Louis Hanson 「An identity complex: growing up gay and Asian in rural Australia」

Posted on January 19, 2017

“You’re not alone. There are many people out there just like you. You will always be loved for whoever you are.”

“The other day, I came across a profile that said ‘no spice or rice’ and another that said ‘love Asian food – just not Asian men’. It was horrible, but I mean, you’ve got to laugh.”

Carlos is inspiring. Despite growing up as one of the only Asian families in a rural community, and having to negotiate his sexuality around his family’s cultural expectations, he is proud to be gay, and equally as proud of his Asian roots. This defiant pride is inspiring in itself.

Carlos was born in the Philippines, but moved to Wangaratta when he was young. “It felt hard for me, though, at the time, coming from a religious background with no gay Asian role models.”

There wasn’t anyone in his family, school or friendship circle who was part of the LGBTQIA+ community. “I didn’t know anyone who was openly out, especially in Wangaratta,” he remembers. “The only Asian person that I took notice of in the media, when I was growing up, was Jackie Chan.” It’s true; Screen Australia found that, in 2015, only 7% of main characters in Australian television were of Asian, African or Middle Eastern descent, despite accounting for 17% of the Australian population – And that’s not even considering a gay character.

Carlos went to Church twice a week until he was 20; his parents are part of a Filipino denomination of Christianity. “It’s an important part of my parents and older sister’s lives, however my other siblings and I are less involved in the religion.”

“I think there is a lot of expectation that comes from parents of Asian decent, which they place onto their children,” he notes. “When my parents migrated to Australia for a better life, they wanted their children to have more than what they did. They worked hard to give their children a solid education and a better start in life.”

With this opportunity, there is also the expectation that their children will succeed, such as getting into university, finding a solid job, meeting a partner and starting a family. “Having a homosexual child doesn’t normally fit into this equation.”

He first became aware of his sexuality when he was quite young. “I used to watch 90210 with my sisters and I remember thinking that Luke Perry was cute.” He loved competing in athletics and playing Barbies. He also played football in primary school because, as a boy, he thought he had to. When he was going to high school in Wangaratta, he felt the need to hide his sexuality; after all, it was the mid 2000’s and he was in a rural town with only one openly gay person in school. His family was also one of the only Asian families at his first high school and, when he was in his teens, he rejected his family’s culture because he wanted to fit in.

He was bullied a lot. It wasn’t as though he was embarrassed of his heritage when he was younger; he just didn’t want to be different to his peers and to be ridiculed for it. So, it wasn’t until after high school, at 18, when he came out to his friends and siblings. They were supportive, as they’d always defended Carlos at school throughout the bullying.

He was initially reluctant to tell his parents, given their religious views. But, At 20, he told his mother. He told her that he was gay, and also depressed. She responded that, if it was the one thing that was going to impend on him living his life, then he had nothing to worry about. Carlos then asked her to tell his father because he was too scared to see his reaction. “I saw him a few months afterwards (my parents still lived in Wangaratta while I lived in Melbourne),” he notes. “And he told me he loved me as whoever I was. It felt like a weight was lifted. My life really turned around after that point.”

However, after a recent family holiday, Carlos discovered that his father’s side of the family had no knowledge of him being gay – despite coming out over a decade ago. He considers himself quite lucky, though; it’s not always easy to come out to your parents, especially when they have strong religious beliefs. “I think it’s hard to come out for anyone regardless of ethnic background,” he says.

But, to Carlos, ‘coming out’ isn’t necessarily essential anymore. “Your sexuality isn’t anyone else’s business.” This is especially pertinent when considering his work as a stylist, a field that arguably allows for greater expression of sexuality than most career paths. “My work is an extension of who I am, and I have produced work that reflects my sexuality. That’s the beauty of working in the creative industry – you can do whatever you want in your own personal work.”

That being said, as an Asian man, does he think it is harder to fit into the LGBTQIA+ community? “I think we have a presence, and a particular pool of men that are into us. However, if the whole community were going to rank what race they would prefer to be with, I think we would be on the bottom.”

With this in mind, what would he say to his 15-year-old self? With no queer Asian role models in his rural community to look up to, and with casual racism flourishing within the community, Carlos is a defiant product of his time.

He pauses.

“You’re not alone. There are many people out there just like you. You will always be loved for whoever you are.”

Louis Hanson 「Mahirap na unawaing pagkakakilanlan: lumaking isang gay at Asyano sa rural Australia」

“Hindi ka nag-iisa. Maraming mga tao na tulad mo. Ikaw ay palaging mamahalin kahit sino ka man.”

“Noong isang araw, aking nakita ang isang profile na nagsasabi na ‘walang pampalasa o kanin’ (‘no spice or rice’) at isa pa na nagsasabi na ‘mahal ko ang pagkaing Asyano - hindi nga lang ang mga Asyanong kalalakihan’ (‘love Asian food – just not Asian men’). Ito ay nakakagulat, ngunit, kailangan mong tawanan na lamang ito.”

Si Carlos ay nakakahanga. Sa kabila na lumaki bilang sa isa lamang sa ilang Asyanong pamilya sa isang rural na komunidad, at kinailangang inegosasyon ang kanyang sekswalidad sa kultural na inaasahan ng kanyang pamilya, ipinagmamalaki niya na maging isang bakla, at gayundin ipinagmamalaki niya ang kanyang pinagmulang Asyano. Ang matapang na pagsuway na ito mismo ay nakakahanga na.

Si Carlos ay ipinanganak sa Pilipinas, ngunit lumipat at nanirahan sa Wangaratta nang siya ay bata pa. “Ito ay naging mahirap para sa akin, sa panahong iyon, bilang nagmula sa isang pamilya na relihiyoso na walang nakikitang bakla na Asyanong huwaran.”

Walang sinuman sa kanyang pamilya, mga kamag-aral o kaibigan ay bahagi ng komunidad LGBTQIA+. “Wala akong kakilala na lantad, lalo na sa Wangaratta,” sa kanyang pag-alala. “Ang tanging Asyano na kanyang napapansin sa media, habang siya ay nagkakaisip, ay si Jackie Chan.” Ito ay totoo; Napag-alaman ng Screen Australia na noong taong 2015, tanging 7% ng mga pangunahing karakter sa telebisyon sa Australya ay mga may pinagmulang Asyano, Aprikano o mula sa Gitnang Silangan, sa kabila ng sila ay bumubuo ng 17% ng Australyanong populasyon — at ito ang bilang na ito ay hindi pa nga itinuturing na isang karakter na bakla.

Si Carlos ay pumupunta sa simbahan dalawang beses kada isang linggo hanggang sa siya ay dumating sa gulang na 20; ang kanyang mga magulang ay bahagi ng bilang ng mga Pilipinong Kristiyano. “Ito ay isang mahalagang bahagi ng mga buhay ng kanyang mga magulang at kapatid na babae, ngunit ako at ang aking ibang kapatid ay hindi masyadong nauugnay sa relihiyon.”

“Sa tingin ko, malaki ang inaasahan ng mga magulang na mula sa may mga pinagmulang Asyano, na kanilang inilalagay sa kanilang mga anak,” sa kanyang tala. “Nang lumipat at nanirahan ang aking mga magulang sa Australya para sa isang mas mahusay na buhay, nais nila na ang kanilang mga anak na magkaroon ng higit sa kung ano ang kanilang nagawa. Sila ay nagtrabaho nang husto upang bigyan ang kanilang mga anak ng isang matibay na edukasyon at isang mas mahusay na panimula sa buhay.”

Sa ganitong pagkakataon, inaasahan din na ang kanilang mga anak ay magtagumpay, tulad ng pagpasok sa unibersidad, makahanap ng matatag na trabaho, magkaroon ng asawa at magsimula ng pamilya. “Ang pagkakaroon ng isang homosexual na anak ay hindi pangkaraniwang naayon sa ekwasyong ito.”

Una siyang nagkaroon ng kamalayan sa kanyang sekswalidad nang siya medyo bata pa. “Dati akong nanonood ng 90210 kasama ng aking mga kapatid na babae at naaalala ko na sa aking tingin si Luke Perry ay guwapo.” Siya ay mahilig sumali sa athletics at paglalaro ng mga Barbie. Naglaro din siya ng football noong siya'y nasa elementarya, dahil, bilang isang bata, sa tingin niya ay dapat niya itong gawin. Nang siya ay nasa hayskul na sa Wangaratta, ramdam niya ang pangangailangan na itago ang kanyang sekswalidad; dahil iyo ay nasa kalagitnaan ng taong dalawang libo, at siya ay nakatira sa isang rural na bayan na mayroon lamang isang lantad na baklang tao sa paaralan. At ang kanyang pamilya ay isa sa iilan lamang na Asyanong pamilya sa kanyang unang paaralan sa sekondarya, at nang siya ay nagbibinat, inawayan niya ang kultura ng kanyang pamilya dahil nais niyang mapabilang sa komunidad.

Siya ay madalas na ma-bully. Ito ay hindi kasing-hirap na siya ang mapahiya sa kanyang pinagmula nang siya ay mas bata pa; hindi lamang niay nais na maging iba sa kanyang mga ka-edad at kantiyawan para dito. Kaya, pagkatapos ng hayskul, sa edad na 18, siya ay lumantad sa kanyang mga kaibigan at kapatid. Sila ay nagpakita ng suporta sa kanya, tulad ng palagi nilang pagtatanggol kay Carlos sa paaralan sa mga pang-aapi.

Sa una siya ay nag-atubili na sabihin sa kanyang mga magulang, dahil sa kanilang mga pananaw sa relihiyon. Ngunit, sa gulang na 20, sinabi niya ito sa kaniyang ina. Sinabi niya sa kanyang ina na siya ay bakla, at siya din ay nalulumbay. Sumagot ang kanyang ina, na, kung ito ay ang isang bagay na magpapahinto sa kanyan na magpatuloy sa kanyang buhay,kung gayon, wala siyang dapat ipag-alala tungkol dito. At pagkatapos, hiniling ni Carlos sa kanyang ina na sabihin ito sa kanyang ama, dahil masyado siyang takot na makita ang reaksyon ng kanyang ama. “Nakita ko siya ilang buwan matapos ito (nakatira pa rin sa Wangaratta ang aking mga magulang habang ako ay nakatira sa Melbourne),” sa kanyang pag-alala. “At sinabi niya sa akin mahal niya ako kung sino pa man ako. Parang gumaan ang aking dalahin. At tunay na nagbago ang buhay ko sa puntong iyon.”

Subalit, pagkatapos ng isang kamakailan lamang na bakasyon ng pamilya, natuklasan ni Carlos na mga kamag-anak niya sa panig ng kanyang ama ay walang nalalaman sa kanyang pagiging bakla - sa kabila ng paglantad mahigit isang dekada na ang nakalipas. Itinuturing niya ang sarili bilang lubos na masuwerteng, sa kabila nito; hindi laging madali na lumantad sa iyong mga magulang, lalo na kapag sila ay may malakas na paniniwala sa relihiyon. “Sa tingin ko, mahirap para sa sinuman na umamin, anopaman ang etnikong pinagmulan ng isang tao,” dagdag niya.

Ngunit, para kay Carlos, ‘ang kanyang paglantad’ ay hindi na mahalaga. “Ang iyong sekswalidad ay hindi na dapat pakialaman ng sinuman.” Ito ay lalong may kinalaman kapag isinasa-alang-alang ang kanyang trabaho bilang isang stylist, isang larangan na pumapayag para sa higit na pagpapahayag ng sekswalidad kumpara sa ibang larangan. “Ang aking trabaho ay karugtong ng kung sino ako, at nakagawa ako ng mga trabaho na sumasalamin ng aking sekswalidad. Iyong ang ganda ng pagta-trabaho sa isang masining na industriya - maaari mong gawin anuman ang nais mo sa iyong personal na gawain.”

Sa pagsabi nito, bilang isang Asyano, sa tingin ba niya na mas mahirap na makibagay sa komunidad LGBTQIA+? “Sa palagay ko, may presensya ang mga Asyano, at isang partikular na hanay ng mga kalalakihan ay nagkakagusto sa amin. Gayunpaman, kung ira-ranggo ng buong komunidad kung anong lahi ang mas gusto nilang makasama, sa tingin ko, ang mga Asyano ay nasa bandang hulihan.”

Ito ang nasa sa isip, ano ang kanyang masasabi ang kanyang 15-taong-gulang na sarili? Sa walang kakaibang Asyanong role model sa kanyang rural na komunidad na maaaring tularan, at may paminsan-misan na rasismo na umuusbong sa loob ng komunidad, si Carlos ay isang pa-salungat na produkto ng kanyang panahon.

Siya ay tunigil sandali.

“Ikaw ay nag-iisa. Maraming mga tao na katulad mo. Ikaw ay palaging mamahalin kahit sino ka man.”

Louis Hanson is freelance writer, student at the University of Melbourne, and LGBTQIA+ youth advocate. Instagram: @louishanson ; website: louishanson.com. Carlos’ Instagram: @carlosmangubat.
Image: Chris Mangubat (Instagram: @babysweetmango).