergy. pero sabi nila chikinini daw. This happened 3 years ago.

Nasalubong ko si sir sa corridor, then nagsorry siya sa kin. Nabigla lang daw siya. I accepted his apology. From then on, hindi ko na siya kinausap o kaya pinansin. kung dati nalilibugan ako sa babae, ngayon parang sa lalake na. Naging habit ko na ung panunuod ng gay porn. Pinigilan ko ung sarili ko but I cant control it.

Hindi ko alam kung ano na ko ngayon, there is confusion. I am now 16 years old, a 1st year college student in a prominent university. Parang nagbago ung buhay ko, hindi na ko lumalabas ng nakahubad or nakasando.naiilang na rin ako sa mga lalakeng nakahubad. siguro na-trauma ako sa mga nangyari. Even my closest friends don’t know about this experience. Nakikipagchat ako ngayon with the same sex…flirt. I don’t know if I’m into relationship, malay natin…

Thanks Migz for letting me share my story. God bless you.
- Ayan

* * * *

Hi Ayan.

I am Niel and I am a friend of Migs. Migs forwarded your letter to me so that your concerns will be properly addressed. I am a counseling psychologist by profession and I hope you do not mind if I answer some of your questions.

Ayan, having the courage to share your story is very commendable. Stories of sexual abuse are often kept in silence with more men than women keeping it a secret.

Story-telling has psychological benefits for the storyteller and the listener (or reader). For the story-teller, it allows one to organize and integrate thoughts and feelings, and in turn, facilitates a sense of predictability and control over one’s life and a temporary emotional resolution. For the reader, it gives us a sense of connection and understanding of the experience. Most importantly for those readers who are hiding in the closet with the same secret, it gives one a sense of “kadamay” since sexual abuse is one of many painful and potentially traumatic experiences that a human being may suffer in childhood.

While I was reading your letter, I felt the discomfort, the “hiya”, the “diri”, and the shame when your classmates teased you of the kiss marks you had. Although you ended the letter with a sense of temporary relief by disclosing your story, I sensed the confusion and questions about your sexual identity.

So you questioned if the abuse was the reason for your homosexual desires?

The answer is not that simple. Sexual abuse has negative effects but it depends on a variety of factors. But international clinical case studies have shown that long term effects of sexual abuse are related to confusion and distress about their sexuality and to the development of sexual identity.

In these studies, survivors reported being confused about their sexual orientation (Nasjleti, 1980; Dimock, 1988; Lew, 1988; Myers, 1989; Gilgun & Reiser, 1990), reported fear that the sexual abuse has caused or will cause them to become homosexual (Nasjleti, 1980; Finkelhor, 1984; Dimock, 1988; Gilgun & Reiser, 1990; Lew, 1988; Myers, 1989), and expressed homophobia – having negative attitudes and feelings towards homosexuality and to people who identified or perceived to be homosexual.

Personally though, I hypothesize that child sexual abuse interferes (nakakadiskaril) with sexual identity development but, on the other hand, I also believe that it does NOT doom people to live in unconventional sexual lives and identities.

Maybe at this point, it is good to define, clarify, and differentiate sexuality terms like sexual orientation and sexual identity.

Sexual orientation refers to a pattern of romantic attraction (who do you fall in love with?), sexual attraction (who do you have erotic desires and sexual contact with?), and commitment to monogamous romantic and sexual relationship (who do you have relationships with?). Usually, sexual orientation has three categories: heterosexual (to the opposite sex), homosexual (to same sex), and bisexual (to both sexes) with these orientations existing along a continuum that ranges from exclusive heterosexual to exclusive homosexual, including various forms of bisexuality in-between (American Psychological Association).

So I would like for you to imagine a scale from 1 to 7: 1 means exclusively to the opposite sex, 4 means equal amount of in both sexes, and 7 means exclusively to the same sex.

In your letter, you described that you are experiencing sexual attractions with the same sex “Kung dati nalilibugan ako sa babae, ngayon parang sa lalake na. Naging habit ko na ung panunuod ng gay porn… naiilang na rin ako sa mga lalakeng nakahubad”

So if you are to rate yourself from 1 to 7 in terms of sexual attraction, what will be your answer? I guess it will be a 5 or 6.

Now, also think about your rating on the other two components. You did not mention about who you will fall in love with but you are open to experiences of possible same sex love “Nakikipagchat ako ngayon with the same sex… flirt” and relationships “I don’t know if I’m into relationship, malay natin…”

See, knowing one’s sexual orientation is not just simple categorization!

This confusion is actually developmentally appropriate for an adolescent boy like you. And as you grow older and in the next few years
(or even months!), you will learn who you will fall in love with and who you will commit to. The American Psychological Association added, “some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person’s lifetime”.

On the other hand, sexual identity is really a comprehensive process of subjective self definition as heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, gay, lesbian, queer, undecided, bi-curious, or asexual! It involves one’s biological sex, sexual orientation, gender identity (the innermost sense of being a male or female), gender roles (the socially acceptable behaviors assigned to males, like being masculine, and females, like being feminine), and other factors like defining one’s sexual needs, values, and preferences for sexual activities. Sometimes, one’s sexual identity may or may not match one’s sexual orientation! Closeted individuals are sometimes referred to people who have a homosexual sexual orientation but may define themselves as heterosexuals.

Although, personally, I believe that there is an inherent biological component in sexual orientation but it is also your future experiences, preferences, and choices that will shape your sexual identity.

Ayan, although we are sexual beings, we are more than our sexual identities. You are 16 years old and one major developmental task you need to accomplish is to establish a sense of self in which your past (including the abuse), present (being a student in a prominent university), and future (the goals you have for yourself) are integrated.

If you need to talk about what happened and if you need someone to help you make sense of your sexual identity and your self-concept in general, do not hesitate to ask Migs for my contact information. I believe what Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, said, “All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”

God bless you too.