I am a Filipino American, born and raised along the shore of New Jersey. I speak poor Bisaya, but I understand it well enough. I eat rice and Filipino food every day and all my friends growing up were Filipino. Although I have had a firm grasp of my ethnic identity, I struggled with my sexuality. When I was young, my parents looked to “correct” any seemingly feminine behavior. This disruption to my natural essence made me feel lonely and depressed as I explored what it meant to be gay. I sought solace and healing in romantic visions of being in love with someone magnificent and whole — a man I could run away with and be myself around. Despite these cotton candy reveries, it never occurred to me that being gay and Asian would and should ever intersect.

I started noticing boys when I was in high school. White boys, mainly. I fantasized about dating a confident white jock whom I would kiss in the sea, or lay with in bed when my parents weren’t home. I wanted the ruinous romance of teenage secrecy — two boys caught in a forbidden love, committing lush sin in the softest corners of my strict and conservative Catholic household. But that never really happened.

In my first two years of college, I retained the preference for white boys that I never thought to question. When I transferred to Rutgers University, which has over 60,000 students, the playground became infinitely more diverse. I came across handsome men of all races throughout campus, from White, to Black, to Hispanic, to Asian, and everyone in between. I became boy crazy— swooning over cute guys in the dining hall or while walking to class, daydreaming that they would talk to me and ask for my number. This never really happened. However, I was thankful that I started to embrace men of all backgrounds.

Like many young college gays, I was thrilled by the possibilities of meeting boys at parties and being invited to their rooms to play in the dark. I delved deeper into the gay community by frequenting clubs and downloading Grindr. Unfortunately, these new, anonymous online connections brutally demystified my naïveté and I realized just how racist the gay community can be. When I entered the digital world, I was welcomed by a river of rejection that cut through all politeness, embodied in a sentiment that devalued my existence: “I’m not into Asians.”

Grindr is replete with trash, the worst being white men who bluntly reveal their hardline discriminations and “anti”-preferences. Oftentimes it’s a different mix of “No Blacks, No Fats, No Femmes, No Spice (Latinos), No Rice (Asians),” or for clarity, “NO ASIANS.” I often wonder, “How come everyone that writes this kind of shit happens to be white?” I very rarely see American men of color express racist proclamations with statements like “No x,” “No y,” or “No z,” and I believe it’s because we share a collective experience of discrimination as minorities. The rare ones who do reject their own race most likely suffer from an insidious form of self-hatred.

In America, you hear the following: “You’re cute for an Asian” or “You’re cute for a black guy, an Indian, a Mexican, etc.” It’s as if it were unnatural for any of us to be attractive. White men are universally heralded as God’s gift to man, but only because we make that so. What I really want to say is: we need to stop viewing white men as the ultimate ideal. This is unhealthy and incredibly damaging to our self-esteem and queer communal camaraderie as people of color. It’s also a falsely engineered illusion deeply ingrained from centuries of colonialism by people who sought to civilize us because we weren’t “enough.”

Dear Kababayan, free yourselves from the chains of overrated Euro-centric beauty standards and acknowledge your own uniqueness. See yourself as you’re meant to be seen. It took time for me to genuinely believe this, but I am no less valuable, nor less beautiful than a similarly attractive Caucasian man. My features paint a unique aesthetic that I’m proud of, allowing me to confidently carry a shade of beauty the world isn’t used to acknowledging as “handsome.”

Back in 2015, I visited the Philippines for four weeks and quietly realized something of major significance. On my first night out, I partied in Mango Square in Cebu and surprisingly, numerous guys came up to me (a rarity in the States). They started talking to me, asking where I was from and how I was liking the Philippines. I soon was surrounded by handsome men who seemed to enjoy my looks and company. They were holding my hand, playfully squeezing me, kissing me on the cheek, and wanting to take me to the bathroom. When I’m out in the states, I’m lucky if I get one guy to dance with me by the end of the night. Since we all shared similar ethnic identities in the Philippines, I felt I was being valued closer to my true worth. No one was weirdly gauging me by my race — skin tone perhaps — but I didn’t have to worry about being looked over simply because I’m Asian.

A wave of recognition slowly emerged in my brain — a realized exhilaration between Filipino lovers. Two island souls intertwined, his brown body on mine. Heated skin on skin and lips on lips, moving to the same beat among the swaying palms. Native bodies as temples that know each other, that recognize the other’s tongue, and stunningly coalesce in empowering ways. Twin hearts soaked with our inimitable culture, dancing in the crystal blue waters with hearts alight.

Before my epiphany had bloomed however, I never seriously pictured myself with a Filipino, or any Asian for that matter. And it’s because I didn’t love myself enough. How could I believe I loved myself when I rejected seeing my own likeness reflected and embodied in front of me?

When I returned to the states, I matched with a bad ass and beautiful Filipino guy on Tinder, who messaged me first with “Kamusta ka?” We texted for a few weeks and found plenty of shared interests and perspectives. He eventually ghosted me, but by then I had made crucial discoveries through our conversations. For one, I felt safe and secure about sharing my family issues and religious/sexual battles with him because he was Filipino. I thought, “Here’s someone who can fully understand what I’m about. Who understands the intimate depths of family values and expectations and why God is still important to me.” The mere thought of exploring these together and supporting each other through our struggles felt liberating. I floated along the euphoric possibilities of being truly embraced for my Filipino essence and complex being. Although he was never “the one,” I’ve learned that a genuine connection with another Filipino is an irreplaceable revelation, one that feels like being wonderfully wrapped in the arms of home.

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