There is a saying that “Honesty is the best policy”, and it has been taught to us by family, friends, and especially teachers. Yet, there comes a time when teachers could not be honest too as the truth can be too beautiful for the world to accept, and this truth is restricted and saddened deep inside. This is not the case of Ratanak, a young teacher who has a secret to hide.
Ratanak, who identified as a gay man, lives unopenly about his sexuality in his community. Born and raised in a money-oriented and conservative family, Ratanak feels uncomfortable to be his true self without facing challenges on his sexual orientation. In his daily activities at school he needs to make sure that all students are well taught, cared, and guided. But unfortunately, within his own family, where there should be a shield made of love and support, Ratanak feels unsupported and excluded.
“I was born as a mistake, because my parents did not exactly plan when it comes to me (…) and me and my brother were sort of fighting a lot when we were kids.” said Ratanak.
For most gay individuals, acceptance in the family is more precious for them than being accepted in society. This is the bitter truth. This is the cruelty and obstacles faced by LGBT+ people. Ratanak never loses courage and belief that his family is his umbrella when there is downpour or his shelter when there is no one on his side. “I thought about coming out to my parents, but the thing is I don’t know how they will react and also if they don’t like it, I might have to go home and that is not what I want to do.” Despite always having to walk with a mask on, he believes that it is his responsibility to take care of his parents, make his parents proud, and be “a good son.”
In his childhood, he faced discrimination and violence from his friends at school. The most heartbreaking moments were the intolerant and bad actions that came from his own brother and cousin. “When I moved to the same school as my brother and my cousin they also mocked and made fun of me about my sexual orientation with other kids,” expressed Ratanak. Even now, sometimes those names and mockeries are thrown at Ratanak, but he finds it easy to handle intolerance with education. One of his principles is that he is not only teaching students in the classroom, but also teaching society about LGBT+ acceptance and the beauty of diversity.
As time went by, Ratanak became a person that is full of courage, determination, love, compassion, who’s eager to educate and share, and even proudly seeing the love of his life. With the passion and patience he possesses, now he is seeing a man that truly loves and supports him for who he really is. His boyfriend is very understanding and treats him as real as he is. They met on a gay app and now they have the best moments together—from exciting dates to making playlists together in his living room. They have future plans for the water festival vacation, and frequently talk about their future vacation. Although Ratanak does not expect too much from this relationship, all he knows is that he feels special and happy with him.
Today, seeing his students learn, smile and play in school is always the best part of his day. Ratanak likes to share and project to people what is right and wrong in this world. He believes in education as a tool to shape the minds of the younger generation and bring about positive change in this cruel world, especially in the acceptance of LGBT+ in today’s society. Although he still has a secret that he could not get out of the closet, it is hopeful that one day he would be free to be who he is. Remember that there is always a rainbow after the rain. So whenever we are in a difficult situation, just remember that Ratanak could eventually find his little happiness and so can we.
This article is written by Ricardo Valente Araujo, 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.