Confessions of a Queer Filipino Kid Who Went to an All-Boys High School
Four years later, and I’m still post-processing high school. What a time.
I’m currently obsessed with “Love Beneath the Stars,” the latest Boy’s Love series Philippine screens has to offer. This follows the MMFF and Gawad Urian-recognized success of its origin film, “The Boy Foretold by the Stars.” Having watched a couple Pinoy BLs over the past year, I can confidently say that this is the only one that really resonates with me on all levels. I adore the characters and the juvenile relationships they experience, but those aren’t what I identify with necessarily. Every time I click play on an episode, I’m immediately brought back to the period of time between June 2013 and March 2017. Ah yes, high school. *crows sounding off in the distance*
In LBTS, Dominic (played by the already legendary Adrian Lindayag) goes through the motions of teenage romance with his star-crossed lover, Luke (played by the so-cute-when-he’s-jealous Keann Johnson). In the halls of a very Catholic all-boys school, such partnership would probably turn heads and furrow eyebrows — well, at least they would have in my campus back then. Dom and Luke also just so happen to don light blue polos, which is uncannily enough, the same shade my uniforms were in. A quick Google search validated my speculation that this set-up took inspiration from the Ateneo High School. As it turns out, the director and screenwriter, Dolly Dulu, and I share the same alma mater. Ah, kaya pala ang familiar.
Everything from the shady spiritual retreats, to (sadly) the reeking of bigoted machismo hits too close to home, that I just can’t help but tune in every Monday night, hoping that each new episode isn’t the last. It’s like I get sucked into a time warp to that time of my life. Dom and Luke’s story is something I know too well, even if a significant number of our circumstances don’t match up. Them getting to experience such a wholesome relationship in a place like high school is something I don’t envy for myself, but it’s something I wish is actually happening in real life in those (virtual? digital?) halls nowadays.
I’ve admittedly been pretty spotty with how I regard my high school experiences. Ever since I set foot in college, which is just a stone’s throw away from my high school classrooms, I really began to see how much of myself was inhibited from growing in those years. I was (and still am!) a brown, chubby, queer child with acne trying to figure out which way to go. I involved myself in so many things back then, and looking back, I really had no idea what I was actually doing. I was faking it ‘till I made it, I guess. But did I make it anywhere, or did I just make it out of there? I mean, high school is a turbulent time for most, if not all, of the pre-adolescents who go through it. Growing pains and all. Looking back, I was grasping at straws trying to figure out who I am, who my real friends are, what I’m capable of and all the other stuff that shouldn’t have been loaded unto young queer boys going through puberty. I struggled finding my place as one of the boys when I’m with my predominantly straight classmates, but simultaneously as one of the “girls,” being that every batch in AHS had/has a “gay barkada,” and I felt the pressure to include myself in that too. Safe to say, high school ended with me being unsure if I belonged in either of those circles. Maybe the mistake was thinking I should have a set notion of who I am and who I’m supposed to surround myself with before moving on to tertiary education. It was a pressure cooker environment that consistently made me feel like I had to stand out, but at the same time, fit in.
While I personally don’t see my schoolmates back then as “family,” I do reminisce about our days of youth together, cramped up in those classrooms brimming with angst, libido, and an itching to get out into the world. Am I jealous of my batchmates who still hang out with their high school chums to this day? Back then I was, but now, not at all. I’ve come to realize that’s not a bad thing. We all have our own tribes, and even if I don’t consider my high school class or other friends as “home”, they’re always, always going to be worth a visit when and if I get the chance. We’ve seen each other grow up in arguably the most difficult years in any teenager’s life, so I don’t take for granted how much we’ve contributed to each other’s maturity. We weren’t making the best decisions or saying the most prudent things at 15 or 16, but then again, who was? Yeah, there were days I felt like I didn’t want to step into the classroom or get in the school bus because I knew, even without saying a word or doing anything, I would feel ostracized for being gay, fat or whatever. But apologies have been made, and they’ve been wholeheartedly accepted. If there’s anything I’ve learned from the 80+ people I got to call classmates, and the 100+ others who I got to rub elbows with, it’s that humans are totally capable of learning and doing better. I’m a testament to that too, since I had my own fair share of problematic behavior I had to shed off. Anytime I get to see or interact with one of my peers from way back when, it’s never a heavy feeling anymore. I’m glad to greet them, and to catch up with them somehow. I’m curious about where they are now in their lives, and where they want to go.
Having said all of this though, I fully acknowledge that the very institution I came from has a long history of cultivating a very problematic brand of machismo. The very nature of it being a boy’s club has its demerits that I am the farthest from proud of. I came from the last batch to follow the single-gender system, only seeing the girls in classrooms floors below mine. Some of them became acquaintances through extra-curriculars or mutual friends, or because they were one of my busmates. From that one year of having girls make up a small percentage of the student body, I picked up that the boys I’ve come to know as friends (and admittedly even myself) still had so, so much maturing to do. I got so frustrated reading tweets and Facebook posts of people saying that the ladies shouldn’t be allowed into the school because doing so would “break tradition” or whatever. There were times I would eavesdrop on my schoolmates and they would be talking about the female underclassmen as if they were a burden, or worse, were items for them to ogle at. Even some of the policies set for our female counterparts were just unreasonable double standards disguised as Ignatian values of modesty or chastity. Sadly, it had to take adding girls to the social sphere to expose just how filthy the young men of Ateneo High School are — and I say that without excluding some “good noodles” because whether we admit to it or not, we were all raised in a system that made us think we had some superiority over women. Just last year, all of this dirt resurfaced and was rightfully discussed online, and as far as I know, reforms have been made, or were at least proposed to the administration. It was a different type of rage I felt reading accounts of how girls were discriminated from some spaces, and were victims of sexual misconduct. All the locker room talk I overheard manifested into actions I have total disgust and anger for. I don’t exempt myself from this as well because I was a bystander to such misdeeds, and at times, even participated in it without even knowing it, towards girls or other members of the community. We had so much to unlearn and change. When I started seeing some of my *regurgitates* fellow “homegrown” alumni speak up on the issue on Twitter, acknowledging how flawed our alma mater was, I felt some relief, letting out a sigh that said “At least we know now.” There’s still so much to atone for, and I only hope that whoever does go through those halls now, regardless of gender, sexuality or whatever arbitrary classification, can find themselves enjoying their high school lives at the safest and most welcoming capacity.
I still don’t have a coherent image of how I perceive high school now, but I know that there were as much dark experiences as there were people who became solace. Anytime I’m asked “Taga-AHS ka diba?” I feel like I have to choose from a rolodex of emotions to determine how I’ll respond. Do I have disdain for it? Not really, or at least, not as much as before. Am I proud that I was from there? Yes, in some aspects. If I could go back, would I do anything differently? Some stuff, yeah, but not a lot. It was a tough four years to get through, but I did it. I can look back and crack a smile for a bit, and hope that anyone who identifies or expresses themselves like I do has it easier somehow.
I revisit old Messenger conversations with friends and cringe at how dramatic we were about the most minute things. I scroll through old pictures and videos of classroom shenanigans and holler at how ridiculous it all was. I get to chat with a classmate or teacher I haven’t talked to in forever, and the events replay in my mind in full technicolor. High school will always bring back memories and feelings I can never throw out of my mind (and trust me, there was time I tried to.) The morning panic as we communally crammed the day’s homework, the orange marmalade most of us enjoyed during retreat, the pictures meant to immortalize our youth snapped on graduation day — all things I can never, ever replace with any other set of experiences.
When all is said and done, there’s nothing my 22-year old self can do to equip my 13-year old self for what’s to come in the next four years of their life. That’s probably the point.