December 6th last year, Asia’s longest running Pride March commemorated its’ 20th anniversary in Malate, Manila. The theme was *Come out for Love*. Within the LGBT community, coming out is equivalent to an 18-yr old’s debut; albeit less celebratory and more depressing. As much as possible, we avoid coming out to our family and friends. Oftentimes, it’s filled with heartache and misunderstanding. It rips families apart. It tests the limits of friendship. And, for the most unfortunate of us all, it could lead to suicide. I’m not here to scare you if you have plans of coming out. I’m here to encourage you, actually.
Let me tell you how I came out to my family one by one in 2012. My sister was the first to know. I waited for her to go online and when she did, I whipped up enough courage and sent her this: “Hi ate, I think I’m a lesbian.” The seen feature on Facebook was yet to be introduced at that time so it was torture to wait for any sign that she had read my message. A few minutes passed, and my sister finally sent her reply: a smiling emoticon. I told her I wasn’t joking and that I was going to explore that part of me that had always looked at women differently. Her reply to me was, “Hmmm…” Rolling my eyes from frustration, I sent her a lengthy narrative of my decades-old struggle which culminated to me eventually coming to terms with my sexuality after watching a Swedish film about a closeted woman who was already engaged to a man but who fell in love with her step mother’s daughter. My sister’s reply to that was, “How do you pronounce the title?” I gave up talking to her and communed with three bottles of cerveza and a bucket of tears. The next morning though, she left my inbox with the most touching sisterly advice I’ve ever heard from her: “Sha, I love you for who you are but people won’t be able to give you the same treatment. People will judge you, acquaintances will look down on you and God forbid, some friends and relatives might turn their back against you. Once you come out, there’s no going back. I want you to be prepared and 100% sure before you post a rainbow colored flag on your Facebook wall. I just don’t want you to get hurt.” It was the first serious conversation we’d shared in a long time as my sister and I weren’t that close when we grew up. To me, she was five years more mature. To her, I was always the bratty sister. We fought over senseless things; one time, she shouted at me that I was the black sheep in the family and so I retaliated by vandalizing Scott and Dave Moffatts’ faces on the posters that covered her bedroom walls. We refused to talk to each other for days. Our parents had to bribe us with our favorite ice cream so we could stop our petty fight. To further contrast how opposite we were, my sister embodies the feminine sibling and I, the tomboy little Shasha. Had my sister known that I would turn into a lesbian? No but she wasn’t surprised that I did. I had always been the rebel in the family, *the deep blue sea* according to my sister. But that didn’t mean that she understood my statement right away. She asked me the usual question that straight people ask: how sure are you that you’re into women when you haven’t been with a man? I told her it doesn’t work that way. The fact that I dated only one guy since I hit puberty was enough reason that I was just not into the male species. Men don’t give me butterflies in the pit of my stomach but women make a Shakespeare out of me. That made my sister remember the poems I wrote when I was young and wondered how it had always been about a woman. The poems had a tragic tone in them and it was then that she understood why. She said that she was sorry for my struggle and repeatedly said that whatever I go through, she would always be there for me. To me, her words were gold. I felt emboldened to continue through my coming out process. But most of all, I felt the love. I felt no judgment from her but a willingness to accept me. She thanked me for telling her first. She said it must have been very hard for me to confess it to her and told me to prepare for what my parents might say to it. Always with a word of caution, she said I should expect their reaction to be different.
She was right, of course. My parents did give a peculiar reaction when I came out to them. It first started with a joke over the phone. I asked my parents if they could pay for my airfare for Christmas vacation. If they wouldn’t, I told them that I would find myself a female lover. My mom told me it was very illogical and gave the phone to my dad who nonchalantly said, “I like women, too.” I told him that I might be bisexual and I needed to explore that part of me. He muttered Ok and gave the phone back to my mom who asked how to buy airplane tickets online. When I arrived home though, I earnestly opened up to them about my sexuality. Did they throw me out of the house? Nope. Were they angry? They were calm and rational. Did they cry while I was telling them of my ordeal? I heard my mom sniffing a few times but then she sneezed so, I guess not. Did my parents quote the Bible and say homosexuality was wrong? My mom tried but she stopped when I told her I used to cry in Church because I felt this sexual tension with a woman in class but come Sunday, I was reminded that I might go to Hell if I kept on flirting with her. My dad merely said that he grew up Catholic. Were they hurt though? Regrettably so. It was inevitable. I expected them to get hurt but I never expected my father, the authoritative Leo in the family, to say, “I am so sorry but I might never understand why you chose to be like this. I was raised in a very strict household and taught that a man is meant to be with a woman and vice versa. In our time, we had very few friends who were gays; lesbians were even unheard of. Now, I understand that times have changed but I lack the capacity to fully understand your situation because of my upbringing. But you are my *palalang* and I will never treat you less than your sister or your brother.” He did tell me that it might be difficult for him to meet my future girlfriend. I told him it was unfair that he was so proud of meeting my brother’s girlfriend but he couldn’t meet mine. He must have realized the irony of his last statement so he said, “Sha, forgive Papa for being so difficult. This is just so hard for me to process right now and I couldn’t make sound decisions right away. But I will not stop you from becoming who you think you are. If you want to explore, go. Just be careful not to hurt anyone or go to jail and always pray to God for guidance.” He sighed and continued working on his laptop. I asked my mother what her opinion was because she was awfully silent the whole time. My mom, the mother who gets sick when her children fly out of their nest, had this to say: “You will always be my daughter. And I love you, your kuya and your ate, very very much.”
Was it difficult for me to hear those words from the two people I dearly love? Yes. It was difficult because I know I hurt them. It was difficult because I realized their dreams of my future might not be fulfilled. It was difficult because I never expected them to be so rational yet irrational at the same time. But love is both and that was how my parents loved me. I understand that it was difficult for them to accept my situation because of how they grew up. My parents were born in a conservative generation when LGBT rights weren’t as loudly demanded as today. It was not within their comfort zone to hear their daughter confess that she is a homosexual: a term so full of prejudice, and hate. But they took a big step when they told me that I would always be their daughter: lesbian or not. While it might take my father years and a few heart-to-heart talks to make him finally understand why his daughter is gay, I can wait. Acceptance doesn’t have to happen overnight. I have fought with my issues for years before I finally accepted who I am and so I understand my parent’s struggle to make sense of what I told them. They shouldn’t think of themselves inadequate because most parents usually think that the lack of parental love and care is the reason why their children turned out gay. Or people sometimes think that something had probably gone wrong in their upbringing. Mama and papa gave me a roof above my head, food in my stomach, and a very good education. But I was also given the memory of my father carrying me to my bed every night after I dozed off in the sofa and my mother giving me sweet treats after my regular visits to the dentist. Did those memories turn me into a lesbian? No. It turned me into a good citizen in this country. It turned me into a wonderful friend and a loving companion. They shouldn’t feel themselves inadequate simply because I am gay. I had with me the greatest love a child could ever hope for and for that, I am grateful to them.
My brother was the last to be informed but he took it very differently. My sister told him that they had known for months. He felt left out. He confronted me and you know what he said? “I have not been a very good kuya to you, Sha. I’m sorry. These past few years, I was so involved with my life that I completely neglected being your brother.” He was serious. I, on the other hand, was amused. He was going through a breakup at that time and he said that he had not been putting a good influence on me especially on the dating arena. He told me I was dating the wrong guys which was why I turned to women! He even recommended two guy friends of his (one of whom had a crush on me) but when he saw my sour face, he cleared his throat and said, “At least find someone pretty.” My brother, my enemy and tough competition in arcade games and Math, accepted me right away. I found an ally in him. He was never the expressive sibling but the night I finally came out to him was the first time I heard him say, “I love you sis”. He even joked that it was bad that we have the same taste in women for he now has a competitor.
Did I regret coming out to them? A little bit perhaps but it’s only because I knew I hurt them. But it would hurt them more if I lived another life and shunned them from it. I owe them this most personal part of me that I denied myself for a long time. If I come out to myself, I needed to come out to those closest to me. To not come out and live in the closet is complete mistrust to an institution that kept me safe and healthy since the day I was born. In a way, they needed my explanation. They needed to hear the truth that should come from me and not from neighbors who whisper false information about my life. You could say I am very blessed to have such understanding parents and awesome siblings. Since the day I came out, we had become closer to one another that we even have a long running conversation thread on Facebook aptly entitled: Family counselling. In it, my sister volunteered to help me with artificial insemination as she is now presently working as a nurse in the US. My brother and I continue to bond over movies, games and, of course, checking out the ladies. There are still awkward moments with my parents: like when I told them I broke up with my girlfriend, they rejoiced over skype but later told my brother to watch out over me as I might lapse into depression. The most poignant moment that made me realize my parents were slowly accepting my sexuality was when my mother told me about one of their lunch dates at a local fast food restaurant. They saw a butch lesbian spoon feeding an elderly woman, probably the lesbian’s mother. My mother told my father that she could see me doing the same thing to them in the future. My father smiled.
Coming out is indeed a debut in a new chapter of one’s life. It could open up to a lot of opportunities, newfound friends and lovers, but it could also close a few doors. I have friends who were less fortunate than me; their parents were very religious, one’s dad was homophobic, one was an only child while the other was the only daughter in the family. But that didn’t stop them from coming out. Some of them were accepted without much of a drama. Some were kicked out of their homes but were accepted back into the family. Those who had been shunned had found new ways to cope and took the courage to become successful in life. They had become stronger than when they were still hiding the truth. But there are those who dislike coming out because they see it as a very selfish act. Yes, coming out is an experience that is inherently selfish yet it evolves into an altruistic path during the process. As I came out, my family slowly started to come out from their cocooned belief that homosexuality is abnormal and wrong. My father opened up to me of his fears that I might grow old alone, used by gold digging straight women and bankrupt. He told me because he was starting to understand the plight of the LGBT community. My family is now well aware that we are such a minority in this country, less represented in our laws and were even discriminated against. And they felt the discrimination as well, something I never thought would happen so soon. They would wince whenever they hear someone accuse someone a lesbian as if the word merits such a negative connotation. My family is slowly making us visible in the society by respecting our basic human rights.
So, should you come out? Come out when you are finally free from your very own judgment. Come out when you’re ready to face the harsh reality we lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders face on a daily basis. Come out if you value the truth within you. Come out for love and I will celebrate with you.
Source: Musings of Juram
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