Okay, let me backtrack a little. The seed of this story came from wanting to write my second Young Adult novella with a side plot on spoken word. At that time, my social media feed was being flooded by spoken word performances and I thought, hey, this seemed to be a hit among the young ones so maybe I should touch on it. I also thought it would be fun to inject a bit of poetry in that story, to make it fun for me as a writer.
So, okay. My last YA thing was about a sixteen-year-old who was struggling with her weight. To make this one different, I would veer the conflict away from physical appearance to emotional turmoil. I thought about this while I walked to the grocery, while I played with my son, and soon, I had a lightbulb moment! Instead of a girl, my main character would be a boy struggling with his sexual orientation.
I read coming out stories online but they came mostly from the States. So I messaged a friend whom I haven't talked to in a long time. His name is Jigs Mayuga, an LGBT rights advocate. I met him when he was a host on the country's first LGBT reality show (OUT on GMA 7) because the main person behind the show, as well as his co-host, were good friends of mine. We met for lunch, told him about my project, and he said he'd be happy to tell me his story. I sat across him for an about an hour, riveted by his tale. I tried taking down notes, but most of the time I was just gazing at him, feeling all the emotions he was sharing. After we parted ways, my intention changed. No longer was I going to do this just to be different. I was doing this for that gay teen who's afraid to be himself, afraid that there was something wrong about him.
I also interviewed Gio Gahol, who became my peg for the love interest. Later on, Gio would play a pivotal role in bringing the book to life.
Little did I know that when I'd been interviewing Jigs, I was already a few weeks pregnant with my second child. With my worsening morning sickness and fatigue, writing for something other than my day job was unthinkable. The project was pushed back several months. During that time, the doubts came. Why was I going to write this? It felt like I had no right to write about it. I decided to ditch it and instead, focus on writing one of my ideas that had been on the back burner.
But somehow, I kept coming back to my YA story. After about four false starts, I finally wrote chapter one. And then I stopped again. Maybe it was pregnancy hormones, but suddenly, I found myself wondering if I would be the type of parent who'd accept a gay son. I felt that I couldn't write the story effectively unless I knew in my heart of hearts that having a gay son would not be a problem. I struggled with this for a month, and when I could finally tell myself that yes, I would be okay with it, I moved on with the story.
Halfway through the writing, I went to my friend's house for their wedding dinner. My friend is a girl, and she had just married to her long-time girlfriend (20 years, yo!) in the States. Since their friends couldn't all attend the wedding, they decided to host a thanksgiving dinner here in the PH. While watching their wedding video, I found myself tearing up because I realized that in all those years of being their friend, I'd never seen them kiss! They'd been so very careful about public displays of affection, but after the ceremony, I finally saw them kiss. How heartbreaking it was that something so ordinary for other couples had to done in private for them. My friend told me that just before the wedding, she kept kissing her fiancee, who kept admonishing her for the public display. And my friend just laughed, saying, "We're in the States. Nobody cares!' I decided to include their story in the book.
Ron Lim, who's also part of #romanceclass, has written a short but sweet M/M story entitled "Yours Is The First Face That I Saw" included in Kids These Days: Stories from the Luna East Arts Academy published by Anvil. I messaged him to ask if he could beta read the story even if I hadn't finished it. I knew his experience, sensitivities and knowledge were the only things that mattered before I decided to publish the e-book. If he thought it was crap, I would junk the story all together.
Thankfully, Ron liked the book, but not before educating me on the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. Chris Mariano, one of my favorite #romanceclass writers, edited it and gave me a lot of food for thought. She prepared me for the possible reactions on the book, and sent me articles on LGBT writing. Fellow #romanceclass authors Jay Tria and Ines Bautista-Yao proofread the thing, and C.P. Santi made the cover.
Then I hit "publish".
Last Sunday, at the #romanceclass event, April Feels Day, Gio Gahol read the part of Franco, while Fred Lo read Caleb's part. (Video by Tania Arpa)
While #romanceclass founder Mina V. Esguerra thanked the authors for tackling such topics, I couldn't help feeling a bit uncomfortable. I don't want you to think I'm noble for having written this, because really, I was just telling someone else's story. I originally wrote it to be different and to be noticed, but now I feel embarrassed for having felt that way. I think all I want for anyone who has read Another Word for Happy is to feel something, and to maybe write their own story about something that isn't often discussed in a mainstream environment. Something they care about. Representation matters. We all help each other out.
Last November, a month after the book was released, I gave birth. And yes, my child was another boy. <3