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Land Of The Free

As a flamboyant gay man, I thought moving to the U.S. would finally end my fears. I was wrong.

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I grew up watching America. From American movies, to TV shows and even news programs, it was everywhere. Everything is so much better over there, the people, the food, the jobs and everything in between, this is what I heard all the time. The Philippines is a 3rd-world country. The living conditions there are very different, but I'm not going to lie and say I've lived a hard life. Luckily, I was part of an upper-middle class family. Both my parents had high ranking jobs in big companies. I've studied in private schools ever since I could and I was exposed to quite a few luxuries. Even then, I was still told that moving to America and living the American dream was what we all should aim for.

The thing is, being gay in the Philippines is a very weird thing. We have a lot of popular gay celebrities there, they are rich and very successful, but on the other hand, almost all of them is like a character, a caricature of what it's like to be gay and as a feminine gay male, growing up in a country where 80% of the citizens are Catholics had it's share of challenges. You see, I never really knew I was gay until people started teasing me about it, that's when I realized what I was, I was different. Getting called out and bullied throughout elementary school wasn't too bad for me. I was a feisty kid who would punch the kids who were terrorizing me which got me in trouble a lot and when I told our teacher about it, the only thing she said was that I would go to hell for being gay, I was 12 years old. I learned how to ignore hate at an early age. Even when strangers would yell at me while walking down the street, pointing and laughing at my expense. I even got punched just for "acting like a sissy". All of these things made me realize that the world I was living in wasn't safe, it was hostile and hateful, I had to get out.

In 2010, a few months after I turned 21, my family found out that my grandmother's petition to bring us to the U.S. went through. Everyone was ecstatic, we are finally moving to America! I've had this image in my head what it was like. I could do whatever I want, I can be myself without thinking of my safety, I would finally be free. We packed up all our belongings, said goodbye to everyone we knew and moved to LA, the City of Angels! Hollywood! I was beside myself, I was so excited.

I've been living here for almost 5 years now, I dyed my hair blue, I got tattoos and had my ears pierced. Wore the clothes I wanted to without feeling scared of how people might perceive me, I did everything I wanted and I was happy. I thought I could be myself, finally! without being scared of my safety. But then you watch the news, you see people protesting about marriage equality, you see another gay kid commit suicide because they couldn't bear with the bullying anymore, a transgendered teen gets shunned by her family and that pushes her over the edge. A gay couple gets beaten by strangers and are left on the street to die. I was appalled. This is not the open-minded, free-thinking America I envisioned.

Just a few weeks ago, a few miles from where I live, an African American gay man was beaten by 4 men. They were yelling racial and gay slurs while hitting him, he was just crossing the street, minding his own business. My parents are asking me to tone myself down. They want me to wear "normal" clothes, dye my hair back to back, and act more "straight". They are worried that I'm attracting too much unnecessary attention and while I do know that they are just looking out for me, it's still mind boggling. I just didn't expect that these kinds of things would happen here in America too. Am I naive? maybe, was I expecting too much? probably, but that's what I saw, that's how America was to me.

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