Lara “Fire” Sia’s discovery of her bisexuality came not without a series of surprises and challenges.
The first happened in childhood. At just four years old, Fire had started developing a concept of gender. “I knew since I was very young that I was not the same as everyone else. I don’t identify as male, but I always thought that I would grow up to become a boy. My mom got worried,” she laughs. Nevertheless, she and Fire’s dad brushed it off, thinking it was just a something that she’d eventually grow out of.
This “phase,” as it turned out, was far from that.
In high school, Fire made a more conscious effort to dress girly because she “discovered boys” and believed that doing so would make her more attractive to them. But overall, those years left her with misconstrued ideas of sexual orientation. “I knew what lesbians were. I knew what gay men were. But when you say bisexua—I had a different idea of that. I thought that bisexual people were gay people who look straight, which is a misconception up until now,” says Fire.
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This changed by the time she reached college. Once Fire realized she was bisexual, her gender expression shifted radically—starting with the clothes she wore. “I was more expressive about masculinity. But I also bounced. There were times when I would be feminine. I was comfortable being androgynous,” she recounts.
Although Fire was a model student (she got good grades and was an active member of both the debate team and a sports varsity) her sexuality didn’t sit well with school policy. “They don’t do this anymore, but when I filled out the application form it asked if you’re a lesbian or bisexual, or if you’ve engaged in lesbian or bisexual activity,” she reveals. “If you wanted to get into that school, you don’t say yes. The handbook had that you could get terminated or expelled if you’re caught engaging in lesbian or bisexual behavior. So, it was a struggle with balancing the administration’s opinion of people like me and who I really was as a person. Of course, I never openly told them what I knew I was. I wanted to finish school. I didn’t want to implicate myself.”
Her parents were also conflicted by their daughter’s newfound sexuality. The fear of their daughter being deemed unemployable, combined with their cultural biases (Fire’s mom is Spanish while her dad is Chinese) left her stifled. It was when she climbed the corporate ladder that they became more understanding.
Fire’s first jobs after graduation were in the academe. She taught students at different levels, from grade school to college. Yet the discrimination she witnessed against LGBTQ+ students and the prevalent administration problems that plagued her when was younger proved too much. A friend then suggested that she tries her hand in a call center. And while she had reservations about working for a “such a square industry” that she formerly believed had “no growth,” an ad from Skyes Asia hiring for trainers was enough to change her mind.
Fast forward to 2017, Fire is a Senior Manager of Concentrix Philippines. The now 40-year-old worked hard to get to where she is, though cites her stint at Skyes as the proudest moment of her entire career. “I felt like this was where I was going to start. I was accepted because I was qualified. That’s when I realized that there were people in this world who will appreciate you even if you’re LGBT,” she explains.
For some, finding an environment that supports who you are is enough to lead the a satisfied life. This wasn’t the case for Fire, who together with fellow bisexual Yffar Aquino, went on to form the non-government and non-profit organization now known as Side B Philippines.
The idea stemmed from her past work with other activists. “I was working with lesbian groups and I blended in quite well. The problem was, that was wasn’t me. I appreciate gay orgs and all the things that they’ve done for the community. It’s just that bisexual representation was so poor and misunderstood,” she elaborates.
Besides the lacking support for bisexuals in the country, what sparked the founding of Side B were those who just couldn’t accept Lara for who she was, and even just basic concept of bisexuality. As Fire puts it, “There was a time when people were asking me to choose. Like, it’s either you’re a lesbian or you’re straight. So, I did. I said, ‘Ok, I’m a lesbian.’ And then I had issues because I’m attracted to men.”
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A pioneering effort for the bisexual community, Side B Philippines advocates bi-visibility and employment equality for bisexuals like herself. Their efforts include conducting annual research studies as well as training on SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression), diversity, and inclusion. While they aren’t partial any political ideology, they extend support for laws and activities that could benefit their community, such as the Anti-Discrimination Bill, and more recently, last month’s Pride March. From two they have grown to a team of seven, all of who identify as bisexual.
Indeed, Fire is a figure anyone from the LGBTQ+ community can look up to. Still, none of her achievements would have been possible without first embracing who she was. “Your sexuality is your own. It’s up to you to identify and understand who you are. If you’re bi, be bi. It’s okay. Don’t get pressured by people telling you to choose. Don’t get pressured by people telling you it’s a phase, because at the end of the day, you’re the only one who can say if it is. And if you affirm yourself, then you become more secure. Basically, you become more comfortable in your skin. That’s what you aim for,” she says.
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Produced by Angela Sy, Mels Timan, & Barry Viloria | Cinematography by Jana Jimenez & Gio Vibar | Grooming by Julia Arenas & Jeffrey Caballro of Vivere Salon | Hair by Sam Corbillon of Triple Luck Brow & Nail Salon & Shella Casiano of Vivere Salon | Styling by Barry Viloria | Special thanks to Ogie Rodriguez, Arvin Amaron of Vivere Salon, Guess, Straightforward PH