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.”
Erik Jan Lape Apartado – 33 years old from Balamban, Cebu – knew he’s gay even as a child. “Growing up, I (always) had a feeling I’m not heterosexual. At that time, I considered myself not normal. What I liked doing (were different from stereotypical male tasks), and I liked the company of my female cousins, my female classmates,” he said.
The second of three kids, he was – in a way – fortunate since “I didn’t have to come out (as gay) to my family. I grew up in an environment dominated by women… my Mom, my sister, my female cousins, my aunts. There are also many LGBTQIA people from our family/clan. So being LGBTQIA has been normalized in the family.”
This, however, didn’t mean Erik was spared from discrimination.
Largely, “this is because I grew up in a small municipality, my hometown Balamban.”
The First Class municipality in the Province of Cebu only has a population of over 95,000, and “there was a time when people here were not yet open about the idea of having or even seeing someone like me.”
People there, he added, used to identify humans as belonging only to male, female, gay or lesbian. These identities were actually anchored on the gender binary, so that there used to exist as belief that gay men “wanted to be like women”, and lesbians “wanted to be like men”. Meaning, the former had to be effeminate, and the latter had to be masculine.
In actuality, this also actually already touches on transgender identity, and so “there was a time when they didn’t know of a gay man who (wasn’t effeminate and wore women’s clothes). Or a lesbian who didn’t use men’s clothes. Seeing a cisgender gay was a new concept to them.”
Fortunately, Erik said, slowly, “as years passed, they started accepting this. Our town is also becoming more industrialized, and people are becoming more exposed to different sexual orientations. So I don’t experience discrimination and judgment in the community as much.”
Looking back, though, Erik remembered that when he experienced discrimination while growing up, it was still very hard for him. “I am a very calm person; I don’t fight back. So (in the past) I just stayed quiet. Sometimes I just cried. Or stayed silent in some corner.”
Erik completed Bachelor of Science in Nursing (he is now a registered nurse) from Cebu City Medical Center-College of Nursing.
“I was exposed to (being LGBTQIA) and felt secured that this is my identity when I started studying in Cebu in 2004,” he recalled.
In Cebu, Erik said he saw that gender is a spectrum. “It wasn’t just girl, boy, gay or lesbian. I fitted somewhere too. There was a category for me. I met people like me as well, so I felt included, I felt loved and accepted.”
He also studied Education, though he didn’t take the board exam to become a teacher.
But Balamban beckoned him back.
“Cebu City is too big for me,” Erik said. “I grew up in a small town, so it was like I was made to be in a small town. I didn’t feel I was made to be in big cities.”
Currently, he serves in the vaccination program of the Department of Health.
In retrospect, “as we all know, nursing is a predominantly female profession. In a way, being LGBTQIA helps (in this field) since there’s less discrimination for us here. People stereotype males who become nurses as gays. So my experience (in this field has been) okay and comfortable. I am not judging because there are heterosexual men who are nurses; but nursing – as a stereotypically female profession – isn’t hard for LGBTQIAs. Particularly for gay men.”
IN SEARCH OF LOVE IN BALAMBAN
Erik is currently single.
“If you’re looking for true love in Balamban, it’s quite hard because not everyone is open about gay couples or same-sex relationships. (LGBTQIA people are are) discreet since it’s a small town. And we are still conservative, I’d say, compared to other big cities in Cebu,” he said.
He added, though, that “I’m sure you’d find serious relationships here. But be prepared with how people around you will react to the relationship you’re getting into.”
This is why, for him, “for people who do not know a lot about the LGBTQIA community, or about sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, I would advise them to read more because education is power. (If) you know more about what we are and who we are, (then) it would be easier for (you) to accept and understand (us).”
LGBTQIA PEOPLE & THEIR FUTURE
Erik was 25 years old when he was exposed to financial literacy.
“I find it very basic and very important as well. Not a lot of people are advocating about financial literacy, but for me, this is important,” he said.
He is, in fact, focusing on teaching LGBTQIA people financial literacy “because we know they are good at making a living, but most of the time they mismanage their finances. So when there are emergencies in their future, they usually have nothing,” he said.
He admitted that, at first, teaching about financial literacy was hard because “people I my circle focused more on fun, on carefree lifestyles. When I push this topic (to people, they see this as) very serious. It can be too serious for some people to take. And most of the time, people refuse talking about it.”
Erik said that of course, “we also have to live in the present. We work to enjoy the present. But we have to set aside a little of what we earn for the future. We don’t know what will happen in the future. It’s not going to be rainbows or butterflies forever. There are times when there will be emergencies.”
Erik added: “It’s also difficult for us LGBTQIA people because, typically, we don’t make families. We don’t have husbands, we don’t have wives, we don’t have children. So where do we run to? Our parents may already be too old. Our siblings may already have their own families. So it’s really up to us to be responsible and independent.”
For Erik, yes, it is very important to have an LGBTQIA organization in a small place like Balamban.
“People here really need to be exposed more. They also need more education about the LGBTQIA community. (They also need more information) about SOGIESC,” he said.
In fact, there’s a community-based LGBTQIA organization that’s very active in Balamban. Most members are trans women, and so the few cis gay men like Erik just join this LGBTQIA organization.
“I am aware there’s internal discrimination. This is why it’s sad that while we’re fighting for acceptance from people outside our community, there’s still an issue we have to resolve within,” Erik said. For instance, “there are gay men who discriminate more feminine gay men. We have what we call ‘bottom-shaming’. There are those who (pigeonhole) trans women (that they’d amount to nothing). I actually know many trans women who are very successful in life, and in their own fields.”
For Erik, LGBTQIA people in provinces have to struggle more. “Because in the provinces, we’re not heard. We are not seen. We are not even given attention. Because attention is focused on big cities.”
To younger LGBTQIA people wondering what they are, “don’t look for answers. Just let time reveal what your orientation is,” Erik said.
But while doing so, he wants for them not to “shock loved ones.”
“Your parents and siblings can already sense you’re different from heterosexual people. Just don’t shock them (with coming out); do it slowly. Show them little by little through your actions that you’re (LGBTQIA), so they will have some clues. So that when the time comes when you (finally) come out, it won’t be very hard for them to accept you,” he said.
But another advice he wants other LGBTQIA people to learn is self-love.
“Always be proud of yourself. Being gay is not abnormal; we are very normal, we are humans. We can be (anything) we want to be. We can be doctors, nurses, lawyers. We can also be parents. Do not question yourself. I also went through that stage. I questioned myself (when I was) choosing my path. So just be who you are; be proud of who you are. As long as you are not hurting anyone. Do what you want to do. And be happy being a member of the LGBTQIA community,” Erik ended.