Despite what the colorful rainbows and flag-waving during Pride Month may imply, being gay isn’t easy. I’ve seen folks being shunned from their families, risking relationships, hiding their identities in certain contexts and spaces—and it gets even more complicated when they’re a person of color. Not only are we trying to overcome the first set of problems, but we’re also navigating what it means to be both queer and BIPOC. When who we are and the heritage we come from is more often than not, at odds with each other. Where my Mexican heritage will feed me good food and cariño in one moment, and casual homophobia, machismo, and sexism in the next. Where there are just as many endearments and nicknames in Spanish as there are homophobic slurs. Ever since I came out as bisexual two years ago, it’s been a big question on my mind: how do I love who I am and be proud of my roots without sacrificing either one? How can I embrace all these parts of myself at the same time?
Being queer, being brown, being Latina, a big part of my journey to embrace all the complexities of my intersectional identity has been to look at people who have already done it. But just like the accepted history of the U.S. or Latin America, LGBTQIA+ history and even its current movement have been whitewashed and made to erase the Black and brown trans folks who pioneered its start. For me, it took extra research to learn that the ties and overlap between the LGBTQIA+ and Latinx communities are vast, numerous, and vibrant. That I have the right to embrace who I am because of Black and brown trans organizers. That I have the right to even exist because of queer Latinx icons like Sylvia Rivera, who worked alongside Marsha P. Johnson to tear down the systems of oppression that targeted gay and trans people. Like Christina Hayworth, one of the first openly trans people in Puerto Rico, and Angie Xtravaganza, a trans Puerto Rican drag queen and pioneer of Latinx ball culture in New York City.
Even Frida Kahlo, who I’ve always admired as one of the most revolutionary artists of her time, became more meaningful to me after learning about her bisexuality. She was never the sanitized, commercialized Mexican painter the world now knows her as, but a disabled, communist, passionate, bisexual icon.
It’s also taken community to get to where I am today. As I’ve been forming friendships with other queer Latinxs and queer people of color, I’m learning that I can’t be proud of who I am on my own. Whether it’s us discussing our queer experiences or sharing a meal, swapping film and TV show recommendations or just sharing space together in a group chat, it’s become crucial for me to be in connection with others who know and understand the context I’m coming from. Just like seeing myself represented on-screen and in literature has proven beneficial for my mental health and attitude toward my own identity, so is seeing people in my real life embracing who they are. When they’re joyful, proud, and celebratory, it’s easier to give myself permission to feel the same.
And why shouldn’t I? To be a queer brown Latina is to be powerful and revolutionary. To be part of radical, fierce histories. To come from a long tradition of advocacy, grassroots organizing, activism, community, gentleness, softness, and unconditional love. In today’s culture, as far as we’ve come with LGBTQIA+ rights, it still feels like a miracle to exist in this queer brown body.
That’s not to say that being who I am doesn’t come with its privileges. As a cis woman, I’m not subject to transphobic attitudes or comments. Being bisexual, I can safely engage with men in both public and private spaces without fear of harassment or discrimination in a way that people of other sexual orientations cannot. I’m shielded from the “common” queer experience in many contexts. But when we’ve historically ignored and erased queer brown people, for me to embrace that very identity, to take up space with my queer brown partner, even to walk down the street with him to the grocery store, continues to be an act of power. I’m learning more every day that to love and be loved as a queer person of color is a holistic, radical act that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
And yet there are days when loving myself feels like real work. As much as I love my family and am lucky enough to be part of a family who loves me back, they’re not absolved of their homophobic and transphobic comments that misunderstand what it means to be queer. We’ve had arguments about trans athletes in sports, queer people in movies and TV, and their assumption that gay men are predatory and threatening. Two years since discovering my sexuality, I’m still not comfortable at the idea of coming out to them, much less sharing that part of my life with them. When I go on dates with girls, I call them “friends.” When I see a beautiful woman in a movie we’re watching, I say that I love what she’s wearing rather than what she looks like. For so long, I’ve wondered: is this what queer brown pride is supposed to look like?
The truth is, pride can look a million different ways. It’s not just marching down the street waving the pride flag, as important as it is to be undeniably visible. It’s not just including the rainbow flag emoji and pronouns in your Instagram bio, as important as it is to show that your digital presence is a welcoming space for other queer people.
It can also mean forming a community of other queer people around you. It can mean reading work by LGBTQIA+ authors, researching LGBTQIA+ history, watching films and TV shows made by, for, and about LGBTQIA+ people or anything at all. It can mean sleeping in bed all day and refusing the capitalist mindset to be productive all the time. In my Latinx context, it can mean reclaiming my family’s first language and calling myself and my partner endearments in Spanish that were previously reserved for heterosexual relationships. Or following people on social media who are also queer and Latinx so that I don’t have to feel so alone in my experience.
To simply exist as a queer brown Latina is not just an act of resistance or radicalism—more and more, I’m learning that it’s itself an act of pride. And for me, that’s more than enough.