Ansh Das, organizer of Hong Kong’s first annual LGBT festival, the Pink Season, had an emotional year last year.
At Mr Gay World 2011 in Manilla he met and fell in love with Mike Francis Mendoza, a Filipino singer. An intense connection between the two of them was cut off tragically when Mendoza died of appendicitis just a couple of months after they met.
Das channeled his grief, pain and love for Francis into a book, Always Forever. He talks to Gay Star News about how he’s learnt how to heal.
How did you know so soon after meeting Mikee that he was special?
Mikee was a handsome man with an amazing voice. But it was his tattoo, the angel wings on his back, that flipped a switch inside me. I wasn’t a tattoo fan until that point. I had always wondered how people could hurt themselves and get their bodies inked. I thought natural was beautiful.
But when I saw that tattoo, it was a strange feeling. It was not déjà vu. It was the sudden realization I had waited for this moment my entire life. I had always believed there are angels amongst us. They walk the earth, helping and healing others. They are trapped here, their wings broken, unable to fly away. Their mission is to heal.
I had never shared this belief or feeling with anybody. They wouldn't understand. They would laugh it away. But my belief was not mere imagination. I simply knew. 'This is it!' said a voice inside me. 'This is what you have been waiting for all your life!' I had never felt like that before.
Did you wonder why Mikee was so tired all the time? In retrospect he must have been very unwell.
All of us volunteers were exhausted. Mr Gay World is probably the most glamorous event for the global gay community. It takes a lot of effort from the organizers, the volunteers and the participants to make it a success. Some of us had gone without proper sleep for several days. But that’s behind the scenes. As performers and organizers, we knew the show must go on. So we would carry on ignoring the toll the erratic schedule and the challenges it threw in our path.
What inspired you to write this book?
Mikee wanted me to write the book about him. It was one of the things I had promised, in my mind, to do for him, after his passing. But I didn’t want to write it like a biography. I wanted to write it like the love story it was, through my perspective.
When I arrived at his wake, I had expected to see a lot of crying and mourning. I had steeled myself for that. But the Filipino way of looking at things is very different. They choose to celebrate life rather than mourn the passing of their loved ones. This surprised me, in a good way. I decided to turn my loss into something helpful for others and, of course, to myself.
Over the subsequent trips, I began to slowly fall in love with the culture, food, music and people. In their time of loss, his family and friends opened their arms and welcomed me into their life. I have tried to love them back through this book. Also, I want people who are going through a similar situation to derive comfort from this book. Sharing is the best way of healing. They need to know they are not alone.
Was it hard to write?
It wasn’t easy. When I sat down to write after four months of his passing, the hurt was still fresh. It took a lot of courage to turn back the pages and relive every moment - the happiness, the pain - and recreate each scene.
Just when I thought I was through with the depression, it would sneak back in. I would get high, laughing at the good moments I remembered, and then plunge into the abyss of sorrow.
The feeling of helplessness, of anger, of wanting to end it all, of wanting to give it all up, of wanting to be alone - I do not want anybody to go through. I have cried for days. But I was determined to finish writing the book. And I did.
Is it harder to deal with grief from a gay relationship, do you think society gives you the same amount of support that you'd get from a heterosexual relationship?
Yes, it is much harder. Given the unnecessary stigma from the society, the hateful religious beliefs, the challenges we have to face everyday, sometimes forced into living a double life - when you pile on a lot pain onto that, it is too much to handle.
Grief grows less through sharing but if there is no outlet, you bottle up all the painful emotions inside you. I am not saying I am superhuman. I did think about killing myself a few times. But then, would my life be worth it? If I don’t stand up for myself, who will? If I don’t love myself, who will?
My loss has made me stronger. No matter what, I am not going to give in. I may be down on my knees right now, but I shall stand up again. The power to do that lies inside each of us.
How do you think meeting Mikee has effected your life?
I found my purpose in life. I was lost until he showed me the direction. My work as a healer has just begun. I am going to focus on it. It has also led me to believe love is forever. We have had past lives together and we met again in this life. I am full of hope we shall meet again in the future.
Death is not a pleasant feeling because we see it as our enemy. We see it as an end to all the fun in life. But I also know that it is a minor speed bump in the long journey of the soul. I am not afraid of death anymore.
Have you written other books?
My first book, The Memory of a Face, is a novel dealing with love relationships.
It's a romantic thriller based in Hong Kong and Shanghai, where the two main characters live.
It also covers a bit of the LGBT history of Hong Kong in 2008 through different events (IDAHO, the first Pride Parade, Tongzhi Literary Club, Fruits in Suits).
All the proceeds from the sale of the book go to a local project that fights homophobic bullying in Hong Kong schools.
Do you plan to write another book?
Writing is my passion and I shall continue to write in the future.
Where can people get hold of your books?