Thomas, in his own words:“Queerness is creativity; it’s curation. There’s an artistry and a poetry required to define yourself by your own terms. If you are told that everything you find to be beautiful or desirable is wrong, a path is forged to a certain freedom, to decide what you think is right, and true. I know that for so many of us this creates a constant anxiety, it can be really draining emotional work. But I know that for myself, it’s what saved me. The liberating revelation that my love and my life were to be entirely my own creation. It’s inspiring.
I didn’t always feel so empowered. I grew up going to Catholic school in the Midwest. When I told my parents I would be attending a demonstration for gay rights at the Kansas State House, my mother–she’s Italian–she grabbed the kitchen counter and burst into tears, repeating, “I just want to have grandchildren.” I was fourteen. Coming out, then, seemed impossible. It would be a part of myself that I would keep hidden, I figured.
I was lucky, though, because it was at my all-boys Catholic high school that I met my best friends: the Gay Lunch Table, we called ourselves. We were young and in this ostensibly repressive environment, but it never felt like that when we were together. We had our own lingo; we made each other laugh. If anyone ever tried to give us trouble, we made a game of it, coming up with unapologetically effeminate ways to make them uncomfortable. We felt tough, and not in spite of our homosexuality, but because of it.
I try to remember that every day. I’m older now, and less afraid of who I am. But it’s a good reminder: let your confidence be a shield. I read a lot of gay authors, try to follow gay artists, and there’s such a resilient beauty that runs through our history.There is both elegance and endurance. I find it very motivating. I feel the power of a family line, like I am from a long tradition of dreamers forced to reinterpret their world. So that’s what I try to remember, and what I try to put into my own work: queerness presents an opportunity to imagine a more beautiful world. Feel the power of that, wear it like armor, and embrace the grace of being gay. “
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.”
Eduardo, in his own words:“Ser gay para mí significa entender que todos somos diferentes y que el mundo no es como te lo pintan las convenciones sociales. Es muchísimo más. Es algo que sabemos todos los gays desde que somos niños. Y es una gran lección.
Uno de mis principales obstáculos ha sido enfrentarme a una sociedad tan represiva como la peruana. Pero es lo que me toca y le doy la pelea todos los días siendo yo mismo.
Sigue siendo muy difícil ser LGBTIQ en el Perú pero hay progresos. Creo que la coyuntura de la Unión Civil contribuyó con la visibilidad de nuestro colectivo y además colaboró con la apertura gradual de la sociedad civil en general. Hay grandes desafíos hacia adelante pero las transformaciones sociales toman su tiempo.
Les dije a mis papás que era gay apenas terminé el colegio pero al igual que yo, siempre supieron. Ellos están bien. Solo quieren que sea feliz. Es la misma apuesta que tengo yo en la vida: ser feliz.
¿Qué consejo me daría a mí mismo? Pasa más tiempo con tu familia. La voy a cagar muchas veces y está bien que sea así, pero tengo que aprender de cada error. Se que suena difícil y que el mundo parece un gran problema cuando eres más joven pero me diría que todo va a mejorar. El mundo se ve mejor a los 33. Disfruta de tu vida sin responsabilidades, mientras puedas. Sé una buena persona. Relájate. Dile a ese chico que te gusta. Se feliz.”
“Being gay to me means understanding that everyone is different and that the world is not only as you paint it in social conventions. It is much more. Being gay is something that we all know since we were children. And it’s a great lesson.
One of my biggest obstacles has been to confront such a repressive society like Peru. But it is what touches me and I have to fight every day just to be myself.
It remains very difficult to be LGBTIQ in Peru but there is progress. I think the situation of the Civil Union contributed to the visibility of our collective and also assisted with the gradual opening of the civil society in general. There are great challenges ahead but social changes take time.
I told my parents I was gay just as I finished school, but I always knew. They are fine. They just want me to be happy. It’s the same desire that I have in life: to be happy.
What advice would I give my younger myself? Spend more time with your family. I’m going to mess up often and rightly so, but I have to learn from every mistake. I know it sounds difficult and the world seems like a big problem when you’re younger, but I would say that everything will improve. The world looks better at 33. Enjoy your life without responsibilities, while you can. Be a good person. Relax. Tell that guy that you like. Be happy.”