In LA, where I grew up, there are a lot of Latinos, a lot of Filipinos. So I grew up in an immigrant community. My parents are both from the Philippines. They immigrated here in the early 1980s. Being a kid in an immigrant family comes with a lot of pressure. You feel like everything you do is a reflection of all the struggles that your parents had coming to this country.
My mom and dad are both very Catholic. One of the things they dreamed about was me marrying the right girl. I always told myself that I was just really focused on school. I think that was my distraction from it. Because I couldn’t necessarily come to terms with the fact that I might not like girls.
For years, I struggled to tell my family that I am gay.
When I eventually told my mom, “I don’t think I like girls,” it was hard. I knew that my mom was thinking, “Oh, this means my dreams—what I envisioned for my son—are not going to happen.” After that, it was something that was swept under the rug. We didn’t talk about it for years.
I guess the hard part about that is, whenever you meet someone who is important, you want to share that amazing person with the people close to you. It felt like I couldn’t do that because I would be disappointing my family.
In college, when I looked at the LGBT organizations, they were mostly white. So the gay community there wasn’t necessarily something that I could relate to. It wasn’t until I moved back to LA that I started to meet gay men who look exactly like the people who grew up in my neighborhood. It was like a lightbulb switched on in my head. I just felt more and more at home.
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When I turn on the television or go to the movies, I don’t typically see anybody who looks like me. It’s really great to have people who understand you in that particular way, to have a group of friends you can share jokes with and everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about.
Today I’m a sociologist who writes about race, immigration, and LGBTQ issues. I’m really curious about coming-out experiences in immigrant families. I started doing a research project where I would ask other gay men who grew up in immigrant families how their coming-out experience was.
I heard stories about really supportive parents who would invite their sons’ partners to come and hang out with them. And in my situation, it didn’t necessarily feel like that was an option.
I would share these stories with my parents. Over time—very, very slowly—they started to accept it.
When Joe and I started dating, I wanted to share this person with my parents because it was serious. And it worked out. Today, Joe and I actually live with my parents in Los Angeles.
I think it’s important to find people who accept you and see you for who you are. When you have a community in which you can share these stories, you know that other people have gone through it—and, more importantly, other people have gotten past those obstacles.