“Ok one more,” I whisper. I feel my partner’s lips on mine and I immediately look out to the street to see if anyone saw. It’s dark out – no one saw. We’re at my cousin’s party, well outside on the side street getting one more kiss in before we see my family. We do the hola, hello, and hey to everyone before we sit down at the farthest table in sight. We hold each other’s hands underneath the table most of the night without even thinking about it. We ask each if we’re ok approximately every 2.5 minutes to make sure that in the span of these past 2.5 minutes, we are still ok. We are.
“Is that your friend?” My baby cousin shouts as he runs up. I smile and say yes without even thinking about it. My partner looks over and I shrug with a bit of an embarrassed smirk. Why did I do this? I’m out (clearly not to this small human) and I have a beautiful family unit: My partner, two dogs, and myself. We live together (yay), eat together (ass), and if we can afford it (rarely), we travel together. But wait? Am I out? Like out, out?
If so, why am I still answering like this? I’m proud to call him my partner (boyfriend, what have you). But maybe I haven’t dealt with it as great as I thought I did (coming out). But here I am receiving a candy bag with mazapan and tamarindo calling my partner my friend all because I never announced that I was “coming out” again. Again, you ask? It’s complicated.
On Valentine’s day of my senior year in high school, I received a series of texts from my mom asking, “why did I do this to the family” and similar messages. I was in the library, we were going over policies and all. She sends me a picture she found on Facebook of me and my then boyfriend. I call her and she’s crying saying my dad is picking me up from school and that I’m the worst and that she’s going to die. Naturally I freak out. I start crying to my friend. I get called up to the office and my dad is there, silent. I start tearing up again and he says he doesn’t want to hear it. I get in the car and the first thing he does is punch the windshield cracking it. I’m crying, he’s punching me while he’s driving. Locking the door repeatedly so I don’t try to jump out. I keep yelling sorry and sorry and sorry. We get home. I can hear my mom crying in the living room. My dad pushes me to the front door saying I’m disgusting and to explain it to her (my mom). My mom opens the doors crying, slapping me, breaking my phone.
My dad throws me on the ground and gets a knife. I’m crying, unable to move. He screams get out and a whole lot of slurs to which I have nothing to say. In that moment I am a maricón, a puto, a disgrace. He yells for me to leave or else he’ll kill me – kicking me while I’m on the ground. My mom then yells for my dad to stop – I get up and she slaps me. They send me to my room. My dad goes in and starts destroying my room. All of it. From my computer to the walls. All the while he’s shouting – I don’t remember what, but it hurt. Suddenly it’s dinner time. My siblings are home from school and they’re asking why I’m not allowed to talk to anyone. My dad comes in and throws an entire plate of food on me, “cometelo.” Silence.
The next morning, I wake up, I’m dizzy, confused at what just happened. I try to forget, going to my mom’s cabinet of pills and taking half a bottle. I throw most of it up – intentionally. I cry. Dad sees me a while later and takes me outside, says he did what he did because he was scared and because he loves me. Loves me? He cries, I cry. He says, “God punishes homosexuals with AIDS.” We hug. Have we made up? No. But I’m sobbing. From what, guilt? I’m not sure anymore.
Soon after, I get in the car with my parents, we drive. Dad talks about how we’re a good family and good families need to stick together. My mom agrees, looking back to me concerned and saying everything is going to be ok. We roll up at our church. Confused I ask them what we’re here for. I’m taken to the pastor’s office. They explain what happened, well their story of what happened. He asks them to leave. The prayer starts. He prays, asking me to repeat after him. I do. He mentions that if I feel like touching him to do so as that is the spirit of homosexuality trying to come out and leave my body. I didn’t touch him. I’ve heard too many stories about the church and underage children. My parents enter the room again and we all pray,
and I make a “promise” to their God that I would change, that I would do everything in my power to change. My safety came first, so I tried this for three years. I tried forcing myself to be someone I could never be.
In the three years that followed I tolerated emotional, physical, and mental abuse from a lot of people in my life. All the while I prayed and prayed to a deaf God asking them to change me. This was my truth at the time. I watched and cried over countless YouTube videos of celebrities chanting it “gets better.” It never did. I channeled my anger through Grindr and had sex with countless individuals to feel something. It didn’t work. I felt empty. I self-harmed in ways I can’t imagine doing now. After a certain point (three fucking years) it became too much that I decided to move out – “no reason” I said to my parents, just because. But it was because I wanted to live my truth.
And I’m still there. I’m stuck. Afraid to make a move, afraid to hold my partner’s hand in public because I didn’t emphatically scream “I’M GAY” as I moved out. I just left – I didn’t owe them an explanation. And I did it for my personal safety and that I will never regret. I will never regret choosing my personal safety over “coming out.” But what’s left is an incomplete story, because we as a “family” swept it under the rug and chose to ignore my truth for what it is. My incomplete story was left with my parents, the pastor, and myself. The gay part didn’t reach any other part of my family like my cousins, aunts and uncles, etc. Just us. Buried underneath it all.
My therapist is working with me to overcome my past. It’s difficult, but it’s slowly working itself out. Coming out is supposed to be this grand moment where our plumage comes in and we take off soaring to new heights being who we truly are. It’s 2019 and people are shouting, hashtags are flying off the shelf, and we are here to stay! Coming out is supposed to signify that it gets better, but sometimes it doesn’t. And in this case, it still hasn’t – and it probably won’t. And I’m ok with that. I don’t owe my family an explanation, and that was the hardest thing for me to understand. But I do now, and I’m better for it.
Sometimes that plumage isn’t rainbow colored and vibrant. It’s heavy, dampened by life, yet somehow still intact. The plumage is fighting to break free and take off. To this day my parents and I actively ignore the subject, but I get small hints of acceptance, I think. Not in the way that’s typical but in the excited “oh you brought our grandkids!” as my dogs run up to them to say hi (it used to be, when are you getting married or when are you having kids). I’ve decided that if this is what I get, I’m ok with that. I don’t need a great “coming out” story. I just need my truth, my two dogs, and my amazing partner (and my amazing career in HIV/STI Prevention).
I can’t and won’t say it gets better, but I will say this: If it doesn’t get better, you’re not alone. I see you and I’m here with you and I will walk alongside you so you’re not alone in this.
By: José Echeverría
My name is José and I was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. I work for a small organization managing their HIV/STI prevention department in which I oversee five programs working with individuals experiencing homelessness, substance use, and everything else in between. Together with my staff we impact the lives of 3,000+ people a year here in Phoenix! It’s amazing work and I love it every day. In my spare time I like to harmonize with my pups Guapo (a cheagle) and Juni (a French Bulldog), water my 20+ plants, write grant proposals, make espresso, watch comedy with my man, and sing karaoke to the tune of sad Mexican music (Ana Gabriel, Juanga).