National Coming Out Day
Posted on October 11, 2017
It was nine years ago when some of my high school classmates would whisper the word “faggot” and throw gum at the back of my hair. I didn’t play soccer during lunch, I didn’t make jokes during class, and I didn’t make passes at the girls. I helped the teachers after school, I did all my homework on time, I had a small voice, and I liked having lunch with the girls. At the time I knew I was gay but was too scared, too sensitive, and too stressed with everything else to try and live a proud and 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 single day. Every day, while I tried to get gum out of my hair after school, I told myself something was wrong with me. I just wasn’t right. It was easy to hate who I knew I was. Very easy.
Despite my internalized self-hate, I couldn’t always help the way my body reacted when I saw a handsome guy or the way I felt when I had a crush on a classmate. I knew who I was, I knew I hated who I was, and I knew others couldn’t find out. But I also knew I was who I was, and that, maybe, I would be okay anyway.
I had my first experience with a “boyfriend” when I was a junior in High School. He was a freshman in college and had just graduated from my 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. It was unsurprisingly odd that I was spending less time reading books and more time on the phone and going out. 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 had gotten out. I wasn’t too sure. We decided to stay where we were. Maybe they were also a young, crazy couple “in love” hiding from a cruel world. Minutes and minutes went by and, eventually the car turned on and moved past us. Still, no one had ever gotten in or out. I recognized the car immediately and my breath left me. My heart sank. I wanted to be anywhere but there. I called home and asked my little sister if I could talk to Mom.
“She left. Right after you left. I don’t know where she is.” My Mom’s suspicions about what I had been up to had finally caught up with her, and this night she made the decision to follow me and find out for herself. I rushed home and waited for her, uncertain of what would happen now. Did she see us kissing? Was she disappointed? Did she still love me? Was I a bad son?
When my Mom finally came back home, it was difficult for me to find the right words to talk to her. She went in the laundry room and began to fold clothes. I made my way there and watched her. She didn’t look at me.
“Mom? Is everything okay?” I asked quietly.
“Yes.” I didn’t know how to ask what I knew I had to.
“Mom?” I almost choked. “Did you…did you follow me earlier?”
This time she looked me straight in the eyes. “Should I have followed you? Were you doing anything that I needed to follow you for?” I stood frozen. “Lets talk about it when we’re alone.” She turned back to the clothes and kept folding. I walked away, filled with shame.
The day we were alone came and my Mom and I cried, together. 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 hesitated, and then I said yes, scared to look her in the face, scared that she’d stop loving me. 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 who put his filthy hands on her, my Mom had already cried over the loss of a child, and here she was crying again, this time my fault. I made my Mom cry. I did that. I hurt her. But, something was different about her tears. It wasn’t an angry cry, or a painful cry, but a deeply moving, mournful cry. My mami 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. All I needed was my Mom. 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 and cried. It was the very first time I felt loved for who I was and the very first time I didn’t feel like I needed to be ashamed. It was the very first time I felt free.
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. What about the bullies at school? What if my friends stopped loving me? I don’t think my school was to blame for the bullying and harassment I lived with for years, but I do hope nine years later they talk openly about accepting one another and encourage the students to stand up for each other despite their differences. 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 right 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, disgusting.” It hurt at first, but I’m stronger now. I don’t need the love from an abusive man, anyway. I love me now, and that’s enough.
In the end, a year later as a little freshman in college I decided to make 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 see in the mirror. I was tired of hating my self when my Mom, my sisters, and the few friends I had been brave enough to tell had loved me still. I was ready to be me and be loved for the man that I was without the mask, without the shame, and without the guilt. So I changed my “Interested In: Women” to “Interested In: Men” and made the change public. 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 gayer.” I laugh at that now because it just meant I was being myself more and more, unafraid and unapologetic. I was loving myself more every day and being just who I was. 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.
The world now sees all of me, all of who I am and all of who I want to be. My sexuality doesn’t define me. My kindness, my patience, the way I love others, the way I encourage and support the people that I love…that defines me. My sexuality only tells you who I choose to love, but it doesn’t make me any less of a good or a bad person. It does get better, but you get better. I grew resilient, strong, courageous…that defines me. And today, today I am loved for all that I am and not all that I pretended to be. Today people love me for me, for my flaws and my gifts and my love and for all that I am.
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 two summers ago, as part of my work with the University of Chicago, I interviewed homeless youth in San Diego. The last teenager I interviewed, 20, had been sleeping in his car for months 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 where I feel unsafe, or try to speak with a deeper voice in order to feel “normal”, or let go of the hand of the boy I like because someone is staring. I am still a work in progress. I still continue to embrace all that I am and find love for myself within me. So…today on National Coming Out Day, I hope that my friends, family, 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 9th year of my Mom’s passing…I miss the fleeting moment I had with her more than ever. But I’ll always know she freed me from my cage.
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. And if you’re still working on it, keep working. I’m here for you.