Where did you grow?
Whenever people ask me where I grew up, I always say this verbatim: “I grew up
in Naples, Florida, a white retirement heaven. There’s literally a golf course
on every corner.” Naples, like much of southwest Florida, was a pretty affluent
town where brown and black peoples provided cheap labor for benevolent rich
white folk. Yes, there were also poor
whites who lived next to poor people of color. They were next to us, but rarely
up in the U.S. and in Mexico, moving back and forth between both countries
until I was seven years old. As a kid I lived in Houston, Texas, in a rancho
near Yuriria, Guanajuato, and in Naples, FL, where my family settled in 1993.
Yes, there are Mexicans in Florida, it’s not just Cubans and Puerto Ricans – I
have to say this because it confuses people that I am Mexican but not from Cali
Now, as an old (maybe wiser?) 31-year-old,
I cannot think of Naples without thinking about how racist and segregated the
city is, about how difficult it was for my family and others like us to make a
living. About the camouflage trucks with the confederate flags, about the time
a white guy at the flea market said “These damn wetbacks” when he saw my dad
and I walk past his store, and all my dad could do was hold my hand and shake
his head “no” when I turned to look at the guy. That is how I grew up in Naples.
What is your first memory you have of knowing you were gay/queer?
Armando: I remember watching telenovelas and being
enamored with both the female leads and the hot muscular male actors. I
started watching more gay porn than straight porn, but I never told anyone that
I watched porn at all, let alone that I liked to see dick on screen. I never
told anyone those things. It wasn’t because I thought there was anything wrong
with finding both men and women attractive, or that it was wrong to masturbate
to men having sex with both men and women. I didn’t tell anyone because the
world around me said that sex was wrong (thank you Catholicism!), and that men
identifying in any way with women were despicable. Ironically, I never
identified with the women or the men in porn, or the tops or bottoms for that
matter. I identified with the act of sex, period,
but since I was told that sex was wrong, it also meant that sexual pleasure
itself was also wrong. My family taught me that lesson.
If you were to ask me when I first verbalized
to myself that I was attracted to other men, I would say that happened in
college. The summer after my junior year I spent a lot of time with a boy
friend of mine that I felt particularly and affectionately attached to. I
wasn’t at all sexually aroused by him, but I would feel “at home” with him
whenever we hung out, geeked out over our research, or talked about what we
wanted to do in graduate school. It was a nerdy kind of love that had less to
do with sexual organs and more to do with heart and emotional intimacy. I was
also in love with a woman at the time, and although I loved her like I did him,
my attachment to him was different. I didn’t think of myself as “gay” or
“queer” then, either, but I knew that what I felt for him was different than
what I had felt before.
“Gay” and “queer” were words that others had
always used to describe me in order to hurt me. In college, gay and queer men
of color were no different, they too aimed these words toward me to violently
force me out of a closet I never knew I was in. To them, like to my family, I was
in the closet. To me, I simply existed in a world that attempts to regularize
sexuality as either/or, straight or gay, abominable or pleasurable, when all I
wanted was to simply exist.
Louie: It’s been a year since Pulse, what do you
think the impact has been on Latinx queer communities?
Armando: This is perhaps the hardest
question to answer, Louie. I am and I am not part of a Latinx queer community.
The truth is that I live in Pittsburgh, where I am not part of a community like
that. I know there are queer Latinxs in the city. I know of them. There are a few
of us, but my everyday life is not anchored in a queer of color space or
community here. I am part a network of queer Latinx academics, and I can speak
to how vocal we have all been about Pulse and queer Latinx lives in the
aftermath of the massacre. I think that a queer Latinx presence has grown
significantly on social media and it is vocally active in affecting change in
light of Pulse. The same goes for queer Latinx academics. Our work, our lives
are very much desiring to change the invisibility and social reality of communities
of color, especially queer and trans Latinx lives.
I recently went back on Grindr.
As a platform, I think this app can sometimes bring out the worst in us, myself
included, and we can become complicit in the very systems that oppress us. A
few months ago I chatted with this guy on the app. A brown-skinned Mexicano
from Orlando. He had a gorgeous face and body – I’m talking six pack, bubble
butt, nice dick, beautiful tattoos. But, as my girlfriend put it, “it was
prettier when it didn’t talk.” As we start planning to meet, he tells me that
people in Pittsburgh were not attractive, that Pittsburgh people are obese. About
guys on Grindr he says, “que feos, hay muchos negros y gordos.” To him, black
men and men without six-packs are naturally ugly, fat, and inferior. I said nothing.
He must’ve sensed he messed up because he followed up with “hehe eso suena
racista.” All I could muster up in response was “Yes, very.” Not to mention
fat-phobic. Not to mention that here is a person, an immigrant (he was
originally from the Mexican state of Michoacán), a queer of color living in
Orlando – the site of one of the largest massacres of queer people in this
country’s history – living his life as if Pulse and the lives lost there meant
nothing. That “we” have learned nothing. Like many others, his imaginary of the
world is still shaped by a brand of whiteness dictating that only light-skinned
bodies with six-pack abs and bubble butts are worthy of desire, that only those
bodies are worthy of being desirable. Even he, as physically beautiful as he
thinks he is, cannot fit on that scale of beauty. He isn’t white. Neither am I. But he thinks his physical perfection
outweighs the color of his skin, and that his beauty puts him far away from the
queers of color whose bodies were destroyed at Pulse. I wish I could say that
things for Latinx queer communities had gotten better after the massacre, but
for some of us, things are far from getting better. Some lives are still worth
more than others.
Armando García, Pittsburgh, PA
Interviewed and Photographed by: Louie A. Ortiz-Fonseca