This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBTQIA people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”
Even when Cheryl Salvador was young, still in grade school, she already felt different. “I was attracted to other girls,” she said. “But since I grew in a traditional family, in a traditional environment, it caused a lot of confusion in me. I felt it was wrong; what I felt was wrong.”
Looking back, “maybe this was also why I was very timid when I was young.”
The attraction didn’t “disappear”.
“It was the same in high school. There were women I was attracted to. But then, I said to myself, maybe this is normal. In college, I just called them ‘girl crushes’. You dismiss what you felt using such a label. I still couldn’t accept myself. I was also afraid that if I told others, they’d think differently of me, or they’d stay away from me.
Cheryl came out at 27.
Then, she started spoken word poetry. “I became part of a community that’s more open,” she said. “For the first time I became part of a community where I didn’t have to question what was ‘wrong’ with me. I was able to sit with myself, and realize that yes, I am not straight.”
Cheryl has three siblings; all of them are girls, and she’s the youngest.
“The first time I told my sisters, it was just normal to them. They said they expected it. They were just waiting for me to come out; I was the one who wasn’t aware,” she said.
Nonetheless, “with my Mom, she was sad at first when she found out. She said she just wanted for me to have a normal family. She doesn’t want me to grow old alone. That’s how older people think. They think that if you’re not straight, if you’re lesbian or gay, you won’t have a normal family, or you won’t be happy.”
Though “I just tried understanding my Mom,” Cheryl said, she also started discussing LGBTQIA issues with her. “I also explained to her the errors in her beliefs. I told her I can have my own family if I want.”
FINDING THE RIGHT WORDS
“When I discovered spoken word poetry, I looked for a community. I was ‘straight’ before I found this community,” Cheryl recalled. “This community had a big role in making me accept myself.”
Exactly because it helped her find herself, “I will recommend spoken word poetry, or any form of poetry writing to LGBTQIA people. This is also therapeutic.”
Besides, she added, “the arts community also has a lot of members who are very understanding and open to different kinds of insights. Here, you can grow a lot. It can also help in your advocacies for the LGBTQIA community, or just to better understand yourself. So I recommend it.”
Cheryl said that there are still many issues the lesbian community, in particular, should focus on – e.g. gender discrimination, sexual harassment and equal rights. “Those sound general. But lesbians are affected by these things. Some even want to just convert you. That they can ‘turn’ you if you just have sex with a man. Beliefs like that exist; and some people tell you this. This is offensive and can be hurtful. They undermine your sexuality, your identity.”
Cherry similarly noted that “some people also put us in boxes.”
“Particularly here, when they discover you’re a lesbian, they expect you to present yourself in a masculine manner. They think you want to be a man. It doesn’t work that way,” she said.
And so for her, “all these discriminatory acts, and misconceptions about being a lesbian are issues to be highlighted.”
Cheryl think spoken word poetry can help raise these issues.
“In my perspective as a spoken word artist, writing pieces that tackle these issues… means many people can be reached. This way they can better understand the dynamics of being a lesbian; or what you’re going through,” she said.
FIND YOUR FAMILY
Cheryl knows that there are people who still do not accept family members who are LGBTQIA.
“I want to understand you, people who can’t accept family members who are LGBTQIA. If you really love your family, you would do whatever it takes even just to try to understand where they’re coming from. Maybe these people also came from very traditional communities. So they follow traditional beliefs. Particularly those who are older; the traditional beliefs are with them. It’s hard to get rid of this. But if you really love your family, if you want to be together, you have to unlearn these things,” she said.
But to LGBTQIA people still not accepted by their families, “let me say that there are a lot of people out there who can be your family,” Cheryl said. “If your family is not yet ready to accept who you are, you don’t have to mold yourself into the person that they want. You have to let yourself be who you are because – that way – you will find people who will love you like family.”
Yes, Cheryl is in a relationship now.
“Is it hard for a lesbian woman to find love in the Philippines? I don’t think so. Obviously it depends on the person. If you find a connection with a person. I don’t think gender matters in this situation because it’s love. I think love is fair, in a way. Even with heterosexual people you can’t say love is easy to find.”
“To people in society, if our love does not personally harm you, why hinder it? Try to understand and look within yourself what in LGBTQIA relationships you don’t like? Is it because you were told it’s taboo? Or the Bible stated it shouldn’t be allowed? That men are just for women? What is it really that you hate with same-sex relationships? Because I really don’t understand why society, in general, discriminates against LGBTQIA people. Maybe this is also cultural. But – you know – let people love who they love. If you love someone, you know the feeling. This doesn’t change no matter a person’s gender. So let people be who they want to be,” Cheryl ended.