Some of my first stirrings of sexual awareness and curiosity sprouted in Boulder, Colorado, where my Dad had summertime meteorological research assignments. I must have been ten, maybe twelve years old. Yes, back at home I did take notice of certain older guys, like the tall and handsome first chair clarinetist in our junior high school band, or the casually virile dads of the neighborhood kids. But these were just heightened awareness and admiration, not yet sexual in nature.
In Boulder, my father had rented us a house in a neighborhood close to the University of Colorado. Up and down the street were university fraternities. As I rode past them on my bike, I could hear the rowdy college guys yelling, probably for their favorite sports team on TV. Sometimes I caught a glimpse of one or two emerging shirtless in the Colorado sun. I tried hard to imagine what the rest looked like inside, full of male energy.
Being the bookish type, I frequently visited the Boulder Public Library by myself. During one visit I went to the reference section and found a book on human anatomy. Secretively I took the book to a corner of the reading room and looked up the word “penis.” I nervously examined the cross sectional drawing. But that wasn’t enough to satisfy my curiosity. Soon after I let it go. I didn’t care. I was still young.
During my early years of high school, like all of my peers, I sought my place within the social fabric of Miami Palmetto Senior High School. That place had to be my own, a place not defined by my parents. They had already established themselves within the Filipino American community. On occasion they invited their Filipino friends, and maybe a work colleague from India or China, to parties at our house on New Year’s Eve or a birthday, replete with all kinds of Filipino food. My Dad took out his guitar or ukulele, while others played mandolin, sang, and danced traditional folk dances. I knew how to play the part of a well-behaved son by politely helped on the sidelines: collecting dirty dishes, bringing plates of chicken adobo and steaming rice out to the table, or clapping the bamboo poles on the floor while Dad jumped in and out of them in the Tinikling folk dance.
One year, the Filipino-American club scored a social coup. The Miss Universe pageant had been held every year in Miami Beach, and this year Miss Philippines accepted an invitation to come to one of their parties. What’s more, she asked if she could bring some of her sister Miss Universe contestants. So there would be half a dozen of the most beautiful woman from around the world in my house that evening.
I assumed that only the second rate, runners-up would come, the ones left behind because they couldn’t score evening invitations to glitzy hotel parties or a Miami Beach yacht? We didn’t even have a swimming pool or a circular driveway! Still, my high school classmates were oohing and ahhing at my supposed good fortune. The guys thought something exciting was going to happen to me that night. And all I could think was: “Why am I not thrilled to be surrounded by these sexy women?” I buried a twinge of guilt, worried that I was wasting an opportunity.
The next year, though, the Filipino American Club hosted a cultural folk dance troupe from Manila. The dancers were coming to our house that evening for another party. I thought to myself: “The food will be really good. I wonder if my parents will dance their little folk dance, even in the presence of these professionals on world tour?“
The dancers arrived that evening. “Hello,” I said politely to each guest. “What a handsome son you have,” they remarked in Tagalog to my parents. I didn’t speak Tagalog, so I went off to my bedroom to look at my model cars. One of the male dancers was particularly friendly. I saw him watching me, even as I went to my bedroom. Later that evening, when I went back out, we talked in English some more. He seemed interested in my model car collection, so I invited him to have a look.
In my bedroom, we talked some more. Besides being a dancer, he was also a student on the swim team at the University of the Philippines. I was mildly curious since at age fifteen I was heading to college in the next years. Anyway, this was more interesting than the boring conversations in the living room.
We sat on my bed and talked some more. And then his hands started going places that surprised me. I was puzzled but didn’t resist. This was a new experience for me, not anything I had even imagined, so I just let him finish what he started. At the moment of climax, I tried to hold back thinking that I would soil my clothes. But ultimately, I couldn’t.
“This is our little secret,” he said. “OK,” I said. We returned back to the living room. I wasn’t consumed by guilt or remorse. It was sexy scenes between a man and a woman that my parents disapproved of and forbade us to watch on TV, because that’s what the Catholic Church taught them to avoid. But gay sexual activity wasn’t even on anyone’s radar. So what had happened in my bedroom was morally neutral, more like being given a back massage by an older cousin or tasting that new kind of fruit off trees that my Dad would plant around the house. Pretty good, but then let’s do something else now.
The next day my mother’s aunt invited the dance troupe and our family to go swimming in the pool at her house a few blocks away. I splashed around with all of the dance troop members, including my new friend. “Let’s rinse off now,“ he said when we were finished. By then, I knew what he wanted so we went to the bathroom, climbed into the shower together, and I let him soap me up. And then like before, we dried off, got dressed, and rejoined the rest for more Filipino food on the patio.
Justin Estoque serves as Co-Chair of the National Advisory Council of the Stonewall National Museum and Archives and board member of VOX Femina LA, a women’s chorus in Los Angeles. He also sings with the Gay Men’s Chorus of LA.