My Pride story begins in the early 90s, when our house in Quezon City was dominated by machismo.
My father could be classified as a siga: he was no bully, but was popular in our neighborhood because of his tricks and his alpha male personality. His father, my lolo, was a World War II veteran. He was masculine in his own way: simple, unbothered, no BS.
My father and Lolo regularly hosted inumans at home, with their kumpares of Mang Bens who would watch the PBA Finals in our living room, chugging cold bottles of San Miguel Pale Pilsen, shouting and cursing at the TV whenever a player missed his shot.
These male figures dominated my childhood, and even then, their interests were something I couldn’t relate to.
Little did I know, one night in 1997, I would have an interest that they wouldn’t want to relate to. I was channel surfing when I chanced upon a concert on HBO: the Spice Girls Live in Istanbul.
The production was theatrical: five girls flaunting their authentic personalities onstage, revealed through gigantic grids of the letters S-P-I-C-E, singing songs about Girl Power and screaming “Zig-a-zig-ah.” I was already singing “Wannabe” about a year before, but this 2-hour TV special sealed the deal. It was akin to answering a call from the gods: yes, son, we made you gay.
From then on, I spiced up my life. I cut every newspaper article, bought their candies at 7-11, and forced the adults to finally buy me their cassettes. I spent hours in solitude listening to Spice and Spice World, going through the lyrics from album inlays and marveling at the pictures of Baby, Sporty, Ginger, Scary, and Posh.
At the start of their career, the rumor was that the Spice Girls were like me: homosexuals. They were said to be men in drag—or to use an outdated term, “transvestites”—probably because of their make-up.
Nonetheless this didn’t change my fondness. In the comfort of my room, in my privacy, I had a sold-out world tour singing “Stop.” Damn it, I was the Sixth Spice Girl.
Our house in Quezon City, dominated by machismo, by PBA, by cold bottles of Pale Pilsen, by histories of the war and macho jokes, was playing the Spice Girls.
Then word grew, the neighbors knew. The alpha male’s firstborn sang and danced like a girl, much to my father’s chagrin.
The Philippines in the 90s (especially the years before) had a brutal prejudice against homosexuality: gays and lesbians were called the “third sex,” the laughingstock in TV shows, who existed but mostly voiceless, made to be felt that they had no place in a predominantly Catholic society, unwanted by their own families.
Schools and institutions were strict, old-fashioned elders warned their children against hanging out with the binabaes and the silahis, fearing “baka mahawa sila.” Same-sex relationships were taboo and were called by my Grade 6 adviser “bawal na pag-ibig.”
As a young kid, already aware of my identity and uniqueness, I was scared and clueless how to go on with life, clueless how to confirm to my elders that yes, my Spice Girls fascination was a dead giveaway.
And so, my tapes were confiscated, escapism and a private concert tour gone, wondering if this preventive measure would indeed help me turn straight.
It took years and years of silence to please my elders. Years and years of internal struggle; years and years of me being the elephant in the room. In birthday parties and family reunions, my sexuality was the open secret that no one dared to blurt out in the open. I knew that they knew. Nothing could change the fact that, viva forever, I was the Sixth Spice Girl. “When you’re feeling sad and low, we will take you where you gotta go,” assured one of the songs.
And so, it took guts to hold on to my truth, no matter how uncomforting to some, and in my own little way I turned the tide at home. I came out to my family in the mid-2000s: by this time, I had gone into adolescence, now with different interests but my voice still full. I dared to live my life out in the open.
I convinced everyone, especially my alpha male of a father, that, yes, I may be gay, but I’m harmless, and I’m definitely not an embarrassment. Eventually, my elders gave their complete trust and support. It took years for them to understand, but all the wait was worth it. Our house in Quezon City is not dominated by machismo anymore, but by a strong sense of acceptance.
Today’s queer kids are mostly empowered, not having to hide, not having to struggle in their own homes. How far have we come?
The number of participants in Pride Parades grows yearly, openly gay politicians are elected in office, a transwoman was allowed to join Miss Universe, and the media landscape has become more inclusive than ever (more BLs or ‘boy love’ series in the Philippines; a vast catalogue of new queer cinema; and the mainstream success of RuPaul’s Drag Race). These are just little metrics of progress, but (at least) there is progress. However, we still struggle. The fight for equality is far from over.
Gone are the days when I’d lock myself up in my room to sing “Spice Up Your Life.” Navigating the corporate world now, I sometimes draw strength from other powerful women in pop culture: Madonna and Beyonce, their vision and strong work ethic inspiring.
But nothing can change the fact that when I was a powerless child, I found my courage in the Spice Girls. And that night in 1997, when I switched the channel to HBO, was no coincidence—the universe just brought me to my fate.
About the Author:
Mikey Flores is a TV news writer for almost a decade now.