As I look back at my life, I realize that growing up I noticed and knew that there was something different about me; however, I did not know quite what it was. I had a feeling that I did not feel right in my own body and I was not like other boys or girls. I was confused for a long time and decided not to deal with it. I repressed many feelings that did not fit into the black and white paradigm of gender that stemmed from growing up Catholic and Hispanic. Though my Latino heritage dictated gendered social norms, many of those ideas did not make sense to me or click with me. I unwillingly conformed to some of the standards because I was scared of the ramifications if I did not. For many Hispanics, the smallest unit of self is the family—my struggle was not only my own but would ripple into and through my entire familia. I feared being a disgrace to my familia and being the relative that no one talked about. I felt trapped and had no one that I could really talk too.
My world growing up as the child of Latin@ parents was very black and white with no room for color or variation. I did not understand why I could not play piano but had to take tae kwon do for 7 years until I was a black belt. I did not understand why I had to take out the trash in our family’s cleaning business but my sisters’ had to clean the kitchen. I did not understand why my step-father did not like that I cooked but encouraged (or coercively forced) my sisters to cook and be in the kitchen in preparation for being a good Cuban wife. It bothered me that my uncle and cousin put pressure on me to have many girlfriends and be macho; while my sisters were strictly and sternfully told to be pure like the Virgen Maria. A lot of these messages I internalized but was painfully confused; I was lost and caught between a world of latino machismo forcefully engrained into me by my family and an inner sense of not wanting to conform and luchar for my true self to be affirmed and bienvenid@.
As I began to venture into the world of sexuality and gender, questions, doubts, and issues with gender binaries and latin@ expectations began to rise. I began to learn language that explained this “something more” that was luchando inside of me in relation to gender than just the binary imposed onto me by my family, church, and culture. I realized that I am both/and. AY DIOS MIO!!!!! As I engage the messy intersection of sexuality and race as a Latin@, I am realizing more and more that I am not crazy and that I am not alone. I am learning the lingo of expanding gender and finding comfort that there are others who understand. There are bodies of research and knowledge that are evolving that challenge heteronormativity (though there is a scarcity of this scholarship in and about communities of color).
If the church and my latin@ roots still struggle with gay and lesbian forcing them to fit into the binaries of male and female with no room for variation, what will they do with those of us who transcend categories or binaries? It is a scary thing and I question where is GOD in this whole mess but I also know that GOD is in the in-betweeness. An issue to bring up briefly (which could be an entire treatise in of itself) that does not help the tension of Latin@ conceptions of gender is the in-betweeness of being Hispanic in the United States. On top of engaging the intersections of gender and race that cause a sense of displacement within me; as a child of Hispanic parents my identity as a Latin@ and as an American also causes a sense of displacement. I am not fully American because my mother is Cuban and my father Salvadoran; I am not fully Cuban or Salvadoran because I was born in the United States. Just like I questioned who I was in terms of gender, I question who am I in terms of race and ethnic identity. It is a big f****** mess of engaging the inbetweeness of race, gender, and identity which is enriching yet confusing (one does get tired of having to be the teacher or tokenized object of ethnicity and gender out of the boxness).
As I conclude my post, I realize that it is not an end but the beginning of a journey of self, spiritual, and vocational exploration. I am not sure where my spicy rambunctious determination to break binaries will take me. I may get dirt in my falda as I walk, but that will not stop me from moving forward and discerning what step to take next in this baile y lucha. Coming into my own publicly will be a journey where GOD walks with me, holds me, and hopefully will walk and hold others through me. ¡Amen, que asi sea!
featured image from: http://www.insidetrail.com