Tim Yap and Javi Martinez are an emblem of today’s modern couple, one that remains optimistic about what it means to live and love in the 21st century

Love is universal. But while many know this as true, gay relationships have been cast in the shadows and kept from the public eye. In the 21st century, you’d think that people would be more forthcoming about sexuality — but that’s not necessarily the case. Despite the inspiring stories that have been told and retold, the act of coming out can still be shrouded in fear, apprehension and dread. Here is one story, however, that celebrates love and inclusivity, a bright beacon of hope for those still hesitant.

Tim Yap and Javi Martinez have been married for nearly three years now. While many of their friends champion their relationship, their union wasn’t without its challenges, some of which began with the discovery of who they are.

In 2020, being gay is still a crime in many countries; and so, while sexuality is a universal experience, it is still generally considered as taboo. Martinez understands this all too well. Spain, where he grew up, was still quite conservative in the late Nineties. The gradual discovery of his own sexuality came to him at a time he describes as colourful. “I was doing theatre and ended up meeting all these different kids from different cities. I started to understand that what I felt wasn’t different, that there were more people like me,” he says. He recounts the day he came out to his mother. He was 16 then. As they were strolling around the Plaza de Toros, his mother turned to him and asked him if he liked men. “I don’t know why she asked that, where it came from. I was so young. I was thinking: ‘Do I just tell her yes to avoid hiding things for longer?’ I mean she’s asking me, it’s a great opportunity. So I told her: ‘Yes.’” 

Yap, on the other hand, has a different story. The Manila multi-hyphenate admits to never having given much thought about his sexuality as a child. “My sexuality was never an issue for me. I never looked for love based on being gay or straight. People loved me because I was productive, and I was of service to others.” Only when he was 16, as he was discovering the Manila nightlife, did he begin to think about it. He reminisces about his college girlfriend and admits that beautiful as she was, he had been in love with her for all the wrong reasons.

Yap, who has been open about his mother’s apprehension towards his wedding to Martinez, says that he himself didn’t have a hard time coming out—but his mother did. Martinez’s mum too, cried when she first found out, although Martinez’s father took it better. “My mum was crying in her room and I remember my dad coming into mine. He simply spoke to me saying: ‘I knew it, I’m your dad.’” While both families were absent in the couple’s Manhattan wedding, both grooms have expressed gratitude to their families for being supportive. 

Martinez’s grandmother, a 90-year-old Valencian woman, had accepted her grandson’s union right away. “I got married and I didn’t tell her,” Martinez says. But when she did find out, Martinez’s grandmother responded most sincerely: “Javi," she said, “I’m almost 90 years old and at this age, I think the most important thing is to be a good person: useful to society, and happy. And it seems you are all that.”

The couple, whose upcoming anniversary is four months away on Christmas Day, first met through Anton San Diego, editor in chief of Tatler Philippines. Anton, who showed Martinez a photo of Yap in the magazine, had told him, “You have to meet this guy.” The two finally met, at the breast cancer awareness event where Martinez had first seen Yap at his most charismatic—onstage.

That first meeting has since transformed into a stable and loving relationship, one that’s found its way to the altar—or rather, the penthouse of the The Peninsula New York where they tied the knot almost three years ago. Today, the couple maintains a strong magnetism towards each other despite contrasting personalities, described by Yap as a yin and yang balance. Yap, extroverted and outspoken, subscribes to a different worldview compared to Martinez, who is younger and more reserved. 

Yet their partnership has stayed strong amid the usual challenges of living together, running a household and working as partners. “We complement each other in life,” Martinez explains. Yap agrees: “I’m surrounded by love, I’m with someone I love and it’s what makes me feel at ease after all the hard work and the noise.”

This is perhaps one of the most important reasons why the couple chose to tie the knot in late 2017. On Christmas Day, the two eventologists, known for throwing lavish parties at international locales, quietly married in New York. In attendance were six guests, one of whom was theatre star Lea Salonga. Their intimate wedding allowed them to prioritise what were most important in their relationship: each other and God. “When we were reading our vows, and when we were being blessed by the officiate, I could feel God’s presence. I could feel love. That’s really all you need in a union,” Yap says.

But how does this union translate in the Philippine context? Locally, there is no law that legalises same-sex marriage. The scope of the SOGIE Bill (anti-discrimination on the basis of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression), which has been on the backburner for the last 20 years, does not legalise such unions, although it does aim to uplift and protect people in the LGBTQ community.

Like many same-sex couples looking to legalise their relationship, Yap and Martinez are not seeking to gain acceptance from the church. Yap himself has acknowledged that the church’s beliefs are centuries-old and must not be taken lightly. Their marriage is simply a way to gain equal rights in the eyes of the law through a civil union, which is difficult as the Philippines does not currently recognise such.

“But you know, even before they allowed [same-sex unions around the world], a lot of couples were already living very fruitful and productive lives together,” Yap argues. In this way, the couple manages to stay optimistic in the fight for gender equality. “The world is waking up to the reality that there were certain rules made way, way back that don’t apply anymore. It is becoming more inclusive, and cognizant that there are different forms of love.” “It’s also very encouraging how everyone who is speaking about it is really trying to help,” Martinez adds, speaking on the local activists and allies he’s encountered in the Philippines.

In this continuing movement, the couple knows there is still much to learn. “We think that because we are part of the community, that we know so much. Oh my god, we know so little! And that’s why we need to have a dialogue about it, to constantly be talking about it, asking people about it, and asking what we can do to be more of an ally, even if we are members ourselves,” Yap says.

At this moment, however, their priority has been to face their current situation head-on. Happy as they are, they are not spared from troubles the current year brings. These days, they’ve been concentrating on looking for ways to care for their freelancers, most of whom work on a per-project basis, meaning if there is no project then there is no pay. “There are glimmers of hope, however,” Yap says. “Congress is coming out with legislation [for events]. Our next step is to create policies and guidelines to ensure people’s safety.”

Right now, online events and activities seem to be the only option for most events. Although effective, Martinez admits to missing live events. While virtual ones engage the visual and the auditory, it leaves little room for the other senses. “I also miss the challenging moments of figuring out how to execute what the client, or what the guests want. I miss the interaction with people,” he says. Yap agrees but adds that part of being successful is the need to adapt. “You deal with what you have to deal with, whatever the world gives you at this particular moment. If you throw me into the jungle, I’ll still make something happen. I’ll make friends with the chimpanzees. I will find inspiration; inspiration will be within me, it doesn’t have to be external.” 

This optimism carries Yap through the toughest times in the months-long quarantine. “I see people reach out to other people, and that gives me hope. The human spirit is incorrigible; even when we feel weak or pain, we will still rise up to the occasion and be able to help and uplift each other.”

Martinez, on the other hand, had a different experience in quarantine. What had started out as feeling “okay” in March soon turned into frustration. “I didn’t understand what was happening to me and I got scared. I really wanted to put myself in the hands of a professional who could tell me what was going on and what I should do,” he shares. After making an appointment with a psychologist, Martinez was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and depression.

Apparently, he’d had these mental conditions for months; but they were only triggered in the quarantine. “I’m used to doing things all the time, going out and working and creating things. Work was like a drug. Once those distractions were taken away, I went crazy and all the stuff that was wrong came out,” he describes.

Fortunately, Martinez has been getting better and even describes himself to be the best he’s been. “I’m grateful that because of the quarantine, I was able to discover these things about myself. My psychologist was also able to give me the tools to control it.”

These days Yap and Martinez work from home. They take the time to slow down and ponder on things they are normally too busy to think of — such as the future. The optimism they share about life can be witnessed in how they picture the upcoming years. Although both agree that fatherhood is still “in the distant horizon” for them, it’s definitely something they’re excited about. “Our friends say that we will be great parents. We know we will be,” Yap says assuredly. For now, however, they seem pretty content with just each other and their happy household of pets — four dogs, four cats, one turtle and one tortoise.

  • PhotographyMark Nicdao
  • StylingMonique Madsen
  • Make-UpRia Aquino
  • LocationShangri-La at the Fort, Manila