Content Warning: this piece contains mentions of homophobia, sexism, and attempted suicide.
Disclaimer: Some names have been changed to respect privacy.
A small Philippines national flag sits on top of my white desk. It symbolizes how proud I am of my culture and its colourful history. Another flag hides inside a blue bin in my closet: a Pride flag. This flag symbolizes my true self — an identity I’ve kept hidden from my family.
Together, these two flags symbolize who I am: a gay Filipino man.
I’ve been keeping my sexuality a secret from my family since 2015. Lately, some of my friends have been urging me to tell my parents, but I don’t think I’m ready.
I’m scared to be judged, misunderstood, hated, and unwanted; I’m scared to be thought of as a disgrace to them; I’m scared of disappointing them.
Coming out isn’t easy. You have to think about the possible consequences like getting kicked out of the house. I’m not saying my parents would do that, but sometimes it happens to other people.
For my friends to understand my situation, they need to know where I’m coming from.
Part I – My Childhood
I grew up in a family that has two completely different views on gender.
On my mom’s side of the family, being gay, trans, and bisexual is okay. They don’t care if you like the same sex; your happiness is what matters. Most of my cousins in the Philippines are either trans or gay. My cousins, who are transgender, go out in public wearing dresses and full faces of makeup. My mom is okay with my cousins being gay. So why am I afraid to tell her? I worry she might tell my dad without my consent.
On my dad’s side of the family, it seems as if being gay or hyperfeminine isn’t ideal. Maybe he doesn’t want his children to be gay, but I don’t know that for sure. I do recall times when my dad scolded me for acting like a girl in front of people.
One time, I was playing tag with a couple of friends and screaming in a high-pitched voice. My dad noticed and yelled across the playground for me to come to him. He scolded me for screaming like that and told me to “properly” scream. After that, I started screaming two octaves lower. I got scared, not of being scolded again, but of disappointing him.
Perhaps my grandparents taught my dad that if you’re born a man, you grow up a man.
For most of my childhood, kids bullied me for being different from other boys. They would often tease me, call me “retard,” and mock me in front of other people. I was not happy, but I didn’t show that in front of people; I was known as an outgoing and bubbly person.
One day in grade eight, I came home from school and went straight upstairs to the bathroom. I grabbed a bottle of pills from a white plastic shelf in the corner, and I took it to my bedroom. I sat on my bed for about a minute.
Are you seriously going to do this? You’ve gone through so much pain.
I wanted to escape the constant harassment and the fear of being beaten by other boys, but here I am today.
Two years later, things got better.
I never thought high school would turn my life around, but it did. I made new friends who were nice and supportive, joined a few clubs, and re-connected with old friends. I felt like I was starting a new chapter.
I was happier.
When I joined the music program, I realized I wasn’t straight.
There was a guy in my choir class who was about 5’7,” slim, had slicked-back black hair, and smelled of Axe Body Spray. He caught my attention after he admitted he was gay. I would often try to talk to him on Facebook Messenger and ask him to hang out. He would usually say no. He was swamped with assignments and other responsibilities, which was understandable. Whenever I was around him, I couldn’t compose myself. I had a huge crush. Some of my friends started to notice. I told them I was just being friendly, but they kept making jokes that we were together.
I was in denial about my crush at first. I kept telling myself I was just being curious.
When he graduated, I was sad. The thought of not seeing him in the halls was disheartening. I regretted that I never got to hang out with him anymore. Although we had had classes together in the music program, we had been in different choral sections. We did have small conversations here and there, but we never really got to talk about bigger stuff.
I liked him.
But I never got to tell him that before he graduated.
“We all kind of had a feeling,” said Joanna Nalam, one of my friends from high school. “You were hanging out with him a lot.”
I never told anyone I was gay. I was scared of people looking at me differently, again.
Before long, I started to develop feelings for another boy, who was a grade below me.
I never knew why I fell for him. It was probably because we were spending a lot of time with each other working on projects for band class. I would hang out with him and treat him to lunch.
One day in June, one of my friends, Kathleen Servidad, started to notice I liked this boy.
“I saw you hanging out with him a lot and being buddy-buddy,” said Kathleen.
I went to his house one day to hang out. I was sitting on the couch with him and got a text from Kathleen. She asked where I was, and I responded that I was at his house. After a few texts, she asked if I liked him.
My heart started to race. I didn’t want her to know, so I texted back saying no. I told her I saw him as a friend and that was about it.
Later that same day, I decided to do something that I thought I was ready for.
Kathleen and I were alone in one of the practice rooms after choir rehearsals, and I decided it was finally time to open up to her about my sexuality. I was graduating in a couple of weeks, so I thought this would be my opportunity.
My chest tightened, and my heart was pounding.
I told Kathleen I was gay.
She told me it was okay, and I had her support. She also said she had her suspicions.
For the next three weeks until convocation, I came out to other friends. To my surprise, they were happy for me. They told me they were never going to look at me differently and that I had their full support. That gave me comfort.
“I had a feeling when I first met you, but I gave you the benefit of the doubt,” said John Caldo, a friend from choir class. “You were in touch with your feminine side, but I had friends who were in touch with their feminine side, but they were straight.”
I was very happy with how my friends responded. My fear of judgement from other people dissipated during those moments, but I knew it’s going to be tough getting that same support from my parents.
Part II – Living a Lie
My life at home is much different than when I’m out and about.
Ever since I came out to my friends, I have been an outgoing, bubbly, hyper-feminine person around them, but when I’m at home, or around family, I’m not like that. I’m different. I’m more in touch with my masculine side. I’m living a lie in front of my family. I’m scared to come out to my parents.
My mom and dad are loving. They always make sure their children get home safely from school or work, make sure we’ve eaten, and they support our chosen career paths. They’re also great musicians. My mom used to play the piano, and my dad is currently in a band with his co-workers.
While they’re great parents, their traditional values keep me from telling them I’m gay.
I’ve done many things to try to convince them I am straight. To my parents, I’m a masculine guy that has a crush on a girl.
Last year, I wanted to try online dating. One of my friends suggested I download Tinder or Grindr. I downloaded both of them on my phone, but I was too hesitant to sign up for an account at first. Both of these apps required me to have a picture of my face on my profile. But what if my parents, or someone they know, saw? Of course, there was a chance they wouldn’t.
I took that chance.
I made a profile on both platforms that included a photo of myself. Luckily for me, I was able to meet someone after a few weeks of talking online.
He was about 6’1”, slim, and wore a Champion hoodie and snapback. He was also quiet and shy, which I found cute. I kept him a secret from my parents, which was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life.
When we decided to meet in person, I had to think of a lie for my parents. I knew they were going to ask me where I was going, who was I going with, and so on. I’m the youngest in my family, so it’s understandable. If I told them I was going out with a guy whom I’ve never met, they would lose their marbles and ground me, despite my being an adult.
When I asked my parents, I told them I would be going out with a few friends to a nearby McDonald’s, and I would have a ride there and back. They let me go.
This guy turned out to be really sweet and kind. We got to know a lot about each other that evening, shared a wings platter, and sang to the Bruno Mars song “That’s What I Like” on the way home. I learned that night he wasn’t out to his parents either. He was scared of being shunned by them, so he kept his sexuality a secret.
From then on, we went on multiple dates. Every time we went out, I had to lie to my parents about who I was going out with. I didn’t want them to be suspicious. I would also have to be careful not to be seen with him in public because someone who might know my parents could see us holding hands or flirting with each other.
Last summer, we broke up. We didn’t have time for each other and he was planning to move to Toronto after he became a permanent resident. I wasn’t ready for a long-distance relationship.
We stayed friends though.
I recently lied to my parents again. I told them I have a crush on a girl that I work with. I’m not proud of it, but it helps me keep the straight image I want my parents to see.
I’ve always wondered if my parents had some sort of “gaydar” on them.
My parents make assumptions about people’s sexual orientation based on their appearance or occupation. For example, if a guy works as a hairstylist, he’s gay; if he’s wearing a pink shirt, he’s gay.
That’s not okay.
I hate the idea of gender stereotyping, but I’ve seen it among many Filipino parents.
Part III – Reflecting from Others
Since December 2019, I’ve been planning to come out to my parents, but I haven’t known how.
To prepare myself for this life-changing event, I’ve asked other people about their experiences coming out.
For Jack, 22, who came out to his parents a few years ago, the outcome wasn’t what he was expecting.
He faintly remembers looking at himself in the bathroom mirror and telling himself, “I’m going to do it.”
“I was hesitant at first,” said Jack. “I sat down beside my sister in the living room and buried my face in my shirt. I murmured, ‘I’m gay.’”
Jack said his sister immediately supported him and urged him to tell his mom. He wasn’t sure at first because of the possible repercussions.
“Are they going to hate me? Would they kick me out of the house? Am I going to get beaten? These images played in my head just as I have seen and heard from other people’s experiences,” said Jack.
This is the position I’m in today. It’s hard for me to know what will happen after I tell my parents I’m gay. I have this ongoing fear that they will disown me, kick me out of the house, and never accept me for who I am. I know they’re not the type of parents to do that to their child, but the thought still scares me. I’ve heard too many coming out stories from people in the Asian community that didn’t end well.
My fear died down a bit after Jack told me about the unexpected support and love his parents gave him after coming out.
“My sister helped me deliver the news to my mom,” said Jack, “and her response was very positive. She comforted me and told me that she still loved me no matter what.”
Jack said that was the only time he cried in his whole coming out experience.
“My mom always suspected I was gay,” said Jack, “[but] her suspicion was based on stereotypical descriptions of what a gay man is. I didn’t like sports and my friends were mostly girls.”
“I was relieved, but only for a short time.”
He said he was most wary of telling his dad.
Jack was worried he would respond “like any other stereotypical Filipino dad who would hate their son once they find out they’re gay.”
I can relate to Jack. As a kid, my dad scolded me for acting like a girl, which traumatized me — I saw him as a stereotypical Filipino dad. But maybe he’s changed his views by now.
Jack was afraid of what his dad would say.
“By this time, I was already thinking about my living options if my dad kicks me out of the house,” Jack said. After coming out to his dad, a flood of relief rushed through his body.
“His words were not mean but kind. His tone was not angry but understanding.”
From there, Jack realized that his fear of being judged and misunderstood was what kept him from telling his parents.
He didn’t expect the outpouring of positivity from his family.
“It’s [because of] their continuous love and support that I now have the courage to be openly gay and be proud of my sexuality,” said Jack.
But for Filipino parents who are devoted to their religious beliefs and traditional values, they often don’t accept gay people. If they do, it takes some time.
Josh Caldo, one of the co-writers of an upcoming Filipino-based musical called MA-BUHAY!, came out as bisexual to his parents in grade 11.
Josh said he didn’t prepare to come out to his parents.
“[It was] very emotional,” Josh said. “It was dark times trying to make them understand my situation and how I was feeling, but also trying to see the situation from their point of view and finding common ground.”
Josh’s parents tried their best to understand and accept him, but their devotion to their religious beliefs kept them from doing so.
“It’s complicated,” Josh said. “[But] I knew they loved me. I now understand that forgiveness, understanding, and acceptance goes both ways.”
Josh said the best thing you can offer your parents after coming out is time for the relationship to heal and to understand they have unconditional love for you.
“It’s easy to get caught up in your own story, victimize yourself, and villainize your parents in the situation if it goes not the way you hoped.”
“If you want your parents to understand you, then you also have to understand them and both need to have an open mind,” Josh says. “I am happier, and my relationships have never been better.”
Religion is one of the things that keep me from telling my parents. I come from a Catholic family, but I don’t know their views on gay people.
I came out to my friends from the Youth Ministry and Church Choir a month after I came out to my high school friends. I thought they would see me differently because they were devoted Catholics.
I thought I wouldn’t be welcomed in the church anymore.
I thought the church viewed the LGBT2SQ+ community as sinful, shameful, and disgusting. But to my surprise, my church friends were all supportive. They were happy for me. They told me religion shouldn’t change who you are.
Living one way with my friends and one way at home isn’t easy for me. I keep telling lies to my parents to hide the fact I’m gay; it’s a burden I carry every day. I don’t know when I’ll be ready to tell them, but when I do, I hope they’ll accept me. I would be relieved and happy, and I wouldn’t be afraid to show my true self in front of them.
If they hate me and want to kick me out, I want them to know this:
I’m still your child. You should love me, no matter what. I’m sorry for keeping this a secret from you all these years. I hope you can understand where I’m coming from. Don’t ever think this was your fault. It was mine. It was my decision not to tell you, and I’m sorry about that.
I want other parents to know that too.
I also want other gay people to know that it’s up to them when they think it’s time to tell their parents; they shouldn’t feel forced to do it.
And that’s where I stand.
When it’s time for me to tell my parents, I will take out the Pride flag from the blue bin in my closet and proudly place it beside the small Philippines flag on my desk. A subtle way to tell my parents:
Hey, I’m gay.