I used to frequent a small, dark bar in Malate when I was much younger. Its name was inspired by the Filipino word paminta which in gay lingo (I'm not fluent, that's the extent of what I know) meant a gay man who acted like a straight man (no, the bar wasn't called "Pepper"). Let me break it down for the lesbians and non-homosexuals: paminta's first two syllables pa-min sounds like pa-men which means parang lalaki or "like a man". Boom. Gay lingo 101.
It was fairly late in my life when I got introduced to the local gay scene. I was lucky, I had two best friends, both gay, who were with me. We were all quite innocent then; the idea that two guys can kiss publicly (or privately honestly) was alien to us.
The first few times we went to Maria Orosa in Malate, we never realized that most, if not all, of the men there were not straight. First, because we were young; second, because we were inexperienced; third, because we were blind (that's a joke). We actually kept on going to Orosa because it had Cafe Breton and we loved crepes, as well as this small quaint coffee shop that housed artwork. We rarely made it past midnight. We had dinner, coffee, and conversation. That was it.
One night, I was with Ioanis and we stumbled upon the bar I just mentioned. Well, not really stumbled; it was right next to Breton. What I meant is that at some point, we started talking about the bar next door.
"Why are there so many guys in that bar?" I asked. Ioanis said he didn't know but he pointed out that that one boy; a dorky, skinny, chinito guy in a white shirt and glasses, was cute. I had 20/20 vision so I insisted he wasn't. Ioanis said of course not, "he's cute kaya." I said that this only confirmed his weird taste in men.
We left the cafe a little later. Ioanis didn't want to go home yet, so we sat on the sidewalk and goggled at guys. We discussed the merits of each guy's physical attributes, rarely agreeing on who was attractive and who wasn't. I said that this makes perfect sense: the universe does not want us to ever fight over a guy obviously because it puts a lot of premium on our friendship. Ioanis agreed. We were also incredibly delusional.
Across the street there was this one guy; bald, muscular and moreno, who caught Ioanis' eye. While I was off yakking about random stuff, Ioanis apparently was flirting. It took a while before I realized he wasn't listening to me. I asked him if he was tired. He said he didn't want to go home yet and that that guy was looking at him.
I asked, "Which guy?" Ioanis discreetly pointed with his eyes. I looked at the guy then said "I love you, but that is not something to be proud about." I was a mean kid.
Ioanis said he's going to cross the street anyway. I admired his balls. "What if he's straight?" I asked. "I mean, I still love you, but between the two of us, I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who can fight." Ioanis bristled. "I know tae kwon do kaya," he said. "Yea, but you're also short and skinny," I insisted. "Look at that guy, he's huge."
Ioanis ignored me and crossed the street. I stayed on my side. My older brother's anecdotes about bar hopping crossed my mind. I remember him saying that he always had a steel pipe stowed in his car's trunk "just in case." I assumed this was the type of situation he meant. I saw an empty bottle of SanMig Light, picked it up and followed Ioanis. I've never been in a bar brawl before, or a brawl in front of a bar, but I figured I was going to go down fighting.
Imagine my surprise when the guy walked up to Ioanis and smiled. Smiled! It was like the heavens parted to make us realize that the whole freaking street was filled with people like us. You could almost hear a choir sing in a far off place. It was the most glorious epiphany of my life.
Of course I exaggerate, but it was life-changing nonetheless. For the first time, we had people we can pattern ourselves to, or mold our lives around. At a young age, most people have their family and friends. We had them too, but we also had Malate. It was amazing.
Photo taken from here.