Gay relationships on TV and film always fall down a slippery slope. Hordes of “indie” films have whittled homosexuality into its most banal and visceral forms, so we’re forced to turn to other reliable sources for a more sobered portrayal of the dynamics of a gay relationship.
Enter GMA-7’s My Husband’s Lover, a teleserye that serves up a different kind of gay drama. The fact that its title presents a problematic scenario adds to the pressure that the show is facing. But what makes My Husband’s Lover unique is its central struggle — that of a wife witnessing the disintegration of her marriage with her closeted gay husband, whose failure to come to terms with his homosexuality gives Filipinos a venue to discuss pressing LGBT issues.
This show also takes a risk by casting “hunky” actors as its leads. At the central conflict we have Tom Rodriguez and Dennis Trillo playing Vincent and Eric, star-crossed lovers whose relationship begins as high school sweethearts. Victor Basa, meanwhile, plays a supporting character David, Vincent’s confidant and former lover. Tom, Dennis, and Victor are all aware of the pressures and expectations about the show.
“There’s a lot of pressure because you don’t want a caricature of a person,” says Victor. “It’s a drama, not a comedy. You don’t want your audience to feel a disconnect. If it’s not truthful, what’s the use of what we’re doing? Hindi makakaabot yung message sa mga tao if it’s very shallow. We take our work seriously.”
All three of them work hard to steer their portrayals away from how we usually see gays on TV — which is typically the loud, parlorista comedy bar homosexual. Tom approached his character with a more emotional bent, seeing that the usual nuances of a gay man do not necessarily define how a character is. “I wanted to focus more on the emotions of Vincent’s character kasi yung takot ko ayaw kong magingcartoon siya eh, or a caricature, that it will be offensive,” explains Tom.
“Mahirap paniwalaan yung mga lalakeng umaarte na bading,” Dennis, meanwhile, says. “Kailanganipakita mo rin yung best mo. Maganda na naniniwala yung mga tao, siguro dahil we believe in what we do.”
Victor’s David is the sound of reason between the three of them. He’s helplessly fallen in love with Vincent before. He knows that Vincent’s marriage to Lally is a sham, that he was just forced to marry her because he got her pregnant: a one-way ticket to hide his true identity in the folds of a happy marriage. But as Vincent tries to burrow himself even more in his lie of a heterosexual life, his marriage slowly goes in shambles, with Lally gradually uncovering her husband’s hidden life: a photo of Eric hidden in a picture frame beside the bed, late, lonely nights, and the growing distance between them.
My Husband’s Lover gives us the macho gay man tangled in the typical web of emotional and familial struggle of a typical gay man. With every homophobe we encounter on the show (such as Vincent’s dad who threatens gay men by pulling out his gun because he wants gyms and golf clubs homo-free), we have Chanda Romero as Eric’s supportive mom, the kind of person that every gay man and woman should have as their Sherpa up the mountain of gayness. We get one cliché after another in the show and we only hope that these clichés are present so it could be bulldozed and dismissed.
LGBT advocates have praised My Husband’s Lover for the risk that it takes in telling such a story on free TV. Ron de Vera of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHO) outlines the key points that the show got right:
“From an advocacy perspective, it is good that the portrayal of ‘gays’ departs from the stereotypical loud cross-dressing effeminate male (which is technically a transgender). Hopefully, with a little more push, this will help educate the general public about the distinction between gays and transgenders,” he says.
There’s also the situation that brought Eric and Vincent’s together. Ron says, “I like that the two gay characters are/were in a relationship based on emotional bonds and not economic dependence. It shows that masculine men can actually be attracted to other men (regardless of gender expression) without financial compensation.”
But the catch is that, again, from the show’s title, the gay relationship is the antagonist of the show. If Eric and Vincent end up together, it might portray gay men as homewreckers, something that isn’t intrinsic in all homosexuals. And whatever the ending is, as Ron puts is, the gays lose.
“I’m actually kind of worried about how it will end because both scenarios (that I can think of right now) will put gays in a bad light. On one hand, if the married couple ends up staying together, the gay lover will turn out to be the loser. It will send the message that gays can choose to be straight and stay with their ‘chosen wives’ and ‘chosen lives,’ and gay lovers have no hope in life (boohoo). On the other hand, if gay husband leaves his wife and runs away with gay lover, then the message will be, that gays are homewreckers (more boohoo),” Ron explains.
Ray of light
My Husband’s Lover could very well be a new chapter in the LGBT advocacy. It can show bigots and closed-minded people how gay men and women aren’t lustful, sex maniacs or low lives. But all this posturing and pontificating could eventually lead to propaganda where homosexuality can be “cured” by marriage, starting a family, and overcoming “lustful tendencies.”
But all this withstanding, the show is about love. And love knows no gender, as we are told. Love is the heart pounding at its core and all those who tune in, whether they are straight, transgender, bi or gay, are pinning their hopes on the show for a realistic portrayal of how it is to be in love; to understand how it’s like to love in a world where everything is at stake. In the process, the show could become a dialogue on LGBT issues, transforming the platform as a different and more accessible way to reach more people.
“We’ll just see if it’s a tragic love story or a happy ending,” says Tom.
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My Husband’s Lover airs weeknights after Mundo Mo’y Akin on GMA-7. Originally published in Supreme (22 June 2013)