Coming out, for me, meant making the decision to let those important people in my life know about my identity. It was never targeted towards anyone specific. When I came out, it was like opening up Pandora’s box a little more each time. It wasn’t something malevolent but a realization of myself. I told different groups of people: my friends, my family, my teachers...and my team. Accepting myself for who I am suddenly made me embrace this part of me. I was experiencing what my friend had described as “coming out fever.”
Growing up, I've always been made to believe that being anything but straight was wrong and sinful. Throughout my childhood, I've always been made fun of for being different. Most of the teasing ran along the line of me being gay. And through those times, I was in denial about my own sexuality.
I started to question or think about myself during the spring of 2012. During that time, I was still afraid of being gay. I feared that I might experience even worse bullying than when I was younger. Seeing stories about out teenagers being harassed and beaten to death produced that fear inside of me.
I wanted to experiment and fully come to terms with myself. So, I decided to identify as bisexual. I felt that it was a safer approach to coming out. I was still in denial of my sexuality and being bisexual, to me, made me feel better that I had the option of choosing a guy or girl. The first person that I came out to was my friend, Briahna. It was strange, yet exciting. I don't know why but when I came out to her, she just acted as if everything was fine. I asked her if it was okay to her that I was bisexual. The most reassuring and confirming response she gave me was, "Yeah, you're still Lypheng to me. So what?" I went through the rest of my sophomore year and half of my senior year telling myself that I was bisexual. The turning point was when I went out with a girl in sophomore year. Though it only lasted three months, it helped me figure out that I wasn't bisexual. As the relationship went on, it became static. I felt no connection being with a woman.
I remember coming out to my family like it was yesterday. I looked fine physically, but inside, I felt an array of fear. I feared what my future will look like if they rejected me. I feared disappointments. As a high school student, I was still at a vulnerable stage. I didn’t want to be placed in a situation where I would be kicked out of my home, because that might be a possibility. I wasn’t ready to support myself financially or have the option to leave home out of my own will. I didn’t want them to be ashamed of me. The fear that they would never accept me for who I am resonates in my head. This fear came from growing up and recognizing the traditional and strict way of life. The closed-mindedness was what I saw throughout my childhood. February 13, 2013. I remembered it so well because it was the day before Valentine's Day. What I expected, but hoped not to get, was a confused and disappointed expression that appeared on my parents’ face, like how icing slides off of a cake that hasn't chilled yet. That’s exactly what I saw.
Slowly, they tried to persuade me and propagandize me into thinking that I was just delusional and confused. My lack of articulation and sophistication in my native tongue, Khmer, proved to be a struggle with explaining who I am and that it was imperative that they accept me for who I am. This was an emotional experience that I thought might happen. Threats of selling the house and moving away because of being ashamed were the outcome.
While I did consider the potential negative reactions from my family, I freaked out and decided to finally come out to my Students Run Philly Style team, Team Love Park. Support flew in and it just came from there. My teammates and running leaders were reaching out to me and reassuring me that it will get. They all provided me with words of encouragement, stating that my sexuality never defined who I was in the first place. It was my genuine personality that made me a part of the team.
I decided to come out to my teachers as well when I described to them the situations that I was facing. My AP Chemistry teacher, who was also my track coach, even e-mailed me back showing his support. At that point, it was reassuring that even my track coach accepted me for who I am. From then on, I just assumed that my track team would be okay with who I am. I never fully told them at once that I am gay. Perhaps it was a misguided thought for me not to tell my team since they would probably act as if it wasn't an important thing to say. However, by now words had already spread throughout the school about my sexuality. One of my teammates from my track team said to me that “[he] didn’t see the point of treating somebody different because they are different”. Another teammate had expressed to me that “it doesn’t matter because [I] like sports (running) and [my] sexuality does not affect [my] athletic ability”.
As of today my sexuality is dismissed at home and with the rest of my extended family. I just accept it- never talking about it to them or bringing up LGBT topics in front of them, not even my brother, because it would feel extremely uncomfortable. I knew they would just look at me and feel that shame, that overbearing weight on their shoulder that their son is gay. Aside from my family’s disapproval, I am glad that I did not receive any hostility from the students in my school.
Even in the face of receiving disdain from my family, I find that the best thing about all of this is the fact that I have released that tension and that pressure inside of me about my sexuality. I remember reading about someone saying, "Being gay is the new trend. Everyone one is coming out now.” Even though “everyone is coming out” it is still difficult, as a high school student, to do this on my own. With the support of my friends, and most importantly, my teams from Students Run Philly Style and school, who are my second family, I realized that I was not alone in this. I was a part of a team.