Wednesday, January 27, 2010
On Being a Gay Latino
I began to come out of the closet when I was a high school senior in 1971. This was a very different era, long before there gay-straight high school alliances were in place to support teenagers examining their sexuality. For me, the decision to begin telling people I was "homosexual" -- this was the only word I knew to describe my sexual orientation -- was frightening because I had no model or template for doing it or for what might happen when I did. Particularly, I was reluctant to tell anyone in my Mexican immigrant and Mexican-American family. Even more than in the mainstream, gender roles in my family were strictly defined and enforced and I believed that had my family been faced with a boy who liked other boys, the reactions would have ranged from shock and disbelief to physical violence. So, while I came out to close friends and my high school teacher mentor -- to generally supportive responses -- I kept my sexual orientation a secret from my family for almost another decade, until I was long out of their home and established in my legal career. I realize, looking back, that when I left home for college, I felt I had to choose between my authentic nature as a gay man and my ethnicity. I chose the former because I could not live any other way than as who I am, but for many years I felt as if some part of me had been severed by that choice and I mourned it. Now this is a different time, at least here in San Francisco, and I see a younger generation of gay and lesbian Latinos/as who do not feel they must choose between their sexual orientation and their families and culture. Not that our community is always welcoming of LGBT people or that old notions of machismo don't still exist, but it is at least possible to breath, to have a conversation. And I, after years of semi-estrangement, am part of my family again, a family that welcomes me and my spouse. Was what I went through necessary? I don't know. But I am glad that at least some of us Latino/a GLBT people don't have to.