We’re asking the questions to increase awareness and understanding of the LGBTQIA+ community during Pride Month.
Mychall Cornejo is the Marketing & Design Coordinator for Rockford Area Venues and Entertainment. Cornejo is also a Choreographer at Rock Valley College’s Starlight Theatre. Here’s his story and what he wants you to know…
1. How old were you when you started questioning who you were?
I’ve always known I was different from others around me, but I never really knew what it was. I came from a different country, spoke multiple languages, came from a separate culture from my friends, and moved around quite a bit at a young age.
Sexuality wasn’t often talked about when I was growing up under a catholic household, so I grew up pretty oblivious and ignorant. It wasn’t until late middle school or high school that I started having crushes on both sexes that I even started questioning who I was.
Many in my school always made fun of anyone who was into guys, so I never told anyone that part of me. Especially since I still found women attractive. I mainly just kept busy and found myself incredibly involved in many aspects of my High School.
I’m pretty sure it was when I was introduced to the theatre world by Melissa Wolf, the theatre director at GHS, that I even had the slightest thought there would be any group of people open about non-heteronormative sexualities. That pretty much began my journey to finding out who I really was.
2. How old were you when you came out?
I wish I had one answer to this question. Truth be told, even today, I’m still continually “coming out.” It’s a never-ending process because everywhere I go, I am always finding someone new to “come out” to, whether it’s due to work connections, meeting friends of friends or family, or random strangers I happen to strike up a conversation with. If I were forced to only have one answer, I suppose I would say 20 years old.
3. How did you come out?
This is a loaded question for me because when I think of this question, I always think of the bad first. I had come out to a handful of people, but I never considered it official until I was able to tell my parents. I applaud and am envious of those with only happy stories to tell, and I will get to the happy stories in a later question, but for this one, I didn’t have a choice. Of course, I had already thought of thousands of situations where I could officially come out, especially since it was a time I had been following several YouTubers and watched how they came out, but I wasn’t ready to be pulled out of the closet. I wanted to find the best situation to do it, so I was in control.
Instead, I had come home from college to spend a weekend with some family and I remember we were all hanging out in our living room when I got up to go grab something from my bedroom. It was supposed to be a simple trip down the stairs and into my room and back up to join the laughter and fun.
As I went into my room, my mother followed me in, closed the door, and she just stared at me. At this point, I see the look on her face and I could tell she was going to bring up a tough subject.
My mind immediately raced and I thought of every other possibility: I was in trouble for something I did, there was a death in the family, they found out I changed my major again… any and everything went through my mind until the eternal silence was interrupted with my mother’s voice saying, “Is there something you want to tell me?” That question still haunts me to this day because, at the time, I did have things I wanted to tell her, but I wasn’t ready.
My immediate response was “No,” but she persisted. After maybe my third time saying that I didn’t have anything to tell her, her response was, “I read your journal, are you sure there isn’t anything you want to tell me?” At this point, my heart sank and shattered into several pieces because I knew exactly what she was talking about.
My most recent entries had been me trying to figure out my sexuality and about the guy, I was interested in at the time. In that one moment and that one sentence, my spirit was shattered because I was forced to come out and exclaim to my parent who I was without mentally preparing myself and dealing with a feeling of betrayal that they went through my things without my permission.
I was fighting back tears and was able to mumble out, “yes, I think I’m bisexual! or gay, I don’t know!” Saying those words were supposed to be uplifting, but instead, they brought about tears because I was afraid of what was to come next. As I stood there, tears running down my face, my mother continued the conversation, telling me how she and my father had already read the journal and discussed it.
The conversation went on for a bit and it included how my dad was having a hard time accepting his only son might be gay and that they were worried about the tough and brutal life ahead of me. I also remember my mother blaming her side of the family because she has a gay brother, who happened to lead a very tough life due to his sexuality (I had never met him because we live in a different country than our extended family so I never knew).
Now, I don’t want to focus too much on the negative. At least they didn’t kick me out or send me to a conversion camp, which I feared may be an option at the time. Now for some silver lining… I’m not sure what it was, maybe maternal instincts, but at this point, I’m positive my mother may have realized the effects of her words.
She did become understanding and changed her tone. She said she would talk further with my father and get him to come around. She also mentioned that I was not alone and that she would be there for me. In the midst of my tears, she asked what she could do.
The only thing I could mutter out was, “I need to hear you say I Love You and mean it.” Now before anyone freaks out, in some cultures, “I love you” is not a common saying. In our household, actions spoke louder than words and we had never really told each other the words, “I Love You.” So, of course, by this point, my mother who found a way to stop crying, started crying again and said, “Of course I Love You” and eliminated the space between us with a tight hug.
We had a tender moment and my parents did start voicing I Love You’s from then on, but it was a tough road to get there. No, I didn’t get to officially come out to them like my older sister got to do years later, but I like to think that I helped pave the road to help open my parents’ minds a bit.
4. How did you know?
It took so much exploring, experimenting, asking for guidance, and educating myself. Of course, I tried repressing it or just being so incredibly busy that there was no chance to think about it, but in the end, you can’t hide from yourself. It hurts to keep hiding who you are and to keep playing pretend. Seeing other friends find partners and experience romance openly while hiding, only made it worse.
At one point, I’m pretty sure I told myself that I’ll just stay single my whole life or become a priest so that I can make my friends and family happy. A big fault of mine is constantly putting others before myself and at one point I’m pretty sure a friend of mine just told me to live my life and to stop letting other people’s opinions control it. The was at a Colonel Cafe, when I came out to one of my best friends, Megan (Soulmate). Sometimes, all it takes is a friend telling you to stop caring what people think to actually do it.
5. Who did you come out to first?
There are three answers to this question because they were all situational. The first one was my older sister. We often rode together because we were in similar activities. We talked about attractive celebrities and I’m pretty sure we just casually told the other person we liked both sexes. Simple as that. This is how I hope “coming out” becomes in the future. Maybe the next generation doesn’t have to “come out” because it will just be accepted, but I can only hope.
The first person I went to for advice was a friend of mine from a local theatre. Her nickname was “Dobby” and at the time, I didn’t understand my emotions and what signals this guy was sending me. She met me at a coffee shop and explained to me the Kinsey Scale. It was the first time anyone had sat me down and tried to make sense of why I had feelings for men and women. It was a confusing time for me, and she was there to help me through that summer of finding out what being bisexual meant.
Finally, the first person I officially got to “come out” to was my best friend, Emily McDermott. I had been fighting with my sexuality all summer and when I was more comfortable with who I was, I ended up meeting a guy. Now up until this point, I had only dated women.
I couldn’t go on a date with a guy until I told my best friend. I believe the date was September 22, 2011, when she came to visit me in Chicago and we spent the whole day together just sightseeing and having a good time. Little did she know, I spent all day mentally preparing myself to come out to her.
I was so distracted and thought I might chicken out, but at the last minute, we saw a Water Taxi, which had some nice sights in Chicago and it would beat walking. We hopped on and ended up being the only ones on the boat. It was my perfect opportunity. If I didn’t do it then, I would never have this chance again. I shifted our conversation about how I’m going on a date soon. Of course, her response was, “Oh! What’s her name?” I hesitated and after taking a deep breath, I was finally able to mutter out that it was him instead of her.
I thought we would be mad or disgusted or that it would be awkward and silent, but instead, her eyes lit up, and with a big smile, proceeded to ask questions about his name, where we met, what the date was, etc. I, then, began to explain to her that this whole trip was to get her out here to try and come out to her and how it was so nerve-wracking for me because I didn’t want to lose my best friend.
We laughed the whole way back to the train station and before we departed, she made sure to remind me that she loved me no matter what. I remember smiling so big on the train ride back to school.
6. What was the hardest part about coming out?
The hardest part about coming out was losing friends and family. I quickly found out who was my friend based on those who kept talking to me and those who didn’t. The most specific memory happened a few months after my mother confronted me about my sexuality.
We were making good strides to “normal” and even my father was interacting with me normal again. They had even met the person I was seeing at the time. It was a tough road with lots of tears and many bumps along the road, but I thought I was ready to post about my boyfriend at the time.
We had been in pictures before but it was the first time, I had officially called him my boyfriend and had a picture of us kissing. Within hours, my sister contacts me about how the parents are being bombarded by emails, messages, phone calls, and all the sorts of communication from family back in the Philippines about this picture I had posted. It was the same thing all over again. “Why would I choose this life?”, “It’s going to be such a hard life ahead”, “Doesn’t he know that’s wrong”, etc.
Believe me, when I say, my soul was crushed. I remember tears flowing down out of anger and frustration. Impulsively, I immediately unfriended every single person from my family on Facebook, except for my immediate family.
I made sure to block them or at least make sure my profile was on private so there was no way of viewing it or contacting me. Over the course of the next several months, family members did start reaching out and apologizing and reading me, explaining themselves, and telling me they loved me. I know my mother had something to do with it, but I did accept their apologies eventually. So to recap the answer, the hardest part is sometimes that initial reaction.
You never know how someone is going to react. And oftentimes, their first reaction is never how they truly feel. The world has just attached such cruelty and negative connotations with being part of the LGBTQIA+ community, that it’s a misunderstanding. It doesn’t mean that those initial reactions don’t hurt though…
7. What was the easiest part? Was there an easy part?
I’m not sure if there was an easy part to coming out. I can for sure say that it does get better and that it does get easier. After coming out for the 100th time, it becomes easier.
Until recently, I was still afraid to mention anything at a place of work because of the fear of being fired. Spotlight, or currently known as CYT, let me go from teaching dance to their kids due to being who I am.
They never outwardly said it, but they didn’t let me lead my team through the big production of the summer, along with several other people in the company who were of LGBTQIA. Though what I can say is, once you do finally get to come out, the easy part is realizing who will really be there for you. You quickly find out who your true friends are and you slowly learn to accept yourself fully.
8. How did your family and/or friends react?
I suppose I answered this in a previous question, but those small circumstances cannot even compare to the amount of support and love I received from the majority of my friends and my immediate family. I bring up the negatives because, like in film, you need the negatives to develop.
Understand and acknowledge what didn’t go the way you wanted, and then focus on the ones that welcome you with open arms. Personally, my least favorite reaction is those that say, “I knew it!” I think it ruins the momentum of building the courage to tell someone something really personal, but we can’t control how others react. Like I’ve said before, just focus on the positives and you will realize that it gets hard to keep track of all the people that truly accept you for who you are.
9. Who is your biggest supporter?
I have many supporters from my boyfriend, Mark, to my best friends, Stefi (Wendy) and Megan (Soulmate), and even both of my dear sisters/father, Elyssa, Meryll, and Rodel. BUT if I had to place one person that has become my biggest supporter in my life, it has to be my mother, Marissa.
Yes, she did drag me out of the closet and though I didn’t get that chance, she has made up for it with so much more than I can ever repay her back for. She is a mother so she is a worry wort and she is overprotective of her children and she is very old school, but she tries so hard to understand who I am.
Yes, it brings up arguments and there are often very many times that we have disagreements, but we can talk about it. I can empathize and understand her and she takes time to try and see it from my view, even if it takes a couple of tries. I would not be who I am without my mother.
I love her dearly, and she works so hard to keep the family afloat. Hopefully, I make her (and the rest of my family and friends) proud.
10. What does Pride Month mean to you?
The meaning of Pride Month has evolved so much for me. In my first year or two, it was so focused on self-discovery and finding out who I really am. Then it turned into a giant party every week with Boystown and other friends who liked to go clubbing and dancing. Then, as I grow older, it’s still all of the things before, but it’s become a time of acceptance and fighting for what’s right and just.
Those of us in the LGBTQIA+ community are loud and proud and realize those who fought for our right to openly love and not be discriminated against. It’s a time where we can influence and show the younger generations that they can grow up in a world where they don’t have to fear for being gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, or black, or hispanic, or asian, etc!
We are fighting for the lives of our brothers and sisters so that they too can feel safe as they walk down the street. Pride month can be about making a change and making a difference in the world! I want everyone to feel like their opinion matters and that they can be heard and feel supported.
As a person who is not a tall, white male, I can tell you from a first-hand experience how much harder I have to work for people to take me seriously and respect me for my work and there are those who have it even worse than I do, and that is why I’m an advocate for change and acceptance. That is why I celebrate Pride Month LOUD and PROUD!