Filipino Jojo Jimenez and British Nigel Sparling met on a night out with friends in 2004. They spotted each other outside a bar at closing time and ended up together at Nigel’s flat. They spent the rest of that weekend together, turning a one-night stand into a long-term relationship.
“We both felt comfortable and it felt incredibly right,” Sparling describes.
“I think you can call it destiny in some way,” says Jimenez, who moved to England to work as a nurse. “Filipinos tend to be a bit romantic. I’ve been waiting all my life. I thought he was the one so I stayed to see what would happen.”
Jimenez and Sparling have been together for a decade since. In 2009 they entered civil partnership, which became legal for same-sex couples in 2005 in the United Kingdom.
Like other couples, Jimenez says they hit a few rough patches at the start of their relationship. Jimenez was being “a little too possessive.”
“I felt like he was still not properly committed to me in the first few months of being together,” Jimenez explains. “At the back of my mind, I was thinking maybe he was still doing something with other guys.”
Jimenez eventually found the reassurance he had been yearning for. “I realised we love and respect each other. It’s probably just me thinking about it too much. Now I feel content. Being with Nigel gives me a sense of belonging. I never thought I’d fall in love with an English guy but I did.”
Up to this day, the couple say they encounter strange “looks” at restaurants and hotels, particularly outside London where attitudes tend to be more conservative.
“They’re just not used to it,” says Jimenez. “And it’s probably a shock more than anything.”
They also experience the same kind of prejudice particularly in Jimenez’s hometown in the Philippines.
“I think sometimes people wonder what this big white guy is doing with a Filipino guy. They probably think he just picked me up from somewhere. That’s the initial reaction. You can see it in the look on their faces,” he shares. Jimenez furthers, “When you go to places like Valenzuela where I grew up, people really stare. We just have to brush it off and carry on. It’s a shame but it’s just how it is. They probably haven’t seen a lot of interracial gay couples.”
Traveling for the couple means only going to places where the LGBT community is welcome.
“We make sure we only go to gay-friendly countries,” shares Jimenez. He cites Russia, Africa and the Middle East as less accepting when it comes to LGBTs.
Sparling adds, “We can’t go to some countries as a gay couple because I know for a fact that there will be people who will be disapproving of us. We spend a lot of money on holidays and there are other countries we can go to where we don’t feel like that.”
The couple come from very different cultures, bringing its own complications and challenges into the relationship. They have learned to compromise and be more understanding of each other.
“Some of the communications are sometimes difficult,” Sparling reveals, “For example, two Western guys will have an argument and it will be over in 20 minutes. And you say sorry, that’s the end of it. I have discovered to my frustration that Filipinos, and I think it’s an Asian thing, will carry on with that argument and it can be for days. Sometimes you don’t actually know what you’ve done. That’s very different for me.”
Jimenez says it boils down to levels of sensitivity based on cultural differences.
All things considered, Sparling says he feels genuine appreciation for Southeast Asian cultures.
“It’s a different way of life,” Sparling shares. “So many things are much more important like family. There are many things that the Western world has lost so much that Southeast Asia can teach us, like good manners and respect for each other. That’s what started it for me.”
According to Sparling, being in a gay relatioship is so much better today.
“It’s fantastic,” says Sparling. “I remember what it’s like in the 80s and 90s. Now, everything is on our side. We have the law which is just about where it needs to be. We have the same rights as straight people. We share everything. It’s not a problem anywhere we go.”
The couple is based in London, where they enjoy a great deal of freedom to live the life they want.