“Now I see That if I were truly to be myself, I would break my family’s heart”
As a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines, a Christian, and a lesbian, I consider Mulan’s “Reflection” to be my coming-out anthem.
This isn’t just because Mulan was the first Asian Disney character – she wasn’t even the right Asian for me to begin with – but because the lyrics to that beautiful song were accidentally LGBT+ coded. Lea Salonga’s song “Reflection” helped younger me feel seen.
My upbringing paved a straightforward path to my future: find a job, a husband, get married, start a family and go to church every Sunday. So you can all imagine the distress that I was in when I thought that there was a slight chance that I was not heterosexual.
I was raised in a Christian/Catholic household and I came from an extremely conservative country. Apart from Vatican City, Philippines is the only other country where divorce does not exist.
When I moved from the Philippines to the UK at 8 years old. I had to adjust to a new culture, learn a new language, learn to eat boiled vegetables for lunch and I was away from everyone and everything I had ever known. It was just my mum, my dad and I.
Fortunately, there was a massive Filipino community in where I live so I never lost touch with my roots or my faith. It was comforting to have a second family away from home – everyone is my uncle and aunty despite having no blood ties to them and only having met them once in the Asian supermarket.
This community meant everything to me. It still does. But it always felt like I was half in and half out (no pun intended) and when my struggle about my sexuality kicked in secondary school, it all made sense. I was hiding an important part of myself to my own community.
Suddenly for me, all of the comforting words and encouraging smiles from my family friends turned to scrutinising questions and prying eyes. So I started to keep things to myself – even at school.
The necessity of filial piety in Filipino culture meant that I could not and should not come out. My parent’s only child cannot be a lesbian. What would other people say?
Younger me needed someone to look up to. I needed someone to validate my existence as a Filipina, a Christian and a lesbian. I needed to know that these intersecting identities in a person can exist.
Now I firmly know that being a lesbian doesn’t make you any less of a Christian but it was a tough journey to realising this. Having more inclusive education at school would’ve made this process a whole lot easier.
I now volunteer with Just Like Us, going into schools to speak about being LGBT+. Being an ambassador with Just Like Us is incredibly personal to me.
If Just Like Us had visited my school when I was young, with their incredibly diverse and caring ambassadors, I would have been kinder to myself. I wouldn’t have given myself such a hard time for being a lesbian.
Perhaps, people around me at school would have spoken with more empathy too and “gay” and “lesbian” wouldn’t have been thrown around by me or by anyone else as if they were dirty words. We would have been educated about the detrimental effects of LGBT+ bullying, too.
I truly believe that Just Like Us has the potential to help schools create safe environments for young LGBT+ people where they are encouraged to be themselves. I know that eventually – if schools devote a space for students to learn about LGBT+ experiences – there will come a time where young LGBT+ people won’t feel like they owe anyone an explanation for their sexuality or gender identity.
Until today, I am yet to tell my community about my sexuality. However, this has not stopped me from volunteering and I am no longer hiding the fact that I’m a lesbian. If they know, they know. What is more important to me is that I stay visible for young LGBT+ people who are struggling with their identity.
I am volunteering for LGBT+ people of colour, people of faith and sharing my #YoungerMe experience as part of Just Like Us’ campaign this December.