Justin Francis Bionat “met” Art Leonil Defensor in October 2014, via a dating app. “I was still going to school at University of San Carlo in Cebu City, and he was a student of West Visayas State University in Iloilo City,” recalled Justin.
One time, when Justin went back to Iloilo (where his family’s home is), they decided to meet in a computer shop. But “that first time didn’t work out because I obviously had to go back to Cebu City (for my schooling), and I also already had a boyfriend at that time.”
Art can also vividly recall that moment when they first physically met. “Well, in my part, I’ve been in love with him since the day he started chatting with me,” he smiled. “It may sound weird but that’s what I really feel. This feeling (was there on that) day I met him.”
It is perhaps not surprising that in hindsight, even considering going out on a date just to break the other person’s heart by telling him that one’s already in a relationship is a sore issue for Justin. “When he found out that I had a boyfriend and it broke his heart… that’s probably my biggest mistake,” he said.
But Justin returned to Iloilo in April 2015, and – dividing his time between Cebu and Iloilo – even started going to school in West Visayas State University. Art was a dance student while Justin was a political science student, and “since our school isn’t really that big, I got to see him a lot. His friends knew about our ‘love story’, and they teased us, doing the teasing in hallways, in the nearby restaurants where I had lunch and even when I passed by their classrooms. I didn’t mind, though I just walked faster,” Justin said.
Pass forward almost a year later, when the two chatted again on February 2, 2016. By this time, Justin already settled in Iloilo City after deciding not to pursue his education in Cebu City. He saw Art carrying flowers in Jaro Plaza; and that night, the chatting happened. “I guess that’s when we decided to give it a try one more time,” Justin said, adding with a smile: “They say that love is sweeter the second time around. I guess we just knew we were in love… I know I was.”
Now, after over a year of being together, Justin can say that “the best thing in our relationship is that we act both as each other’s partner/significant other/boyfriend, but also each other’s best friend. We welcome each other’s support and criticisms. I’m an overly active LGBT rights advocate and he is a dancer… we have our own worlds but we try to make sure that we get to be part of the other’s endeavors.”
More particularly, “I watch each and every performance he has, and he supports me during my events or speaking engagements,” Justin beamed.
Their lives have also started to “blend”. For instance, in December 2016, during the Pantatan Festival in Zarraga, a municipality in Iloilo, Art joined a talent competition and he danced with his friends. “What made it special was that he choreographed a dance that was LGBT-themed,” Justin recalled. “They won 1st runner up; I was the loudest clap in the audience, and I was so proud of him. I – of course – lent my favorite rainbow flag to them.”
Largely because both are in the LGBT advocacy in Iloilo City, “we don’t really get discriminated… maybe because we are both empowered,” Justin said.
He admitted, nonetheless, that “it took a long time before his family and my family accepted us as a couple. I guess that was our biggest challenge: We wanted our families to be part of our relationship and not keep our love hidden. But I guess since we’re both advocacy-minded, we face (this challenge). We insisted and persisted; and we enjoy fighting for our rights, especially our right to love.”
This finding of someone to share one’s life with is something that the couple savors.
“I love everything about him,” Art said. “I have Justin in my life, and it’s all I really want – to have a guy like him. A guy who can accept my flaws. A guy who loves to cuddle with me every day. A guy who always understands me. A guy who keeps me always safe every day. And a guy who I don’t want to lose in my life because with him, I have the best of everything. I’m still in love with every piece of him…”
“Every single day I get to bring him to Jaro Plaza, where he rides a jeepney to Zarrage, his home town (located an hour away from Jaro). I can’t bring him home all the way every day, but at least I get to bring him to Jaro everyday… where I saw him with flowers, which started our relationship again.”
And even as Justin and Art continue to relish what they have, they also happily share this to the world, particularly via their LGBT advocacy, providing a face of – yes – young love in the LGBT community. But much like other couples (hetero or LGBT), “I guess it is normal to dream of one day building a family together and even get married,” Justin said, adding with a laugh that “of course we plan to graduate from the university first.”
As for Art, the goal is to “conquer life together and to settle as a happy family.”
Exactly not unlike everyone’s goal when finding love…