For nineteen years, my sexuality was unexplored and I truly believed in the traditional, heteronormative narrative of marriage and love. I envisioned marrying a respectful, nice Filipino boy who shared similar values in family, culture, academics, and hobbies. We’d have suitable, decent careers that allowed us to live in a big suburban house with three or four children who we’d pass on our genes, values, and love to. This was the path I had chosen for myself years ago and consequently my family’s expectations and wishes eventually followed. My mother never failed to constantly remind me to give her mga apos, and that my beauty and complexion was meant to be passed onto generations. I reluctantly agreed to embark on the path that was set for me and felt that it was my sole duty and responsibility to respect my family’s wishes. Because of my family’s narrative of migrating from the Philippines to the United States and the huge emphasis on their sacrifices, I felt that everything I did in this life was to give back to them in every possible way, including in my relationships. As I dated around, met up with Tinder dates, flirted with friends of friends, and admittedly and reluctantly slid into DMs, I felt the intense need to make relationships work. They had to. Toxicity and negativity was normalized and my relationships were less than substantial and healthy. After years of this, I had finally tried to regain my self confidence and build my self esteem.
I had stopped dating and focused on graduating college, starting my teaching career, and taking better care of myself. While I was continuously building and rearranging pieces of my identity, a new transformation in my life was right around the corner. I realized that my queer experiences dealing with the implications and consequences of coming out to a heavily Catholic, immigrant family who forced you to wear pink dresses, wear your hair long, wash away your brown skin with papaya soap, stop playing sports with the boys at recess, stop copying what your brother wore, and to ultimately limit your identity so that you were at most tolerable, could potentially be similar to those of others and be illuminating for the communities I belong to. For those of us who need to be heard, represented, and validated, here’s my story.
It was my sophomore year of college when I started to feel differently towards girls. My feelings intensely manifested when I began to have a crush on one of my best friends from high school who was committed to a two year relationship with a boy. As my feelings began to leak out, I secretly wanted to let them free; to let my feelings fly and truly be myself, but knew I couldn’t. Every day I saw her, these feelings exponentially grew out of control and I finally resolved to seek advice. First, I had come out to my best friends who had unanimously accepted and supported me. I was grateful for this small win, however, the feeling of acceptance was short lived. I was deeply involved in my church around the same time, and I had considered coming out to one of my most respected and beloved mentors. Teary eyed and fist clenched, I had muttered the words out to my best abilities. The words I heard next would inevitably haunt me forever.
“Sophia, you can’t be Christian and gay at the same time.” She responded.
Unbeknownst to her, she had put me on a two way street and I had to choose one. My path was laid out for me again. Somehow, the two pieces of my identity were mutually exclusive like water and oil. Because of my love for my family and God, I resolved to act in accordance with my family’s wishes, the church’s doctrine, and societal expectations.
Like all sudden transformations and changes, she came into my life unexpectedly and at a time where I hit rock bottom. During my third year of college, I transferred to San Jose State University and became an active member in InterVarsity, a Christian fellowship on campus. I was on the right track; my grades were high, I made new friends, and I was eventually asked to become a bible study leader. I participated in events, spoke during prayer, and led inductive bible studies every week. On the outside, I was flourishing as a college student and as a devout Christian. I began to wonder if the direction of my life was worth living and if the parts I hated about myself had finally consumed me. At a time where I least expected it, I began dating a girl who taught me how to openly love and express myself. She had brought healing I never knew I truly needed. She soon became a priority in my life, and our relationship flourished within months. The words of my mentor began to ring in my ears and I felt like I had to choose between Intervarsity, and my relationship. With my newfounded relationship and the support of my current best friends, I ultimately quit the leadership team, ceased all contact with the friends I had made in San Jose State, and sought to rectify and love the broken parts of myself. I had chosen the road that I once believed was unavailable to me.
The process of healing and rectification looked like this. On a cold day in Sacramento visiting my parents, my mother began reciting her usual spiel about grandchildren and I instinctively knew that the time had finally come.
“Ma, but what if I like girls?” I declared.
Shocked, and still. My mother stopped talking. The next few minutes were filled with jokes, ridicules, and nervous remarks. I knew my mother’s defense mechanism was to make things funny and less awkward. Cracking up jokes was oddly something I was okay with, because anything other than small jokes would have caught me off guard. Accompanied by nervous laughs and smiles, she quickly turned to my father and asked, “Dad, what do you think about this?”
“There’s nothing you can do to change her.” He shrugged and continued to eat.
I was filled with surprise and unlikely satisfaction. This was my dad’s way of accepting and seeing me for who I truly am. On the other hand, the conversation moved to genetics and grandchildren.
“Anak, how will this work? You’re beautiful. How do you pass on your genes to the next generation?”
This question still haunts me, as I am still unaware of the possibilities for same sex couples. The lack of education on this area had costed me, and I couldn’t answer my mother other than suggesting adoption. At this point, my mother seemed less willing to accept my relationship and adoption might have been out of the question. My mother specifically wanted my genes to be passed down and she couldn’t have emphasized this any more than she already had.
With any ounce of courage I had left, I went on and told my mother about my current girlfriend. I suggested that they meet, and although my mother was hesitant, in that instance, I recognized her true, unconditional love for me.
“Anak, as long as you’re happy and successful, it’s okay.” She declared.
My mother had overcame all of her traditional views for me and left me with a foreshadowing note not to tell my grandparents. She had warned me that my grandparents were “matigas ng ulo,” and because of their old age, they were better off not knowing. I was more than satisfied with what had transpired, and oddly enough, I agreed to not tell my grandparents, yet. The news of my relationship had accompanied my college graduation and reached my extended family’s ears. While many of my aunts, uncles, and cousins on my father’s side had given their approval, I know that there are always lingering tsismis and potential backlash I have yet to face. Although my parents and my father’s side had accepted me for who I am, my mother’s family, without a doubt, will disapprove of my relationship and identity as a queer person.
Celebrating victories like this one is what makes any queer experience worthwhile pursuing and living. Months later, my parents had met my girlfriend and have established a stable relationship with each other. We go out to dinner, vacations together, and sometimes, as all Filipino families over 21 do, we often go to the casino. I had never expected my parents to be as accepting and loving as they truly are. However, this does not exempt any hardships or difficulties my girlfriend and I have to face. For instance, while my parents have accepted our relationship, my girlfriend’s parents have not. Adopted into a white, conversative family and still considered Chinese American, my girlfriend also struggles with coming out to her parents. While they let us see each other, my girlfriend’s mother consistently downplays our relationship and has rejected the morality and nature of us being together. Not only does she disapprove, but has made indirect, racist remarks over my immigrant family and where we come from. When my family does something nice, out of their custom and hospitality, my significant other’s mother sees that as “they’re doing it for money and they’ll ask us for money later.” My girlfriend, a pure and good soul, does not understand the underlying racism. She sees it, but doesn’t feel the hurt, the sting, the burn of her mother’s implications that my family’s hospitality is misunderstood as a financial transition between our two families, and not for their true cultural value behind it. Her remarks bring me back to place of insecurity, fear, and a need to protect my family, my blood, and my tribe.
It reminds me that as a queer Filipino American, I still have countless uphill battles to face. Although deep into conservitism, her family still tries to make an effort to accept our relationship, within limits and certain boundaries. I still consider that a win, especially in the world I live in. I still have issues with Christianity, and spend endless nights on Google searching up articles, affirmative churches, and Christian LGBTQ representatives/writers to try and justify being both Christian and queer. Although I have resolved to live as both Christian and gay, it is a complete understatement to assume others have accepted my position. There’s also the ongoing question on how same sex couples can start families, and I have yet to face my mother’s traditional, Ilocano family.
Regardless of the hardships and difficult I may face, I wholeheartedly intend to continue living the life I have chosen with love, grace, and greatness.
My writing and work has been mostly inspired by Elaine Castillo’s America Is Not in the Heart, where she intricately creates a queer, Filipino American narrative in the Bay Area. Through the main protagonist, Hero and her relationship with Rosalind, Castillo highlights and validates what it feels like to be bisexual. After I had read her novel, I said to myself with excitement and enthusiasm, “this is how representation feels like.” I can only hope that through my writing, others who identify within both the LGBTQ and Filipino American community can find a voice that speaks up for them, and that I can connect with both broad based communities. My journey has just started. I plan on always speaking of my experiences and being a representative for my communities. I am here, loud and clear.
Find my upcoming posts/blog here: https://ahnellepress.home.blog/