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Children on the streets are playing. One of them, a young boy, is a little effeminate. Two other boys start calling him, “Bakla!” or faggot. The young boy is humiliated. He cries. His ears redden. His stomach knots. The rest of the children – boy and girl – join the taunting. The boy runs home in tears. His mother asks why. His father overhears and approaches him.

“Magpakalalaki ka kas!” he yells at the tear-drowned little boy.

Be a man!

Scenes like this play across the country. Young children playing innocently hurl the word faggot as a weapon to inflict humiliation. Rather than console the bullied, parents often scold at the child, telling him being effeminate is a sign of weakness. Play basketball, an older brother would suggest. Don’t play with other girls, a sister would advice.

batang bading

In a conservative country like the Philippines, being gay is often associated with weakness – a biological, psychological, and moral disorder; a curse; an Achilles’ heel. The word “bakla” is often used by both children and adults to humiliate another. It has become a derogatory term thrown at any man who shows even the slightest deviation for the norm.

But what is the norm?

Is hate the norm? Should our nonchalance towards homophobic actions be the norm? Should we allow people to use the word “bakla” as in insult – whether it’s between a group of young men who find it so easy to wield the word in conversations (often, even comic) or a group of children who may not be conscious of its wounding effects? Should we just stand there and laugh when a nephew, a cousin, or friend who may or may not be gay is verbally abused with such ease – as if hurting someone who is a little different than us is trivial? As if being a little less masculine should be the butt of jokes? Should we confide ourselves to such rigid standards of personhood that without us knowing, we suffocate others, deeply affect them, hurt them, scar them and alter their lives?

Call out these children. Call out these adults. Intervene. Tell your father, mother, uncle, aunt, brother, sister, cousin or friend that using the word “bakla” to inflict hurt is wrong. Nothing good comes out of hurting someone especially when we think we’re not. Communicate to them that there are many ways to positively affirm a person, whether they’re gay or not, effeminate or a little rough. Communicate to them that humiliating a person is simply wrong.

So your son is a little effeminate? So what? Female qualities or tendencies are not second to masculinity. So your nephew prefers Chinese garter over basketball or taekwondo? So what? Watch the joy in their eyes when they can play games that make them happy with friends that make them happy. So your colleague likes other men? Why the hush hush and the gossiping? He’s not sick. He’s not abnormal.

Acceptance, not misguiding sheltering, will give the child, will give a person, a fighting chance to overcome adversity. Be firm, but do not choke. Be reasonable and do not blame. Be kind when everyone else is cruel.

You can’t change who these children will desire when they grow up. You can’t “cure” them. It’s already embedded deep within. But you can make the most impressionable years of their life memorable. You can give them a childhood they could look back to without pain, because they deserve it. You can alter their lives positively. You can equip them with confidence, compassion, love, and kindness. Most of all, you can give them hope that it will get better, because it did for you.

“Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right.”

― Theodore Roosevelt