Ivan, in his own words: “I dont want to feel different for a simple label. We must educate ourselves and know that we are all one family. Just remember: Everyday there’s a new bridge to cross! ;)”
Guillermo, in his own words: “I was fortunate to be able to develop my career and alongside my real passion which is dancing. I always say that I studied to be a Communicator (PR, Advertising, Marketing, etc.), but I was born to be a dancer. Since I can remember I have danced, even when my mom tells stories from my childhood, most of them describe me dancing. Choreographing with my cousins and neighbors for parties was something I used to do while growing up. My first dance partner was my sister who supported me in all my follies, and still does!
I remember my dad telling me when I was still very young: “My dear son, be whatever you want to be, but always be the best.” To this day, that was my North Star, be the best PR and Communications Advisor, be the best dancer, be the best son, the best brother, the best boyfriend, in short, be a better person every day.
Obviously there were many obstacles, being gay in a country like Panama isn’t easy. First off, in a country the size of a lentil, everyone knows you or your family (which means that being in the closet 100% is virtually impossible). Secondly, the religious and macho culture ingrained in my family has made it more difficult. It was not easy trying to figure out who I was, especially while going through my parents divorce, which was very traumatic for our family.
It has been an extensive process of assimilation, acceptance and growth for both me and the people close to me. Doubts, insecurities and fears have slowly dissipated. I feel proud of each and every one of these experiences and feelings, good and bad, because they have made me the man I am today.”
Alvaro, in his own words: “I was always a different kind of kid, uncomfortable with big crowds and loud noises, I didn’t like people smoking around me or establishing physical contact with me when there was no need. Being in large groups with other kids wasn’t my thing. I used to play alone and I always tried to maintain some personal space since I felt overwhelmed with the stimuli. While I grew up I noticed the stimuli could not only be physical but emotional. I didn’t have a word for it but looking back I can see I was a very empathic kid, picking up on emotional signs in people from a very young age. I got overwhelmed sometimes so my first attempt at controlling the stimuli was to get away from it… from people, that is. I still need to do that sometimes.
Drawing was always there for me when I was alone and I could spend hours filling the pages of drawing pads and sketchbooks, I used to doodle everywhere, the walls, books, any piece of paper I could find, etc. I wasn’t really a noisy kid, I developed a whole universe in my head that nobody else knew about. But I remember I couldn’t decide whether my favorite color was green or blue, then I added red and I got completely confused. Back then I thought I was defective because I couldn’t make up my mind about such small things. I felt as if I was left behind somehow. Eventually I discovered my “defect” granted me the chance to appreciate all colors, switch between one or the other and mix them all together whenever I wanted to, while people around me could only see beauty in one or two things at once. I noticed I didn’t have to choose (or I chose not to choose) and I never thought of myself as “defective” again.
That’s until I hit puberty, my sexuality kicked in and I realized I was different to my peers in yet another aspect. I wasn’t attracted to girls in the same way my friends were. Even my drawings reflected my sexual orientation. I didn’t have a word for what I was feeling except the derogatory ones I had learned at school, on TV or even at home when some family members referred to non-straight people. I was lost, I thought I wouldn’t be able to control this new difference and turn it into something good. I fought my homosexuality for years, I tried to erase it, hide it, forget about it. I graduated high school and went to the University to become a Psychologist, there I tried to analyze my sexuality, interpret it, I cried a lot and got angry at myself for being like that. I feared rejection and got depressed. I rejected myself and I stopped producing any type of art for a couple of years.
I dated women, I slept with them and had a good time. I remember my dad caught me a couple of times with a girlfriend and he would only smile with pride. I was so happy he approved, I felt so validated. But one day I had to face it: I had been lying to myself and sex with women wasn’t going to work for me forever. I had sex with another man for the first time when I was 21 (I know it sounds late but that’s how it was). When I was finally building up the courage to talk to my parents about my sexuality, my dad got in a car accident. I wanted to tell him about me if only to be honest with him and because I was desperate to know if he’d still love me if I was gay, but he died before I had the chance to find out, so my question will remain unanswered forever. A month after his passing I began drawing men again, I haven’t stopped since then and now my art is one of the things that define me as a human being, as a man, as a gay man.
Eventually I “came out” to my mother and she cried and stopped talking to me. She had a whole lot of misguided ideas and I had to clarify a lot of things for her. It was a growing up experience for both of us. Now she and the rest of my family know about me and they respect me. Anonymity is no longer my primary defense and I even disagree with the expression “coming out of the closet” since I think the closet is where you keep the things you’re not using at any given time and the truth is sexuality permeates our every move, our every thought, our every emotion. We interpret life and the world around us based on who we are and our sexuality is a big part of that.
I’m a Doctor in Clinical Psychology and a Psychotherapist, I work with all kinds of people but always keep a big part of my practice dedicated to gay or bisexual men and women, same sex couples or even parents that get scared because their kids are “different”. I’m also a self taught drawing artist, which is my true passion and my subjects are mostly men, these days I use multiple colors and don’t feel defective for it, and I try to challenge myself every time. I’ve had a few partners and I must admit I’m a long term relationship kind of guy, though I’ve had my share of short and casual encounters, if you must know. I workout, eat well and try to be as honest to myself and others as I can consciously be. I recently started doing theater and for years I’ve run a blog on Psychology and Sexual Diversity. I still resonate with other people emotionally but I use it now to try and help them in my practice or to feed my artistic side.”
Eduardo, in his own words: “Para mi ser gay no significa mas que elegir una carrera, o ser derecho o izquierdo. Creo que ser gay es algo natural, es algo que nuestra sociedad ha decidido ver como algo adverso y nos ha impuesto esa vision negativa. Hay que empoderar lo que somos.
Los mayores retos han sido mi familia o en la sociedad en general, donde muchas veces no encajamos o no pertenecemos por exclusión de la sociedad hacia nosotros. Desde bullying en las calles por como uno se viste, hasta el prejuicio familiar hacia quien uno es y quienes lo rodean.
La comunidad aquí es grande, pero siento que tiene un gran problema de vender la idea equivocada, refuerzan una visión social impuesta, y alimentan el morbo. Creo que deberíamos ser mas libres, y no ser quienes queremos ser simplemente en una discoteca o entre nuestras 4 paredes.
En un momento de mi vida, me di cuenta que me gustaba este chico. Era la primera vez, estaba solo, en otro país, fue muy difícil. El me ayudo a ir a través de esa situación. Cuando regrese a Panamá, se lo dije a mis amigos, quienes me apoyaron totalmente, incluso cuando se lo dije a mis amigas todas se levantaron y me abrazaron. Mi familia todavía esta en proceso de aceptación, hay historias de todo tipo en estos casos, pero creo que sea una historia buena o mala, uno siempre aprende algo.
Es muy extraño para mi esto, usualmente estoy tomando la foto, no al frente de ella. Es quizás el temor a verme expuesto, de ser vulnerable, y es algo con lo que no me siento cómodo, pero poco a poco he aprendido a que pequeñas dosis de situaciones que se salen de nuestra little box that is our head, es muy sano. Y expresar quien uno es, siempre es sano. Es la honestidad de uno mismo hacia los demas, eso lo aprendí en Argentina, eso lo aprendí en mis viajes, que los procesos de todo lo que somos, nos termina obligando a encontrar lo que realmente somos, y las mentiras llegan a ser un accesorio disfuncional.”
Mauricio, in his own words “Homosexuality has always been stigmatized in latino American countries, so coming out in a country like Panama was not an easy ride. The thought of not being loved by even one of my parents scared me to death and made me hesitate whether I had to tell them or not. My mother was the first to know, she cried and demanded an explanation on why I was this way, is there an explanation on why are we the way we are?
It took a while for the wound to heal, I am now happy that my mother and I have a really strong relationship, despite the normal fights and discussions a mother and a son have I would dare to say our bond has gotten stronger and stronger with the time and even though she is still reluctant with the way of living gay people have she is my cane and my leaning shoulder as is my dad, who has always supported me from the beginning, he even asks me in family lunches if I am ever going to introduce him to a boyfriend, it’s good to know people really love you for who you are and appreciate self honesty.
I am really proud to have great and very talented gay friends in my country, they are such an inspiration for me to try to be a better person and to spread equality in such a little country as Panama, whilst always keeping up with the fast development it is having as a modern metropolis, often called the Hong Kong of Latin America. We still have a lot to fight, people care a lot about what others think and since everyone knows everyone, gossip can be a very tough thing to handle and battle. But after all we are a growing community that has risen up from all the prejudices and have battled the sticks and stones that marked our lives and that’s what life’s about, rising up from our sufferings, learning from them and making the world a better place for us all.
Austin, in his own words: “Panama is just starting their gay revolution… I had the pleasure of befriending a group of great people (mostly gay men) who are the generation of change for the face of Panama and LGBT rights. What I find so fascinating is that many of these men that I talk to about their involvement in the movement don’t seem to realize how important they are to the future change for gay Panamanians. Many of my friends are just ‘being who they are, dressing how they want, and standing up for themselves’. I feel privileged to have friends who are a part of a group that are working towards so many rights because I feel like I’m getting the opportunity to see the beginnings of an LGBT movement. In a country where two people of the same sex can be jailed if caught sharing a single kiss in public, my friends are some of the bravest people I know.”