James, in his own words:“It’s incredible how fast is growing up a city like Panama, but at the same time it is very sad to look around and see discrimination still being a problem in our society. Fortunately the new generations are changing their mind, but sometimes gay people have to be really patient and try to live with this.
In this topic people have to understand that “RESPECT” is the best way to live in society and tolerance is necessary.
I’m really proud of being a part of the change in this country and I’m grateful for having very talented, brave, smart and beautiful friends, who are showing to the world that there’s nothing wrong being gay.”
Reiner, in his own words:“I used to think being gay, meant about rejections from the people you love, about the body, about parties, about sex and I was really scare about it but now I know that being gay its much bigger than that, it’s about being who you are no matter what, it’s about to loving yourself and always be proud.
Coming out for me was really easy and I’m very lucky I have the must wonderfull mother I can ever ask for, and I thought will be harder then that because I was comparing with my other friends experiences and I told her because I was in a relationship, I was traveling all the time and I was sick of so many lies, so I decided to make her part of my life and was a very emotional momment.
I was really scared and with my brother there to support me and I told her and she was like “so? what you expect me to do? You’re my son I have to love you no matter what” and she started to cry when she was talking, then my brother was crying too, and she hug me and told me “no matter what I will be here for you, because I love you and I am proud of you” and the very next day she was treating me like always just like my brothers, my dad and my friends when I came out with them.
So my story doesn’t have drama or hate and that’s why I feel lucky and proud to be gay. When it’s about to be gay in Panama its kind of hard because there is a lot of gossips and jealousy in this country, that’s why I refuse to let those with dirty feet walk through my mind, and just be happy.”
Ariel, in his own words:“I have never felt guilty or shameful about being gay; however, one of the greatest experiences I faced as a result of my sexuality was letting go of the expectations that society and my family planned for me. Society tries to teach us what is right and wrong, and coming out of the closet is a rebellion against those expectations and rules. You have to learn to live not just to be accepted, but to be yourself. The world out there is a big place and there is a space for everyone.
I came out when I was very young at the age of 14. Being still an adolescent, I had to educate the people around me, especially those whom I loved the most, like my father. This was a big challenge because they had little-to-no understanding of what it meant to be gay: for them, the raunchy, dirty sex acts where the first things to come to mind. Moreover, these were always filtered through a religious/moral lens. They were not immediately able to think of the love and companionship that might be involved in my relationships. Coming out at this age was especially difficult because one depends on his/her parents for everything.
Now I’m glad I came out when I was so young because my family has had many years to process, learn, and get over their fears and prejudices. Today, I live very openly with my family and they are very accepting of my life. For example, when my boyfriend comes to visit from the United States, he stays with me in my bedroom at my father’s house. During holidays, he comes to all of the family parties, and my grandmother even buys him a present. Today, when others see this, they often tell me how lucky I am; however, what they don’t realize is that this level of acceptance took more than ten years.
Panama is a very small country with a very small gay community. Gay people want things to change, but they are too scared to do anything about it. Because of pervasive homophobia in society, many feel that there is more value in staying in the closet than taking the risk of coming out. Moreover, there is a lot of discrimination (gender, race, class, etc.) within the gay community itself. Change is happening, but it is slow and incremental.
To come out of the closet, I wrote a letter to my mother (as I was used to doing at the time to say important things), but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. She talked to my father that the same night and then the nightmare started. They thought I was confused and sent me to a psychologist the very next day. Thankfully, he was a good man and didn’t try to change me.
My mother was upset and did not talk to me for several days; however, I did not pay that much attention to either of my parents because I never thought I was doing anything wrong. After a few days, my mother got over it and soon became my best friend—I could even talk to her about boys. However, in a country where machismo runs strong, there was not much that she could do immediately to change my father. Within the space that she had, she did what she could to protect me. I was lucky to have her by my side.
For my father, it was much more difficult: he was so sure this was a choice and that this was something that I could change if I wanted to change. I could have made things easier for myself just by telling him that I was going to try to change even though I had no intention of doing so. But I refused. I told him that if it was so easy to change, that he himself should try to change his heterosexuality to be attracted to men. We stopped talking and we grew apart. Every once in a while, he would repeat his question, but I always had the same answer.
While most of my friends were out having fun at this age, I was at home grounded because I refused to change. Now, I think about it as a joke, but I was basically grounded for six years with very limited freedom or time to go to parties to socialize with friends. The upside is that I had plenty of time to read, think, and understand my sexuality and what it meant to be gay. This only made me more confident in my ability to combat their homophobia with well-articulated arguments.
Coming out is a continuous process: as we go to our jobs, hang out with friends, shop for groceries, spend time at parties, go to large dinners, we are constantly meeting new people and one never stops coming out. If you are not entirely honest or coy, people will often gossip about what you are doing, so I just prefer to be honest to remove all of their fun.”
Jon Fe, in his own words:
“Que significa ser gay para ti?
Que te gusten personas de tu mismo sexo, no es un “look” o una actitud. Una forma de vida que No tiene alternativa forzada.
Cuales han sido los retos que haz enfrentado como un hombre gay?
No muchos, he sido afortunado. En secundaria si me molestaron mucho hasta cuando ni sabia que o era. Me maquillaron a la fuerza y me tomaron fotos. Ahora no tengo “retos” mas que encontrar una pareja que me complemente y viceversa.
Como es la comunidad gay en Panama?
Emm, pequena. No es una graan comunidad, pero es algo. Mejor que la de Central Point, OR hahaha. Tengo mas amigos gays, y menos amigas lesbianas. Diria que la comunidad gay se divide en dos principalmente. Los que van a discotecas gay, y los que aun quieren pretender ser straight hahah (closet boys)
Cual es tu historia al salir del closet?
Le conte a mi mama primero, fui MUY directo y honesto. Le hice entender que ya era un hecho y que estaba pasando. She was talking trash of an old high school friend, telling me she was a slut. She reached my boiling point so I told her I was dating a 24 year old guy (17 at the moment, a month away of my bday) and just because I wasn’t going around telling everyone I had sex it didn’t make me more or less of a slut. She didn’t say aything but she’s always been fairly accepting within her own education and cultural beliefs she grew up with. I really can’t complain, she’s met my friends and boyfriend and she’s been fairly accepting.
My dad asked me weeks later and I totally dismissed him and gave him a silly excuse I didn’t think he’d believe. Maybe a year later I told him I was applying to scholarships and grants and there a few for gay guys. He asked me why would you apply for a gay schoolarship. I told him with a obvious tone to my voice, “because I’m queer”. He said he wanted to take me for a drink and talk about it and he invited me to a appletini and he had a beer and it was nice. He was really funny about it. One of my brothers always knew and the other one saw a picture of me kissing my ex. It was hilarious hahah.”
Kito, in his own words:“Qué significa ser gay para ti?
Sacrificio. Los homosexuales son discriminados de tantas maneras y yo sólo me propongo convertirme en el mejor hombre que pueda ser, para no ser víctima de ningún tipo de discriminación y no caer en estereotipos. Ser tan, o más, hombre que muchos heterosexuales que conozco. Demostrarle a la comunidad que no hay nada malo en ser gay, que únicamente es una particularidad del ser humano como la raza o la altura o el color de los ojos. Pretendo ser un ejemplo para mi familia, amigos y profesionales.
Cuáles han sido los retos que haz enfrentado como un hombre gay?
Para muchos no es el caso; pero, socializar e identificarme con hombres a diferentes edades fue algo difícil para mí. Requirió de mucho esfuerzo y sacrificio; y supongo que llevar una vida amorosa en familia tampoco es una cuestión sencilla; pero, al final me siento afortunado porque no he sufrido tragedias por violencia o discriminación. La vida ha sido buena conmigo.
Cómo es la comunidad gay en Panamá?
Panamá es un país con un poco menos de 3,000,000 de habitantes. En, la ciudad pueden haber 1,000,000 de habitantes, es una ciudad muy chica y la comunidad gay en Panamá es más chica aún. La mayoría trata de ser, aunque abiertos consigo mismos, muy discretos. El resto de los ciudadanos simplemente ignoran la situación; no existe un real temor por violencia o crímenes de odio aunque si los ha habido. Sin embargo, cada año se ve más apoyo en medios, para la no discriminación en contra de los homosexuales. Hay que recordar que Panamá es un país mayormente católico; pero, con tantas ideologías y culturas viviendo en el mismo territorio, Panamá ha aprendido a respetar y tolerar diferencias poco a poco. También gracias a la “Organización de Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panamá” que ha sido partícipe en la comunidad “hetero” con eventos sociales y culturales en pro de nuestra causa.
Es por eso que en Panamá no es tan difícil vivir siendo un hombre homosexual. De igual manera, hay que ser muy cauteloso al vestir o expresarse porque sí puedes ser víctima de discriminación a la hora de conseguir empleo o negarte la entrada a algún establecimiento o la prestación de algún servicio.
Cual es tu historia al salir del closet?
Realmente pensé que era el único gay en mi país, estaba tan aislado de la comunidad y de mi mismo, de mis instintos; no fue hasta que conocí a dos hombres gay que estudiaban conmigo en la universidad que empecé a inquietarme respecto a mi orientación. Fue como una bomba que reventó desde adentro, consumiendo todo a su paso; ya me era inevitable revertir mis pensamientos, era un corriente confusa de emociones: odio, excitación, angustia, esperanza. Era en lo único que pensaba. Viví una segunda vida por un tiempo hasta que algunos años más tarde, en una época muy difícil en mi familia, lo único que se me ocurría para alivianar la tensión y mis preocupaciones era decirles que era gay.
Preferí decirlo en mi cumpleaños, de esa manera lograba dos cosas: que nunca se me olvidara la fecha y tenerlas, a mi madre y hermanas, suficientemente contentas conmigo como para no odiarme en el momento. Tenía las manos heladas! Decir: “Yo soy gay” duró mucho más tiempo del que hubiese imaginado jamás, fue eterno.
Felizmente, todo salió bien, a parte de las lágrimas y cuestionamientos, los cuales eran esperados y extensos. Mi mamá al saber que este hecho ya conocido no me iba a cambiar como ser humano, como hijo o hermano, la tranquilizó algo. “No mamá, nunca me he vestido ni me vestiré de mujer”… Ese era su mayor temor supongo. No la culpo, es el único tipo de gay que conocen los heterosexuales, es lo que vende la TV y los medios. No les interesa ningún otro tipo de gay y por eso el gran temor de los padres y amigos. Es todo parte de una inocente ignorancia.”
Alvaro and Guillermo, in their own words:“So we saw each other at the gym, made eye contact, never spoke and each of us went on his way. A few days later a combination of a common friend and Facebook made its magic and after a friend request we started chatting. A couple of weeks after that we had our first date and the rest is history. To this day we’ve been together for 3 and a half years, not without facing a lot of obstacles and learning how to deal with them as we go. From time management to learning to support each other on their personal endeavors, sharing friends (and families), facing homophobia together and the series of extra “coming outs” that being in a relationship triggers.
Each of us has his own way of thinking and facing life, and most of the time we show each other different perspectives. You could say we balance each other out in a very positive way. Besides, considering your partner in every decision you make is not easy but it’s important to do it if you want to be in a real relationship.
As long as you’re partners (as in a team) and you’re willing to evolve your relationship into something new you can make it. In our country there’s a lot of homophobia and many gay couples behave like friends when they are in public. A lot of people react to the way we behave and to how open we are when it comes to being a couple, but in the end we get mostly positive reactions from straight and gay people. So we like to think that by working hard in our relationship and keeping it real we contribute to the cause.”