One year ago, I made a decision that would change my life as I knew it. For better or for worse, I did not know, but what I did know was that my life would never be quite the same again.
During a spoken word workshop at the Sons & Brothers Camp, a week-long camp designed for young men of color across California, I acknowledged being part of the LGBTQ+ community for the first time. A few weeks later, I came out as bisexual in an article as I reflected back on my experience at camp.
The feeling that came with coming out was unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. Sure, I felt what most feel after a weight being lifted – happiness, relief, comfort – but for the first time in my life, I also felt fear. Actual fear. Being scared of heights or clowns… that’s different. You can avoid those fears; you don’t have to face them if you don’t want to. But telling the world that I’m attracted to both men and women and the implications that may come from doing so, that’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life.
Sexuality isn’t a topic my family and friends talk about. I was nervous to see how the people I love would react to the news, especially my family. They have expressed their sentiments toward the LGBTQ+ community and it scared me that, even though I was still the same person, they wouldn’t see me as that person anymore, but as an abomination.
The blog was published and I remember sitting in class when it did. I became uneasy knowing that my private life was out there, but as the day went on, the outpouring of love and support diminished those feelings of unease.
But, despite that, I waited for a phone call from someone in my family telling me that I’m a disgrace.
That call never came.
The next time I saw my family, most said they read the blog but their lack of response baffled me. So, they either 1) lied and didn’t actually read it 2) read it and didn’t understand it or 3) I may have misjudged their character and they accept me for who I am. Either way, it was a relief knowing that I didn’t have to deal with their traditional Christian ideology at such a pivotal moment of my life. I might have to address the situation one day, but that’s future Johnsen’s problem.
Although the responses to my article have been, for the majority, positive, there were some instances where they could have been better.
While no one flat out refused to accept who I am, some did try to invalidate my sexuality. Because bisexual people, especially bisexual men, don’t exist, right? We’re just confused or going through a phase, right? Because you can either be gay or straight: you can’t be both. The B in LGBTQ+ sure doesn’t stand for badass, so… *man shrugging emoji*
Bi invisibility and erasure is so, so real. But that’s for another time, another article.
In the year after I came out, there was a huge shift in my life – a positive one. I’m more open and confident in myself. My friends have noticed it and so have my colleagues, and they all say that this is what they’ve been waiting for from me. I may still come off as reserved from time to time, but this newfound confidence is changing my way of life, professionally and personally.
Being honest about my sexuality opened the door to love, a concept I never even gave a second thought because I was so busy with living my life. Experiencing romantic love for the first time with an amazing partner is a feeling like no other. Getting your heart broken by that amazing partner is a feeling like no other also. But heartbreak, that’s all part of the journey, right?
Anyway. I’m happy. I’m finally the best and truest version of myself and it wouldn’t have been possible if I never attended the Sons & Brothers Camp.
Fast forward to a year later, the present, I returned to the Sons & Brothers Camp. Stepping off that bus after hours of travel (with a working air conditioner this time, thankfully) and taking in the familiarity and the safety of last year honestly felt like coming back home after being away at college for a year.
Being back in this space brought immense joy to my heart. I wasn’t that pessimistic person from last year thinking the worst of what the week was going to look like. I looked forward to strengthening the bonds I had already established with the returning elders, mentors and youth and creating new connections too. I was ready.
Like the previous year, I was invited to the camp to be part of the youth media team, only this time, as a mentor. My time at camp was a lot different than it was last year; I wasn’t able to participate as much, but being able to do what I love made up for it.
I didn’t expect to take away anything from camp this year, heavy with media duties and all, but to my surprise, I did. A lot of my experience last year was centered around self-acceptance and self-love. This year was all about self-discovery.
Trail groups and open recreation time were not on my agenda this time around, but I was still able to get the camper’s experience through the cultural workshops. I joined the drumming circle with Baba Mosheh.
On the third day of the workshop, Baba asked us where we were from. We answered with the city where we live, but that wasn’t the question. Baba wanted to know where our ancestors were from. Still a simple answer, right? We’re from the Philippines. But then Baba asked me if we had drums in my culture and I didn’t have a definitive answer, but I was sure we did, so I just said yes.
Since then, all I could think about was how my culture and my family’s history is lost on me. And, while I can speak and understand Tagalog fluently (which is already more than what most of my Filipino friends know) it stops there.
My parents never told me stories about what it was like before our family came to America. I only ever met one grandparent, and that was short-lived. Maybe it’s my fault for never asking questions, but to have an unknown history pains me.
I’m here learning about West African drums and movements and I can’t even name the part of the Philippines where my mother and father are from. How can I start learning about other cultures when I don’t even know my own? So, I’m going to do exactly that. I’m going to discover my culture and my history and, in the process, I hope that provides some self-healing as well.
Camp this time around was a bit different, but once again, it was an experience I won’t forget.
So I want to send a shout out to my cabin mates a.k.a. the youth media team. This week wouldn’t have been possible without your friendship, support and hard work. You’re some of the greatest folks I’ve gotten the pleasure to work with and I hope we’ll be able to collaborate again in the future – just don’t bring turkey sausages, please.
And one final thing before I end this blog, because I’m sure some of you are curious (I would after I complained about it so much in last year’s post), but I brought stronger insect repellent this time and IT. DID. NOT. WORK. I still got bit – and not just by mosquitos, but I think I got bit by a spider too because one bite does not look or feel like the rest.
Thank you to everyone at the Sons & Brothers Camp for making this a great experience for me. I take back with me your stories, your struggles, your friendships. You are all blessings, you are all sacred and I love and appreciate each and every one of you. Palabra.