Thursday, June 19, 2014
WHEN JOE MET MISS J.
MATTER OF FACT
Jose F. Lacaba
Manila Times, January 4, 1997
When Joe met Miss J.
I HAVE a feeling that the pop historians currently outing Jose Rizal—that is, exposing him as an alleged closet queen—are really just having a little fun and pulling our collective leg. When you examine the evidence they trot out, you just have to conclude that they can’t be serious.
Rizal must have been gay, goes one argument, because he kept dreaming he was being chased by men. I have been told that a number of political activists who were detainees and exiles during the martial-law era have recurring nightmares that they are being chased by men—military men, to be sure, but men nevertheless. Does that mean the male dreamers are gay and the female dreamers are closet nymphomaniacs?
According to another argument, Rizal must have been gay because he “never wrote about sex, not even once.” That’s seen as proof that he had no sexual experience and wasn’t really interested in women. In contrast, Filipinos revolutionaries of his time slept around a lot, and Mao Zedong had a great appetite for sex.
Mao may have been a sexual glutton, as his alleged doctor claims, but as far as I know, he never wrote about sex either, unless you consider “In Memory of Norman Bethune” a homosexual tract.
The English novelist Charles Dickens was also silent on the subject of sex, if memory serves. But he fathered nine children and in his old age abandoned his wife to shack up with a stage actress who was 27 years his junior.
Dickens and Rizal lived in the same century, a time when a character like Dr. Thomas Bowdler was publishing a 10-volume Family Shakespeare from which all explicit sexual references and vulgar words—anything that could not “with propriety be read aloud in a family”—had been expunged. From Bowdler’s name came the English verb bowdlerize, which now means to expurgate or censor.
Chronologically, Rizal was a proper Victorian in a Catolico cerrado country, at least in his writings. To expect him to write like Chaucer before him and D.H. Lawrence after him is a little like expecting a bamboo tree to bear a durian fruit.
But, as I said, I think the proponents of the gay theory are being playful and tongue-in-cheeky. Using their methods of argumentation, it could probably even be proved that Rizal, a great admirer of the national discipline and order of Germany and Japan, was a proto-fascist.
In the same jokey spirit, I could trot out other circumstantial evidence to show that Rizal may have been a cradle snatcher.
His first great love was Leonor Rivera. She was 13 and he was 18 when they first met and started writing mushy love letters to each other.
In Rizal’s relationship with the Austrian Ferdinand Blumentritt, there’s supposed to be the hint of a homosexual attraction. But anyone who has read Rizal’s letters to Blumentritt from Dapitan will notice that, in closing, he never fails to extend his fondest regards to Blumentritt’s prepubescent daughter.
I don’t have the volume of Rizal-Blumentritt correspondence with me as I write, so I can’t quote chapter and verse. But I remember with what tremulous joy he describes his last vision of her, running after his departing train and waving goodbye. The girl’s name, if I remember correctly, was Dolores, and he called her Loleng—which is etymologically the sister of Lolita.
When Rizal met Josephine Bracken during his exile in Dapitan, he was 34 and she wasn’t quite 18. Of course, her age would preclude a charge of statutory rape if he had engaged in consensual sex with her. Still, the age gap between them—sixteen—was considerable.
She called him Joe, and he called her Josefina, Miss B., and Miss J. The amazing thing, in the sexually hypocritical and uptight atmosphere of the time, is that they dared to defy Church condemnation, social convention, and scandalized family reaction to get into what we would now call a live-in arrangement.
He wanted to marry his dulce extranjera, but priest and bishop laid down the condition that he could be wed in church only if he retracted everything he had written against Spain and the Catholic religion. A civil wedding being unheard of in those days, Miss J. simply moved in with Joe, despite the obvious scandal this caused in a small-town setting.
To Dapitan’s credit, it stood by him. His patients continued to consult him, and the parents of his students refused to pull their children out of his private school despite threats of excommunication. Rizal’s own mother, like many a kunsintidorang matanda, said it was better for her son and Josephine “to live together in the grace of God than to be married in mortal sin.”
Josephine suffered a miscarriage while she was living in with Rizal. The child was premature and did not survive. The incident might belie current insinuations that Rizal had no sexual experience, but the proponents of the gay theory have a ready explanation. They say the stillborn child was not Rizal’s but George Taufer’s.
Taufer was Josephine’s blind stepfather, and some historians have speculated that there may have been something unnatural or unsavory about his relationship with his stepdaughter. She may have accepted Rizal’s marriage proposal just to be able to get away from him.
There are indications that Taufer was back in Hongkong in March of 1895, when Josephine was staying with Rizal’s sister in Manila. Miss J. came back to Dapitan to live with her Joe in May of the same year. She had her miscarriage toward the end of 1895.
Between March and December is nine months, and between May and December is seven months. It cannot be proven that Josephine’s baby was not Taufer’s, but neither can it be proven that it was not Rizal’s. Either way, those of us who are connoisseurs of historical trivia can neither prove nor disprove gay or macho status.
Me, I suspect that if karaoke had existed in Rizal’s time he would be singing along with Maurice Chevalier to “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.”