With the celebrations over and done, the hype around the festivities deflating to normalcy, we look back at the recent Pride March with an overwhelming swell of nostalgia and emotions in this heartfelt open letter to the community.
To my dear, beautiful LGBTQIA+ community,
This isn’t a new circumstance. In fact, I’m sure it is at this point a shared experience that even in anonymity binds us together as a community. But perhaps it is important to set things into context: Growing up, I was never really good with friends. Or wait, scratch that. I barely knew the concept of friendship. Having my nose stuck in a book, preferring the company of my sister, and relocating from one city to another, as well as transferring schools in between, I had no friends. Make no mistake about it, it wasn’t as if I was walled off. I wanted friends just as anyone would. It’s just that the concept of seemed to distance itself from me even at an early age. That’s why I reared myself early on to rely on myself, whether I had that long yearned for company or not.
And then of course, I not only seemed different with the swish of my hips and the flick of my wrists, or that I obsessed on what I would bring to the school-wide acquaintance party, I knew I was different. But I wasn’t quite sure why then.
I would not only fight off the gnawing sense of difference in my heart and soul, but I would outright reject it by rough-housing with the rest of the boys during lunch time (which resulted in a near-blinding experience) and smearing my immaculate white uniform (even at the end of the day, mind you) with dust and red floor wax. A childish attempt of making sense of what was dictated to be right or acceptable, it would haunt me to no end—further isolating me from the rest of the kids.
Consequently, crowds scared the bejesus out of me. Not for anything, but it was an early onset paranoia I had conjured, imagining people to be talking about me in whispers for being unlike the rest of the boys. To be fair, I wasn’t called out for being gay…until I was in high school when in my attempt to woo a girl (come on, we’ve all been there), it reached me that my sexuality was already questioned. “Isn’t he gay?” my then girl friend (we weren’t official, yet) was asked. The murmurs would multiply exponentially in my head and well, in real life, and I had to flat-out deny who I really was. I also didn’t process my feelings properly, making it more confusing for me to understand.
Even my choice of friends would be questioned. “Why are all your friends girls or gay?” I would be asked, after they had left the house after a hangout. What was wrong if it was a natural friendship? We all got each and understood each other. And to be completely honest, being with them was the most I felt at ease back then. Befuddled, and to avoid further confrontation, I had decided to just separate myself from my circle of friends so as not to fan the flames so to speak. Better if I was alone, dealing and making sense of all this, than to compound the already emotional situation that was wearing me out by the day.
From then, there were no sleepovers, consistent weekend trips to the mall and after school lingering in my book. Again, by choice as to not aggravate what I perceived to be a volatile subject matter. Also, I had yet to make sense of it to myself. So, in a way, the isolation helped in a weird way. This, however, meant no shoulder to lean on, no listening ear to understand. It was all me from then on.
Things would change once I had navigated the inner workings of who I really was and finally admitted to myself that yes, I was not different. I just happened to be gay. Not only did it feel infinitely better to let it off my chest, it would soon lift the heavy and dusty veil that was draped over me for most of my young life. The self-addressed liberation made me feel on top of the world. With little to no care what others would think of who I really was, whether they choose to understand it or not, I began to live my life the way I wanted to—as a man who had a penchant for the creative and dramatic, a man who only wants to love who he wants to unapologetically, unequivocally and unabashedly, a man who intends to make good and do great, and finally, a man who was free.
This self-acceptance was not only a pivotal moment in the continuing journey of understanding, but it also was the beginning of me opening up to the world and finally finding my tribe, my lifelong friends, and my chosen family. Forget fleeting acquaintances, I slowly, carefully and naturally gravitated to a core that would not only prove to be a circle of like-mindedness, but one that would hold me up when I wasn’t strong enough, slap me to sense when I needed it, and pick me up when I would fall face-front to the ground (mostly in love, but you know, don’t we all). For the first time, I finally knew and felt what it was to belong. People finally got me; I understood myself. And boy did it feel great.
Counting on little victories, I no longer had a fear of crowds, which brought me to actually going out and actively participating in a collective community effort such as the annual Pride March. What was once something I only saw peppered all over mainstream media, was now a reality. I was actually part of something bigger than my own struggles. This was a coming together of pride—a celebration of the tireless and tenacious spirit of the community, a recognition of the inspiring efforts of pioneers before us, an active push for more than just tolerance or acceptance, but equality.
Gathering to a record-breaking crowd of roughly 25,000, the Metro Manila Pride March was nothing short of magical. A veritable sea of strangers, everyone became family right then and there. Regardless of preference, color, shape, points-of-view or economics, we were all one in the name of the LGBTQIA+ community. It was an overwhelming swell of emotions assimilating into a random segment of the march and moving forward with newfound friends, allies and brothers and sisters. The heavens were on our side, too, as it matched eventual tears with a downpour, which didn’t dampen the heightened spirits of everyone in and around the Marikina Sports Center. At one point, a Canadian family drenched in the rain was seen celebrating with the crowd. “Happy pride!” the youngest daughter yelled, which ultimately melted my heart.
Walking around the track and field of the sports center was nothing short of overwhelming, as smiles, hugs and variations of “Happy pride” were thrown around like the currency that jingled and jangled in our pockets. Rainbow flags waved to no end, some even draped as capes, because really, we are superheroes, too. The dancing and singing was out of this world as well, especially when at one point, the entire crowd sang to Rent’s seminal anthem, Seasons of Love. Oh, what a sight it was. Whether it was a seasoned attendee, a hard at work volunteer or a first-timer, there was nothing short of a beautiful sense of coming together in the name of pride.
On the surface it may have been just excuse to show up in cropped tops, short shorts, piled on sequins and smeared on makeup. Sure, there was an excess of baklaan music, but what could be any more timely and appropriate? Nothing brings a crowd up to their feet than Ariana Grande, Beyonce and RuPaul after all. But really, beneath it all, it meant families coming together and friends tightening their bonds. A full circle moment for some, it was also an eye-opener for the rest. More than anything, the Pride March reminded us that there is an infinite number of reasons to celebrate, differences and preferences be damned. But consequently, it was a realization that there are more strides to hit in the fight for equality. This wasn’t just a march, nor was it a party to grandstand. This was a chance to #RiseUpTogether, a platform to show the rest of the country, and the world that we are no different than they are, and that we deserve the understanding and equality that many have longed for.
Most importantly, this was the moment where we could all be ourselves—no judgments, no consequences, no indifference. If it was any indication, the community was united and on the right track, poised for greatness.
By now, the festivities have settled from ground-shaking decibels to a normal volume. The fireworks and downpour of rain are but memories on Facebook. Some have already folded their cropped sleeveless tops, shiny shorts, and rainbow flags, tucking them safely until the next coming together of pride. Soon, the multi-colored gradient on Instagram and on the products of brands will return to what it once was. But the spirit of resilience, victory and pride will long continue even after, or at least that’s what I hope people will take away from it. It is my hope of hopes that we never stop seeing the rainbow, even when the sun is up and well after the celebrations have fully waned. The struggle will continue, but so should the persistence to make a stand and to push for what we deserve as human beings. Pride isn’t defined by just a month, a string of letters or a spectrum of colors; it is something that is always and forever.
In the end, allow me to say bookend this letter with unending gratitude for each and every one of you. More than being a community or a rock solid support system of ride-or-die friends, thank you for being the family I get to stand with and for day in and day out. Here’s to braving the rain and seeing the rainbow after, together.
With much love and pride,
Angelo Ramirez de Cartagena