“The Brown Skin That I Am In”: Gay Filipino-American Finds Empowerment In Diversity.

by Christian Tanja

Hi, my name is Christian Tanja and I’m from Bakersfield, California.

A few years ago, when I was in college, I was sitting down at a restaurant with my then-boyfriend at the time, and we were sitting for a regular date night kind of meal between two boyfriends. The waiter comes by, takes our order. I try my best to really get to know people around me, so I’m kind of almost fishing for his eyes. But I don’t get a glance and I really don’t think anything of it because it’s taking an order and so he goes back and pushes that in. Then the waiter comes back to serve and again I guess I’m really insistent at this point, trying to get a glance from the waiter. There wasn’t, again, a look there. And then I started to get a sense of a pattern from that. That the waiter just wasn’t giving me much attention. The waiter brings over the bill and still does not, kind of, acknowledge me and doesn’t really sense my presence there and it’s kind of weird to me.

So I bring it up with my boyfriend and it was a crazy thought but, “I think, I don’t think he’s really paying much attention to me. And it might be because you’re white that, you know, this is the reason why they’re not looking at me.”

And I remember him saying, “Oh, that’s – it’s not a big deal. There’s not really… maybe he’s just kind of having a day of sorts, but it really, I don’t think it’s anything about race.” My understanding of race and also how much value there is tied to it started to become more apparent to me and that started to really create a divide between me and my then ex-boyfriend, where I said if I can’t feel heard or valued for my opinions and my feelings, then that’s something that was really important to me. So that ultimately led to, I think, a break-up.

So a few months after that break up, I still had that conversation echoing in my mind. At the same time, I was feeling like there was a void that I needed to fill – a musical void.

One of my friends said, “Hey, you should audition for the Gay Men’s Chorus of L.A.”

And I was like, “What? There’s something that exists that kind of combines those things together?” And that’s where I decided to go to a concert. As the curtain comes up, I am just kind of shocked. I was just like, they’re so – it’s not what I had – I guess I didn’t know what to expect, but what I did see was I was able to see myself up on that stage. There were a handful of Filipino singers, smiling and really loving life and enjoying themselves and being fabulous, and I said, wow, that could actually be me. Immediately after, I sought out the the details of how to audition and that fall, that subsequent fall, I was like, this is where I gotta be. So it was a life changer and I think from then, I had a whole new thing to be dedicated to.

So in 2011, an opportunity, a new professional opportunity came up where I was doing some recruitment for UCLA, my alma mater. I was working in the admissions office. The opportunity to work in China came up. I, of course, ran to the gay men’s chorus and my mentors there to get a sense of how crazy would it be if I move to China.

And, resoundingly, all my mentors said, “Go do it!”

Within three months time I had made the decision to leave what I love, to leave my family, to leave everything that was important to me, and move across the Pacific Ocean to this foreign country. I moved to China with kind of a new perspective and it started to really come to life. I started to see the ways in which diversity have been – are celebrated, unlike in the United States, where I feel like there was a common version of what was attractive, which was probably, which was being white and being fit. I started to see different versions of a different beauty standard. So you start to see models and celebrities and, even just being around more more Chinese guys, my own chemistry changed. And I feel like I was starting to see are attractive in a different way. Even with my dating life, I start to get a lot more messages because I think I was just kind of different.

I started to feel empowered and certainly – empowered and just kind of celebratory about a lot of new different features, including ones of myself. Including the brown skin that I am in, and including my upbringing in California and all of the different quirks and idiosyncrasies that I possess. I think that I started to get a better view of myself and I started to really kind of love myself for who I am.

One of the gifts that China left me with was this realization that being different is something worth being empowered by. It’s all about finding ways to be empowered by who you are and who you are is great.

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