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Op-Ed

‘You don’t look gay!’ and other misconceptions on the working Filipina femme

Part of the Filipino yuppie labor force since 2009, contributing writer Sunshine Lavariel experienced getting asked awkward questions about her sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. She eventually learned to handle herself better, as she realized that “I don’t feel the need to prove myself to anyone anymore as if being gay was a disability that I had to compensate by being better at something than other ‘normal’ people.”

In every company that I worked with, I had always been out.

Perhaps because I started out as a journalist, I never found the need to hide who I was – and to never work for someone who will judge how well or otherwise I do my job on the basis of my sexual preference alone. But for the purpose of this article, let me dwell on the subject a while longer.

I understand that coming out is not for everyone. That’s why I get annoyed whenever someone judges my completely closeted or discrete gay friends. For me, being gay is not a choice, it’s who you are – who you’re born as. But, coming out is a choice. A choice that people, whether straight or bent, should respect. You’d be pissed too if someone judges you on the basis of your fangirl obsession with Twilight, Fifty Shades of Gray and whatnot. Or maybe by even how you prefer to eat dessert first before the main course.

Perhaps it comes with my unorthodox belief in coming out. Just because I don’t wave that flag doesn’t mean I’m not proud. That said, I don’t go about telling everyone I meet that I’m gay but if someone asks whether I have a boyfriend or am married/have kids (damn, I’m getting old!), I simply correct them: “No, I have a girlfriend,” with a straight face.

Personally, I don’t like getting unwarranted attention just because of that small facet of my life. It’s a major part of who I am, no doubt; but more than just being a lesbian, I am many other things – a trained journalist, a writer by passion, an awkward introvert, the soon-to-be sole breadwinner of a family of four, and a dorky booklover. Why the need to focus on just one?

Part of the Filipino yuppie labor force since 2009, I’ve had my fair share of awkward questions. In the beginning, my answers ranged from a nervous laugh to a haughty glare. But now, when officemates ask me about my personal life, I turn the question back to them (Question: “So, how do you do it?” My answer: “How everybody else does it; using the hand I’m dealt with.” I usually get a ruckus of uncomfortable laughs at this point when they realize it’s intrusive to expound.)

Or the other popular remark I get after answering a question on whether I have a boyfriend or husband: “Really? You don’t look like a lesbian!” [P.S. A very tricky comment. At times, I don’t know whether I should be offended or pleased to have debunked the ‘unassuming’ commenter’s stereotypes about lesbians (who are often erroneously lumped with transgender men – Ed); we’re not all Charices and Aizas, y’know?]

Fast forward four years after, and I still get the occasional curious stares, gossip and questions. I’ve learned to handle myself better. I’m still awkward, but then I always have been an introvert. I don’t feel the need to prove myself to anyone anymore as if being gay was a disability that I had to compensate by being better at something than other ‘normal’ people. I may still be one foot out of Narnia (another story for another day), but I have never felt so liberated and empowered.

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Of all the people I’ve had the privilege to work with, I’ve never expected them to accept that part of my life. As far as I’m concerned, as long as you respect me, you can expect that I extend the same courtesy to you. Quid pro quo, basic ethics. But c’mon, really, we’re more than just what we wear, how we identify as, and more importantly, who we choose to share our ladyparts (a.k.a our hearts) with.

***Article amended on March 5, 2018 to reflect that Aiza Seguerra and Jake Zyrus (formerly Charice) now identify as transgender men. Aiza, for one, first came out as a lesbian in 2012; and then came out as a transgender man in 2014. Jake Zyrus, meanwhile, came out as ‘tomboy’ in 2013; and then as transgender man in 2017.

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