AAPI Heritage Month: I was Out, Proud, and Did Not Care what I Had to Lose

Guinness World Records largest human rainbow held in Philippines from Polytechnic University – Source: noypicollections.blogspot.com

I am a queer, Filipina womyn of color. I was born and raised 17 years of my life in the Philippines and migrated to the United States in 1999. During my college years in 2002, I realized I was attracted to womyn and identified as a lesbian. Having the language, such as the word lesbian enabled me to talk and explore my sexuality and humanity.

In my time, the Filipino culture at large considers being LGBTQ or homosexual a taboo and was not talked about, and religiously considered a SIN. At the same time, we are also accepting of the Gay (men) community such as gay men fixing our hair and beauty or butt of the joke. There is also the notion of, “If it’s not in my family then it’s okay.” The Philippines was colonized by Spain from 1521-1898 that lead to the introduction of Catholicism. I too was Catholic and I had to denounce my religion because it doesn’t match with my values and have done harm to my humanity and relationships.

I realized that to fully embrace my sexuality, I had to prepare myself to accept that I will lose my family, my Filipino community, and my religion in the limbo. I was out, proud and did not care what I had to lose. Those who care will be there from the start or join you when they’ve grown up spiritually and realize they’ve pushed you out for ignorant reasons.  

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Further critically reflecting and exploring my sexuality, I have realized that this attraction started when I was in sixth grade. Ms. U was my English teacher and I always sought her attention. I was happy to see her and I volunteered with whatever she needed help with. I had a huge crush on her. Then my sophomore year, I felt the same way with my neighbor that was seven years older than me. Besides the physical attraction I was attracted to her fierceness as a womyn. A womyn with her own car, professional image, serious attitude and stature, and not caring of what people think about her. That was admirable to me and I was just happy and content to look at her from a far. Junior year, I attended a martial arts club called PHICKAJU (Philippine Combat Karate Judo) and there was a senior student that was so talented with her martial arts skills. It was the same feelings and attractions. No sexual thoughts involved, just being around the presence of these womyn made me happy and tugging at the strings of my heart. Through these past years, learning about my sexuality lead to the realizations of my humanity and these previous experiences and emotions towards womyn.

In 2002, my sister ousted me to my mother that was still in the Philippines. She added additional versions and stories that were not true. Stuff that enraged my mother to not accept me. At that time, I didn’t have the chance to tell her my story, my truth… my very personal experience and dignity that no one else have the right to tell. In 2009, I welcomed my mom to live with me and I was able to tell her my side of the story. She told me that, “No matter what you’re still my daughter.” Four of my siblings are accepting of me, one of my brother even told me that, “I already knew you were a long time ago.” I chuckled and jokingly said, “You mean I’m the only one who did not know I was gay?,” but this was with an all honest statement.

In 2008, I joined the Military to see the world and for it’s benefits and opportunities, but now I’m in a process of understanding this experience, politics and my role. At that time, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy (DADT) was alive and was the suffocation on what’s left of our, my human emotions and rights. Being in the military, you sign up your being, mind, body and transform yourself to act and be the defense and offense for government, nation and people. Regardless how much I embraced my lesbian sexuality, I felt that I had no choice but to go back into the closet because of my fear of the “what ifs”? What if I lose my job, benefits, home, citizenship, what if I can no longer take care of my family, and what if I can’t get a job elsewhere if I got reported and discharged with dishonor?” With this policy, very few selected people knew of my sexuality, because I didn’t feel safe and limited my friendships within military and my environment in San Antonio; which was made up with large military bases. Then in 2011, DADT was repealed after all the hardwork of ex-military members, family, friends, activists, and some politicians. DADT has been an oppressive policy led by homophobic, religious conservatives and their dehumanizing agenda. This has caused me struggles and barriers to find acceptance of who I am by being Out as a civilian then as an active duty service member, having to silence my dignity and go back into the closet for three years. I thought a lot about what freedom meant, because the values of protecting and serving the US are based on freedom, but I still did not feel free. I saw my family and friends who are LGBTQ, not free from from violence and discrimination, especially if they were Asian and from Communities of Color and Indigenous people. They suffered more harshly due to institutionalized homophobia, transphobia, classism and racism. A part of me was still in the closet, traumatized with the situation, and constantly battling with myself on how I should act and be. These type of violent policies does an excellent job of making us and our community police each other and how we, specifically how I should act and feel as a person. I definitely couldn’t show simple acts of affection or introduction of my partner of 3 years to anyone.

2012 Twin Cities Pride March

2012 Twin Cities Pride March

The 2012 election was the very first time I voted, and my first time marching in Minnesota’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer pride parade. Being our Commander in Chief is President Obama, I felt so liberated and powerful holding a sign that said, “Obama Pride, LGBT for Obama.”

I learned that VISIBILITY is key, and when more people empathize with our stories, experiences and struggles, more people will understand us and shift away from oppressive and conservative belief and policy.

Having to constantly come Out, constantly struggle internally and externally, constantly learning, constantly embracing the self, constantly critical thinking, constantly advocating, constantly staying involved in activism and community, constantly being informed and educating. These are some of the “CONSISTENCY” that I go through being a queer, Filipina womyn of color.


 

2015 - Marching in solidarity with Baltimore in Minneapolis Rise Up and Shut It Down.

2015 – Marching in solidarity with Baltimore in Minneapolis Rise Up and Shut It Down.

Maica is a veteran of the United States Air Force and a new MN resident. She is a full-time student studying Biomedical Engineering and transitioning from a military into civilian life. She is also rooting herself into the world of activism and social justice.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com

 


 

 

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AAPI Heritage Month: The Windows To The Soul Has Blinds

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It is called the “mad dog” look; although it exists in many forms, aggravation, harassment, or observation, it’s simply “the stare.” It’s the stares that you get when you’re in unfamiliar situations or places, whether it’s explicit or all just mental, it’s all up to personal interpretation. It might just be admiration or someone may be interested in you, perhaps it is your outfit or your attractive appearance. The perspective from the other side of the spectrum is encountering someone with prejudice against you and “mad dogging,” provoking, or harassing you with their stares.

Gazing for a second too long at an insecure person with anger management issues within the peripheral of your vision can be problematic. Daydreams and wandering minds must be kept under control, because in the unlikely event that a tumbleweed starts rolling and guitar and trumpet music starts playing, mad dogging situations can turn into a standoff between the good, the bad, and the ugly like classic western cowboy duels in the movies.

You can choose your friends, but you sho’ can’t choose your family – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird – Source: fidelialam.com

In some cultures, it’s impolite to make eye contact, an inherited trait from animalistic behaviours. In other cultures, it’s a gesture of endearment and engagement; by focusing all attention to the person that you’re speaking to, you’re showing them respect. But the concept of “it’s rude to stare,” or so we were taught, discourages us from observing people with our eyes and initiating constructive conversations with our mouth and mind. So is it rude to develop observation skills? Isn’t that how prejudice and rumors fueled by incorrect implications and ignorance spread? Growing up, I have had my share of awkward stare downs. Being labeled “guilty by association” by society and being a member of such a small population, it’s like the quote in To Kill A Mockingbird, “you can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family,” it couldn’t be helped having certain family members who were friends with people who pledged allegiance to certain colors or cliques.

As much potential hostility as my own community posed, I grew up well aware of clothes and colors I can wear, the perimeters of where I can travel, and which areas with people to avoid due to my skin complexion, melanin composition, and religious practice, but being in unfamiliar areas, the unknown threat from strangers fueled by hearsay and racism motivated by prejudice and ignorance will always have a more paranoid feeling.

Always being cautious, prepared, and ready to react created a shield of anger, “What are you looking at” attitude, and “don’t disrespect me” mentality that was toxic. It not only created a hostile situation for everyone everywhere I went but it also prevented me from meeting genuinely good people. In order to cure the negativity around me, I decided a long time ago that peace, happiness, and equality was worth a life living, not one where prejudice and negativity dictated everything I did. Forfeiting my ego in order to be happy and enjoy the simple things in life was better than constantly being angry and looking over my shoulders for problems. A tap on the shoulder from a friend to say hello will always be better than a cheap shot. So in order to minimize the toxicity in my life, I had to start with changing myself and treating others right. Plant the seed of peace within yourself, then share the fruits of its labors with others.

The process of changing yourself is deeper than simply changing your outward expression and physical appearance. One of the recent memories that I still think back to was from a particularly sunny day during the beginning of spring while I was still an undergraduate student. The warm and refreshing weather that followed the uncovered blanket of winter made a lot of us students unable to stay indoors. My mind was racing with ideas, my heart wanted to pour itself out into words on paper, and my body was aching for sunlight. Before dashing out the door after class and driving to the pond at a nearby park, I neglected to wear my socioeconomic mask and costume. The clothes branding myself as a college student was heavy so I didn’t wear them and my slicked back hair felt more free than the molded comb over so that was how it was left. I went out of my apartment that afternoon as myself; my pants were baggy, my white-t was oversized, and my shoes weren’t polished; I was just my comfortable self, not a fictitious middle-class, law-abiding, and submissive Asian-American college student.

When I got out of my car and started making my way from the parking lot towards the lake, I noticed two men having a conversation and sitting under the pavilion along the path to the pond. As I got closer to them, our eyes locked, their conversation came to a pause, and their attention seemed focus on me. All sense of rationality seemed to leak out of my mind as my optimism wrestled with what appears to be my survival instinct. My fingers went limp as they tightly hugged my palms, my knuckles raised and hardened, and my whole body flexed itself into shape. The angry inner city teenager, whose only priority was survival, overpowered and possessed me for a second. Though the immediate anger and adrenaline stiffened my face, my learned-instinct fought its way to form a smile at them. I continued walking past them to my usual meditation place, the pier by the pond. I wrote my poems and they continued their conversation. Half an hour later, they left; another half hour after that, I left. I left with a few pages of poetry and a head full of thoughts.

Was it racism or just my own delusion? It didn’t help with the fact that a historical Klansman gathering site was not too far away from there, nor did the fact that the site of the largest mass execution in the US (Dakota War of 1862 that led to a mass execution of 38 Dakota Men on December 26, 1862 under President Abraham Lincoln’s order) was located only 5 miles away. Despite preaching peace and actively striving to fight for equality, was I still a wolf in sheep clothing, subconsciously flaring my animalistic strength? Were there still toxic residue from the years of racist encounters and different cultural clashes? It’s amazing how simple eye contact can potentially cause chaos, yet a simple smile can clear minor paranoid misconceptions.  The opportunity to learn from our observations shouldn’t be discouraged, especially among strangers or unfamiliar subjects.


 

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Steven T. Vang is a self-proclaimed nerd for words, writer and activist from the Twin Cities.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com