The power of a hug

Lucas loves hugs. In the mornings, he’ll climb out of his crib and into our bed. He’ll squeeze between us and wrap his little arms around our necks, and we’ll all say, “Family snuggle!”

A few days ago, we were all feeling cooped up so we went for a walk around the village, and Lucas took his bike. We all wore masks and stayed a good distance from the few people we encountered. Lucas would speed down the street, but every few minutes he would look back, and ride his bike back to me. “Mommy, huuuuug,” he said, wrapping his arms around my legs. Again and again, as we strolled around our little village.

Sometimes I would ask him, “Can I get a kiss?” and he would answer, “Hmm, how about hug?” “Okay!” I would say enthusiastically, and he would reach his arms around me.

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I can’t imagine not being able to hug my son. I can’t imagine Lucas afraid of hugging us, afraid of being vulnerable with us, afraid of asking us for help, afraid of telling us when he’s sad or scared or angry. I can’t imagine Lucas having to hide his feelings from us.

I don’t want him to ever feel like he has to hide his fears and worries, his joys and dreams, his dilemmas and desires. I don’t want him to ever feel like he has to be this or that just to please us. I don’t want him to ever feel like he can’t be his true self when he’s with us.

And yet so many people live like this, have lived like this, for years.

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It rained. We got wet. We hugged. We wept. We danced. We cheered. I lost count of how many people we hugged, how many kids told us, “I miss my mom, I miss my dad.” I lost count of how many started crying when we hugged them, how many held tight and lingered. I lost count of how many smiled and laughed as they walked towards us, arms tentatively open, stretching wider as we reached for them. I lost count of how many of them tearfully, shyly whispered, thank you. I lost count of the ones who said, I just came out, this is my first Pride. I lost count of how many times I said, do you want a hug? I lost count of how many backs I rubbed, how many times I told them, you’re okay, it’s okay, you are loved, you are home. I lost count of how many times we said, Happy Pride, of how much I cried afterwards. As the music played and I held my own child, I wept for the ones who couldn’t talk to their families, who had to hide for so long, who desperately wanted to be held. It isn’t fair, it isn’t right, to be spurned for being a little (or a lot) different. It doesn’t make sense to turn away your own child because they’re not what you expect or want them to be. I don’t understand, and my heart breaks for anyone who’s been abandoned, rejected, disowned by their parents. I feel so overwhelmed, and I’m just giving out hugs. I can’t imagine what it’s like for them. I wish I could hug you all. (Thank you @marcosumayao for the beautiful photo) #loveislove #ResistTogether #MetroManilaPride

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We went to the Pride March last year. We didn’t go there because we wanted likes and followers on Instagram. We didn’t go there to take attention away from the LGBT and their struggles.

We went to the Pride March because we wanted to protest the injustices far too many had suffered, that far too many continue to suffer. We went to Pride to open our arms rather than to raise clenched fists. We went to Pride to show that even in protest, even when there is anger, there can be joy, love, acceptance.

We went to the Pride March because we just wanted to comfort those who needed it.

We did not expect to be swarmed by barkadas rushing into our arms. We did not expect the little confessions and the whispered thanks. We did not expect the exuberant smiles and the tears of joy and relief.

So many of them came to us, to me and Oneal, to Jessica and Ade, to Candice and Matthew. So many of them started crying even before we wrapped our arms around them. So many of them were so shy or scared at first, and then so eager when we opened our arms to them.

I did not expect my heart to be so full and so broken at the same time. I did not expect just how many people so desperately craved a parent’s embrace. I did not expect to see just how many people had been turned away by their families. I did not expect to see just how many people had to hide their true selves from those who were supposed to love and accept.

Even now, I cannot understand how any parent can reject their child, simply for being a little (or a lot) different.

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The faces are a blur now. The names, forgotten, to be honest. But I remember the hugs. I remember their arms wrapping around me. I remember them squealing with delight. I remember their chests heaving against mine as we sobbed together. I remember some of them shy, tentative, then warming up and pouring their entire selves into the hug. I remember some pulling away, then leaning back in and saying, smiling, “Isa pa!” “Happy Pride!” “Thank you!” I remember them wiping tears away. I remember turning to @trooper_dad @onealtr and crying while saying, I need a hug too. And I didn’t realize, until I read this, that this young writer was one of the people we hugged at #MetroManilaPride. Thank you for the hug, @oliverolivieroliverolivier, and thank you for the story. We will #ResistTogether, because #loveislove. “I saw Regina‚Äôs family by the tennis courts, while most of the crowd flocked in front of the stage. At first, I was a little shy to approach Regina with open arms, so I just took a portrait. Then, when people finally lined up to embrace her, I followed their lead. Regina welcomed me with a big smile on her face before giving me a warm hug.” – @scoutmagph

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I don’t know how many people shared the picture of me and Lucas at last year’s Pride March. I only know there were suddenly thousands of likes on Instagram and Facebook, and hundreds of comments. I only know there were private messages from strangers, so many of them so young, their preferred pronouns unknown to me. I only know they said thank you, thank you, thank you. I only know they called me Mommy, Mama, Mamita, Mumsh.

I can’t tell you their names. I don’t know their faces. I can only tell you this: they needed love.

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Going to UP always feels like coming home. I remember conversations and heartbreak and shenanigans from twenty years ago. I remember being young and arrogant, thinking I knew my way around the world, and learning, learning, always learning. I remember things I said I would do (or never do), and people who taught me to see myself in different ways. Going to UP, having graduated from UP, this is something I will always, always be proud of. Going to UP today, joining the #Pride March, I felt so proud and inspired and thrilled. Marching to the beat of the fearsome, glorious drums, waving rainbow flags, hugging and chanting and cheering, I was full of joy and defiance and hope. It didn’t matter that we were marching with kids who weren’t even born yet when I was a student. It didn’t matter that we were the only ones pushing a child in a stroller. It didn’t matter to anybody that we were cisgender heterosexuals. It only mattered that we were all marching for the same things: the freedom to live our truths, freedom from hatred and discrimination, freedom and compassion and equality. I don’t know if or where Lucas will go to college, but I hope he finds people and causes to love and fight for, the courage and strength to stand up for others, and immense pride in who he is and what he can do. I hope he finds places and experiences that will shape him and embolden him and teach him. I hope that he finds his own UP.

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Pride Month is ending, and this year is vastly, horribly different from last year. This year my son is not waving a rainbow flag. This year I am not dancing with my husband and our friends in the rain. This year we are not marching in love and protest.

Pride Month is ending, but some things have not changed. There is still so much injustice and inequality, and far too many people are still judged and attacked simply because they don’t conform. There is still so much anger and hate in the world. There is still so much work to be done.

Pride Month is ending, and we are all still in isolation. But we still have love and rainbows, and we are still here to hug anyone who needs it.


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