Confronting conflicts of queerness, Mexican culture

Third Place, Personal Column

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On July 3, I stepped inside an office door decorated with paper hearts in San Francisco and met with two counselors from Somos Familia to discuss the reality of being a queer Latinx. 

Geared towards creating “support and acceptance for Latinx lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning youth and their families,” these counselors allowed me to discuss white-washing inside the queer community, the effects of a Catholic culture on family acceptance, mental health, toxic masculinity and, of course, the process of coming out. All topics near and dear to my heart. 

As a bisexual Latinx, my identity is the intersection of queerness and Mexican culture. Because of generational differences and a culture still based on Catholicism, those two things don’t exactly coexist peacefully. 

Founded in 2007, Somos Familia is a San Francisco-based resource center that educates and facilitates Latinix youth on the journey of coming out. Latinx is the gender-neutral term for Latino.

In their work with Somos Familia today, counselors Maritza Martinez and Rio Flores educate, build trust with and encourage community support for queer-identifying people in Latinx families. Martínez said their goal is not only to educate on queer themes but also to normalize queerness. This bridge between education and acceptance is a key part of the coming out process. 

Mental health awareness “is a motivator for families,” said Martínez “For us to talk about it in a way that’s like here are the statistics your child is eight times more likely to commit suicide if you don’t accept them. Here are the statistics. It is a motivator it is like a wake-up. Some people say it’s like in baso de agua a la cara, a cold glass of water to the face when you see these numbers: Motivating.

For many queer kids, including myself, coming out is neither a safe nor an immediately realistic option. Many parents disown or evict their own children once they come out. I deeply yearned to feel even that smidge of acceptance and comfort from my parents. I saw Martinez as the maternal support I never had, the mother who could walk me down the aisle to my future wife. 

For trans and non-binary people, it can feel even worse, Flores said. For them coming out does not happen just once. “Especially as a trans person you feel like you’re coming out every day,” she said.

The thought of coming out terrifies me daily. I feel unprepared to come out to my family, let alone everyone I meet.

In my pre-adolescent years I first began to come to terms with my sexuality. A young girl struggling with her sexuality while growing up in a homophobic household, I was constantly dealing with internalized homophobia and subsequent self-hatred. It didn’t help that when I did come out to my acquaintances. At school, I was bullied with slurs and sexualized by my male peers for loving women. 

These emotions were magnified by my family when they shamed me. It took my family years to understand my mental health issues were just like any other medical issue. My parents scolded and shamed me for my depressive episodes. They threatened to send me away, insisting I was crazy when I was paralyzed by intense panic attacks. Not having my parents’ comfort or understanding in such a time of need has caused me to be even more reluctant about coming out to them. It sometimes feels that both pieces of my identity — my family and my sexuality — cannot coexist. 

“At least for my family, there was this story of you have to fit into America, Martínez said. “You have to be the model person in America. Because we are foreigners here. And I feel like that’s true for a lot of POCs [people of color].” 

And being queer or non-neurotypical is a black smear on that perfect image. 

Even though I’ve come out to my friends at school, I still haven’t come out to my family, and they won’t read this. But I’ve found ways to celebrate my sexuality internally. 

Mostly I am excited for the future. 

A future where I can bring home my girlfriend to meet my family. A future where we can hold hands walking down the street. A future where I am not afraid to kiss her in public. 

This story was an honoree in the 2020 Lesher Awards competition.