When I was growing up in Puerto Rico, I knew I was different. Very young I would shyly look at the guys and admire their looks, their bodies, the way they dressed. It’s funny, when my dad would go to the bank and make his transactions, I would stay in the car and every guy that walked by would get a score of 0 to 10 from me. I grew up knowing I liked guys, but I had to keep it to myself. Everybody would ask if I had a girlfriend and I would say I am too busy for that. I focused my attention and time on the books, getting a good GPA and playing basketball at a court a few blocks away.
When I was thirteen I had my first experience with a boy. I was young, he was young (12) and lived down the street from me. I was so scared of being caught in my own house when my parents came back from work. They were school teachers and usually and predictably arrived home together at about the same time. But no “bust” ever happened because I was careful enough. I couldn’t tell my family about my feelings because they were semi-strict Catholics and we went to mass on Sundays. I just wished they didn’t worry so much about everyone else’s opinion. That’s why I like the saying “live and let live.” In Spanish it goes like this: “Vive tu vida y no la mia!” At 15, I had my second experience with a nephew of another neighbor. He was 17. I enjoyed it, but always felt guilty because of my religious upbringing.
So basically I spent a lot of time in the closet–not a good place to be, but a necessary refuge for a gay man to be until the time is right. I tried reading the bible and praying, and shed endless tears so many, countless times. Occasionally, I fell on my knees and asked God to let me be like everybody else and the way society expected me to be. This went on for years until I was 32. Can you believe I never had intimacy with another person in my 20s? I was so bogged down by my conflict. I knew I liked guys, but I was a prisoner in my own imaginary cell.
When I was 32, a dear friend of mine died. She was only 30 and had a beautiful 3-year-old child. That happened on Dec 20, 1996, and I questioned God a lot. I started leaning more towards reason than blind faith. How could someone so nice, young, beautiful and loving to her son be taken from this earth? Now I finally applied this new-found rebelliousness into my life. What if I die soon and never experience love in this world? I don’t want to go down like that, sad and lonely. I don’t know how much time I have left and need to live life to its fullest potential. This “closet thing,” this “shame thing” is holding me back; it is tearing me apart. I realized I am not being honest with myself!
I decided to go out to a gay bar two weeks later on January 5, 1997. It was in front of the Atlantic Ocean in San Juan and I felt nervous at first, then liberated, and then finally true to myself. I was finally out: accepted, welcome, comfortable. I finally can say I am gay and feel pride in myself. Not an easy choice, since society has so much prejudice. But who’s to cast stones at you, when their own roofs are made of glass? Who’s to judge you and point out the stick in your eye, when they have a log lodged in theirs? I told myself that if I was going to burn in hell, according to religious fanatics, I would rather burn for being gay than for being a hypocrite. Since God is good and loving and omniscient, He/She/It always knows what my true, inner feelings and desires really are.
Since then I have suffered sporadic discrimination at work. I suffered rejection by some closed-minded people, but I remind myself to focus on the good people with caring and accepting hearts. My relationship with my dad was not that great to begin with and then it got a little bumpier. For some strange, unexplainable reason I think it hurts his personal version of “machismo.” But I have to think of my own happiness, not in trying to please him by sacrificing who I truly am. I like to say my manhood or manliness is not waist-high, it resides tall and strong in my heart and mind.
Change is real and is out there. I’ve seen plenty of it. Now a lot of teenagers can come out to their families, especially to their mothers. But the timing of coming out is very tricky and significant. When someone young lives at home and depends on other people, their livelihood cannot be risked. That special event, the bondage-breaking, the emancipation from shame has to occur with minimal damage on the welfare of that young person. My mother loves me to death; I am her only child. She worries mostly because being gay is a hard lifestyle and there’s discrimination out there. Of course she doesn’t want me suffering. But I know life isn’t perfect and I remind her that there’s more happiness to be found in me being free and genuine despite the intolerance by some in our society.
I see even more positive changes; other relatives being curious and asking respectful questions. How do I know? When? Who do I like? You have to love it when people that are conservative turn the corner and start embracing you because they know deep within that love is the only way we can get along and that being gay is not what defines a person. I am gay and that’s my sexual orientation, but I am more than that. I am Carlos and I am a law-abiding citizen, a professional, a neighbor, a loving person; just another human being on the face of this crowded earth trying to live peacefully and in harmony with others, regardless of our tiny, irrelevant differences.