onstepsIt was 8 years ago when some of my classmates would whisper the word “faggot” and throw gum at the back of my hair during High School. At the time I knew I was gay but was too scared, too sensitive, and too overwhelmed with everything else in my life to try and live a proud, authentic life. Looking back at that time, unfortunately, I don’t think I was in an environment that fostered and focused on safe spaces. I didn’t know that I was allowed to be me, so I fought my internal shame every day, and told myself something was wrong with me while I tried to get gum out of my hair after school.

I had my first experience with a “boyfriend” when I was a junior in High School. I was more the reading books type than the going out type, so when I started going out often with my “girl friends” my Mom grew suspicious. One night, while me and my then-boyfriend took a ride to Starbucks and parked on a quiet street for talks and kisses, he noticed a car had parked behind us and no one ever got out. I wasn’t too sure. Minutes and minutes went by and, eventually the car turned on and moved past us. No one had ever gotten out. I recognized it immediately and at that point I was petrified. My heart sank and I wanted to be anywhere but there. I rushed home to find out my Mom had left just after I had. Upon her return I questioned her, only to hear “let’s talk about it when we’re alone.”

The day we were alone came and my Mom and I cried. She asked if I liked boys. I said yes as I suffocated on tears that tasted of guilt, disgust, and shame. She asked if my “friend” was more than my friend. I said yes, scared to find what she would say, do, and how I would end up. My Mom started crying. My heart started breaking. I had disappointed her, shamed her, and now she was crying. My Mom had already cried over a cheating husband, my Mom had already cried over an abusive man, my Mom hadwmom already cried over the loss of a child, and here she was crying again, this time my fault. It wasn’t an angry cry, or a painful cry, but a deeply moving, mournful cry. My mother told me that day that she was crying for all the suffering that I would go through in life, for all the discrimination, harassment, and pain my sexuality would cause me. She wondered out loud if maybe all I needed was a therapist, and then she corrected herself and said all I needed was her. She held me as I cried all my ghosts away and said, “I will love you. I’ll love you. You and I will grow old together if nobody wants you, if nobody accepts you, and you and I will be together forever. I will love you. I will accept you. Always.” It was in that very moment that my grown ass curled up in the fetal position over my Mom’s lap as we cried together. It was the very first time I felt love for who I was and the very first time I didn’t feel like I needed to be ashamed.

Unfortunately, I still kept hidden in the deep shadows of my “closet” to everyone else besides my Mom and my sisters. I was still afraid. I don’t think my school was to blame for the bullying and harassment I lived with for years, because I do believe that at the root of the problem was growing up a queer person of color in a predominantly Latino community deeply immersed in machismo attitudes. The same attitudes that proved all my fears correct and took the ground beneath my feet when I finally came out to my father years later and he severed our relationship forever. He said he couldn’t love me because I was “just like a child molester, gross.”

In the end, a year later as a little freshman in college I decided to mawprideke a change on my Facebook profile. I was tired of hiding. It’s difficult to explain, but it takes a lot to wear a mask every day and show the world someone you don’t find in the mirror. So I changed my “Interested In: Women” to “Interested In: Men.” My life, and my happiness, changed drastically. Not immediately, and there have been highs and lows. Over the years I have lost friends who said I was “too gay,” or that I “was becoming gayer and gay
er.” Over the years, also, I have gained friends and loved ones who see me for who I am and embrace the uniqueness that I have to offer to this world as a brown, immigrant, Ivy-educated queer Mexicano.

Today, on National Coming Out Day, I share my story in hope that the world finds a new perspective for all the wonderful, amazing, and talented boys, girls, and gender non-conforming kids who are trying to be courageous and brave. Just this summer, as part of my work with the University of Chicago, I interviewed homeless youth in San Diego. The last teenager I interviewed, 20, was sleeping in his car after experiencing traumatizing verbal and physical harassment from his father after coming out. I drove home crying, broken. I get to live an authentic life and, though it gets better, it is still work for so many of us out here. Even for me, in all my queerness and “I don’t give a fuck” Rihanna kind of attitude, there are times when I tone myself down for others, or walk just a bit faster in certain places, or try to speak with a deeper voice in order to feel normal, or try to pretend that all my family loves me despite their religious beliefs and their preferences to pretend my gay side can be ignored. Sometimes I try to pretend it doesn’t hurt too. So…today on National Coming Out Day, I hope that my friends, famwhappyprideily, and loved ones (and particularly those folks in education), continue to push the boundaries of social constructs and create safe, loving, and welcoming spaces for all. We all deserve love. We all deserve truth. We all deserve life.
Today I stand proud to be an amalgamation of identities that make me who I am, one of them gay, and I hold my head high and walk confidently. Today, too, on the 8th year of my Mom’s passing…I miss the fleeting moment I had with her more than ever.

May every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and heterosexual individual live lives full of warmth, love, and truth. May every human individual live lives full of warmth, love, and truth.