More than blood, allies
When Wonder sat down with trans woman Janlee Dunca last month, she said something utterly refreshing about her transformation journey: “Every day is a transition.”
“Whenever I meet someone new, I transition to that person,” she said, pertaining to this part of her identity that requires a two-way interaction with the world. “When I share my story with somebody initially unaware that I’m a trans woman, that’s an act of me transitioning to—actually, with—that person.”
We’ve never heard of a trans person’s journey phrased in this manner before. We, in fact, have never seen it this way before the chat with Janlee. But it brought us back to a basic truth about people and the human relationship: Nobody exists inside a vacuum. And one man’s experience is never just his own. No one man’s life story is ever just about himself.
This got me thinking about a couple of friends from way back: one had just come out to her parents and the other, while a closeted lesbian, had parents who always knew about her sexuality (they were just waiting for her confirmation at this point). The former, frustrated and confused, lashed out out. She felt betrayed by her parents when they didn’t warmly receive the news and, in light of the situation, labeled them as intolerant and unaccepting. The latter, calming her down, explained: “You are begging right now for understanding from people you do not realize need it, too. Because while you are through coming out, they’re only getting started. They have to come out, too, you know…as parents of a gay child. That’s their new identity now. And you have to respect their pace as they deal with that.” This was one of the most humbling exchanges I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Because while love is love and indeed, love wins, isn’t it that the first love a person will ever know is that of his or her parents’? And if they need a moment to cope with their version of coming out, shouldn’t love and support from their child be reciprocated?
Years later, and the message from that conversation proves to be as relevant as ever. Just as Janlee’s story did, it also put things into perspective. Pride Month is not only a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community; it’s a love letter to the parents—allies—who have made navigating trials and troubles on the path of self-discovery a bearable feat.
Rafael with mom Anna Ayuyao
Tell us about your experience coming out to your parents.
Rafael: My coming out happened on a random, ordinary night. I think me being gay had always been an open secret though. I mean, when you have a six-year-old who wants to be the sixth member of the Spice Girls, and Sailor Moon and Pink Ranger are his super heroes of choice, it can be pretty obvious.
Anna: We weren’t surprised when Rafael told us. In fact, we were just waiting for him to come out of the closet. When he was just a little boy, there were already signs that he may have been gay. Even though he enjoyed the same things his kuya did, he took interest in girl characters on shows and in movies. He also enjoyed female artists like the Spice Girls and Britney Spears. We did ask him at times before if he was gay, but he would deny it or change the subject. Then, one night, he approached my husband and I in our room with his kuya and he told us everything.
Raf, how did you think your coming out would play out?
Rafael: I always thought it would be the typical sit-down that starts with an “I need to tell you something” moment. I mean, it kind of was—minus the tears. I will admit that I thought I was going to hit rock bottom at some point, that the bullying would begin and that I’d lose the respect of my family and friends.
Anna, what was your main concern for Rafael right off the bat?
Anna: We feared that Rafael would get bullied for being gay since he was picked on by his classmates when he was younger. A lot of people at the time were not very friendly to gay people, too. We were just glad he was surrounded by friends and family who supported him when he decided to come out.
How did the coming out of Raf impact your relationship?
Rafael: You know, with parents, I truly believe that to build a strong relationship, keeping the lines of communication open is very important. They did that. In return, I did, too. It led to my dad talking to me more about my interests and my mom asking for tips on makeup and clothes. It became more about them just trying to get to know me, their son, a little bit better and trying to engage with me through the things I’m passionate about.
Anna: Rafael’s coming out didn’t really put a strain on our relationship. There were growing pains and adjustments, of course, but we got through them quickly. His coming out actually made our relationship better. He is now more open and expressive about everything—he even opens up to us about things most kids his age wouldn’t tell their parents.
Rafael: I think the only strain on our relationship that came with my coming out was my parents getting a little lost when it came to the way I expressed myself or the things I liked. [Laughs]
What was the one moment, for you, that confirmed there was an absolute and complete acceptance of the LGBTQ member in your family?
Rafael: I remember I was with my dad in a restaurant and I had just dyed my hair an ombré teal ala Kylie Jenner and a group of girls was staring at me weirdly and he shot them a look like: “WTF are you looking at?” A simple moment like that immediately made me feel a sense of safety. My parents always tell me that people should just live and let live, that if someone is happy, that’s all that matters. Safe to say, my parents are my security blanket.
Anna: For me, it was the moment Rafael came out. We’ve always accepted him even prior to him coming out; it was just a matter of waiting on when he would tell us.
How important do you think it is for a parent to be involved in this part (coming out) of their child’s life?
Anna: It’s very important. Children shouldn’t have to feel like they can’t count on their parents to love and support them.
Rafael: Very important. I think it’s your destiny as a parent that you support, understand and fight for your child no matter what gender they identify as, no matter what clothes they wear or who they choose to love. There’s no greater gift than for a child to feel accepted and to know that their folks are standing by them in their journey.
Raf, what message do you have for those who are mustering up the courage to come out to their folks? And, Anna, what about for parents who are at the receiving end of this news?
Rafael: For the members of the LGBTQ+, take baby steps. It is absolutely okay to take baby steps. Don’t rush yourself with anything you’re not comfortable with. When you’re ready, you will have a whole community ready, too, to embrace you with open arms. As it goes in Love, Simon: “you get to be more you than you have ever been in a very long time.” And oh, remember to breathe!
Anna: Talk to your kids, but do know that this starts with really, genuinely listening to what they have to say. You have to be that safe space. They can always look for that safe space out there, but wouldn’t it be nice if they found that at home, too? It wasn’t easy for Raf to approach us even though we brought up the topic [of being gay] so many times. You just have to be patient with your kids and try to understand where they are coming from. You will never know what your child can contribute if you don’t let them express themselves.
Kaye with mom Tita Morales
Kaye, how did you come out to your parents?
Kaye: When it came to my mom, whom I consider my best friend, it was a one-on-one talk: I told her about the first girlfriend I had back in my freshman year of high school and that I like girls. I grew up with her, so I never had a hard time opening up. My dad, meanwhile, is based in Dubai, so to let him know, I wrote him a letter. At first, he didn’t understand my situation. But as time passed, he learned to accept me.
And, Tita, what was your initial reaction?
Tita: I will admit it took a big toll on me emotionally when Kaye came out. My dream had always been to see my daughter finish her studies, eventually get married and have kids. Right then and there, that dream was shattered completely. It took me a while to get over the pain, but it all boils down to love. I love my daughter. The least I could do as a parent is support her sexuality and her happiness.
What were your interactions like after Kaye came out?
Kaye: My family would ask me questions and I’d try my best to explain things as clearly as possible. I’m just really thankful that I wound up with such supportive parents who are willing to listen.
Tita: At first, I was in denial and it took me a while to give my daughter the support that she needed. But as a parent, I learned to acknowledge her sexuality first. You cannot accept something you do not even acknowledge. From there, you know, you live and love your way into acceptance. I will share that I do fear for my daughter’s safety every now and then. Since society is still not accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, I do fear she’ll be rejected. At home, we have nothing but love for our daughter and I think that’s what matters most. Ultimately, Kaye’s coming out brought us even closer together.
Let’s talk relationship-defining moments: When did you feel your family truly became an ally of yours?
Kaye: When I told them that I planned on coming out to my industry, the fashion industry, in one of my shows at Philippine Fashion Week. Coming out was the inspiration behind the collection I entitled “Rebel,” which was about my journey, about breaking free. At first, my family had reservations about the idea, because they didn’t know how the industry would react, but I’m really happy that everything went extremely well. I got 100% of my family’s support.
What message do you have for other parents whose children have just come out to them?
Tita: It is never easy for a parent to learn for the first time that their child is gay, but the important thing to realize is that your child has wholeheartedly come out to you. Be proud of the fact that they did that. It means that they trust you with this vulnerable part of themselves. Be proud of the fact that you are now part of his or her journey.
Any word of advice for those thinking about coming out but do not know how to?
Kaye: The most important part is to accept yourself, first and foremost. That’s the one other relationship you should never neglect. Remember that coming out is not only an intensely emotional and life-changing experience for yourself, but for the people you come out to. It might be better as well if you come out to one family member first instead of having a group as your audience. Even if things don’t go well at first, don’t lose hope. Things like this really take time.
Pico and mom Gina Flandes
What was the coming out experience like for you both?
Pico: I told my mom that I liked guys way back in first year high school. She initially thought that it was just a phase since I was studying in an all-boys school. I was expecting that she would get mad; I mean that was what I saw on TV, that was always the reaction of the parents who just heard their kid come out, and I was afraid that my mom wouldn’t be happy. While these expectations thankfully weren’t met, I did feel that she was disappointed for a while considering she only accepted my sexuality five years after I came out.
Gina: I was half-expecting it because I raised him on my own without a father figure nor a male figurehead for that matter. He grew up in a home with three maternal figureheads namely, my grandmother, my mother and then there was me. There was no male authoritative figure in the house. As a short walk-through: I shouted and then I cried. I was angry and frustrated…at Pico, but more at myself. I felt as though I failed him as a parent and that I didn’t do the right thing raising him by myself…like this was a direct result of me being a single parent.
What was your mom and son dynamic like after Pico came out?
Pico: My relationship with my mom was tested for a while because she persistently tried to persuade me to court women. And because I stood my ground insisting that I like men, we got into arguments. I went out of my way to prove to her that being a gay man did not mean compromising other parts of my life, that I was a responsible and goal-oriented son. Looking at the bigger picture now, I see that my mom was just really afraid that a straight guy would just come around, play with my emotions and eventually leave me empty. But as we both moved forward, my mom let go of that fear because I made it a point to show her that I carefully chose the guys I went out with and I made sure these guys also liked guys…and not girls.
Gina: I had to confront certain fears and worries I had on my own. I have several gay friends who lead seemingly happy lives but are lonely because they are alone…with partners that come and go (some of whom use them for money or their education and then eventually leave them). Even at this moment, I am still concerned that my son might end up with a similar fate of endlessly searching for that “special someone,” so I constantly pray for him and trust that the Good Lord will bless him with love, health, peace, happiness and fulfilment in his life.
How did your family work through the initial speedbumps in your relationship?
Gina: There was a specific time when I was quiet towards Pico. I was processing the feelings I had about his coming out, trying to figure out what comes next. But when I finally accepted his sexuality, I myself felt liberated. The rest of my family do not know anything about his coming out though, so I do hope that they will not misjudge him and still love him.
Pico, do you remember when you first felt completely accepted by your mom?
Pico: The first time I felt accepted by my mom was when she randomly asked me how my (first) boyfriend was doing. She said she wanted to meet him. I felt so happy after that.
Gina, can you tell us about the moment you first came to accept yourself as a parent of a gay son?
Gina: To be honest, I was apprehensive at first. I didn’t know if I should keep this to myself or tell my friends about it. Today, I don’t feel the same way anymore. In a way, I feel more carefree. I feel like this experience has taught me to live life thinking: what you see is what you get…and what you get is fine the way it is. I don’t have to explain why my son is gay or make up stories about him and his sexual orientation.
How important is it to you that there’s an ally in the family?
Pico: It’s very important for me to feel accepted by the woman I love the most. My mom now is always the first one to do a background check on the guy I’m about to date. That instantly gives me a sense of security. She’s still a mom being a mom after all.
Gina: A show of support for the LGBT community means a show of support and acceptance of my son.
Do you have words of advice for those currently dealing with the tricky business that is coming out?
Pico: To the LGBTQ, trust in the timing. It will happen when it’s supposed to happen. And if your family does not accept you for who you are, know that you have your friends and other (hopefully) loving relatives who will welcome you with open arms.
Gina: To parents of the LGBTQ, I advise you to be cautious with your words and actions because it is very hard to take back what has been said and done. Listen with your heart because you have loved this person even before he or she was born. Lastly, pray for the grace of acceptance. It’s the sign of true love for our children.
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Art Alexandra Lara