By Marvin Villanueva, May 9, 2023
I was in my senior year of high school when I came out as gay to my friends.
Something that gave me so much fear to express was immediately met with unconditional support as almost all of them made sure to express how happy they were for me to have the courage to tell them. Yet, on my walk home with one of these friends, they made sure to tell me, “I hope you don’t change because of this.”
I was confused by this statement at first. Of course I would be the same person, I didn’t think being gay would inherently change anything about me.
But really, I was never myself around anyone up to that point. Everything about the way I presented myself was all to mask my true personality and to not be seen as gay, as I never wanted to deal with the potential homophobic flack that came with it such as bullying, social ostracism or even violence.
This mix of fear and shame forces people like me to not be as open, as LGBTQIA+ activist Alexander Leon said in a viral tweet: “Queer people don’t grow up as ourselves, we grow up playing a version of ourselves that sacrifices authenticity to minimize humiliation and prejudice. The massive task of our adult lives is to unpick which parts of ourselves are truly us and which parts we’ve created to protect us.”
Without knowing it at the time, I underplayed and hid every part of myself that is perceived as stereotypically gay, from my obsession to pop stars, my fascination with everything pop culture, to the way I talked, walked and presented myself publicly. Obviously, I know I never presented as straight, even to this day. I learned at an early age that it was easier to not talk about my sexuality as people would not treat you the same and as you could be met with the negative aspects of being a part of an oppressed group.
Soon I dealt with these aspects in my future encounters with this friend. His initial statement was framed differently, but I soon came to learn what he was implying. He was essentially saying he hopes I don’t become “too gay.” I learned this as he later told a mutual queer friend that she makes “being gay her personality,” which is a homophobic way of stating that their personal expression is too much for their cishet ideals.
But what is “too gay”? I have spent my entire life hiding everything about myself. I was only beginning to be open about my actual interests and my personal relationships, and it was the most liberated I have ever felt in my life.
I was finally myself, and I didn’t want to have any shame for it, because there is nothing shameful about being gay. But the only reason I was able to get to that point was due to the little indications within the people closest to me that they would accept me if I was openly gay.
For example, my brothers took the time to learn about queer culture and even watch queer media with me like “Rupaul’s Drag Race” and “Moonlight” to get a glimpse of what being a queer kid is like and what living in queerness means before I even came out to them. By having this support, I knew it would be okay to come out to my parents, who, despite them being Mexican Catholics, were thrilled I told them because they knew people from their hometown who were gay that were kicked out of their homes because of their sexuality, so my parents made sure to be supportive as they didn’t want that life for me.
The direct allyship that I received in my life, despite my run-ins with homophobia, was essential for me to gather up the courage to be myself without hiding. I never take for granted the support I receive from loved ones as I am grateful that I have the ability to surround myself with a chosen family composed of my small, immediate biological family and the queer and straight friends who accept me wholeheartedly for who I am.
Every queer person deserves this, especially during a time when there are numerous legislative bills that are attacking our individual freedoms as queer people. From bills in Texas and Tennessee that want to restrict drag shows, anti-trans bills in Nebraska, Indiana and other states that want to ban gender-affirming healthcare to trans youth and Florida’s blatant silencing of LGBTQIA+ residents, especially young queer people.
This is also as the queer community is still reeling from the horrific trauma of both the Orlando and Colorado Springs mass shootings in gay nightclubs. It’s still so terrifying that I have queer friends that won’t attend Pride this year due to their fear of another tragedy occurring.
In this time where it can feel tiring to be queer, straight people must put in the work and cultivate an environment of total support and acceptance of their queer family members, friends and acquaintances. A wholehearted acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community can make a difference to anyone who may be questioning their gender and sexual identity and can help them fearlessly be themselves in a heteronormative, hetero-dominated society where there may be few representations of what a queer life can be.
When a queer person begins to express themselves in ways they felt they couldn’t before and live as openly queer as they want to be, it feels like being able to breathe for the first time.
But obviously, no one should come out if they don’t feel safe to, especially to people they don’t feel comfortable telling. You are the only person who should have the agency to talk about your own sexual and gender identity to whoever you want. No one is owed this information and no one else should chime in with their personal beliefs of what they think you are.
Yet especially as we begin to enter Pride month soon, if straight people took the time to listen, be informed, call out the homophobia and transphobia they see in their daily lives and be accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community, it will make the lives of queer people a little bit easier.
But I’m advocating for wholehearted acceptance, not tolerance. Queer people want to be accepted and viewed as an equal being with mutual respect and appreciation, not something to be tolerated.
Through this allyship, we can begin to crumble the vile queerphobic rhetoric that conservative politicians and far-right extremists have created to demonize our community.
Through this allyship, I was able to be myself.
I stopped speaking to the friend that initially told me that statement, but I’m glad I’m not the same person anymore. Every day I live truthfully in my own queerness, as the person I always was inside, feels like a triumph. I never want to go back.
Feature image by Lauren Wong
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