For many years, as an out and proud gay man, I have been asked many things in my life, from the insidious questioning of my “choice” to the more wishful curiosity of coming out stories.
I have been personally privileged to listen to many first-kiss stories from many friends and acquaintances over the years, but the one question I am never able to fully answer is: “Jerick, when did you come out?” The reality is that, as I peruse my memory to find a semblance of a coming out story, I come up with nothing because the truth is, and this is my first official confession into the Waterverse, I never really came out.
Now, I am sure that you may be thinking that this is the ideal scenario for every LGBTQIA+ individual – a world where people don’t even have to come out because we are loved and accepted for who we are, yada, yada – cute, but far from reality. My truth can be a bit murkier than the optimistic desire for this reality to one day be achievable for everyone. For many, coming out serves as a sort of rite of passage, like the famous allegory of a caterpillar getting their wings and flying out as a colorful butterfly. For others, this stage of their lives holds a space of trauma, pain and disillusionment; sometimes even worse than that. For many, however, coming out is actually a tearful embrace with their true selves, and the communities that support them, although these stories are still very scarce. Coming out stories are all very personal, specific and are by no means set in stone, because like graduating from high school, coming out is just the beginning of the hardest part in life for an LGBTQ+ person.
Let me paint you a little picture about why I don’t have a proper coming out story. I grew up in rural Puerto Rico, the youngest of four siblings. I have always theorized that my expressing more LGBTQ+ characteristics and likes from a very early age was never really met with rejection from my parents because they were already tired from raising my other siblings. I’ve always counted that as a plus on my side.
My community was like any Hispanic community everywhere: Catholic, conservative, keenly informed about everyone’s whereabouts and never afraid to offer uninvited opinions about everything under the scorching sun. I never had a girlfriend — ever — but I was always surrounded by girls in school and certainly preferred being in their company than having to painfully overcompensate for masculinity with the “cool” guys in the corner — you know, the bullies. I was called maricón (the gay f-word), and pato (queer) plus the numerous childish hand gestures behind my back yet I never experienced being physically threatened for it. Remember, at this point I had never expressed that I was gay. At home, I felt safe, protected and loved and my life was as normal as it comes. Even when I started bringing my “friends” home, my family was always welcoming and inclusive, given that we would behave like friends would. You know, no public displays of affection ever. But an interesting dynamic would arise when my “friend” and my family would go out in public. Things were a bit tense, dry and less enthused.
Interestingly enough, this dynamic of coming out is not just an individual process, because there is a communal coming out story as well.
Recently, as I was sitting down with my friend, Angela Martinez, at a Pride event, she educated me on the coming out process for families, a concept I learned right there for the first time, and totally brought together so many nuances of how we try to tie together our identities with our communities (family included) throughout this process. Angela mentioned that for parents of LGBTQ+ kids, there is a long process of understanding what this entails, how to approach questions and stares from other family and friends. This process can take a long time, whether the family decides to work it out together or bring a trusted advisor in, and determines the agony or relief that coming out stories are made of. I think that for my parents, it took a while between their denial period and shock once they realized that there was no daughter-in-law coming from my side any time soon, a period of time where I, without ever touching the chapter on “coming out,” left home and started making a life of my own outside that community. Now, I don’t want you to think about my family as a distant entity I am estranged from. My relationship with my family is stronger today than it ever was and we have never been emotionally detached, nor absent.
This dichotomy of mine, where I was never really pushed to nor repressed from coming out, is a weird gray space that has always made me wonder what it would have felt like if I ever thought this was needed, useful or transformational. Even as time passed by and I returned to visit my family and community, it felt less and less of a necessary ritual for me, and I guess that is what people mean when they say that coming out is personal, and very individual. Yet, the coming out stories I have heard have shaped my view on the absolute need for more visibility, because those are the stories that break the mold, bend the rules and help shape minds into understanding the wonders of safe spaces, those sorely needed in town and within hearts.
Because I am finally in the safest space I have ever had, it is time for me to finally come out.
Mom, Dad, familia: I am happy!
Jerick Mediavilla is a former journalist from Mexico City, an educator in Central Florida and a human rights activist for the LGBTQ+ community.