As is the case with queer people of color, the experiences of many queer Latinas living in the U.S are filled with challenges; identifying with anything outside of heterosexuality and the gender binary remains largely taboo in the Latino culture.
As a direct result, it is most common to face hurtful and offensive reactions when we come out to individuals in our community. Most of us have something to contribute to the list of outrageous reactions and theories from friends or family members. Statements along the lines of – “you have shamed your family…” , “you are simply experiencing a phase…”, “you clearly need to invest more of yourself at church…”, and my personal favorite – “we did not immigrate to this country so that you could live like this… do our years of hard work mean nothing to you?!”
These words would break anyone’s morale. Despite how much you have prepared, imagined and re-imagined all possible scenarios in your mind, chances are that you will be emotionally affected by this crucial moment – for better or for worse. As for me…
In the beginning of my process, I was actually very hopeful about the reactions of some of my family members. But when I made the decision to come out, to be on the safe side I chose to start with a parent whom I believed would ultimately support me. Of course, I expected some initial shock and parental concern about how I would be treated by outsiders. This person was a member of my family – mi sangre – so I innocently believed I had a good shot at a positive outcome as long as I assured them of my safety and well-being. Nevertheless, I considered every scenario – good, bad and everything in between. I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by the world’s most supportive people, so as my friends cheered me on, I felt ready, convinced that bond and unconditional love would prevail and my absolute happiness would take priority over anything else.
I was visiting my parents’ home during some time off. Everyone was off to bed and he came in to the room to check on me and wish me a good night. I thought to myself, “This is it. It’s never going to feel like the perfect time so this has to be it.” I prefaced the conversation as best as I knew how, thinking it would soften the blow. However, my over-contextualizing only seemed to alarm him. The tension began to make me nauseous and lightheaded, but I pushed through, forcing the words I’d practiced through the barrier I felt building up inside of me. When I finally got to the point, the tension broke, but in the form of an explosive reaction from my father as he interrupted me. I could barely finish what I had to say when my contribution to the list became, “Please don’t do this to us…”
Words cannot describe the disappointment I felt. While I understood the shock a Latino parent might experience, I could not and still cannot, understand how any parent can look at their child in the eyes and pronounce those words. They implied so many misconceptions. “Please don’t do this to us.…” as if I was making an active choice that could somehow be reserved and that would otherwise jeopardize the stability of my family. But most importantly, they invalidated the purpose of that very moment. Rather than being about my emotional health and all it had taken for me to arrive at that moment, it became explosive, and about the harm I’d be doing to my family — I felt cheated. And those unfounded words — “Please don’t do this to us…” became wounds.
In that instance, more than ever before, all the statistics I’d learned about in school — about LGBTQ bullying, violence, homelessness and suicide — became real. I am not financially or otherwise dependent on my family, but I couldn’t help but think about those who are… In preparation for the worst, my supportive and devoted partner had made arrangements so that I could get away from the disrespect and heartbreak immediately, but what about those who have no one else? Who feel alone? My tears and disillusionment joined theirs.
Since realizing my queer identity, I have become even more grateful that my family immigrated and made it in the U.S.. That life-changing decision made years ago now means that, unlike many Latinos elsewhere, I have the opportunity to live in peace, and love who I love without fearing for my well-being. Just like my parents taught me during years of hard work and adverse experiences, I know I deserve happiness and equality despite what others do and say. Those lessons are not exclusively for coping with racism or machismo or labor inequality or ignorance… As I continue to discover the complexity of my identities, all of those experiences take on a whole new meaning. Ultimately, they have shaped me and allowed me to develop the strength to be true to myself – I will always be grateful for that. Now the question is whether my family, and that of many others, will ever be grateful for the same.
While it isn’t enough, there is certainly support for LGBTQ people around the country. However, we cannot forget the marginalization of LGBTQ people of color — Latin@s included — within the mainstream community. Our experiences and struggles are unique, but sadly, often disregarded. I know first hand the pain of feeling shut out from both your Latino and queer community. It creates the feeling that you are yelling at the top of your lungs in a room full of people and yet no one can hear you. Some have a problem with the color of my skin, while the other, with whose hand I’m holding. For some, it’s a combination of the two.
It is a responsibility of both the queer and Latino communities to be inclusive of everyone who comprises them. These are the elements that make up who we are so we must demand the visibility we need. All of my Latino siblings should have someone who will support them and understand precisely what it is like to be accepted or rejected by their sangre.