Friday, October 14, 2011

The Narrative of Babaylan (part 1) - Atty. Venir Turla Cuyco

It is amazing how a single event could define the trajectory of one’s life. For me, it happened when I was in college, living with three other roommates in a dormitory (Narra Residence Hall) at the University of the Philippines. For looking—admittedly affectionately—at another resident, my roommates became victims of campus violence. Apparently, one of my roommates had a huge crush on said resident. My roommate wanted to see the object of his affection through one of the big glass windows in the latter’s room. The resident reciprocated with violence.

Coming from a part-time job I had at the House of Representatives that time, I tried opening the door to my room but it was locked from the inside. I had to call my roommates’ names several times before a timorous voice asked if I was alone. When I said there was nobody else but me, the door was opened and my roommates quickly dragged me in. Then they immediately pushed a couple of the beds against the door. My initial irritation was quickly replaced with trepidation when I beheld the scene before me.

Shards of broken glass were strewn all over our room—on our beds, study desks, cabinets, chairs, and the floor. They were the remnants of one of my roommates’ wine bottle collection. But more than the broken bottles, I saw how the violence that occurred that day also resulted in breaking my roommates’ spirit. They were crying and shaking with fear as they recounted what happened. Apparently, the resident brought a couple of his fraternity brothers to our room to confront my roommates about the “peeping incident,” and to maul them.

My roommates were threatened with further bodily injury, and even death (“Pag nakita namin kayo sa labas, papatayin namin kayo!”). I had to report the incident to school authorities. I threatened to write a diatribe in the school paper if the administration sweeps the incident under the rug. I pleaded and cajoled the office of students’ affairs to wangle a signed undertaking from the offenders not to harm my roommates again.

But my roommates still wouldn’t get out of our room. They were so convinced that to walk out would mean certain injury, if not death. Their desperation was almost palpable. I had to get the campus police to escort my roommates out of the dormitory. I hailed a cab for my roommates, but they insisted that I go with them to a “safe house” hundreds of miles from the campus. Sighs of relief were audible once we were on our way.

This event, perhaps more than any other experience in college, caused me to become a gay rights advocate. It was also one of the reasons why I wanted to become a lawyer. It didn’t seem right that a person should be subjected to physical and psychological violence because he looked (admittedly with affection) at somebody of the same sex. As I said in a previous blog post, it was in my college dorm where the idea for a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students’ organization in UP was born. UP Babaylan was, in a sense, a reaction to violence against LGBTs.

I’m not sure if my roommates have already forgiven the resident and his fraternity brothers. From all indications, it appears that they have moved on from this incident. While the incident caused one of them to alter his academic plans, today all of them are successful professionals in their respective fields. But I’m not too sure if I myself have moved on from this incident.

Perhaps it is time to move on. I hope writing about the incident will help me in bidding goodbye to a rancorous memory. I hope my roommates will forgive me for writing about something that they would probably rather forget. I need to forgive the resident and his fraternity brothers for what they did almost two decades ago. But before I can do that, I need to forgive myself for allowing hatred to wallow in my heart all these years.

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