What does it mean to be Latino/Hispanic? Strong pride, faith, and tradition above all else. But what happens when a significant group of us do not fit into that classic description? Well, what happens is strength, fear, submission, masquerade, fear, hate, misunderstanding. For a collective culture known for its forwardness and its defiance, there is a lack of acceptance for those who do not fit antiquated requirements. We live in a world where horizons have been opened, but the panoramic remains the same. The lack of support toward Latino LGBTQ invites itself to approach these oft unmentioned issues that are at the forefront of significant movements. This regular column will give a voice to those who have often been silenced. It will stress unity by inclusiveness and acceptance–not just by tolerance. We need as many voices as we can get, not only the LGBTQ but also the Latino/Hispanic. Perhaps, it isn’t that some Latino/Hispanics are homophobic; it might be that they are just not listening.
My own coming-out story began years ago. It was during the second year of my puberty (thanks to the hormone-induced chicken we were forced to eat), when two monumental things happened that would change the course of history for this country and for my life. 9/11 was for many a defining split between eras, that which was before and after that singular event. At school, it was picture day and in the horrified smiles of the eighth grade class, you could see the decibels of change grow ever louder, almost deafening with every minute that passed. In my black cardigan with my awkward and pale semi-smile, I could sense that I had had enough the charade. Now, that the world was surely ending, I felt something like an epiphany. Perhaps I should divulge my secret, I thought. After what we had just seen, we had grown up sufficiently. Looking up at the clear blue sky, I had a vision of the future and it was not pretty. The whole day culminated while hanging out in a friend’s basement with another girl friend. It was a simple thing that ignited the fire. The phone rang, and my friend’s voice suddenly went from stentorian to gentle. I wondered aloud why girls always seemed to soften their voice when they answered the phone. The three of us then realized that I, too, subscribe to that same syndrome. My friends then asked me if I was gay, and they reassured me that it wouldn’t change our eight-year friendship. I had always figured that they weren’t ready to know the truth since they couldn’t possibly understand and definitely didn’t want to. So I denied it, but I did so for the last time. I quickly retracted my statement and felt liberated. That moment was one of the best moments in my life, and I too can define it as the split of eras, before and after that singular and seminal event.
The following year I began high school as an out person. I felt different and special, and I enjoyed it when a boy in my advisory class was dared to ask me, in front of everyone, if I was gay. “Yes, I am,” I said and reveled in the shocked expressions that my audacity had caused. I became something of a novelty but also was singled out. I didn’t find true friends until I was about fifteen. I had found myself before I found my place, which I think is a universal characteristic of coming out at a young age. While I had lived for almost two years as an out teenager, I had yet to divulge it to my family. The year after I first came out in that basement, I had come out to my sister. At the time, we were yet to begin renovations in a new house we were in and had been forced to share a room for the first time in about ten years. She praised my decision and had her doubts laid to rest as she had wondered since we used to watch late-night Roseanne reruns. I had always been Darlene and she Becky, and the sheer nature of these comparisons definitely informed her opinion of me and frankly, to me too. Yet she knew I wouldn’t be a commodity or steer from my intellectual sensibilities in favor of empty top 40 hits and sexual gratification. It was my sophomore year, and my parents still didn’t know. It was when Roseanne began showing on Nick at Nite that I was called into my parents’ room. I was never one to engage in family time, instead favoring to read or write on my Xanga (remember those?). They asked, point blank, if I was gay. The episode they and my sister were watching was when David accidentally sleeps over at Darlene’s, and her parents don’t believe that they didn’t have sex. My parents often didn’t believe me when I told them I wasn’t gay. This time, for some reason, I felt I was ready and that they were ready. I braced myself and told the truth. After about two minutes of staring, my father calmly and with a bit of a chuckle remarked “I knew it,” then proceeded to change the channel to Spanish news. I was taken aback and speechless, and even though my mother remained a bit tense, it seemed not to bother her. Obviously this isn’t something most parents want for their child, much less their Mexican-American child, much less their son. But I’ve got to think that they knew it wasn’t something they did or something I chose–it was something I was. My parents figured that if I was happy and content and true to myself, they couldn’t ask for more. However, I remain unhappy and discontent, but that might just be the Darlene in me.