“The other day, I came across a profile that said ‘no spice or rice’ and another that said ‘love Asian food – just not Asian men’. It was horrible, but I mean, you’ve got to laugh.”
Carlos is inspiring. Despite growing up as one of the only Asian families in a rural community, and having to negotiate his sexuality around his family’s cultural expectations, he is proud to be gay, and equally as proud of his Asian roots. This defiant pride is inspiring in itself.
Carlos was born in the Philippines, but moved to Wangaratta when he was young. “It felt hard for me, though, at the time, coming from a religious background with no gay Asian role models.”
There wasn’t anyone in his family, school or friendship circle who was part of the LGBTQIA+ community. “I didn’t know anyone who was openly out, especially in Wangaratta,” he remembers. “The only Asian person that I took notice of in the media, when I was growing up, was Jackie Chan.” It’s true; Screen Australia found that, in 2015, only 7% of main characters in Australian television were of Asian, African or Middle Eastern descent, despite accounting for 17% of the Australian population—And that’s not even considering a gay character.
Carlos went to Church twice a week until he was 20; his parents are part of a Filipino denomination of Christianity. “It’s an important part of my parents and older sister’s lives, however my other siblings and I are less involved in the religion.”
“I think there is a lot of expectation that comes from parents of Asian decent, which they place onto their children,” he notes. “When my parents migrated to Australia for a better life, they wanted their children to have more than what they did. They worked hard to give their children a solid education and a better start in life.”
With this opportunity, there is also the expectation that their children will succeed, such as getting into university, finding a solid job, meeting a partner and starting a family. “Having a homosexual child doesn’t normally fit into this equation.”
He first became aware of his sexuality when he was quite young. “I used to watch 90210 with my sisters and I remember thinking that Luke Perry was cute.” He loved competing in athletics and playing Barbies. He also played football in primary school because, as a boy, he thought he had to. When he was going to high school in Wangaratta, he felt the need to hide his sexuality; after all, it was the mid 2000’s and he was in a rural town with only one openly gay person in school. His family was also one of the only Asian families at his first high school and, when he was in his teens, he rejected his family’s culture because he wanted to fit in.
He was bullied a lot. It wasn’t as though he was embarrassed of his heritage when he was younger; he just didn’t want to be different to his peers and to be ridiculed for it. So, it wasn’t until after high school, at 18, when he came out to his friends and siblings. They were supportive, as they’d always defended Carlos at school throughout the bullying.
He was initially reluctant to tell his parents, given their religious views. But, At 20, he told his mother. He told her that he was gay, and also depressed. She responded that, if it was the one thing that was going to impend on him living his life, then he had nothing to worry about. Carlos then asked her to tell his father because he was too scared to see his reaction. “I saw him a few months afterwards (my parents still lived in Wangaratta while I lived in Melbourne),” he notes. “And he told me he loved me as whoever I was. It felt like a weight was lifted. My life really turned around after that point.”
However, after a recent family holiday, Carlos discovered that his father’s side of the family had no knowledge of him being gay – despite coming out over a decade ago. He considers himself quite lucky, though; it’s not always easy to come out to your parents, especially when they have strong religious beliefs. “I think it’s hard to come out for anyone regardless of ethnic background,” he says.
But, to Carlos, ‘coming out’ isn’t necessarily essential anymore. “Your sexuality isn’t anyone else’s business.” This is especially pertinent when considering his work as a stylist, a field that arguably allows for greater expression of sexuality than most career paths. “My work is an extension of who I am, and I have produced work that reflects my sexuality. That’s the beauty of working in the creative industry – you can do whatever you want in your own personal work.”
That being said, as an Asian man, does he think it is harder to fit into the LGBTQIA+ community? “I think we have a presence, and a particular pool of men that are into us. However, if the whole community were going to rank what race they would prefer to be with, I think we would be on the bottom.”
With this in mind, what would he say to his 15-year-old self? With no queer Asian role models in his rural community to look up to, and with casual racism flourishing within the community, Carlos is a defiant product of his time.
“You’re not alone. There are many people out there just like you. You will always be loved for whoever you are.”
Louis Hanson is freelance writer, student at the University of Melbourne, and LGBTQIA+ youth advocate. Instagram: @louishanson ; website: louishanson.com. Carlos’ Instagram: @carlosmangubat.
Image: Chris Mangubat (Instagram: @babysweetmango).