I came out of the closet to my mom at Pomona College’s Coop Fountain.
We were telling stories about our now-separate lives over sickeningly sweet Thai teas. At that moment, I didn’t feel like I was in Claremont, but rather, in Manila, sitting on a couch with my mom, complaining about work (her) and school (me), drinking beer (hers) and lemonade (mine).
When I found out that my mom was visiting me, I decided I would come out to her. To me, my mom was home — a warm embrace, a calming voice, a knowing smile. Of all people, I thought she would understand.
When I said the words “I’m gay,” I was no longer sitting on that living room couch. I was in California, and she was in the Philippines, a gulf as wide as an ocean between us.
“It would be easier if you were straight,” she replied, wiping tears from her eyes.
I was, and still am, devastated. Ever since I came out, my relationship with my mom has changed for the worse. For months, my mom and I have barely said a word to each other. When I visited the Philippines over summer break, my mom repeatedly conflated my sexuality with promiscuity, immaturity, and sexually transmitted infections.
Consequently, I questioned whether or not coming out was worth it. YouTube videos and Buzzfeed articles hyped up coming out as a proud declaration of my identity. A sea of rainbow confetti. A “fuck you” to my middle school bullies. A glorious entrance into an accepting community.
I was sorely mistaken.
While coming out demands a great deal of strength and courage, it also requires a “certain safety in visibility, in our families, in our jobs, in our cultures, and in our homes,” according to Archer columnist Asiel Adan Sanchez. In particular, I believe “coming out” is rooted in Western-centric narratives, often at the expense of queer folx of color, especially those from non-American backgrounds.
In the Philippines, coming out often means opposing cultural and religious values. As the “panganay” (eldest child) and only male of three siblings, I am expected to assume the role of a “second father” — a strong, masculine figure who represents the family name and supports his younger sisters. Furthermore, as a Catholic, I am expected to marry and raise my own family.
I was nine years old when my parents first suspected that I was gay. It spurred an entire family intervention: My dad “corrected” my effeminate manner of walking and speaking, my uncle encouraged me to play contact sports like basketball, and my grandmother incessantly bugged me about potential crushes on female classmates.
For many queer Filipino/as, “coming out” is not synonymous with liberation, but rather, with repression and alienation from our cultures. Instead, many choose to conceal their sexuality — some even marrying people of the opposite sex. Opting to remain in the closet is not an act of shame, as the mainstream “coming out” narrative suggests, but rather, a valid attempt at negotiating a conservative environment.
In order to minimize trauma, I decided to remain in the closet until I began my first year at Pomona. In my mind, California’s LGBTQIA+-friendly spaces would grant me the glorious coming out experience I had envisioned.
Unfortunately, I quickly realized that as much as I was too “gay” to be Filipino, I was also too Filipino to be gay.
When America celebrates queerness, it still has a white face — Harvey Milk over Marsha P. Johnson, Gus Kenworthy over Caster Semenya. A recent TSL opinions’ column chronicled the frequency of LGBTQIA+ hate crimes, yet failed to mention that communities of color — especially Black and Latino communities — bore the burden of this violence.
Where coming out is supposed to grant visibility, I have felt excluded from Claremont’s gay community. One common criticism is its whiteness: White cis gay men only seem to date, hook up, or even have intimate friendships with other white cis gay men. While I believe that this judgment holds some merit, it requires further nuance.
In particular, participation in Claremont’s gay community requires a familiarity with sexual cues, knowledge of mainstream American culture, and absolute confidence in one’s sexuality — qualities that some queer folx of color, especially those of non-American upbringing, may not possess.
Ironically, I feel my coming out was rendered invisible. I am stuck in a cultural no-man’s land where I am simultaneously alienated from my Filipino roots and America’s gay community.
If I could give my teenage closeted self a piece of advice, it would be this: You don’t need to come out to feel valid. You — along with the everyone else “in the closet” — are just as important, strong, and worthy as those who aren’t.
After all, there is no universal “coming out” narrative; our sexualities are differentiated by our race, class, religion, or cultural upbringing. Instead of ascribing a monolithic, Western-centric “coming out” narrative to all queer folx, we must let them come out on their own terms — to take ownership over their sexual identities.
Jolo Labio PO ’20 is a history major from Manila, Philippines. If you find his ID, please return it to Oldenborg 108.