‘I am not.’ How not to coax a coming out

All I could see were their lips moving up and down. I could hear the words they were saying but they stopped registering to me. All I could think was: they fed me so they could sit me onto this interrogation chair in a kitchen still wafting with Filipino food.

I heard myself saying, “I am not.”

They seemed to believe it, but one of the women wasn’t convinced. And if you want to stand the chance of being accepted by the Filipino community of this small British Columbia town, it was her you needed to convince. They referred to her as the local Imelda Marcos. I could see why. She dressed well. People listened to her. They often consulted her on how to go about life, life of Pinoys in Canada that is. She was very articulate but sometimes diplomacy and tack weren’t in her routine.

This group of Filipino moms invited me for lunch that Saturday. The women were trying their best to take care of the new guy, who happened to be a would-be priest, fresh from the home-country the Philippines. Every single event or gathering of Filipinos in this small town, I had been invited to since I arrived. Unbeknownst to me, the women had been watching me, carefully assessing where I was coming from, investigating why I came to Canada. Don’t get me wrong, they were very friendly. Motherly was the word I’d use. But as motherly as they were, they also wanted to know. They had seen some signs such as a sticking pinkie while holding a glass of wine or coffee, certain mannerisms that betray what’s inside. And so one day, the trio invited me to lunch, just me not the usual crowd.

Lunch was served.

We had a lively conversation about life back home.

Lunch was over.

It was time for cleanup.

Dishes were done. We were sitting in the kitchen when their ringleader asked me the question.

“Renato, are you gay?”

That’s what she said, looking me in the eye, like a mother who’s entitled to know how I spent the $5 she gave me the other day. I could see for the first time why they called her Imelda. She seemed to have a strong urge to be in everybody’s business. As I was looking back at her, all I could think of was this was the same woman who the other day said to me she didn’t think her son will marry his girlfriend because she’s not a virgin.

When I recovered from the shock of being asked the question, I was prompt to respond, “I am not.”

When you’re in the closet and you’re studying to become a priest, you’d become adept at responding to questions such as this, especially when you’re not ready to come out.

I was 27 years old, then but I was not ready to come out. And, so I did not.

Coming out is a big deal. Sometimes it happens naturally, but one should never be forced to do so.

Happy National Coming Out Day!

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