For this post, I asked a number of people who identify as Latino/a and LGBTQ+ to share their experiences of balancing their sexuality and their culture. I interviewed Vanessa, a pansexual, Puerto Rican and Peruvian who was raised Catholic; Haleigh, a bisexual Puerto Rican who was raised in a mix of Catholic and Protestant; Valerie, a bisexual Greek, Spanish, Dominican, whose mother is not religious and father is Roman Catholic; and Alex, a homoflexible Mexican and Colombian who was raised as Catholic.
Vanessa speaks about her fear of coming out to her family. She says that even though her family seems to be supportive and okay with homosexuality, she is still afraid because their actions do not match their words. She shared a couple anecdotes with me, one about her seeing a Puerto Rican flag with the LGBTQ+ colors on it, and her mother yelled about how that was something that was never okay, and her younger brother used to play dress up and her dad would always get mad at this. She later discovered it was because he was afraid if her younger brother kept dressing up, he would act more like a girl, which eventually lead to being gay.
“My parents are understanding and seem to be supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. However, it can be so easy to say you support a community or a movement when it’s not affecting you directly. They aren’t active advocates for LGTBQ+ initiatives, they don’t do anything but say they agree that people should just love who they love. I know people can change their views and be better, that’s part of growing and learning and evolving, but at the end of the day, it’s hard for me to see that when growing up they’ve displayed something else. That’s what’s holding me back.”
Vanessa believes as well that it’s not necessarily religion that keeps Latinos so against homosexuality, rather tradition itself. She shared with me that her family are not practicing Catholics, but religion still plays a large enough role where she feels intimidated by it.
“The hardest part is the deep root to a religion that doesn’t support my being. My parents, although raised as Catholics, don’t practice. They don’t actively pray, or speak to god (that I know of), they don’t go to church, they don’t lead a life that is enriched in the love of Jesus Christ and god. It almost seems like they cling to this belief out of tradition rather than whole-hearted genuineness.”
She also expressed that she feels religion is rooted heavily in her culture, her language and as a result, she feels as someone who identifies as pansexual, she cannot embrace both of her identities.
“I feel my Latina identity is heavily rooted by Catholicism, it’s hard for me to embrace both identities. Pansexual and Latina. I’m one or the other right now. I can’t reconcile being both yet, not fully at least.”
Haleigh is also hesitant to come out to her family. She described her struggle in accepting herself and coming out to people she’s dated in the past and it going poorly, resulting in her being accused of lying about being straight. She also spoke about one of her brothers being bisexual and out, and how her family dismisses him.
“I’m worried that my family wouldn’t know how to react. There’s a lot of subtle discrimination against non-straight people that’s shown within my family, and I don’t really want to be the target of that. I know it’s kind of cowardly, but I’m worried that relationships will be ruined if I come out.”
When asked about the hardest part of being both Latina and bisexual, Haleigh spoke about her privileges within both the Latina and the LGBT communities. She talks about the privileges afforded to her by appearing white and from being presumed to be heterosexual..
“I think the hardest part about it for me is dealing with those moments where my identity is invalidated. I’m secure in myself and who I am, and there are people who adamantly disagree when I tell them I’m Latina or bi, simply because I look super white and because I haven’t dated a girl. It makes me feel awful but at the end of the day I know my truth and that’s what matters.”
Valerie’s experiences are slightly different. She is out to her family and they had a very good reaction. Her family was generally okay with it, despite being a little surprised. Even with this positive reaction, Valerie still struggles with her identity as a Latina bisexual, specifically with the traditions that exist in the culture.
“The hardest part is the traditional values that many people latch onto. Although my immediate family is relatively accepting, I have heard from both the Spanish and Dominican sides some ignorant comments. Although in most aspects I am the traditional ‘dream girl’ to a suegra— mother in law—(good academics, hard working, can cook, etc.), the fact that I am bisexual will automatically make me unfit for someone’s child.”
Alex is also out to his family, but his experience wasn’t as nice. His family did not have a positive reaction, and to this day, his sexuality is considered taboo and rarely discussed, even though he has been out for a long time. He is thankful for the support system he has created elsewhere.
Alex also seems to view the Latino culture as synonymous with religion, and sees balancing the two as one of the hardest parts.
“The hardest part is being torn between your two identities, I love my Latino side and heritage and religion but they aren’t accepting of my queerness and not many queer people accept my faith and the other ideals that came with my culture.”
I know that as a queer Latina, I am not alone. Many other Latinos on the LGBTQ+ spectrum face an adverse response to being out. It is seen as taboo, and sinful all across our culture. Not only does that create a less than ideal situation for Latinos who are out to their families, but it creates an environment where Latino youth are afraid to come out to them in the first place. It’s a cycle where Latinos will not even bother to come out because they know their families will not be accepting and not acknowledge their sexuality, or worse, where they will hide themselves, and struggle to conform to what’s expected of them rather than being true to themselves.
A big part of the Latino culture is religion. I personally feel that is one of the reasons why Latinos are so against the concept of homosexuality. The religions practiced in these areas, mainly Catholicism or some form of Christianity, are famously known for condemning homosexuality. And though some people may not be very religious, a big part of Latino culture and tradition lies in religion. It’s a big part of how they were raised, and it’s a cultural norm in these countries. There is a strong emphasis on religion in the Latino culture.
Myself and these individuals all know first hand how hard it is to exist as both Latino and queer. We know the struggle, and we can empathize with any queer Latino youth struggling to find themselves. Each interviewee was kind enough to leave some advice and words of encouragement for anyone in a similar position:
“I’m in the process of being comfortable in my own skin and I have trouble realizing that everyday where I let myself be free is a step forward. It’s growth and it’s progression that takes time, so I sometimes forget why I continue to let me love myself. I have this quote: “You didn’t come this far to only come this far.” So advice? Take a moment in the day, in the shower, at night in your bed, on the top floor of a quiet library to just let go of your worries and insecurities. Breathe. You are enough.”
“Don’t be afraid to own your identity and who you are. We belong to two beautiful, vibrant, and warm communities that have so much love to give and knowledge to share and things to be proud of. While I know it’s not always easy to own your identity, and that sometimes the price you pay for doing so is high, it’s so important that you embrace and accept yourself for who you are. No one’s gonna love you better than you; we’re all we’ve got. And it’s okay if you’re not totally there yet, because the road to self-love and acceptance isn’t linear, nor does it ever truly end. But it’s important that you try, and that you know you can rely on your fellow LGBTQA+ Latinx folx for help.”
“The advice I have for my fellow LGBTQ+ latinos is that with time, most hardships subside. People grow to be more accepting with old age and with exposure to new things. If they don’t, it’s okay to have a relationship with your family outside of being LGBTQ+, even though it causes strain. Remember that although your latino friends, family, and role models still love you for who you are, even if it doesn’t feel that way. If you feel like you have no one — I love you. You are a lovely, unique, and irreplaceable human being. Never forget that.”
“Find a good middle ground where you express your queerness and your culture, be it find your chosen family or a safe space where you don’t have to worry about being scrutinized for who you are. It might take a lot of work but it’s worth it. “
And from me:
“Embracing your sexuality is a process. There’s going to be challenges and obstacles at every step of the way. What’s most important is how you view yourself. Remember that there is no right or wrong way to be yourself. Remember that Latinidad and queerness are not mutually exclusive. Remember that the only person you owe anything to is yourself. And remember that there is strength in unity.”
Juntos podemos superar todo—together, we can overcome anything.