The author has chosen to publish this piece anonymously because he hasn’t come out to his family.
In high school I couldn’t escape the harassment.
“Fool, shut the fuck up! You’re the faggot.”
When it came to the harassment I endured, my guy friends fought fire with fire. My friends weren’t perfect, but I could see past the rough edges. Just because I was different in one aspect didn’t mean that I couldn’t relate to them. I still knew what it was like to be a brown boy in our school. I clung to my guy friends because I needed to feel like I was still a guy; I needed to belong. I would wince inside when my friends called each other puto or talked about gay people in offensive ways, but on the outside, I would laugh and pretend to be unfazed by what was going on. I still wanted to be recognized as one of the guys even if I wasn’t allowed to be because of my sexual orientation. It was safer that way.
As a way to combat some of the teasing that I was dealing with, I did things to make myself appear manlier, whatever the hell that means. I laughed at sexist jokes, I tried to play soccer in the park after school with the other guys, and I even started smoking because I thought that there was something masculine about it. I strayed away from anything that I thought would make me appear gay.
The thought of falling outside what it meant to be a “real” man was terrifying in a school that established strict gender roles. Students, and sometimes even the staff, policed the halls of my school making sure no one broke the established rules of being a woman or man. If a girl cut her hair too short she was shamed, and people wondered if she was a lesbian. If a guy was too “dramatic” he was told to stop acting gay. The danger of going against these norms in my high school kept me from sharing the fact that I was struggling with my sexual orientation. I went through four years of trying to hide my feelings from everyone else, and it really did a number on my mental health. I made it through high school in one piece, but my spirit was cracked.
During my first year of college, I remember walking into a room full of brown boys, excited by the prospect of finding something familiar in such a foreign place. A group of guys talking shit about soccer, girls, and each other sounded a lot like home to me. It was true that being around these guys reminded me of home, but I was forced to deal with both the good and the bad that these boys represented. I was reminded of the football players that called me faggot and queer-bait. I was reminded of the teachers who turned a blind eye to the teasing, the harassment, and the physical intimidation. But I was also reminded of some of my best friends from high school: the guys that would stick up for me when I was teased.
In high school, I had to ignore some of the things my friends said in order to maintain my sanity. I didn’t see how college would be any different. In order to be an “hermano” in this group I had to just ignore some of things that the guys would say. I let the disrespectful comments about women go unchecked. I pretended to be unfazed by the backhanded comments about queer and transgender people. It shouldn’t have been that hard for me to continue passively condoning the sexist behavior of my “friends,” but things changed for me pretty quickly.
I didn’t have a triumphant coming out experience. There was no proud moment when I decided that I was going to stop hiding who I really was. I didn’t march out of the closet waving a rainbow flag—someone opened the door without asking me and I sort of just tumbled out and landed face-first on the concrete. The experience sent shock waves through my life, and I began to change the way that I thought about myself and the way that I related to other Latino men. Though my own coming to terms with my sexuality was very painful, I realized that I had been complacent in hurting myself and others by remaining silent through high school. I knew that continuing on this path in college would only hurt me more. Even though I wasn’t ready to be more open about myself, I felt like I was at a point in my life that I had to be more honest with myself and with those around me. Things didn’t go over too well with the guys that I thought were going to be my support system in college. As I was more upfront about how I felt about some of their sexist and heterosexist behaviors, I began to feel more and more isolated. The fear that I had about coming out in high school turned out to be very real in college.
These feelings of isolation weren’t new; I had already experienced them in high school. The way that I dealt with them then was to hide my true self and to conform to the narrow definition of what it meant to be a real man. But I wasn’t the same person that I was in high school; I was tired of dealing with machismo, the sorry excuse for sexism and homophobia. In high school, I didn’t have a voice—but I found it in college. I began to speak up for myself and call out the comments and jokes that I thought I could ignore before. At this point in my life, I wouldn’t have called myself a feminist and I didn’t even know what the word “oppression” meant, but I knew that there was something wrong with the way that my community treated women and other gay people.
My newfound voice didn’t go over so well with a lot of the guys:
“Bro, it was just a joke.”
“You’re being too sensitive.”
“Bro, I don’t really get into drama.”
It seemed like every time I raised a concern about something, I was told that I was the problem. I was being too sensitive. I was being dramatic. I didn’t know how to keep my personal issues private. The problem was never homophobia or sexism; it was me, and I had to be dealt with. In high school the way the way to do it was to call me a puto or a faggot. But this was college, and there is no way in hell that they were going to get away with using such explicitly homophobic language. Those words were replaced by words like “sensitive” and “dramatic,” words that were meant to rob me of my masculinity and render my voice irrelevant.
Others began to notice the toxic relationship that was building between me and the guys. “Why do you even bother with them?” they’d ask. In my heart, I hoped that I could help this group come to a more nuanced understanding of what it meant to be a Latino. However, in order to accomplish this goal I had to be taken seriously as a man. At times I would allow myself to slip into old habits to negotiate my masculinity with this group; I walked away from those moments feeling guilty. If I wasn’t feeling emasculated I was feeling ashamed, and at no time did I feel empowered. After months of trying, I realized that my wellness wasn’t worth the trouble. I walked away from the group and severed my ties with most of its members. I wish that I could say that this satisfied me but I felt as if walking away from a part of myself; after all, I was drawn to this group of guys because of the ways in which they reminded me of home.
Distance hasn’t helped solve any of the problems of homophobia and sexism. Instead the divisions between “me” and “them” have grown larger and so has the delusion. I pretend to be strong, unfazed by the bullshit, and they pretend that to have done nothing wrong. We blame it on machismo and “personal” problems without seeing how those excuses just aren’t good enough.
My desire to be accepted and respected by a group of other Latino guys didn’t start in college; it has its roots in a very painful high school experience. I’ll probably never forget the harassment I experienced in high school, and it doesn’t help that I have run up against some of the same sentiments in college. Years of hateful words have left me scarred, but they haven’t take away my will to fight. If anything they have made me stronger, and I won’t stop lending my voice to the cause of increasing inclusivity of other queer folk in communities of color. There is nothing inherently homophobic, sexist or macho about Latino men, and it’s time we start acting like it.