Decolonizing my way back to love
The longest relationship I had only existed behind closed doors. It survived purely through stolen glances and clandestine meetings because going public with what we had meant forcibly opening a closet that’s closely shut.
Entering that relationship, I understood that the only ones who could know about us were us. I was prepared to be the understanding partner who made do with what little was given. What I wasn’t prepared for was the immense loneliness and isolation from being with someone who could only express his affection when no one was around.
Tragically but inevitably, our relationship ended. Although it was far from perfect, I sometimes wonder how different things would’ve been if we didn’t have to hide. Of course we’d still face a lot of challenges like any other relationship, but at least it would’ve spared us a lot of pain and hurt.
Sadly, in a world that still views queer relationships as wrong and inappropriate, we’re forced to love in secret. We hide something as beautiful as love because of fear of being persecuted by a culture that assigns whose love is worthy and whose isn’t—the same culture that we’ve inherited from a violent colonial past.
It is impossible to untangle our present ideas of relationships and identities from the atrocities of colonization. After all, our current standards when it comes to dating and love were shaped by colonialism’s intrinsic racism and queerphobia. Its genocides, rationalized by skewed prejudices against racialized and ethnic communities, made human lives expendable.
During the Philippine-American war, which Andrew Clem notes in The Filipino Genocide to be a “genocide which predates the first official genocide of the 20th century,” Filipinos were referred to as “half-devils.” This belief was used to justify hostilities against our countrymen. At one point, an American military leader declared that “it may be necessary to kill half of the Filipinos” so the rest could live in a more civilized society.
Love will only flourish in a world where we aren’t reduced to fetishized objects for rich white men to possess.
Colonialism also erased a huge part of our culture that was once accepting of identities outside of the binary of sexes. Through heteronormativity and patriarchy, colonizers villainized babaylan, shamans and spiritual leaders of pre-colonial Philippines. Male babaylan, named differently in various regions, were comparable to queer men or trans women, and were allowed to marry males. They were second, if not equal, to a datu or rajah, and during colonization, they were murdered and chased away.
As a queer person, I feel like this erasure not only stunted my self-discovery but also took a vital part of myself in relation to my history. By distorting our culture and the myriad identities original to it, our colonizers deceived us into believing that the binary nature of sexes came to us naturally, and non-conforming identities are unnatural and wrong.
Unfortunately, these things seep through our personal relationships. It made love—something so natural and instinctual—difficult. It’s one of the reasons why I found intimacy so hard to express and accept. The hyper-independence that I pride myself on having all those years was a response to having internalized a self-image that believed I was unworthy of affection.
It didn’t help that I grew up around family and friends who actively discouraged me from my sexuality, as if I had a choice. “Who will take care of you when you grow old?” was a question uttered in my direction time and time again. Without national legislation that recognizes same-sex marriage, I knew where they were coming from. For quite some time, I also believed them.
So even though I craved companionship and affection (and those little special activities that cute couples do), I found it hard to be vulnerable enough to receive them. I pushed people away and settled for closeted, casual, and meaningless relationships and flings because for so long I believed that I was bound to a life of loneliness and singledom. What was the point of pursuing love if I’ll only end up alone, right?
This is not to say I held these things against my family and friends. I cannot blame the people I love and who love me for the things they were socialized to believe, since we are all just a product of a system that institutionalized homophobia. However, I wish that they’d someday understand that I am not less of a person because I’m queer. Just because my attraction doesn’t fit into heteronormative standards doesn’t mean it’s less valid.
But I know it will take a lot of unlearning for us to get to that point. It would mean letting go of firmly held prejudices forced onto us by colonialism. By decolonizing our values, we liberate ourselves from the inhumanity of a phenomenon that allowed human zoos, comfort women and gays, along with other forms of human degradation.
In other words, decolonization is the rehumanization of our world. It is rebuilding our society where violence is no longer the foundation. At the same time, it is also a way to honor our ancestral roots outside the hostility of the Western lens.
The only road where love is truly possible is through rejecting the social structures that arose from colonialism. Love will only flourish in a world where we aren’t reduced to fetishized objects for rich white men to possess.
The good news is we don’t have to do it alone. In decolonial love, we are part of a community that will help us recalibrate the social codes that devalue our relationships. Unlike the love we learned from our colonizers, decolonial love honors our instinct to take care of not just ourselves but other people. It frees us from heteronormative notions that make us see other people as unworthy of love simply because they don’t fit the rigid boxes of gender.
I must admit, I found it difficult to dream of a better world when my rights as a queer person are still heavily debated. It was difficult to see a brighter future when the only love I had was safer inside a closet. But if there is something I’ve also learned from our history as Filipinos, it’s that as long as there is love that subverts unfair social structures, a better tomorrow is always possible.