Illustrated by Zoë Collins (She/Her)
This article was originally published in our Spring 2022 print issue “Reflections of Radiance.“
My dad was, at best, very uncomfortable with queerness before I came out to him.
For him, this discomfort stemmed from two prominent aspects of Latino culture: Christianity and machismo. Today, 77% of Latinos in the United States identify as Christian, and traditionally, Christianity has rejected queer people (with some exceptions of more progressive Christian denominations; however, these branches are not predominant in Latino culture). “Machismo,” a term that refers to exaggerated masculine pride, adds to the existing stigma against queer people within our community because it emphasizes being masculine in the “right” way, and for machistas, the “right” way to be a man requires a person to be dominant, aggressive, and heterosexual.
My dad held both of these values dearly. From a young age, I watched him be visibly disturbed when gay men were around him, flinch when one of my mom’s male Zumba instructors would reference his sexuality, and laugh at the homophobic jokes he’d hear from friends, from novelas, and from stand-up comedy specials. I understood that these beliefs and attitudes were all he had ever known. It didn’t make it hurt less.
“Familismo” refers to another core value in Latino culture. You are obligated to support and dedicate yourself to your family, simply because they’re your blood. Turning your back on family is a sin, regardless of who they are and what they’ve done. It’s a value that I knew my dad held dear, and before I came out to him, I took comfort in knowing that at least this value would keep him from throwing me out onto the street. Still, I was afraid. What if he was disturbed by me, flinched away from me, or laughed at the jokes that I knew my extended family would make? I had never not been his precious youngest daughter, and now I had to fear that he would never hug me again.
My mom can’t keep secrets. I think that was why I told her first, even though at the time I didn’t consciously know that was my reasoning. Maybe I thought that she could frame it in a way he would understand and tolerate. More importantly, if she told him, I wouldn’t have to, and maybe then I wouldn’t notice when his behavior towards me changed. Maybe I could lie to myself about why he stopped hugging me, why he was distant, why he didn’t call me his princesa anymore. One evening, however, he was standing in the doorway of my room, and I knew that he knew, and I had no idea what to do.
“Mi amor,” he began, and I stared at him. I don’t know what he saw in my eyes at that moment, but it made him walk towards me and brush his hand against my cheek before murmuring, “You know that I love you no matter what.”
And that was that, and I was free.
These days, you can find my dad loudly yelling, “Shut up!” at the TV when someone makes a homophobic comment, watching “RuPaul’s Drag Race” over my mom and I’s shoulders and praising their outfits, and making it a point to add “or girls” when my mom starts talking to me about the boys she thinks I should date. My mom tells me about her frequent fights with homophobes in Facebook comment sections, and she does what she can to shield me from the more ignorant members of our extended family. When I brought my gender identity up to them, I gave up after the fourth time they asked me to clarify because I barely had the right words in English, and I definitely didn’t have them in Spanish. A few days later, though, my mom put on a CNN special on gender fluidity and asked me during every commercial break, “Is that how you feel?”
They’ve made mistakes. My mom called my first girlfriend my amiga for our entire relationship and my first boyfriend a novio from day one, and we fought over it. My dad initially thought my queerness was a teenage phase because I dated men after my first girlfriend, and we fought too. When I cut my hair, my mom mourned the sudden shift away from femininity, but when I told her it made me happy, she swallowed the comments I knew she had and told me I was beautiful. As time has passed, the way our family handles our missteps with each other has shifted from letting them become timebombs to learning from them in the moment.
Some people hear about these mistakes and become angry or express sympathy for me. They don’t understand how these mistakes have amplified the joy I’ve found from being queer. My parents aren’t perfect allies. When they stumble, though, it reminds me how far they’ve been willing to go for me despite where they come from. It stops the rage or sadness that others tell me I should feel from ever appearing because all I feel is pride for them and for me.
How could I not take joy in who I am, when I have people who love me deeply enough to at least try to understand? My queerness and I are inextricably linked; everything about me is queer, it always has been, and you can’t love me if you don’t love my queerness. Seeing the growth that choosing to love this part of me has inspired in my parents, imperfect as they can be in their allyship, has made me happier than I ever thought I could be.
Author: Lorely Guzman (They/He/She)
Artist: Zoë Collins (She/Her)
Copy Editors: Jennifer Collier (She/They), Bella (She/They)