On GMA 7’s My Husband’s Lover

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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, 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.”

Hard work

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 taosiguro 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 reception

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) 

Wide-Eyed Wonder

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These days, Jodi Sta. Maria is walking on sunshine. Warm fuzzies roll on to her favor; an unstoppable force that lets her glide like a kite on a clear blue sky. It’s an imagery that anyone can easily associate with her, especially now that she’s been giving audiences healthy doses of optimism as Maya in the hit daytime show, Be Careful With My Heart. “When people see me now, parang they see me as walking good vibes,” she says with a chuckle. If ever Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote ‘She’s a Rainbow’ with a particular girl in mind, it would probably be someone like Maya, and in extension, Jodi herself.

The story of Be Careful With My Heart is hardly new stuff: a provincial lass finds her way into the city to help her family and, after a series of happy accidents, ends up as a helper in the household of a rich businessman. Yet, it became 2012’s biggest television phenomenon, boasting ratings that rival top-ranking primetime soaps. The tandem of Jodi and Richard Yap, who fans fondly refer to as Sir Chief, his nickname in the show, has become its beating core. In that sudden tip of a hat, Jodi and Richard are now household names.

The show’s success has led to its transforming into massive franchise, spawning numerous fan pages and blogs (teeming with gif sets of memorable kilig scenes), soundtracks, mall shows, and even a world tour. Originally slated for a one season run when it premiered July last year, it is now extended until mid-2013. A film starring Jodi and Richard is also said to be in the works. But more than its skyrocket to fame, Be Careful has stood as a tent pole for feel-good television, a moral guidebook that kids and adults alike can check whenever they find themselves in sticky situations, just like in Maya’s [mis]adventures.

“Siyempre sa umpisa naman ng show ay mere entertainment lang; to entertain people,” Jodi explains. “But then habang tumagal, we all realized, hindi lang siya naging basta entertainment para sa mga kababayan natin kundi naging source din siya ng inspiration and reminder para sa nakararami. Naging instrument lang kaming mga actors, our directors, production staff, and yung mga crew. We work hand in hand para makapag-send out ng magandang mensahe sa mga tao.”

Jodi Sta. Maria cover story for Preview Magazine March 2013. Read the rest of the story on Zinio

The Time That Remains

BMLove is just escape for two people who don’t know how to be alone,” says Jesse Wallace (Ethan Hawke) in Before Sunrise (1995), the first of Richard Linklater’s trilogy that centers on a couple as they go through European cities and discuss pretty much everything there is to be discussed. It’s easy to dismiss the films as ideations of Jesse’s escapist theory but in between dorm-room ramblings on gender studies, the cultural clash between Americans and Europeans, and wistful evocations on love and the fragile nature of relationships, Linklater’s long walks of romanticism touch on a familiar truth; a stripped-down form of love, something that inspired at least a generation of moviegoers to search for an elusive kind of love on trains, cafes, record stores, and second-hand bookshops.

Of course, here we’ll have to settle for alternatives: record shops in Cubao X, Book Sales, Starbucks, or the school library. It’s a search that’s First World and bohemian at best, teetering on the ridiculous notion that a chatty but good-looking Frenchie like Celine (or in Jesse’s case, an American) on the train might be the love of his life instead of a psychotic man-hater. At its most basic, the films operate on the template of Hollywood love, with a hefty serving of intellect and a dash of quirk (although never crossing the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Side) but Linklater, who later collaborated with the actors in the screenplays of Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013), provides us with conversations that are believable enough to make love-struck wanderers out of us, hoping that we’ll strike up a conversation with someone who reads Kinsey or Georges Bataille. The closest thing that we can settle for here is someone with a dog-eared copy of Haruki Murakami or John Green.

It’s almost been 15 years since Before Sunrise and it took Jesse and Celine nine years to reunite in Paris in Before Sunset. Their initial meeting, brimming with bullshit theories that hallmark youthful musings, provided us with an ending that exposed the hopeful or the cynic in us: would they really meet six months later like they agreed to? Turns out, they didn’t. Celine’s grandmother died and was buried on their supposed meeting date but Jesse did fly to Vienna and stayed there for a week, hoping that Celine would eventually show up. They haven’t quite moved on after that, their one night in Vienna still their most vivid memory. Jesse then writes a novel about their encounter, a clever way to draw Celine’s attention and they eventually meet, nine years later at Jesse’s book reading in Paris. And they’ve done a little growing up, too.

Before Sunset shows a more hard-edged couple, jaded and a bit contemptuous after experiencing fallouts in their respective relationships. But at their core, they’re still those young drifters that met in Vienna. We ride in on that hope too, that they’ll finally pick up where they left off nine years ago, despite the fact that they only have an hour until Jesse flies back to New York. Then Linklater gives us what possibly is the best ending of the last decade.

Nine years later, we have Before Midnight, which premiered in Sundance last January to overwhelmingly positive reviews. Adjectives and phrases rained on the film range from “masterful,” “perfect” to “the best of the trilogy.” Its release was anticipated mostly by the teenagers who saw Before Sunset who have by now turned into battle-scarred 20- or 30-somethings, hoping to find an acceptable resolution to Jesse and Celine’s romance. With promo stills and rumors that hint at the relationship’s demise, Before Midnight gnaws on that paralyzing anxiety that we’ve been harboring all these years: that they’ve never really hit it off and that their romance is just kept alive by “brief encounters in European cities.”

Before Midnight finds Jesse and Celine in Greece, a rather ominous setting: a country that’s known for its ruins. The years haven’t been easy on Jesse and Celine and here, we find them tangled in the repercussions of their decisions from the last two decades. “How long has it been since we walked around bullshiting?” Celine asks Jesse. You can’t help but feel the last two films have afforded them a ruminative break over everything that they have been trying to escape. For a couple that you’ve projected on your ideas of what love is, Jesse and Celine make for a perfect substitute for a future you’ll hope to find yourself in. So for everyone who’s loved the last two films, Before Midnight is either that last dash to fulfillment or a heavy blow of betrayal.

It’s almost silly, of course, trying to pin your relationship woes on a fictional couple. But it almost seems too plausible since ours is a generation shaped by pop-cultural codes. The release of Judd Apatow’s This Is 40, a comedy film that chronicles the struggles of a couple in their 40s, and the second season Lena Dunham’s Girls, catalogue frustrations that come punching in when you’re grappling with quarter-life crisis. These films haven’t given us escape; they have been confrontational avenues where we can deal with our own shortcomings in whatever relationships we find ourselves in. We might be occasionally eaten up by fears, held up by streaks of optimism, and let down by sullied expectations, but our personal histories will always culminate in that moment of reprieve, that like Jesse and Celine, we’ve given ourselves chances to look on a future that we think we truly deserve.

Published February 9, 2013 in the Philippine Star’s Supreme