MANILA -- It wasn't your usual before-and-after post.
When Micolle Catayas tweeted his before and after photos last April 7 with the accompanying text “if you don’t love me at my worst, then you don’t deserve me at my best,” it quickly became viral, garnering 20,000 likes and more than 1,000 retweets.
The "before/worst" photo was for his high school graduation and he had short hair and wore thick eyeglasses. The "after/best" was for his college graduation -- the hair is much longer, contacts have replaced the glasses, but still with the same bright smile.
For the 22-year-old Catayas, who recently graduated from Ateneo de Davao University with a degree in Architecture, the post showed how much he had changed, both inside and out.
After finding his old high school graduation photos while cleaning the house, he couldn't help but recall how he used to pretend to be a straight male. Now, he could dress, speak, and live the way he pleases.
“I was really planning to upload these pictures after my board exams but sakto 'yung timing ng ‘if you don’t love me at my worst, then you don’t deserve me at my best,’” he explained, adding that he did it mainly for fun.
Catayas said he was overwhelmed by the response to his tweet and made him even prouder for being true to himself.
“We need to learn how to love ourselves and accept ourselves before others can love and accept us,” he stressed.
Catayas was born and raised in Ma-a, Davao City where his dad works as a government employee, while his mom is a librarian. He has three siblings -- Mera, their eldest, who's 25; Jesse, who's 18; and their youngest Jethro, 13.
Since he was a child, he always knew that he was different but he kept it to himself.
“I pretended that I had 'girl' crushes to make them see that I was straight but deep inside I would jokingly think that I was prettier than them,” he recalled.
He always knew that he would come out when the time is right. Still, he gave hints, starting with a sling bag that he bought when he was in sophomore high school.
“I always said that I would never cross-dress because I thought it was disgusting back then but now the tables have turned,” he said.
“It felt really good to come out and since college didn’t have any hair restrictions, I decided to grow it out,” Catayas said, referring to his long hair.
During his sister's debut in February 2012, he prepared a dance number "with a twist" -- his sister was the guy and he was the girl.
“And everyone was cheering 'Go Mika!' So I guess nasagip na ng signal nila na dumadalaga na ako,” he said of his family.
Catayas understood that it must have been hard for his father to accept who he is. “Sinasabihan niya ako 'nagbinayot na pud ka' or kumilos na bakla ka naman, dala hampas sa ulo," he said.
When he joined Miss Gay University, the annual gay pageant at his college, where he won second runner up, his family came to support him except for his father.
For Catayas, school played a big part in his transition. He founded the Ateneo Libulan Circle, the first recognized LGBTQ organization in their college.
“It feels so good to be in a community which promotes acceptance. You are able to live freely in the in the absence of constraint in choice and in action,” he said.
But Catayas is aware that there are also pressing problems within the LGBTQ community itself.
“There are small groups inside the LGBTQ community and somehow that affects how we address issues so we need to meet halfway. It’s hard to fight for equality if hindi tayo magtutulungan,” he said.
Now that he has graduated, Catayas dreams of owning his own architectural firm and create buildings that foster harmonious relationships among people.
But he also knows that once again he has to prove himself.
“I thought to myself, 'Bakla ka, you need to prove na may pakinabang ka sa lipunan, be a living proof that gender has nothing to do with one’s capabilities, especially in the field of construction that is predominately masculine,” he said.