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.
Mil gracias for writing this! As a queer Latina, so many parts of your story resonated with mine….the infamous "“we did not immigrate to this country so that you could live like this…, " being made to feel guilty for the "chouce" your making in the face of all of the family's sacrifice, and even worse, feeling pushed out of both mainstream queer and latino circles and not being able to have ALL of yourself validated in all spaces.
Looking forward to more!
pa'lante Hermana. "no hay mal que dure cien años ni cuerpo que lo resista." it is in the light of our truth that shadows will disappear.
This story brings me to tears for a queer latina close to my heart and from an immigrant family, I can only imagine the complexity that this adds to your still and always sangre. Thank you for sharing the strength and love in your words on this page, a story that I'm sure many want to express.
so brave <3
thank you for sharing your story!
Gracias por compartir… so many of us queer Latin@s face similar reactions from our families. On a recent trip home (to PR) I had the bittersweet experience of being able to be open with my immediate and extended family about who I am and what I've been through in my relationship(s), and feeling somewhat more accepted. Only to hear my mother repeat that "she didn't like what I was *doing*" and my sister share the phrase "de puta a pata hay solo un paso" (that was a new one for me). I try to hold onto the positive growth that has happened in the last 10yrs, while still feeling the sting of their homo/bi/transphobia.
I love this post!
It made me want to share my own coming out experience. I am a 27 year old Latina. I was raised in a traditional Mexican Catholic family. It has only been recent that I began to acknowledge my attraction to womyn. Mainly because there was this person who found very cute and interesting. So, Two months after I decided to Embrace and accept (unconditionally) my sexuality, I decided to take it a step further. I decided that I wanted to come out to at least one family member. In the beginning all I wanted was for my little sister to know. I thought that if at least I had her on my side that things with the rest of my family AKA my parents reaction wouldn’t be as catastrophic. After talking to a friend about only telling my sister, I realized that I was really scared of losing my familia. Some how I also realized that what ever the outcome I would stiil be “okay” and that it was important for me to he true to my self. And so I decided to visit them for the weekend.
On November 4th 2012, I was having dinner with my mother at this local restaurant when the topic on homosexuality came up. I remember asking her, “mom, so whats your honest opinion about it?” She something to the effect of “Mi’ja, its really up to them, can’t say that I am against it.” As you can imagine, this was such a relief for me. I know that she was not explicit and said “Yes, I am for it!” but given that this was my mother and knowing her, this was the most positive answer that I could ask for. Thats when I decided to say it, “Mom, I am.” This has been the most panic/freedom invoking statement that has ever come out of my mouth. I was out to my MOTHER! I paid attention to her every move, to her facial expressions, her body posture, everything. She wasn’t speaking, but from her non-verbals I knew that was going through her own moment of Shock/Fear/loss/etc. I gave her time to catch her breath before asking for her opinion. She asked why? I told her about my crush, and about the other womyn that I had felt the same thing for but never did anything about. She said that maybe I was confused? I told her that I was old enough to know that this wasn’t the case. Then she said, “Ahi, mi’ja!” (oh my daughter!). This is not the most “accepting” statement that you would like your mother to say, but in that moment I was willing to take the little that she could give me. For the next 30 minutes we spent talking about the other reasons why I wanted her to know, which I honestly think made her relax and really accept me as I am. Ever since I came out to my mom, I have been able to share myself more with her and as a consequence to everyone else. Since then I have been able to come out to my sister and other individuals. I have yet to tell my brothers. In regards to my father, I haven’t come out to him for various reasons. One being that he strongly believes homosexuality is wrong, a belief reinforced by his own Catholic upbringing. I dont think that I am ready to deal with my dad, so I have decided that will just leave it until I am.
Overall, I am happy with where I am at. I definitely did not think that embracing the feelings that I had for a special person would prompt all of this. For that, I thank you, LB! 🙂