It’s five in the morning as of this writing. I have not slept a wink. And because it’s the beginning of Pride Month, I want to make this confession for only recently was I convinced that I did not sin:
I was 11 when I met Mia*. We were seatmates in fifth grade. We hit it off right away because we bonded over anime and growing boobs since we were two of the first girls who started wearing baby bras, which in a Filipino public school setting was quite controversial, of course. Having just transferred from a private Catholic school, I was the quieter one while Mia was more outspoken, headstrong and streetwise. She cussed a lot and knew how to trash talk with our male classmates. Naturally, I admired and respected her.
We started cutting classes to play by the school’s neglected fishpond, first with other friends, and then later by ourselves. This was when I got to know the deeper, more personal side of Mia underneath the tough façade. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about all the stuff we talked about: puppy love, menstruation, why boys liked big boobs, ghosts, fairies and other mythical creatures that we were 99 percent positive were real, and then always back to puppy love.
I discovered how she liked boys a lot, especially those with “butterfly” haircuts (curtain or “kachupoy” style) made popular by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 90s. She was into pocketbooks (romance novels) and couldn’t wait to have a boyfriend. Mia was also awfully caring towards me and answered all my questions. Before I knew it, my only desire was to make her happy.
I was pretty good at drawing anime. Mia loved it! Eventually, all I drew were her requests. We wrote this fictional story about two schoolgirls falling in love with older guys who existed in a parallel universe—yes, we watched too much “Fushigi Yuugi.” It was the shit back then aside from “Pokémon!” I drew all the characters and scenes.
I still remember quite vividly how she smelled: intoxicatingly warm and sweet.
One lazy afternoon, while the teacher was sleeping and the class was preoccupied with its usual lively chaos, I was drawing a kissing scene between two of the characters under Mia’s close supervision. We caught each other’s eye and she whispered to me, “Can you pretend to be my boyfriend?” I was taken aback, nervous but strangely excited. I couldn’t understand what I was feeling.
I followed her into the restroom—each of our classrooms had one inside—and there, we shared a French kiss like how we’d imagined it. I do not know if I was her first, but she was mine.
We had shared many kisses and so much more during those secret trysts in the restroom. We made sure to enter and leave as fast as we could so nobody else would know. Up to now, I still wonder if anybody noticed. Mia, especially, was very careful. At recess time, it was understood that I accompanied her wherever she went, held her hand like a dutiful boyfriend, hugged her when she asked me to.
I also acquired this tendency to be highly protective of her. I once marched up to our male music teacher who was making inappropriate moves on her and said, “Manyak!” under my breath. Enraged, he yelled, “What did you say?!” and tried to grab me. But I managed to run away, frightened and victorious at the same time. We were known to be “best friends,” so I guess no one suspected otherwise.
One day, I invited her for lunch at home. We fell asleep in my bed for about an hour with my arms around her. I still remember quite vividly how she smelled: intoxicatingly warm and sweet. That afternoon, my father confronted me, “Is Mia your girlfriend?” I was dumbfounded. Apparently, he saw us huddled asleep earlier. “What? No! We’re just friends,” I said before storming off to my room. I couldn’t even lock the door because I didn’t have a door back then. At that point, a deep gut-wrenching feeling of fear and shame took over me. I wanted to cry, but I knew I had to keep my cool, lest my father wanted to interrogate me more.
I was barely familiar with lesbians at that time. We had a female classmate who was being wooed by a female sixth grader who dressed and acted like a guy. I didn’t know that I could be a lesbian even if I wasn’t particularly attracted to the sixth grader. I was attracted to feminine girls. Like Mia.
My earliest memory of liking girls was when I was ten. My mother collected women’s magazines and one issue had a young Angelina Jolie on the cover. She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen! I would often kiss her like how my Lola would kiss an image of the Virgin Mary.
My aunt caught me once. She pulled me aside violently and screamed at me, “What are you doing? Girls are for boys! Boys are for girls! Do you not know what happens to those liking their own kind? THEY GO TO HELL!” before slapping both of my hands. I guess that was where my fear and shame originated, because for sure, children are not born with those feelings, right? But when I went to school and spent time with Mia, I’d forget those ugly feelings. I was content and happy, even if it was just a game of pretend for her.
After my failure to secure a spot in the class top ten for the first time, my mother became more stringent with me. She considered Mia a “bad influence,” which actually had some truth in it because all I did was draw for her and cut classes with her. I was crazy about her. My mother made sure that I didn’t spend any more hours in school after classes by hiring my uncle as transportation service. I think she spoke with our class adviser in private, too, because all of a sudden, there were strict rules regarding swift restroom use.
I was devastated. I felt like I was being chased, cornered. Fear and shame resurfaced in the depths of my gut until I felt sick about getting caught with Mia, like I would throw up.
Mia must have noticed my aversion to her because by sixth grade, she did not sit next to me anymore. The last time I remembered holding her was when she was crying over being rejected by her male crush due to her developing prepubescent body odor. I hugged her, assuring her that it was okay. “I’m still here,” I told her softly. She pushed me and said, “You’re not a real boy!” Man, that broke me.
We never said a word to each other since until graduation day. To my mother’s delight, I went up the stage in a pink frilly dress and was awarded six medals. After the ceremonies, Mia approached me and pointed to the medals around my neck, “Must be heavy!” She was smiling. I smiled back but couldn’t bring myself to say anything. I froze until another female friend (platonic) pulled my arm and insisted on introducing me to her mother. Mia said, “Go on, don’t mind me.” And that was the last time I saw her for years.
In high school, I never thought of her. Girls pretty much disgusted me except for my Earth Science teacher whom I found to be extremely attractive. I only had one male crush and never acted on it. In fourth year, a close male friend asked me if he could court me and I said, shrugging, “Sure, I’ll be your girlfriend” like it was nothing. High school was soooooo weird.
College, on the other hand, was better. I saw more types of girls and was fascinated by them anew, with how they looked, what they wore, how they maintained such clean feet even while wearing flip flops around the campus. I began to think of Mia again. I messaged her online a few times but she never replied.
One time, I was learning my way around Friendster or Facebook, I don’t remember, when I stumbled on her profile. She was an out lesbian and she had a butch girlfriend. They posted a lot of sexy poses together. I was beyond shocked because I thought she was into boys.
After college, before deciding to live with a guy, I had another crisis: I was falling for a female colleague. One night, I didn’t sleep and took the bus on a whim to a town outside the city. Just to think. Fear and shame were crippling and paralyzing me again. Guess who I tried to message? Mia.
This time, she replied. But I never mentioned anything about her sexual orientation, although I was itching, dying, to ask her about it. I wanted to see her wherever she was in Manila. I wanted to kiss her again and sleep with her in my arms. But as soon as our conversation starter on anime ended, she never responded to my “Can we meet?”
Long story short, the female colleague I was falling for happened to be as straight as a pole and I ended up in a relationship with this guy for about five years which then led to my giving birth to a beautiful daughter. Unfortunately, he died of an accident before I even delivered the baby. I had everything figured out with him. In a single moment, my world came crashing down. In a single crashing moment, I was widowed before 30.
Mia will always fill a special void in my heart, the preadolescent void that never quite grew up because it was too scared of ugly feelings.
I loved him truly and grieved for a long time without dating anyone, two years to be exact. One April day this year, whilst on lockdown (could very well be the pandemic hormones, I must admit), I woke up with my heart feeling a lot more open to other people. I could have messaged any of my male exes, but I thought only of her. I sent a hopeful greeting to Mia disguised with the nonchalance of “Hey.” She replied. We talked for hours.
Out of the blue, I noticed a change in her last name. I wondered why I didn’t notice it earlier. This prompted me to check her profile: Mia just got f*cking married to a guy! I tried to hide my shock, disappointment and utter sadness by saying, “Hey! You got married! You didn’t say! Congratulations!”
“I’m actually in the hospital right now, I’m expecting to deliver any time soon,” she answered. Mia was going to be a mother, too! As if on impulse, all my negative emotions vanished and were replaced with genuine happiness for her.
I gave her all the tips I could give as a first-time mother myself. I was both laughing and crying while messaging her. Before we said goodbye on the chat app, I knew I had to say it: “I’ve always wanted to tell you but never had the courage to. You will always be my first love.”
I was so nervous typing it and even more nervous while waiting for her response. After a few minutes, she replied, “Same here. You know that.” Needless to say, I ugly cried myself to sleep.
At present, we exchange messages occasionally about breastfeeding and infant care like any normal pair of new mothers, like the best friends we were. I began to answer some DMs from guys and even started a Bumble account. However, Mia will always fill a special void in my heart, the preadolescent void that never quite grew up because it was too scared of ugly feelings.
Sometimes, I find myself looking at my daughter and thinking, “If one day, she realizes that she likes girls in school, I swear I’ll understand her, encourage and protect her at all costs. I will never teach her fear or shame. Only love and pride. After all, children are not born with these feelings. They are taught and internalized until they become life itself.
Mia was not “a phase” as most homophobic conservatives would put it. I know for a fact that I was in love with her for decades while also being romantically involved with men. But there are days when I wonder, “What if I fought for her? What if I was never afraid or ashamed of loving fellow women?” But hey, it’s not too late. I’m alive, I still have time. And just like the wide-eyed eleven-year-old anime-drawing me, I am both nervous and thrilled about so many possibilities! Only this time, no more pretending. A liberating Pride Month, everyone! I wish you strength and courage to last you all your life to love as freely as humanly possible.
*Not her real name
Photo courtesy of Javier Lobregat from our coverage of Pride 2019