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In search of lost time

Growing up, I never really fit in.

Having spent 13 years at an all-boys Catholic school, there were parts of myself that I hid—some of my own volition, others in fear of being ostracized for who I was. At home, I hid as well—pressured by the expectations of being an only son and by the standards of manhood set by broader Filipino society. At every turn, I was a proverbial fish out of water: a closeted gay teen in a cisheteronormative world, struggling to navigate life on my own.

I had no gay role models. From a young age, I was primed to believe that you had to be straight to be happy. In almost every piece of popular media I consumed, there it was: the boy unnecessarily meets the girl, the hero saves the day and wins the woman of his dreams. Meanwhile, queer-coded villains were buy one, take one, and what few explicitly gay characters existed were either typecast as the gay best friend™ or dead.

Like a lot of queer folks, most of my teenage years were never mine to live.

While my peers openly bragged about their relationships and trysts with girls, I could only fantasize about having a boyfriend. I never went to prom. I never had a teenage romance. It hurt to know that what was normal and even expected for everyone else was completely out of the question for me. Even on my best days, the dread of being in the closet was all-consuming. I didn’t know how my parents would react if I told them, and the mere possibility of a negative reaction was enough to shut me up. In fact, for a lot of queer youth, getting disowned or sent to conversion therapy isn’t just a hypothetical—it’s their lived reality.

Perhaps the most difficult part of spending most of my teenage years closeted was maintaining the façade that everything was alright despite hurting privately. Every day was a death by a thousand microaggressions. For years, I kept to myself as homophobic jokes and remarks were thrown around at school and at family gatherings—as relatives constantly prodded, “May girlfriend ka na ba?” I can still feel the all-too-familiar sinking in my chest that followed. It was the grief I’d turn into poetry.

(Do you have a girlfriend yet?)

Even now that I’m out of the closet, I carry with me the phantoms of its pain and isolation. It’s been two years, but two years isn’t nearly enough time to heal what feels like a lifetime of repression. When I graduated from high school, I didn’t feel joy as much as I did relief. Relief in the idea that going to university would let me live authentically—to reclaim the years that were never mine. For a moment, I did.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, barely two terms into my freshman year.

I still remember the day everything came to a halt—how excited we were about getting a week off, how high our hopes that everything would soon go back to normal. Nearly a year and a half later, that naïve optimism is gone. It felt so disheartening to once again have to put a pause on my life. It still feels disheartening now. Sometimes I catch myself wondering what could’ve been if the pandemic had never happened. Would I have been a better person than I am now? How much more would I have learned? What lifelong memories would I have made?

Despite this, I feel fortunate to have come out when I did—to have come out at all. For a lot of queer youth, staying in the closet is their only option, especially now that we’re all forced to stay at home. There is perhaps no crueler a fate than being the closeted child of explicitly homophobic and transphobic parents.

While I yearn for the day when our lives are finally ours to live, for right now, all I can do is keep on my journey in search of lost time.

By Jasper Ryan Buan

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