I was introduced to sex by way of Disney movies.
In the late 1970s, when there was a new Disney animated film at the Mever theater, Papang treated my sister and me to a Saturday trip in his 1964 blue Volks Beetle to Colon.
We parked at a gasoline station that reeked of piss and petrol. The fumes always made me want to “jingle.” I was always optimistic that perhaps this would turn out to be the movie we would view thrice before Papang ushered us out of the theater.
In those days, a movie stub was a ticket to a cinematic watch-for-as-long-as-you-can binge. Papang, though, did not want his daughters to be in Colon when night fell and the pimps and “prostis” replaced the peanuts-and-newspaper vendors at street corners.
Walking back to the gas station, my palpitations post-Disney would start again as soon as I took a whiff of the addictive amalgam of newsprint, ink and body heat. The Ybañez news stall was covered from wall to wall with newspapers, magazines and paperbacks.
My sister and I would squeeze past the men who rented a newspaper to read or swat the air with while chatting with other readers sharing a bench. We were limited to one comic book, but choosing which one to buy from the cornucopia in front of us is one of my earliest memories of desire.
I chose the Illustrated Classics, Tarzan, DC, and Marvel for their full-color drawings, later switching to Looney Tunes because, though printed in black and white, the publications offered “monster editions, with extra 25 pages of gags.”
Then I discovered that for the price of an imported comic book, we got three or more Tagalog “komiks” that were fanned out on the sidewalk. I quickly picked my favorites, written in either the “wakasan (finished)” or “itutuloy (to be continued)” style.
Our companions at home also read the “komiks” because the romances and the supernatural tales were molded in the same plots we followed on the transistor radio. Since Papang never glanced at the “bakya (lowbrow)” culture, he missed how love on the air and in “wakasan” pages took the “simang (diverted)” route from virginal sighing and courtly wooing.
A common phrase often said half in joke to couples returning home is “uli diretso, ayaw na hapit-hapit.” Teasing the unmarried about diverting for a quick motel tryst before going home reflects our elliptical culture of keeping sex in the interstices of the moral and the decent.
Writing this on May 28, the International Day of Action for Women’s Health, I hope for greater openness about sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Pop culture harbors biases and subversions, the Disney evasions and the garish truths stepping out from the shadows.