The November/December Issue of [X]Press Magazine came out, and this time, it focuses on the diverse cultures/subcultures of San Francisco. There’s a plethora of good stories: a transgender’s identity story, female skaters, clown college, Japanese lolita style, the resurrection of punk rock accordion, the nostalgia of vinyl records, bromances, douchebag culture, the gap year, underwater hockey, the aftermath of Ketsana in the Filipino community, African Americans migrating out of San Francisco, the underground of role-playing games. There’s a lot to love. I took great care with my story: Road to Love, the personal story of a woman’s coming out process. Here’s the link to all the goodies, [X]press, and my own story down below. Enjoy! =)
Road to Love
By Chris Huqueriza, associate editor and staff writer
photographs by Karli McAllister
November 16, 2009
On an unusually humid day in the streets of downtown San Francisco, a young twenty-eight-year-old girl reminisces. Rochelle “Chelly” Santiago built the perfect family that so many young girls aspire for: marry the perfect man, create a beautiful child, and snatch a lucrative and stable job. The cycle would continue with the prequisite family reunions, weekend outings, and dinner parties. She created the atomic family that can only be seen through television shows so that her family would be proud. She maintained this lifestyle for almost four years, but her mind always lingered on the hard fact that something was missing.
“I [was] happy, but something [was] wrong,” Santiago says with a puzzled look as she flips through a copy of Nylon Magazine inside a bookstore. Santiago knew she was gay and that she could not continue living a lie.
Growing up gay is hard. The homophobic slurs or the fear of acceptance can take a toll on anybody. According to a 1987 study by the Journal of Homosexuality, eighty percent of LBGT youths experience feelings of isolation.
Santiago sits in the bookstore, exuding a mood of vibrancy as her arms fly through the air and she speaks a mile a minute. Her partner, Leila, sits beside her in awe of Santiago ‘s “fierce diva” aura. Leila sports a dark grey sweater and dark blue jeans, almost identical to Santiago ‘s attire- a decision made by accident. They met online eight years ago during college.
She works for the Art Institute as an assistant director of admissions and sees life as a variety of options to explore. She grew up with strong traditional Christian Filipino beliefs. Her father was in the military and her family was very conservative. Santiago recalls something that her father once said: “Don’t be friends with gay people. They’re nothing but trouble.” Stunned, Santiago thought of what her father might think of her now.
Santiago’s own family never questioned her sexual orientation. She was very feminine growing up- she loved to dress up and play with her Barbie dolls. But at the age of five, she already knew she was gay. “I remember having a playmate and wanting to be with her the whole time,” Santiago says fondly.
In the first week of October, the nation celebrates National Coming Out Day: a day in which gays and lesbians celebrate their pride and encourage others to come out. This special day began after many members of the LBGT community demanded equal rights in a 1988 national march in Washington, D.C.
Hiding her true sexual identity until she was twenty years old, Santiago found support through the online community and met similar women. “In the U.S., it’s just a college thing,” says Santiago. “In the Filipino culture, it’s not. It’s forbidden and looked down upon.” After coming out, she left her boyfriend of two years for a girl. Many of her friends and family disapproved of her life choices. She carried on playing both sides and eventually attended college in the Philippines.
One of the most vital reasons gay and lesbians stray away is because of acceptance and abuse. According to gay rights organization Stonewall’s 2007 report, ninety-two percent of young gay people had been subject to verbal abuse, and forty-one percent to physical abuse.
In April 2005, she went the traditional route and married her boyfriend. Three years later, she was pregnant. But as her marriage carried on, she kept in contact with Reyes.
Santiago recalls 2008 as a bittersweet year, remembering the excuses she made to Reyes about meeting up and their growing relationship. But on a random day in August, Reyes surprised Santiago as she popped through her work doors. Santiago holds Reyes’ hand as she remembers her big smile and hugging for over five minutes. Reyes roomed at Santiago’s apartment and quickly their bond grew.
Reyes remembers their courtship, but she blushes and hides her face through a magazine. She recalls the memories as acting clueless and absent-minded. “I had no idea,” Reyes explains. “She looked like she had the perfect family. I couldn’t ruin that.”
Their courtship progressed through the months and they finally confronted each other about mutual feelings of discontent. Santiago divorced her husband in January 2009 and moved out the following month. “My husband was embarrassed. My friends were looking at me and thinking, ‘What the fuck did you do to your life?’ “I couldn’t go back and say I was bi-curious.”
Santiago plays with her iPhone and wonders if her family is more worried about God’s approval or if they are embarrassed. Santiago felt the backlash as she spent her holidays in solitude.
Santiago’s 22-month-old daughter is the center of her life. “Everybody worries about the child. They’re worried that she will be confused about why she has two mothers,” Santiago says. She has physical custody while her father visits on the weekdays. “In a child’s eyes, love is universal. She’s like a sponge, and if she sees people acting homophobic, she’ll be the same.” Reyes jokes that it is better to have two mothers anyway.
Santiago believes that coming out is a personal journey, and that each individual will know when the time is right. “Or time will figure it out for you,” Santiago laughs as she squeezes Reyes’ hand, showing off their matching commitment rings. [X]