God, girls, and growing up in a Catholic school
I used to always want my hair long. Seeing my hair shorter or at shoulder-length made me feel less like a girl. I went into high school with this image of what a girl should look like: long hair, pretty, likable. I would later start to question: is this how I want to present myself, or is this someone I want to be with?
At the age of 11, it didn’t seem weird for me to like girls. It was something that felt pretty natural. I was in an all-girls school and there were other people that said they liked girls as well. I had friends that said that they have had crushes on classmates and I thought that it probably wasn’t a big deal. It was just growing up.
That pretty much changed in high school. No boy cuts, no crossdressing, no relationships with other members in class. To see those rules in the handbook made it feel like there was something wrong about dressing more masculine and liking someone of the same sex. With that, I always kept my hair long. I would tie my hair in a ponytail after the recess break. I always tried to wear blouses and dresses. I would try to make myself look feminine to show that I was straight.
I would feel guilty whenever the topic of same-sex marriage was used in English class debates or a point of discussion in Christian Living Education. I was somewhat scared that if I did talk about these things passionately, my teachers might call my parents and have a discussion, saying, “Your child might like girls.”
When I was 15, I accepted that I did, in fact, like girls. Despite the different interactions our school organized with partner all-boys schools, I would still feel my heart flutter after a smile from a batchmate I found beautiful, the same way I would gush about a guy I found charming. I read more about being queer and would see schoolmates talk about their crushes in the batch, and it felt normal.
Despite the rules, people still acted on their feelings. It made me feel like, maybe one day, I could be in a relationship with a girl. I had my hair cut in a long bob that lightly grazed my shoulders. I wore flannels and button-downs rolled up to my elbows matched with jeans because that made me comfortable with who I was. It was also my way of telling people in school in a subtle way that “Hey, I’m part of the community, too”: a means of me trying to fit in with all the people that said they were queer.
Talking to my teacher about how I liked a girl and them just treating it like it was the common woes of high school love made me feel secure,
It was also the year where I started questioning my place in the Church. I would sit in the pews and wonder how many people would want to kick me out if they knew I was attracted to the same sex. I would think about how I would probably end up in hell for liking girls. There were nights that I prayed: “God, please make me a good person” because there was a part of me that believed that being queer has given me a headstart on my journey to at least purgatory.
I deviated from these thoughts a lot with the help of classmates and even teachers. I remember an activity in Grade 10 English where we could redesign the different circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno. One of the first adjustments our class did was to move all sodomites to the second circle of Hell. My class felt it was unfair to give a greater punishment to someone just because they did something sexual with the same sex. I had conversations with my teachers in senior high school about my sexuality, and asked them for advice about handling my feelings. Talking to my teacher about how I liked a girl and them just treating it like it was the common woes of high school love made me feel secure that I wasn’t going to be punished just because I was experiencing what it meant to have a crush.
By my last year of high school, I kept my hair short and swapped my long-sleeve button-downs for shorter ones. I dressed in more feminine clothes as well because I realized I still liked dressing that way to some extent. It was also the year where I was more comfortable with my gender expression and sexual orientation. It was the year I took pictures with pride flags brought to school and when my class barkada gave a flag of my own, which I keep to this day.
To be validated in a setting that seems to be against my sexuality gives me hope that there will be many others that will accept me and others for being queer. The support system I had listened to me talk about crushes, took pictures of me discovering my sense of style, and laughed with me about the stupid things we would do because we were just figuring out life. Finding out my sexual orientation was just part of that.
Despite my school making it feel like an issue, being queer is just a part of who I am, not the all-defining feature many claim it to be. Even now that I’m in college, there’s still a lot to figure out about who I am and there are others that feel the same. Schools are known to be a second home for many, and if these institutions do not accept them for who they are, I hope that there will be communities within that will.