The most terrifying thing I’ve ever done was come out to my parents my senior year in college. I had known I was gay since my junior year of high school, but it took several years for me to build up the courage to have a conversation with them about my sexuality. I was always the perfect daughter who was well-behaved and great at school. I thought that by being gay, I was somehow “bad” and would disappoint my parents. I feared that they would disown me and I would have to fend for myself as a newly out young adult.
Growing up in a Mexican-American household, I absorbed the idea of familismo, that I should dedicate myself to my family above all else, including myself. The Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) report on LGBTQ Latines says familismo “can put further pressure on Latinxs to fulfill the hopes and dreams their families have for them — which may seem to exclude LGBTQ identities.”
In addition, there’s a very real threat of discrimination and stigma when coming out. According to a Williams Institute report, queer Latine adults are more likely than straight Latine adults to say they feel unsafe. It cites that 74% of LGBTQ Latines, compared to 60% of non-LGBTQ Latines, reported having experienced discrimination within the last year, such as being treated with less courtesy than other people.
While I was totally wrong about my parents abandoning me, coming out still isn’t easy for queer Latines. For many, cultural influences can delay the process of coming out until their late 20s or 30s. Even more, religion, machismo, gender roles, and internalized homophobia and/or transphobia can impact our own understanding of our gender and sexuality.
But it’s not until we honor ourselves fully that we’re able to share it with the world, including family members that may (or may not) understand. We spoke with four queer and trans Latines about their experiences coming out later in life.
Jasmine Leiva, queer nonbinary woman, 35, California
It was around this time when my friend started a queer and trans people of color healing circle here in California’s Central Valley, in Fresno, which tends to be more conservative. Having this space with other queer and trans folks of color made it safe for me to explore my own identity. There’s no prescribed way to be a queer person.
There’s no prescribed way to be a queer person.
Coming out has still been really hard. As children of immigrants, we want our parents’ approval. We want to make our parents proud. Our elders have sacrificed and done so much for us, and it feels like it’s our responsibility of co-carrying that dream. To do anything that is outside of their expectations for us can be really scary. I have white friends who tell me, “You are 35 years old. You don’t owe your parents that.” But they don’t understand.
My parents are from El Salvador. They’re from a very deeply misogynistic, homophobic country. I’m not out to my dad yet, but last year I did come out to my mother. It was Thanksgiving time, and my partner and I were moving in together. I told my mom, “I have a partner, and I want you to meet her. I just want you to know me.” To my surprise, my mom closed her eyes and said, “all I want from my children is for them to be happy. Love is love.” She has come a long way.
Being part of my community is something that is so special, and it’s part of this liberatory practice that I want to embody. It’s not so much about finding the right label; it’s about owning our history and owning that we deserve to be here and to take up space.
Mika Albornoz, trans man, 30, Minnesota, Came out at 25
I’m from a very Catholic, conservative Venezuelan family. I lived in the country until I was 18 years old, and I had never met someone who was transgender. I didn’t know that you could be trans until I moved to the U.S., and I met trans people that were out. As a teen, I had already come out as gay, because I liked girls, and I was scared that nobody in my family would talk to me ever again. That was my biggest fear: the social impact, not the transition itself.
I was always very masculine-presenting. Before I was even thinking about my sexuality, people were defining my sexuality for me, because I was very butch. Since I was three or four, there were so many little incidents where people in my family would ask me, “do you want to be a boy?” Each question had a threatening undertone. So obviously, I was like, “No, absolutely not.”
I was scared that nobody in my family would talk to me ever again. That was my biggest fear: the social impact, not the transition itself.
I have an older sister who’s my best friend. She’s a lesbian, and I watched her go through a lot of stuff when she was a teenager. I saw that happen and supported her through it, or tried my very best as a child. By the time that I was a teen, I knew through her experience how hard it would be to come out. So that impacted my experience of coming out as gay, before I came out as trans.
The way that I confronted coming out as trans was like, “well, fuck it.” I don’t feel like my gender identity should outweigh my quality of life, my happiness, and my ability to literally exist. I was at a point in my depression where I was not OK. I was seriously considering taking my own life. But there was a click moment where I didn’t feel like el qué dirán is more important than my life. If nobody values my life, I will value my life. Part of that was an internal journey around learning to love myself, because I saw myself as a child, and I love myself as a child, even if nobody would.
When I came out as gay when I was a teenager, it was a problem for my parents. But when I came out as trans, there was no problem for them, which was an incredible surprise for me. I think it’s because of machismo culture. There was this idea of, I’d rather have a son, because you’re already halfway there, who dates women, than a lesbian daughter. In Latine culture, the closer you can get to manhood, the more acceptance and leniency you’re going to find.
Rose Quezada, queer woman, 31, California, Came out at 26
I have been attracted to girls since middle school or high school, but I think my internalized homophobia stopped me from believing that I could actually be with a woman — or that I should be with a woman.
I never saw a queer Latina on television or in my personal life, so it just felt like something that was not even possible for me. My upbringing was very much like, “you don’t talk about that, and we don’t acknowledge it.” And, on top of that, there’s the other layer of heteronormativity that’s rooted in many traditional Latine households, where there’s an expectation that a cis man and a cis woman will come together and have kids. There was this hetero expectation of what I was supposed to be and who I was supposed to marry.
My internalized homophobia stopped me from believing that I could actually be with a woman — or that I should be with a woman.
I had dated guys and brought some home to meet my parents, but I felt that if I did that with a woman, it was going to be the end of the world. The biggest challenges were definitely feeling like my parents were going to be super upset, that they weren’t going to accept me, and that they were going to think that I was all these terrible things.
In my 20s, I was in a really toxic relationship with a man. When we had broken up, I felt like I finally had this opportunity to really just be myself. I finally had the space and time to explore what it meant to be queer. I met my partner back then, and we started to date. It was just suddenly this very natural thing where I wanted to have her be included in all of my family gatherings. I couldn’t hide it anymore. It happened very organically. I was like, “this is the person that I’m dating now, and they just so happen to be a woman.” I’ve been queer, and this is something that I’ve been wanting to do.
Pat Arreguin, queer and nonbinary, 34, New Mexico, Came out at 30
I grew up in a Catholic household and went to Catholic school. I was taught that if you’re gay, you’re going to hell. That alone stopped me from even questioning my sexuality.
Then, when I was 19, I had a friend that I got really close with. She and I would hang out all the time and have sleepovers. Some family members assumed that we were dating, but, at that time, I never thought of it in that way. I don’t think I had romantic feelings for her. It was a genuine, platonic friendship. But they still felt some type of way about it. They staged an intervention and asked me if I was gay. If I was, they said that I couldn’t be around my niece and nephew. I took that really hard, and I broke down crying.
Maybe they knew something about me that I didn’t know. Any hint of queerness that I may have had at any point probably got pushed back from these experiences. It hurt me a lot.
I was taught that if you’re gay, you’re going to hell. That alone stopped me from even questioning my sexuality.
I started to realize I was a queer person through my collective De Colores. Having a space where I felt safe to talk with people, whether it was on the podcast or during our art events, allowed me to start wondering more about myself. Getting to connect and meet a lot of other queer podcasters and meet other queer community members, I saw their authenticity and joy; I saw them living their truth. It made me wonder, is there something about me that’s not completely out? And that’s not just my sexuality; that’s also my gender identity.
Last year, while in a relationship with a woman and living my truth with chosen family and friends, I came out to my family. I had conversations with them about being queer and bisexual. My mother never really took it seriously. You can tell your parents you’re bisexual or queer, and, in the back of their mind, they’re still hoping you bring a man home, unfortunately.
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