Words by Margarita Buenaventura
With all the cat memes and Vine videos saturating the Internet, it’s pretty hard for one voice to stand out. But lesbian mom Cha Roque’s did, loud and clear, when she wrote an impassioned open letter to the hosts of noontime show Eat Bulaga. From her Facebook wall, she addressed the show for publicly telling a gay dad to “go back into the closet.” Naturally, her letter came with detractors as it did admirers. But that one status message caused a ripple in the sea of social media, opening minds to the many faces of family in the LGBT community.
Celebrating Pride Month with her daughter Kelsey and girlfriend Ymi (guitarist for Flying Ipis), Cha sits down with B/BLOG to talk about lipstick lesbians, self-identifying, and the kind of parenting that is equal parts vulnerable and heartwarming. Through our chat with Cha, we learn that when you already feel free, the next step is to be proud.
Hey, Cha. Could you tell us what you do for a living?
I have a video production house called CLP Videos. We do mostly corporate AVPs, and we also cater to government and non-government organizations. What I do there is I write scripts and direct videos. Now I’m also teaching video production part-time. My girlfriend Ymi is a web developer. She’s also in two bands. We actually recently started a spoken word duo where she plays guitar and I do spoken word poems.
Let’s talk about what you recently spoke out about. What was going through your head when you decided to write your open letter to Eat Bulaga?
It was funny, ’cause when I saw the link pa lang, na-off na sakin yung title. “Beki na may asawa at tatlong anak.” Akala ko noong una nakaka-taas lang siya ng kilay. “Ano na naman ‘tong video nila,“ I said. Tapos yung nag-upload was the GMA Network YouTube pa. After a few hours, after I finally watched the video, I thought, “Seryoso? They answer like that on national TV?”
Were the dad’s parenting struggles something you could relate to?
Even if I grew up in the province, nakakagulat din. Kasi yung acceptance ng family ko, walang struggle. Basically, I didn’t have to come out of a closet at all. There was no closet to come out of. When I was in high school, doon yata yung first relationship ko with a girl. I didn’t say that I’m gay, I just said, “Ma, si ganito, girlfriend ko.” Yung environment sa bahay, we’re free to wear what we want to wear, and what music to listen to. And they’ll accept you for you who love. It was not about declaring that I’m a lesbian. When I’m attracted to a person, it’s regardless of gender.
Did you expect the reactions your letter got? Even the show’s hosts had their own feelings about it.
Wala pa akong nakukuhang formal reply from the show. Well, si Paolo Ballesteros reacted on Instagram. Kasi parang with the Eat Bulaga fans, I get that they didn’t really grasp what I was trying to say. Umabot lang sila sa surface… parang na-narrow down lang nila yung issue to, “Yung nagsulat yan pro-Showtime.” (Laughs)
Kaya nagulat ako when Paolo posted on Instagram. Someone commented kasi, referring to me, “She was just trying to say that you could have handled the situation better.” Yung sagot niya was, “Eh di gumawa kayo ng sarili niyong show, and handle the situation better.” Given that they’re very influential, and they have a following, nakakagulat yung sagot. Pwedeng unconsciously, but they’re promoting a culture of hate and non-acceptance. Feeling ko mangyayari doon is for gay people, they’ll have to adjust in order to be accepted. You have to fit into society’s expectations in order to fit in.
Do think that you spoke up as a parent or as a member of the LGBT community?
Parang mostly, of course, naka-sympathize ako with him ’cause I’m a parent. Pero mas speaking from an LGBT perspective, because you want to be understood and accepted. Not nga tolerated, but accepted. Before I got involved in pro-LGBT campaigns and projects, I got to the point where I didn’t really care. Wala kasi akong struggles, diba? I can bring my girlfriend home, I can take her to family dinners. So parang di ko nafi-feel yung need to speak up. But I through other lesbians, I heard stories of people sa grassroots level and less fortunate. Since you have the voice, and the capacity to speak up for the people like you, you should speak up. It doesn’t matter if you’re going through the same struggles that they are, pero you do what you can to help them be accepted.
Your letter has reached out to a lot of people, but is there anything else you’d like to say to gay and lesbian parents out there?
I think it’s really important to be open with your kids, to openly communicate with them. Establish an environment at home where your kids are free to ask questions. Kasi it’s not a typical setup, especially here in the Philippines. Make your kids feel that they can ask you questions about your identity, and how things work in the kind of family you choose to have. And of course, when you establish an environment like that, make sure that you’re willing to answer. (Laughs) Para maayos, and really explain.
When did your daughter start asking you questions about identity and gender?
She didn’t actually ask, eh. Kasi when her dad and I got separated, nagkaroon ako ng girlfriend after a few months. We were together for seven years, so basically doon na siya lumaki. She didn’t really ask, and ang tawag niya doon sa girl “mommy.” So when she was growing up, ‘yun na yung medyo nag-eexplain na ako, although she wasn’t really asking. Pero she was bullied in school, so parang may classmate siyang nagsabi, “Eh, wala ka namang daddy.” Tapos sabi ng teacher yung sagot niya sa classmate niya was, “Dalawa naman mommies ko eh.” Feeling ko we just made her feel that there’s nothing different about it, and that there’s nothing lacking.
Do you think that we are moving towards acceptance of the LGBT community already or have we stepped back?
Feeling ko we’re going there, but very slowly. Like kunwari, yung bandmate ni Ymi was telling us about The Rich Man’s Daughter na show. Nakakatawa daw kasi there are terms that are part of the dialogue. Like, “Ah, she’s a lipstick lesbian.” May kaunting explanation na ng terms. And after the letter, somebody made a petition at change.org for MTRCB to make sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression training mandatory. Pagka may ganoong seminar, they can tell people in media, ito yung mga offensive things they shouldn’t tell gay people. Pwede advice din to straight people?
I was accepted at home, but nakaka-bad trip that other people are the ones doing the coming out for me. Sa mom ko, hindi. Pero my kid’s dad who told my kid about it. We were already separated at that time, and he asked if he can spend a day with her. When my kid came back, she told me, “Sabi ni daddy sabihin ko sa’yo obit ka.” Siyempre at that time, I was still waiting for the right time to tell her. Parang yung coming out is a process of the person himself or herself. You don’t do it for other people, or you don’t tell a person na nagsabi, “I’m bisexual” and you go, “Hindi, gay ka!” Give LGBT people the chance to self-identify and have their own coming out process.