As I looked out the window of the car after spending the day at a Filipino Community Center in San Francisco, I was greeted with a sea of rainbow flags, a sight I had never actually seen before. To be fair, there is probably no other city in the United States as LGBT-friendly as San Francisco—although I hear Portland and Austin are close behind—but regardless it was almost shocking to see a city that so openly supported LGBT pride.
What a weird dichotomy it was to be there for a day during LGBT Pride Month and then to return to Texas just weeks later. What a weird, uncomfortable change I felt when I went from being open about who I am to going back to a life where I haven’t been open.
For some of you, especially those of you who I haven’t seen or heard from in a while, it might come as a shock to hear that I am in fact gay and always have been. For others, you may have always assumed or guessed but never actually heard with certainty from me. And then for those of you who I’ve only come to know through Stanford, it may also be surprising that I even have to write this post at all, especially since I’ve been so open and honest about my sexuality (in all that word entails) from day one of New Student Orientation.
This is more than just a coming out post. This post is an acknowledgment of where I began and a celebration of where I am today. This is a post about pride in myself and everything that I am and have come to be.
A painful past
As early as preschool, I remember having “crushes” on boys. At the time, I didn’t understand what that meant—I thought everyone felt the same way. In middle school, questions started to arise about whether or not I was gay—something to this day I still find genuinely ridiculous because I was literally twelve years old. At that point, my parents had already begun to tell me to act certain ways, to break down any hint of flamboyance I carried out of fear that other children would bully me. I ended up internalizing all of these comments, and it didn’t help that years of conservative Catholic schooling taught me to hate myself—one of my teachers was very clear in saying that homosexuality was a choice and that being gay would lead you to hell. I was fervently anti-marriage equality (who knew internalized homophobia could lead to a thirteen-year-old having such strong opinions on the subject!), and I found myself actually trying to “pray the gay away” a countless number of times. But middle school wasn’t the real problem; it was high school that was.
In high school, my sexual orientation was something I carried with me in secret. In my freshman year, I held my head low and tried to attract as little attention as possible, mostly out of fear that people would treat me differently because of what they (correctly) perceived my sexual orientation was. I was afraid of being associated with anything even remotely related to homosexuality, but the most I was willing to do was to change my profile picture to a red equal sign when the Supreme Court was hearing arguments about Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that made same-sex marriage illegal in California. The most unfortunate thing about it all was that all the fear I had of other people finding out was justified.
A rough high school experience
By my junior year of high school, I was already a very political person, having spent the summer before doing a policy debate camp in Austin and campaign work for the Wendy Davis campaign. I reached my apex of peak notoriety that October when I published an editorial in the school newspaper writing in support of her candidacy for governor, and while the comment section on that article blew up entirely over the issue of abortion, the repercussions I faced were not because of my political opinions but because of who I was.
For months, I felt fear walking down the halls of my school. I was targeted on Twitter for weeks, facing the brunt of it on Election Day 2014 but still getting messages into January. During our homecoming football game, I was even yelled at from the stands, completely unable to see who the group of people were that were harassing me. The friend I went with had to immediately bring me off campus, and I spent an hour that night crying on the phone to my debate coach.
As far as I had seen, no one was targeted and sought out in the way that I was, even though there were other students who openly supported that campaign. The only thing that made different from those other students was that I was brown and gay.
My senior year was the first time I heard someone refer to me as a “fag.” The person who said it didn’t realize I was behind him—or at least, I hope he didn’t realize he was behind me—but he said it with the same group of people who had been harassing me since my junior year. The most ironic part of it was that it was said on the way to a school Mass. After immediately reporting the incident to the assistant principal of student affairs, I spent the day away from classes, horrified, hurt, and afraid. It’s important to remember too that much of this coincided with me dealing with the fact that my brother was a cancer patient, so as I was juggling one form of trauma, another one was being created.
My senior year counselor and freshman year English teacher had tried to help me not feel so helpless and hurt that day, but he mentioned that he was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to do anything if some of those same people came for me online after graduation. I didn’t think that was an issue, but lo and behold, right after the election of Donald Trump, I was targeted yet again. A slew of anti-gay slurs were used against me by someone I went on a medical mission trip to Guatemala with, someone I had viewed as my friend, and others told me “good luck” in the Trump era, because I’d “need it.”
It was something I had never expected, that people would actually implicitly and explicitly wish for harm against me. On the night of the 2016 election itself, I was denied the opportunity to come out to my parents on my own terms when my mom had called me, expressing fears for my physical safety now that Donald Trump had been elected. I thought she was just being overly worried, but considering that there were people who truly hated me so much just for being gay, she had turned out to be right. It’s for that reason that I’m truly thankful to be at Stanford and in the Bay Area, places where I’m more likely to be safe from anti-gay hate crimes.
Being open at Stanford, but still struggling
Coming to Stanford, I chose to do the only thing that felt natural to me: not hiding my sexual orientation in the prison-like closet that I kept it in high school. It was a new experience to make friends who, for the most part, wouldn’t treat you differently because you liked boys and not girls, to be around people who weren’t (at least openly) weirded out by the idea of me going on a date with a boy.
The only thing was that there seemed to be an inverse correlation between people’s initial tolerance levels and their actual understanding of the struggles I had gone through to get to the point where I was. Some friends were shocked that I hadn’t come out to my parents before I left, especially since I knew they’d be loving and accepting, but no one really understood how difficult it was to actually do that. Others questioned how I could hold on to any of my religious beliefs (of which I still consider myself nominally and culturally Catholic, even though I staunchly disagree with many of the Catholic Church’s moral positions), never really understanding—and sometimes even invalidating—the solace that I found within the social justice aspects of Catholicism, as well as more liberal interpretations of Catholic theology I had been exposed to through my high school’s theology department. Not many understood the pain of not being able to come out to your family on your own terms and instead having an election take that away from you, and few really knew the pain I carried each and every day from having slurs hurled at me by people I knew in high school.
To this day, I still struggle when people—often friends and classmates who I like and care deeply about—make innocent-seeming but still problematic comments implicitly associating homosexuality with physical and emotional weakness, even though—after all I have been through throughout my entire life—I am the furthest thing from weakness. Other times it’ll be comments that make being gay sound like a choice when that’s the furthest thing from the truth. Rarely do I have the mental energy to call them out, for fear of being seen as overly aggressive or that I’m just trying to be “politically correct.”
I know and have seen firsthand that implicit bias factors into the way people treat me. I’ve felt the emotional barriers placed between me and others solely due to my sexual orientation, and I’ve seen noticed how some people would be uncomfortable with physical touch around me. And likewise, I’ve noticed how my own internalized homophobia—self-hatred stemming from the involuntary belief that all the homophobic lies, myths, and stereotypes that society says about me are true—has led me to keep people physically and emotionally distant, out of fear that I’d be seen as “coming on” to them even when all I had wanted was a deeper emotional connection in our friendship.
Even though being gay can often feel like it makes dating and building deeper friendships more difficult at Stanford (partly because it does), I’ve never felt this much pride in who I am than now.
I’m proud of how I had the courage to begin coming out by the end of my senior year of high school, even if that was only to two or three people.
I’m proud of how I wasn’t too afraid to be myself the second I came to college.
I’m proud of how I’ve stayed resilient even in the face of personal anti-gay attacks and others—whether those were teachers, classmates, churches, or society—telling me there’s something wrong with me.
And I’m proud of how I’ve finally written this blog post, having put it off for over a year now knowing full well that the second I post this, some people will choose to view me negatively, even though nothing about me has changed.
Today, I’m happy to be spending my very first LGBT Pride Month feeling what I should’ve always felt about myself: pride.