I cannot recall the first moment I was proud of who I am, but I can certainly remember the first moment I felt ashamed. I was growing up in Mexico having an extremely poor, but warm upbringing. My parents, brother, sister, and I were crammed in a one-bedroom house. The house wasn’t in the best conditions and had many quirks and anomalies, it was the perfect house project for a show like Flip or Flop. The restroom was detached from the house, which everyone saw as an inconvenience. I actually didn’t mind that because my time in that restroom was the only time where I wasn’t surrounded by family members. As much as I love my family, I always seek comfort in a little me-time. I used to sing, dance, practice award acceptance speeches, and daydream in that poorly-lit restroom. I remember I was around eight years old and I had just finished showering. That day I was full-on feeling my fantasy. I wrapped myself up in a white towel and wrapped another towel around my head. In my imagination, I was wearing an intricate wedding dress with a long white veil. The dress wasn’t a representation about my romantic nature (or my constant need to be loved), but rather a literal performance interpretation of Rocio Durcal’s hit song, Vestida De Blanco.
In this song, a woman invites an ex-lover to her wedding so that he can see how happy and in love she is, thus making him sad and realize how badly he screwed up. Lyrically, I appreciate the song much more today than I did back then. During my performance, I sang, I danced, I twirled and in the climax of the song, the restroom door was slammed open. My sister had been listening from the outside and caught me mid-performance in my faux wedding dress. Her initial reaction was to run laughing as I desperately gather my clothes to stop her from telling everyone. My heart was racing, I felt embarrassed, I was mortified. On that moment, I decided to stop doing “silly” things like that again, no matter how much my mind and heart told me to.
Mexico has always been less progressive than the United States. With a culture predominately Catholic and conservative, embracing my sexuality and the effeminate traits that would suffice every so often, was simply not an option. Growing up taught me that virility and masculinity were desirable traits and effeminacy made you into a caricature that many couldn’t help but to laugh at. I am not editorializing by making that statement, there were actually a few effeminate queer characters in popular Mexican shows whose whole purpose was one-note comic relief. Things like media representation, the constant school jokes regarding homosexuality, and ignorant, homophobic gossip amongst family members, taught me that being gay was nothing to be proud of. When it comes to my family growing up, my mom was an extremely catholic, old-fashioned woman, my brother and sister were too young to understand my struggles, and my dad and I never had the best relationship. I always felt my father’s love and I saw the sacrifices he made for us, but I was terrified of him. He was intimidating, short-tempered, sexist, and hard-to-read. Without spiraling into a therapeutic trance, during my childhood and teenage years, pride was not a word in my vocabulary.
During my teenage years, when I started living in the United States, I realized I was gay and that it was going to be tough given my cultural setbacks and low family tolerance. In high school, I first encountered visibility. Everyone knew who the gay people were because they were out, loud, and proud. I wasn’t any of those things. I remember the thrill of going to a public library and joining gay chat rooms. I was afraid to be caught, I was afraid to be teased, but at the same time, part of me wanted it to happen, so I could at least be myself. I breezed through high school, just concentrating on getting my diploma, learning English, and avoiding the inevitable bullying that came from being a soft-spoken, shy, over 300-pound closeted Mexican. Pride didn’t come through my high school years either.
When I started college, I had my first boyfriend (in secret), I had my first gay friend (in secret), I had a few co-workers discover my sexuality (embarrassingly and by accident), and of course, my family, continued getting hints. One time my mom discovered a letter from my then boyfriend, she went through it, I caught her with the letter on her hands. The letter had a corny drawing of two boys holding hands, hearts, the whole gay teenage love fest. Rather than to talk about it, she dismissed it, and her silence spoke louder to me than any words could. Young adulthood was a very difficult time for me. I struggled with mental health issues, body issues, defining my worth; hiding parts of myself made it difficult for me to develop a personality, being embarrassed of who I was made it difficult to create meaningful human connections. Pride didn’t come until merely a few years ago.
Today I write this article being unapologetically myself, beaming with pride about the person I am, and thankful of all the experiences in the past that have shaped me into the man I am today. The key for me to accept pride into my life was to acknowledge that my happiness didn’t depend on the approval of others. I create my own path, I can direct (and re-direct) my future in any way I want it to. My constant fascination towards the concept of love and romance made me wonder, why not me? Learning that I was worthy of love, happiness, and success made me realize that all the lies and hesitations in my mind were holding me back. I am proud of who I am today because many people don’t want me to be. We are living in an age where the president acknowledged June to be Great Outdoors Month, National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, National Ocean Month, and National Home Ownership Month, but no mention of the significance of the LGBTQ community. Our own government doesn’t want us to be proud, many people still think we are unworthy of even being respected. My pride came from my desire to pave the way for the next generations to have it easier than me. Exploring my relationship with pride made me realize that it doesn’t matter when you become proud of who you are, what matters is that you get there.
See you at the other side of the rainbow.