Inspired by the recently released film "Pariah," Salon teamed up with New America Media to run a series of coming out stories by minority and immigrant LGBT youth. A new story will be published each day throughout the week. This is the fourth installment:
It was harder to come out as undocumented than it was to come out as gay.
Despite the stereotypes and prejudices that may still linger around the gay community, I always felt comfort in my gay identity— a comfort I often struggled with living with as an undocumented immigrant.
When I come out to people as gay, I don’t have to wait for the questions, “How did you get here?” or “Why can’t you just fix your status?” No, I usually get, “Oh OK, I just wasn’t sure,” or my favorite, “Of course you’re gay, why would a hot guy like you be straight?” That one usually makes me blush and laugh.
But just like being gay, being undocumented wasn’t a choice for me. It was something I discovered as I grew up.
I am originally from Lima, Peru. My dad was a pediatrician and my mother a teacher before we moved to the United States.
Growing up I always knew that there was something different about me; I just wasn’t sure what. I just knew I had an attraction towards guys, ever since I was about nine years old and had a crush on a 5th grader during summer school.
I was 17 years old when I discovered I was undocumented. My dad broke the news to me that I wouldn’t be able to get a driver’s license because we were “different” from everyone else. His words were subtle but I understood.
My parents warned me not to disclose my immigration status to anyone, fearing that I would be treated differently.
I recently came out of both “closets” after finally coming together with other queer and undocumented folks for the first time in my life.
It was after a confrontation with my parents about my undocumented friends’ sexual orientation that I came out to them as gay. It wasn’t how I had hoped it would happen. I always thought I would come out to my parents over dinner after my college graduation.
To my surprise, it happened on a Tuesday morning in my parents’ bedroom.
My friends, whom I met through an undocumented internship program called Dream Summer and who were also undocumented and queer, were in the next room waiting for breakfast. While they were patiently waiting, I stood speechless and motionless hearing my parents go around the possibility of me being gay.
They were tiptoeing around my sexual orientation, warning me of how I would be perceived if I continue to hang out with gay people.
I finally broke the silence. I looked to the ground for comfort and in what I thought was a strong voice muttered, “Just like my friends are gay, I’m gay.”
The textbook questions of “How? Why?” followed, but so did the same warnings of not telling anyone.
I had been here before five years ago.
Unlike being undocumented, there have been strides to make being gay not a legal issue. I can freely announce that I’m gay and not fear that I’ll be arrested or deported or accused of taking some other American child’s seat at UC Berkeley. However, I still get nervous when I mutter the words, “I am undocumented” to strangers.
The stigma that goes along with being undocumented still lingers in my mind. Though I have never had trouble with my passport or consulate ID card, a trip to the Castro district in San Francisco still sparks fear and worry in me.
What if this time they don’t take my ID?
I often think about what my undocumented status will do to my romantic life. I haven’t been in a relationship since coming out as undocumented and I sometimes worry about how guys’ perceptions of me will change when I disclose my status.
Coming out of that closet still seems difficult.
Raul Rodriguez, 21, is a senior at UC Berkeley majoring in media studies and anthropology. He was born in Lima, Peru and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles.
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