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Growing up as a gay man in a religious country like the Philippines, I consider it a struggle to conform to my country’s expectations to avoid being discriminated. Despite the emerging number of people who are tolerant enough to accept my orientation and the vast exposure of LGBT celebrities in the media, bigotry still exists within the confines of Philippine society to this day.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been a Catholic. At least, I think I was. Being Filipino means you are associated with a belief of the divine. Historically, the Spanish conquistadores (invaders) during the mercantile period used religion as a weapon to control the country for over 333 years. Therefore, religious conservatism still has a strong grip on the social framework of the Philippines. This explains the number of discrimination that I have encountered throughout my life there.
There was more than one occasion in which I was subjected to several inaccurate ideas about my identity. Essentially, several outlets of information in the Philippines have misconstrued the whole idea of sexuality. Through prime-time television shows or short dramatizations, it would often emphasize (but not directly) the idea that sexuality is reversible. Neglecting any form of psychological explanation or at least acknowledging the existence of sexual fluidity or bisexuality. A counterargument in other words to balance it. However, the majority would still assume, through fallacious rationalization and a fatalistic mindset, that God or Jesus intervened, and it was his will that led him or her to the right path. Conclusively, perceiving homosexuality or any other sexuality in particular as a false behavior.
I swallowed all the misconceptions throughout my adolescence. I was pressured and exasperated at the same time as people tried to entertain me to be cured through divine intervention—a loathing desire where a woman would somehow change my orientation through the “power of love”. To me, it was an insult. It disgusted me to realize that underneath my peers’ friendly appearance lies a deceitful expectation that contradicted acceptance. My community is nothing more but a group of lost sheep that needs to be herded. We are tolerated but not accepted.
Maintaining my religion while disapproving its stance with my sexual orientation became a cognitive dissonance for me. It was a futile endeavor as I tried to maintain a neutral ground. As much that I wanted to inform and defend myself over the errors regarding sexuality, it was a difficult task to make a distinction between misconceptions and hereditary indoctrination. Often, those two were entangled with one another. A challenge on my part since several people have dismissed empirical or psychological evidence for superstition and hetero-normative beliefs.
Frustrated as I was, I still don’t want to scrutinize my religion back then for the fear of being branded as an outcast, a demon or a Satanist. However, any person would have noticed how religion is ingrained in being a Filipino in which it hindered social progress. Its authority has a strong influence on the minds of both my country and the government. Any form of disagreements regarding the authority of the church is considered taboo to a certain extent.
The interweaving aspect between religion and cultural identity was once a deep conflict within the recesses of my heart. Until finally, I learned how to unshackle myself from its narrow-minded views and ultimately liberated myself from conformity. Distancing from religion would mean alienating myself from the people I know and the identity I possess. But confining myself to a set of doctrines which I cannot force myself to follow is a matter of absolute honesty to myself, both mental and spiritual. A trait at least that I could be proud of.