Gay Marian devotion is wrong?

This is my column today.

Most newspapers carried on their front pages yesterday a report detailing Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales’ disapproval of the participation of cross-dressing gay men in the traditional Santacruzan or Flowers of May celebration.

The good cardinal tried not to come across as a gay-bashing intolerant bigot by stressing that he has nothing against gays or homosexuals. He said he was simply trying to keep the “sacredness” of the Santacruzan. “What is sacred should be kept sacred,” he said.

However, there was little doubt about the intensity of his disgust for gay men wearing gowns and parading in a ceremony where an image of the Virgin Mary is present. “That’s not right, you are destroying the purity of the devotion,” he was quoted as saying. Some reports said the Cardinal actually cried “Ay naku po, nakakapanghilakbot” [it’s horrendous]!”

If we are to take the Cardinal’s statements, there is no place for gay men —or at least those wearing gowns—in the Santacruzan since in his own words, allowing gays to be part of the Santacruzan “defeats the real purpose of the religious procession.” The cardinal said that “instead of giving honor to the Blessed Virgin Mary, you are destroying the devotion by having gays there instead of women. As a result it becomes a laughing matter.”
I have some issues with the Cardinal’s vehement reaction.

First of all, it is wrong for him to accuse cross-dressing gay men as the (only) people who are destroying the supposed purity of the devotion.

I’m not sure how many Santacruzan events the cardinal have been to in the last decade. I have personally witnessed a number of them as I happen to have relatives and friends who have this penchant for dolling up the more “presentable” young female members of their families and fielding them as sagalas in far too many Santacruzan processions. Guess what, very few understand or are even aware of the religious significance of the event. For most people, it is simply the neighborhood version of a fashion show, or of the Mardi Gras. Now it has also become a drag show. Why? Because most people think that is the essence of the Santacruzan!

Ask any kid today if they understand what the Santacruzan is about and I guarantee you blank faces. So if people don’t appreciate or care to protect the supposed sanctity of the Santacruzan, the Catholic hierarchy has only itself to blame for failing to teach the faithful about the religious significance of the event. Blaming others is a cop out.

The cardinal is right in asking that religious events be respected. However, I object to the cardinal’s selective condemnation. Your Eminence, it’s been decades since the Santacruzan has been turned into a commercial parade with no religious reference whatsoever other than the crucifixes the queens in the parade carry in their hands. It’s been decades since fashion designers and beauty contests have turned the Santacruzan into a showcase of their fashion inspirations and misadventures. It’s been a number of years since the last Miss Universe pageant was held here where contestants were made to participate in a very commercial and contrived Santacruzan wearing atrocious gowns, including one consisting merely of the skeleton of a ball gown.

The cardinal does not seem to find fault with how the Santacruzan has become a classic showcase of commercialism and how it perpetuates misogyny; as long as the participants continue to be models and beauty queens who are biologically female.

So the cardinal thinks that cross-dressing gay men destroy the sanctity of the Santacruzan. Unfortunately, he did not clarify exactly how gay men do that by simply participating in the event.

Some of the gay men who participate in the Santacruzan do take their Marian devotion seriously. And if we are to be honest about it, it’s not really the cross-dressing gay men who turn the whole thing into a comedy—it is the people who watch the Santacruzan that find something hilarious at the sight of cross-dressing gay men regardless of what they look like.

I am sure that there are gay men— and I’ve seen many—who also play to the crowd by giving them exactly what they want: Something to laugh about. But really, it is the members of audience who taunt, jeer, and throw insults at the cross-dressing gay men—what else are they supposed to do given the embarrassing situation? Many of these gay men take their devotion and their participation seriously; they even save up hard-earned money to buy their gowns only to end up being the butt of jokes of people who look down on them because of their gender.

Of course, the cardinal and the morally superior don’t find anything wrong with the cruelty displayed by those who insult and do harm to other people. The cardinal’s latest diatribe even gives license to bigots to continue hating gay men. As usual, as in the case of the Cebu canister scandal, the Church found fault with the victims rather than those who victimize them.

But I understand the cardinal; certain rules of decorum should be respected. Fine. Religious events should not be turned into a drag show.

The question that begs an answer now is: Is the Catholic Church saying there is no room for gay men in its religious events? What does the Catholic Church want to do with gay men who take their Marian devotion and their faith seriously? Asking gay men to deny their identity for the sake of their faith smacks of hypocrisy because who they are is precisely the bedrock of their faith. Surely God judges people based on what is in their hearts, not based on what they are wearing.

The cardinal insists the issue is religious, not gender. I completely agree with him. This is not a gay rights issue, this is a religious issue. And what the cardinal seems to be saying is that gay men have no religious rights.


the suspect said…
we must give it to the cardinal for being a staunch defender of the sacred religious practices. i believe he is the authority in voicing out such matters.

however, i would like to echo ur opinion as well on his commentary about the gays posting a threat to the religious rite's sanctity. the issue at hand should not only be confined to the gays actions but also to the responsibility of the organizers, the church, and the community.

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