Born and raised in Spain, Soraya had been working in many countries before she came to Cambodia, working as a contracted officer in a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Siem Reap to help Cambodian farmers. In her childhood, she was taught to be feminine, to wear dresses and to sit with knees together in fulfillment of the expectation of society, and that was not who she was. She knew herself to be queer when she was 12 years old. “I see myself as a queer because if I were born as a man, I would also like to wear a dress sometimes or want to cry. It is not that I was born as a man or a woman that I have to be like this, [and] it is not important”, she sighed.

Soraya, APTBY

Soraya was lucky to be born with supportive parents. She was taught about different kinds of love when she was young. At first, she was afraid that her parents would not support her for who she is. “When I came out to my parents, they were frightened because they knew I might suffer from physical and verbal violence at school”. Indeed, she experienced a lot of violence episodes in her life.

She was not strong enough to stand up for herself when she was in school, and there were people who teased and bullied her. “Some guys in my class hit me because they said I am a man, and I like girls, so that they can hit me. They hit me every day”, she said. When she was with her partner, there were people shouting at them, judging them, and following them on streets. This dreadful experience has shrunken deeply into her heart, making her live in fear and trepidation that she could not move on nor escape. 

Even after she got accepted into another school, the feeling did stand still. She found it hard to feel connected to anyone, and she became shyer in social situations. “I had nightmares of coming back to my old school, and nightmares of having to see these people again”, she continued. Despite this, she has never had any attempt to hide herself at all.

Things started getting tougher in the society. She used to dress like a girl and have long hair when she was at work, but she felt tired. “for the whole time of my life, I just want to feel myself and not depending on how others want me to be. It was not myself”, she said with relief.

People always begin changing themselves when they get pressured from their surrounding people, especially their family. “they cannot behave just to please others; they also need to satisfy themselves. I know family is important, but you can support your family and be yourself at the same time”, she encouraged.

“It is okay that people don’t like me, I don’t come to this world to please anyone. If you don’t like me, just don’t look at me”, she spoke frankly. However, it is important for them to be more empathetic and put themselves in LGBTQ+ people’s shoes. She believed “if these things happened to them, they would not feel good either”. Through her story, Soraya wanted to let everyone know that discrimination happens everywhere, and we should take a collective effort in eliminating all of these social stigmas that are against LGBTQ+ community because deep down we are all human beings.  

This article is written by Yeh Kyhok, a 1st generation participant of Story Corner 2020 which aims to break the stigma on LGBT+ through storytelling and the engagement of youths through dialogue and series of training on gay rights advocacy and basic journalism. Story Corner 2020 is hosted by Buzz Talk Cambodia

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