Christine Cariño: Consciously Thriving as a Queer, Nonbinary Filipino
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After launching my second podcast in April, Companies That Care, I’ve started alternating each week. This week on the Finding Fertile Ground podcast, I interview Christine Cariño, a queer nonbinary immigrant from the Philippines. Her grit and resilience story led to her life’s work with underrepresented groups and communities as a transformation coach and consultant.
Born and raised in the Philippines, Christine had to navigate a very religious, patriarchal society. As a middle child of five, between two boys in the birth order, Christine became aware of her place as a girl at an early age, having to always give way to her brothers.
“Why don't you listen to your older brother? He’s older than you.”
“Why don’t you give way to your younger brother? He’s younger than you.”
She remembers having her first girl crush in fourth grade.
“I was attracted to my best friend, and I didn't know what it was because no one explained it to me. There was no representation on TV."
Any curiosity or exploration of this same-sex attraction was shut down, and the comment that made the biggest impact was when a family member told her,
“Please do not tell me that you're gay.”
After that, Christine did everything in her power to present femme, or more feminine, trying to make herself straight until she fell in love in college.
She was outed by her conservative Christian aunt and uncle, who sent her to conversion therapy. The therapy consisted of delving into her past and her childhood and highlighting what the Bible said about homosexuality. She felt more shame and guilt about her identity.
“I was very spiritual growing up. I've always believed in a higher power taking care of me…so hearing this higher being doesn't love me because of who I am was painful…why would a God that speaks of love be unable to accept someone like me?”
Soon after the conversion therapy and her college graduation, Christine moved to New York with her mom and brother. Her dad had been living in the United States for several years. Even though she had already started her career and didn’t want to leave the Philippines, she felt compelled to immigrate with her mom.
“Moving here as an immigrant and starting from scratch was definitely an experience.”
Christine became aware of the privileges she had growing up, like having nannies and not having to cook or clean. But one of her first American jobs was working as a nanny, so she had to do all the things she didn’t know how to do for other people.
“That was humbling and gave me the presence around my privileges…and how I moved in spaces.”
Moving to the United States felt like starting over. She had only $100 to her name when she moved to New York. At the time she identified as bisexual because of the internalized shame and trauma she had experienced. At first she thought,
“We’re going to explore and have this experience. I ended up saying, ‘oh my God, I’m so gay. Let’s just stop this. Let’s stop this craziness.’”
Her mom had to start over, too. She had been a real estate executive in the Philippines, and she had to work a lot of odd jobs with irregular hours when they moved here.
Christine was nervous about coming out to her dad, but he offered her unconditional acceptance:
“He said, “if you think that I'm going to love you less because of who you are, you're wrong…I love you regardless.’”
I interviewed Christine before the Atlanta shootings that targeted Asian-Americans, but Asian-American hate crimes were still on the rise. I asked her about what it’s like being a Filipino immigrant.
She admits it’s been difficult, but she also has had to unlearn anti-Blackness and colorism that she learned as a child.
“I'm darker skinned, and I was always compared to my sister who was lighter skinned…she's considered the prettier one.”
Christine didn’t understand how systemic colorism was until she came to the United States. She realizes that as an Asian-American, she has certain privileges compared to her Black counterparts.
“There are challenges and struggles, but I can acknowledge that there's deeper and more violent struggles and challenges towards the black community.”
She also began wondering why Asian-Americans seem to be invisible in the stories of the Civil Rights era.
“What did we do? What bathroom did we use? What were some of the laws against us?”
She’s curious about the struggles, roles, and allyship of Asian-Americans during this era. She spoke about the model minority myth:
“The reason why we have neglected this violence towards Asian-Americans today is because we thought they were fine…that's the danger of the model minority myth: we were weaponized and used to pit against other communities of color. It only highlighted our successes, but not our challenges and our struggles.”
Even though the spike in violence toward Asian-Americans happened at the start of the pandemic, we're only just now talking about it more broadly.
I shared my perspective with Christine that at the root of this anti-Asian sentiment is Americans’ ignorance about Asia, and specifically about the Philippines. While I was living in Asia, it was one of the countries I regretfully didn’t get to visit.
“It's a beautiful country. The islands are amazing. The people are great, the culture, the indigenous people too. It's very diverse. There's 100+ dialects that we speak and around 200 Indigenous tribes.”
I asked Christine about being nonbinary. She describes her nonbinary identity as a spiritual experience and how she transcends beyond gender social constructs.
“I don't want to follow any rules. As a male or a masculine, I want that feminine energy. Masculine roles need to look vulnerable, loving, kind, compassionate, and female roles can look courageous and assertive and be fierce and powerful, and all these things, and that's how I operate.”
She shared her struggle of having to fit into heteronormative constructs, especially in the workplace. Presenting female all the time was exhausting.
“I have to do this dress and look all pretty, wear heels, and do makeup. I love doing makeup and all that, but I don't always want to be female presenting all the time.”
Christine uses the pronouns she, her, and siya (pronounced sha), which is a gender-neutral pronoun in Tagalog, the primary language of the Philippines.
As a transformation coach with Conscious Thrive, Christine helps underrepresented executives and leaders to reconnect with their authentic selves so they can live and lead consciously and create impact on their own terms. As a consultant, she helps bring cultural transformation in corporate businesses by bringing back the human at the center.
Christine shared how moving to the U.S has allowed her to heal and recreate her relationship with her mom. Learning her mom’s story and what she overcame gave her the understanding, appreciation, and forgiveness she needed to create a relationship that’s different from what they both have experienced.
Her mom came from a poor family who didn’t have the money to pay for her education. She was determined to craft a different life, so she decided to leave home to attend school in Manila while working odd jobs. Her resilience, courage, and determination led her to build a successful career as an executive leader in real estate. Then she had to recreate herself again at 50 years old when they moved here.
Next week I interview my friend Ozzie Gonzalez with P3 Consulting on Companies That Care. I used to work with Ozzie on CH2M HILL’s sustainability program, and in 2020 he was Portland’s first Latino candidate for mayor. We talked about what he’s doing now, Portland, Mexico, and sustainability. The following week I’ll be back to Finding Fertile Ground.
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