[OPINION] Becoming the secret

Joshua Labonera
[OPINION] Becoming the secret

Illustration by Guia Abogado

'I lived out the rest of our years together not only as someone who kept his secrets, but also as his biggest secret'

It’s not unusual for a gay man, even in our time, to hide his gender preference. Sure, it’s 2021, but the fear remains for many of us in the LGBTQ+ community. Although many have already come out of the closet and have chosen to live their lives as they please, some still choose to conceal their true selves for reasons that are valid, and somewhat not new.

Many fear rejection from their relatives, who choose to ignore the signs and remain conservative in their views regarding gender and sexuality. Some worry about the acceptance of their peers, both personal and professional, fearing they would be shut away from the lives they currently live. Some are also troubled by what coming out means for their future, especially if they still rely on their families, friends, or peers for support, whether it be financial, emotional, or social.

Coming out is a personal choice. It is something only that person can decide on, from the manner, to the time, to the place, to who to tell first. No one else can make that decision for them nor cite reasons for the same.

And when I said no one else could make someone come out, that includes even their partners. 

I’ve had romantic relationships with people who are not “out.” In the first one, I was a bit of a child. I was out while he was not. Everything was nice; everything was going right. True to my youthful fancies, however, I started feeling the limits of this kind of relationship. I couldn’t post photos of us. I couldn’t tag him online on anything I found funny. I couldn’t hold his hand in public. I couldn’t be seen with him in a way that would make others think we were in a relationship. I had to act straight and simply look like his friend when we encountered anyone he knew in public. My younger self soon became frustrated. 

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Eventually, I pestered him about why he didn’t want to reveal his true self. I was angry, confused, and lonely at the same time. And at first, it frustrated me even more when he told me his reasons, because I felt he didn’t love me enough to take the risk anyway. Back then, I thought too much about how it felt to be tucked away by someone I was proud to have.

Soon enough, however, I realized that perhaps it was me who didn’t love him enough. Why would I force him into making the decision to come out? Was it my choice to begin with? Would I be the one to bear the brunt? Why was I making it about myself? Why was I not listening? These were among the many questions that circled my mind. I realized that it wasn’t that he didn’t love me enough; it’s just that there were things in the real world that couldn’t live up to my fairy tale expectations.

That time, I had this idea that love was connected to letting the world know who you love, and it took a lot of effort to dispel that thought from my mind. My love for my partner helped me grow and become more empathetic to those who weren’t as lucky as I was, as I had come out with the confidence that I’d still be loved, supported, and connected to the people I valued.

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I lived out the rest of our years together not only as someone who kept his secrets, but also as his biggest secret. And instead of finding small ways to convince him to come out, I thought instead of giving him as much support as I could. If his family or friends couldn’t give him the assurance he sought from them, he could be sure that I would have his back, whoever he is and however he chooses to live. If there were fears in his sleep that haunted him, fears of rejection or isolation from the people he held dear, I would be someone he could comfortably sleep beside without that anxiety.

We broke up after four years. But I have no regrets. Although I was in pain for about a year, I knew I had given it my all, and that my experience from those years changed me in a positive way.

I learned that love is not measured by how many people know about your relationship with someone, in the same way that living your authentic self is not measured by whether or not you are an out member of the LGBTQ+ community. There is more to us than just that. –

Joshua L. Labonera is a 27-year-old law student currently in his sophomore year at the San Beda University College of Law Mendiola.