I came out the closet to my family when I was about 17. They did not attempt to confine me to a mental institution or send me to confess my “sin” to the local priest, like so many friends of mine have had to. My mother’s reaction was to warn me that I would get sick. Or did she say I was sick? I don't recall the moment too clearly, but I do remember her dramatic cries of agony. Hollywood missed out on a great actress. My father on the other hand, spoke calmly to me one morning as we were driving to the supermarket. He asked earnestly, “Can I help you change?” I replied that it was impossible to change. “This is who I am”. He looked quite saddened by my reply. He stared pensively at the road ahead. After a while, he turned to me and said, “If you ever want to change, let me know.”
And that was that -- as far as my father was concerned. He and I never spoke about my sexuality again.
After my mother’s Stella Dallas performance that lasted for weeks, she decided to turn things around and become my friend. From that point on my mother embarked on a mission to be the coolest mom ever. She immediately let it be known to my father that she supported my lifestyle. I think my coming out turned things around not only for me, but also for my sister and brother whom my mother also befriended, and made life easier. Mom remains our must trusted confidant to this day.
The hardest part of my coming out was dealing with my aunt. I lived with her at the time in California, and she found out by accident. She went totally crazy; ballistic is more like it. I was a teenager; strong-willed and self-confident; one who knew what he wanted and didn’t want. She decided to punish me by taking the car away from me, and prohibiting me from seeing friends and the like. I was extremely rebellious and always managed to get around her, and do my thing. Those few months that followed were pure hell. In the end, I moved back to Miami and to my conservative Cuban parents and shortly after they found out. More than a year went by before I spoke to my aunt again. I resented her for being so cruel; something my parents never were.
My coming-out has taught me that the Cuban community in Miami – or any community for that matter, will more readily accept your homosexuality if you are upfront and honest about who you are. That has been my experience my whole life. Through the years since my coming-out, heterosexuals have been my closest friends and I’ve shared all aspects of my life with them. I don’t think one has to carry a badge showing what one prefers and who one is, sexually and otherwise. But I do think that honesty is key in anything we set out to do or become in life.
Living in Miami, and being gay can be colorful in more ways than one. For example, lately for the first time in my life, I’ve been going to barbershops rather than beauty salons. And on more than one occasion, I felt the wish to scream at the heterosexual Cuban men hanging out there, and send them all to hell. Cuban men love to talk about sex and compare notes of their prowess. Once at the barber's, I was having my hair cut by this short cubanito who I had no doubt was a big queen. The men hanging out at the barbershop were talking politics at first. But soon enough, almost inevitably, the noisy conversation turned to debating why gays liked it “up the ass.”
Naturally, I grew angrier and angrier with every new insult they uttered, my ears turning red as if on fire. I was just about to give them a piece of my mind, but God works in mysterious ways. My cell phone rang, and on the other end was my boyfriend calling. Of course, I made a point of answering, “Que tal Papi?” They all turned to look at me, but no one said a word. I happily carried on and as I hung up I stared back at them defiantly. The barber's studio was now tensely quiet. Obviously trying to break the ice, one of the barbers in the room interjected, “Anyone wants coffee?”
I continue to get my hair cut at the same place, and by the same queenish barber, who swears he is as straight as they come. But I know better. Now, aside from offering me coffee every time I go there; lately I have also been getting a little pat in the back.
Thank God, I know exactly who I am…
Photo by Ivan Cañas, from El cubano se ofrece (1969)