Being bakla

Written by Ron Buduhan Published on .

Growing up in Winnipeg as a first generation Filipino Canadian was tough, usually being one of a few visible minorities at school. But what really set me apart was my secret: being bakla. I knew I was gay before I was 10 years old. At the time, bakla was a generally negative term that meant something you should not be – someone acting ridiculously feminine. How I wished to be “normal” like the others! The baklas in Philippine media wore women’s makeup and acted like silly little girls; in other words, not very masculine. I was a boy who liked boys and wanted to be the most masculine I could be, even more manly then most men I knew – brave, strong, handsome and tough. Who would have thought that being a masculine man who was also gay could be so difficult?

 Ron Buduhan
 Ron Buduhan: “That’s when I realized that being accepted as bakla by my own family was a luxury most of my fellow gays did not enjoy…”
Most people have access to role models, but without good examples of what I wanted to be, I felt alone on my journey. Let’s face it; the world is a superficial place ­– big muscles equal masculinity. By showing others how strong and hard working I was, I discovered a way to show my manliness to the world. My secret was safe. Who would ever guess I was bakla just by looking at me? And who can be more macho than a military man? Those guys are tough and certainly not bakla. So I entered the Canadian Forces and became a soldier, then became an officer who led other soldiers. No one questioned my sexual orientation.

But, the very acts of becoming a “real” man to disguise my gayness made me realize that I am weakened by the very secret I was protecting.

Cleto and Celing Buduhan are my parents. They learned my secret when I told them at the age of 12, and they supported me from the first day. “Being different was not a sin,” said my dad, and true love is not conditional on sexual orientation. There are many horrible cases of homophobia within Filipino families. Having parents who hate you and are embarrassed by you has far reaching ramifications; and this is the main reason for gays to remain in the closet. I was lucky to grow up with an accepting family who were truly modern in their way of thinking. Being bakla means being different, but it doesn’t have to mean being alone.

At first, learning about homosexuals came from books at the local library. The very first book I read was about the homosexual activities of men in prisons. But that did not help me, other than to learn the fact that men will explore sex with other men to reduce sexual tension if faced with no other option. A few years later I joined the gay and lesbian youth group of Winnipeg, which made me extremely nervous but also happy to meet other young gays like me. That’s when I realized that being accepted as bakla in my own family was a luxury that most of my fellow gays did not enjoy. The inner battle with the homosexual identity at a young age is so difficult that those without support from family and friends can fall into depression and, in the worst cases, suicide. Is being bakla such an embarrassment as to take one’s own life to prevent discovery?

Men often get married and have children to avoid suspicion of being bakla. This merely prolongs the inner struggle to span a lifetime, but it will always be the weakest point in someone’s character. If fear from discovery is always guiding your choices, then you have become your own jailor. There is a limit to your own happiness if you are not free to be yourself. Ask yourself this question, “How will the people you care about react to the fact you might be bakla?” I decided that for myself, I wanted to know who my real friends were. My self-inflicted torture would not have been necessary if I had good gay role models. So hopefully, when you see a gay, you will recognize the inner strength and struggle he had to face to become who he is. I truly hope it becomes easier as more masculine baklas emerge into the public eye to guide the next generation of homosexuals to become themselves.

Ron Buduhan was born and raised in Winnipeg, and has always pursued his individuality though art, fitness, health, science and love. He works in Montreal as a private therapist for gay men of all ages from many walks of life.

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