My name is Christina Refuerzo but many of you know me as Tina. When I was asked to be featured on the Ugly Duckling Blog, I was a little hesitant. I consider myself to be a private person. In honor of pride month, I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone and share a part of me that not a lot of people get to know. This is the story of my ongoing journey of self acceptance as a 37 year old gay Filipina.
I grew up in a traditional Catholic household. I’m the only girl out of 4 children, two older brothers and one younger. A house full of boys! I remember always trying to follow my older brothers and keep up with them—trying to prove that I’m tough enough to hang with the boys. I think that part of my childhood helped shape me into a tomboy growing up. It just felt right to me…like I was in my own element.
In elementary and middle school, I had crushes on boys. I even had a long term boyfriend in middle school! But as I got older, I remember wanting to be around certain girls. I was kind of confused because those feelings were different from those I’ve had with some of my other friends. I then realized the feeling I was experiencing was attraction—both physically and emotionally. I didn’t confide in anyone about the feelings I was having at the time because I was scared and ashamed. I was scared of what they might think and ashamed because being gay was considered a sin in my upbringing. In some way, I felt guilty for those feelings.
I didn’t have any gay friends at the time, but I was fortunate to go to a liberal high school where there were many openly gay students. I went out of my way to befriend some of these students, but I didn’t come out to them until months later when I was a little more comfortable with myself. Being around them, in their environment, made it easier to be…myself. They tried to set me up with some of their friends but I never took any of it seriously. Even though I never fully came out in high school, having just those few close friends made ALL the difference in the world. It was easy to feel alone when my friends were talking about their relationships openly while I was there still trying to “figure things out”. Now that I think about it, I can’t imagine going through a sexual identity crisis at such a young age without some kind of support system. I am grateful to have had those friends to confide in in those years.
I was scared and in denial of who I was becoming. I was scared to open myself up because I know that once I did, I would not be living the life my parents envisioned FOR ME. I did not want to disappoint them.
When I overheard my dad saying he voted against legalizing gay marriage, it broke my heart. It made me feel alone and it made me think that I could NEVER come out to them. It made me feel distant in showing them who I really was—my authentic self. I was also scared of what the judgements my extended family might make (aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.). Growing up in a tight knit Filipino household means there is a lot of gossip that goes on…and I didn’t want to shame my parents or be the topic of the latest gossip. So whenever my aunts would ask why I didn’t have a boyfriend, I would joke around and say “I have too many” as a way to deflect their questions. It worked but not for too long...
My second year in college, I ended up joining a sorority. At first, I didn’t tell anyone about my orientation because I was scared they would think I joined because of the girls. I even forced myself to go on dates with guys. I dated a few here and there, but I never let it get too serious because I knew deep down in my heart it was not what I wanted. It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I finally came out to my sorority sisters, who are still some of my best friends today. I experienced a mix of feelings when making that decision—from nervousness to excitement. I was nervous because we didn’t have any openly gay members in our sorority at the time. I was even elected president one year and I wasn’t sure what kind of reactions I would receive from present and even past members if they found out. I finally mustered up the courage to tell them and although I was very anxious about coming out to them, I was still pretty excited at the same time. I was excited to finally let them see the REAL ME and have this weight lifted off my shoulders. As it turns out, they didn’t even care I was gay. Some of them even said they already knew and were just waiting for me to say something and just tell them!! I don’t know if they know this, but they played a crucial role in my mental well being at the time. I was struggling with who I was and how I wanted to present myself. I was not happy and I was scared I was going to end up alone, because I kept denying and suppressing who I really was. I want them to thank them for accepting ME and loving ME.
Although I had this great breakthrough with my friends, I wasn’t out yet to my family…my brothers knew but my parents did not but I think they had a feeling. You know that saying… “parents always know”.
It wasn’t until my senior year in college that I had my first relationship with a girl. I didn’t know how to sit my parents down and come out to them so I just started bringing my girlfriend around and they eventually caught on. They didn’t really say anything and I could tell they were uncomfortable talking about it—especially my mom. I was okay that they didn’t really talk about it. What was more important was that they didn’t treat me any differently.
I wish I could say it has gotten easier to talk openly about my sexuality with my parents over the years. I can still tell my mom gets uncomfortable with it. I will say that it is continuing to get better, and surely someday…we can be open about it. We are not all the way there yet. Nobody is perfect and we could all have dealt with it better, but at the end of the day, they are still, and have been, there for me. And sometimes, that’s all you need, and honestly…all that matters..
Being gay and going through an identity crisis has definitely shaped who I am as a person. It has taught me to be strong minded and to honestly love myself to the fullest. I am proud of who I am, proud of my community, and the progress that has been made. I’m grateful to have a support system of friends and my family, especially my brothers and cousins who have been my rock through it all.
At the end of the day, I am comfortable in my skin, I love my community, and most importantly…I am HAPPY.
If I can give advice to women going through something similar—TAKE YOUR TIME.. Everyone goes at their own pace and don’t let anyone force you into coming out or guilt you for being hesitant, confused, or “figuring things out”. Find a support system that fits your needs.
There are many resources available if you cannot find support from your family or friends. Some great resources are your local LGBTQ center and LGBTQ hotline. Last but not least, HAPPY PRIDE MONTH!
- Christina (Tina) Refuerzo