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Friday, September 11, 2009


Bringing the Truth Out in the Open
by Martin Masadao

My father’s younger brother, my Uncle Don, was gay. In the early 70’s, he was called effeminate – a delicate word attached to the then unspeakable lifestyle that is homosexuality. By the time the 80’s came, he was silahis – the decade’s equivalent to bisexuality / metrosexuality.
Uncle Don dressed well, was mild-mannered, and had oodles of girlfriends. I remember my paternal grandmother saying, “Your Uncle Don is artistic, maybe you are like him too”. Uncle Don had a predilection for interior decorating, had a keen sense of fashion, enjoyed good music, and liked to do art projects.

A consistent honor student from elementary to college in Baguio City, Uncle Don had a brief stint with the seminary, I believe upon my grandmother’s prodding, but eventually left with a number of friends – knowing full well that the vocation of priesthood was not for them or their preferred lifestyle. Uncle Don eventually took up Medical Technology, partly as preparation for his migration to the US.

Uncle Don and I were close, even if he was 12 years older than me. It was his sense of humor that I liked most of all – I’d like to think I inherited his campy irony. In a way, he was my idol. I copied his handwriting, and talked and dressed like him – neatly pressed jeans, leather shoes, a plaid shirt, and a sweater slung on my shoulders or casually tied at the waist.

Homosexuality was never discussed on my father’s side of the family, despite the fact that we had an aunt who was an avowed lesbian – complete with girlfriends and the ability to croon a la Sinatra. If ever, there were only slight references to my Uncle Don’s lifestyle which were never mentioned in front of him, so as not to hurt his feelings. On my mother’s side of the family, the subject was definitely taboo.

It was for this reason that I grew attached to Uncle Don – we were cut from the same cloth, so to speak. Not only because of the bloodlines, but more importantly because we knew we were both gay. He had always known. It was evident when, one day, I helped him decorate his room. I put up cut-outs from the pages of Sports Illustrated. There was Mark Spitz, in just his Speedos as he broke seven world records a few years earlier, as well as our hearts as we longingly ached for his body, there was also a football player, his physique enhanced by his tight uniform, and countless other men who we had fantasized would one day sweep us off our feet.

My uncle and I would lie in bed and talk about these gorgeous men on his wall. Then Uncle Don would talk about his crushes in school. I would listen with rapt attention thinking to myself, “Hey, I know how it feels to be snubbed by your crush, to be unable to tell your crush that you like him, to be laughed at and ridiculed by classmates in the restroom during recess…” and other trials and tribulations homosexual kids go through. But it was definitely assuring and comforting to have someone to talk with about these things.

Uncle Don along with his youngest brother, Uncle Ray, migrated to the US in 1981. They had joined my other aunties and grandparents in San Diego, California. My paternal side of the family is a close-knit clan. They are fun, gregarious people who warmly express affection to one another. They give support to each other and openly discuss issues concerning members of the family – except for homosexuality.

My Uncle Don would regularly correspond with us through the years. Here is an excerpt from a Christmas card he sent in 1982:

"Ray and I have left San Diego and we are now very much on our own. We separately moved to Long Beach and we are just 5 minutes-ride far from each other. He’s now working for a medical center in Torrance and is staying with a former classmate.

I have left my county job as a lab assistant, am at the present working in an industrial computer company owned by a friend, will be going back to school and/or attend review class geared to my taking the med tech board exam. We do miss each and everyone. I’ll get in touch again."

We had, by now, received news that Uncle Don’s ‘friend’ was actually his lover. I don’t remember exactly how I found out and when, but I remember my mother speaking in a hushed tone to my sisters that Uncle Don was ‘living-in with an American’. I remember thinking, “Yipee! There you go, Uncle Don!”

Through the years, Uncle Don would write us and even enclose photos of his trips around the US with his partner, Tony. Now we had a name and face attached to the ‘friend’. Tony was an all-American, boy-next-door type. I would look at the photos, smiling and thinking how lucky Uncle Don was.

In the summer of 1985, I received a card via mail addressed to only me. I had recognized the handwriting at once. My sister thought it was odd that Uncle Don would only write me. I opened the card in the privacy of my room. It was a Chippendales card, with a blonde, blue-eyed model sprawled on the beach, gazing into my eyes. I could have fainted there and then. Here is what was scribbled inside:

"Just want to say hi, and hope you and your family are doing fine! Please extend our regards to each and everyone. How was school? Hope summer is gonna be full of fun stuff for you!
Tony just bought a 27-foot motorhome with all the goodies in it! We have been driving it around and it sure is fun. We are looking forward to a busy summer in matter of traveling around.
What have you been doing so far? If you find some time, won’t you write us, too? How’s love life? Any special one around? Let me know if there’s anything you want from here and I’ll try my best to send it, okay? Oops, almost out of space, so bye from here…

(signed)Don and Tony"

We finally met Tony when he came with Uncle Don for a visit sometime in 1986. I had spent time with both of them for most of their stay. The last trip they made was in 1989, in time for my eldest sister’s graduation from medical school. Uncle Don, by this time, had grown thin and had psoriasis on his hands. My brother’s wife had whispered, “Baka AIDS na yan? Ayoko nga makipag-shake hands kay Uncle Don, eh”.

In one evening of their brief stay, Uncle Don and I found each other in his bedroom away from everyone else. We were chatting in bed when he noticed me looking at his hands. He said he had psoriasis. A long pause followed as we both looked into each other’s eyes. Then he said, “You know… the gay disease…” I left it at that, not knowing how to deal with it.

In July of 1990 my father had to rush to the US because he had received an overseas call from his sister, my Auntie Vina, saying that Uncle Don’s condition was not getting any better. Shortly thereafter we received a letter from Auntie Vina addressed to my mother:

"We’re all concerned about you and the kids because of the earthquake. Please call me collect. Manong Roy (my father) has been summoned here because of Don’s condition. He’s been keeping close watch over Don at the hospital in L.A. According to Manong Roy, Don gripped his hand yesterday, looked at manong and said, “I’ve tried my best.” Manong told him to keep on trying. I think what the doctor wants to do now is give him a “morphine trip”. In other words, paturugen da laengen (they will put him to sleep), and that will be the end.

To do that he (the doctor) needs to meet with us, if we’re agreeable to this. That’s why we’re rushing to L.A. this morning. As of yesterday, Don had developed emphysema and is having problems breathing. Manong Roy does not think Don will last longer.

Love, Vina."

A few weeks after, my mother got an overseas call from Auntie Vina. Uncle Don had passed away. She gave specific instructions to my mother that Uncle Don had wished that an obituary be printed in Baguio’s local paper stating that he had “died after a lingering bout with AIDS” and that he is survived by my grandparents, my father, my other aunties… and his longtime companion Tony Hudson.

My mother accomplished his wish, and we did get different reactions after the obituary came out. I remember at least two people on campus asking me if I was related to the Don Masadao that was in the obit the previous Sunday. With my affirmation came the question as to why we had to mention Uncle Don’s AIDS. I asked, “Why not?” and pointed out it was one of my uncle’s last wishes. There were also schoolmates and teachers who tried to avoid my eyes a few days after the obituary came out. And of course, there were those who politely did not bring up the issue, but you could see in their eyes that they were thinking about it and just waiting for me to open up about it.

You must remember that this was in the 80’s, when the gay community was lobbying the Reagan administration for more funding for AIDS medical research. It was de rigueur among the gays in California to have their obituaries printed in this way, to make the general public aware of the AIDS crisis, and most importantly I think, to assert the lifestyle even in death. My uncle’s longtime companion, Tony Hudson succumbed to the same fate two years later.

My paternal grandmother came home the summer after my Uncle Don had passed away. Also believing that that would probably be the last time she could make the long trip. She was in her late 70’s by now. I remember having sat down with Lola Laling, and she told me, “You know I used to disapprove of your Uncle Don’s lifestyle. You know he was gay, don’t you? Well, I think he’s in heaven now. He was a good man, Martin. Yes, I know he is in heaven now.”

A few weeks back, I e-mailed my Auntie Vina asking permission to write about Uncle Don. I had wanted to know from his surviving siblings if they wanted the issue to be spoken of, as this may infringe on their right to privacy. My Auntie Vina e-mailed back:

"Go ahead and write about it. My only regret is that I failed to tell him to stop taking his AIDS medicines then. I was noticing that whenever he took his medicines, he was sick-sick. But when it was time for him not to take his medicine, he was full of life, and was lots of fun to be around. His medicine at that time, I think, was only experimental. It was too strong for his frail body."

I now offer this piece to my Uncle Don and to all the other people in the past – straights, gays, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children – who offered their bodies and themselves wholeheartedly, in the hope of finding a cure for AIDS. I now leave all of you a passage from Tom Hanks’ acceptance speech upon winning the Oscar for Philadelphia:

“… the streets of heaven are too crowded with angels. We know their names. They number a thousand for each one of the red ribbons that we wear here tonight. They finally rest in the warm embrace of the gracious Creator of us all. A healing embrace that cools their fevers, that clears their skin, and allows their eyes to see the simple, self-evident, common sense truth that is made manifest by the benevolent Creator of us all.”

God bless you.

(This is a piece I wrote for -- please check out their third e-zine out this month)


  1. As you can imagine, what you experienced with your family was practically impossible in mine. My cousin died from AIDS around the same time as your Uncle. No one in the family would ever talk about his "lifestyle" or his "friend". His sisters knew and accepted him as he was, then when he became ill his mother reconcilled and became an advocate. As for the father, it took many years and maybe still to this day he cannot accept it. My other cousin is alive and well and occasionally brings his partner to some family reunions. Still they are not publicly mentioned by the aunts and uncles. Still hard in 2009 to bring truth out in to the open.

  2. This is a sad story but a beautifully told one. Things have certainly changed since Uncle Don passed away, but we have a very long way to go, both in the U.S. and abroad, until gay men and women (among other minorities) enjoy the rights and opportunities the majority of us take for granted. That is the salient point of my recently released biographical novel, Broken Saint. It is based on my forty-year friendship with a gay man, and chronicles his internal and external struggles as he battles for acceptance (of himself and by others). More information on the book is available at

    Mark Zamen, author

  3. Thanks Mark Walther and Mark Zamen...

    Will check out the book if availablke in our local bookstores.