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Louie: Thank you for taking the time to meet with me on a Saturday night right before you rush to an event. So tell me about yourself?
Michael: I grew up in Hartford County, right outside of Hartford is New Britain. It’s an urban city, small city,...

Louie: Thank you for taking the time to meet with me on a Saturday night right before you rush to an event. So tell me about yourself?

Michael: I grew up in Hartford County, right outside of Hartford is New Britain. It’s an urban city, small city, super diverse, definitely a significant number of Puerto Ricans. My family moved from Puerto Rico to Connecticut in late the 60s, early 70s to work in the tobacco fields.

Louie: Do you remember the first time or time period you knew you were gay or queer?

Michael: The first time, I still remember this, you remember Van Damme movies? They were filled with action and this super alpha male, super masculine action figure. I remember watching those films and feeling a certain kind of way, a tingling. Now I can say, I was feeling horny, it aroused me but I obviously and didn’t have that vocabulary , that knowledge back then. I felt like body sensations, it made me feel hot. SO again, I didn’t know where this coming from, it was just happening. I used to fantasize and have these dreams where I would picture myself naked with Van Damme. And I remember feeling shame with that. This is nothing I said out loud or openly because I was scared of how that would be interrupted and what people would say about that. But I remember it was van damn. Van Damme was my “a-ha” moment.” [LOL]

Louie: So when did you first become “ok” with it or say it out loud.

Michael: The first time I told someone that I was gay, bisexual or “came out” was my best friend, Francis, I love her to death. I am still very good friends with her. She was always super open-minded, which is why I always felt comfortable with her. I have known her since high school and there were occasions when she would ask me to my face “Are you gay?” I wasn’t ready to come out . It (the question) felt very aggressive and very invasive to me, so I got pissed off and said “What the fuck are you talking about? Don’t ask me questions like that!” Again, I wasn’t ready to deal with that and I had a lot of internalized homophobia, to say the least and a lot of insecurity. But years later, we were freshmen in college; I came out to her as bisexual. Of course, I claimed bisexuality like many people do. Now as adult I understand that I claimed bisexuality as a way for me to still claim my manhood. So I can say “Hey, I find men desirable but I don’t want you to think that I am a “pussy.” I don’t want you think soy maricòn or yo no soy hombre.” All this internalized bullshit. All these ideas o masculinity that you have and you sorta don’t know what to with.  

Louie: Was there a moment or an experience that inspired that shift?

Michael: And then I had my first sexual experience. It was with a stereo-typically “beautiful” woman and it felt numb. I didn’t feel anything, There was no sorta connection. It was physical and that’s it. So that was another “a-ha” moment, I was like “this is interesting. This should feel better.” And I started becoming more comfortable identify as gay. At the time, honestly speaking, I thought that I could not claim gayness or I cannot claim a gay identity unless I fuck a woman first because I was like “how would you know, Michael?” Again, the contradiction is straight men don’t say “I need to fuck a dude to know I am straight” (LOL)

Louie: Did that impact how you experienced sex?

Michael: I dated a white man and he was around my age and he was a lot more experienced than I was sexually. He had sex with men and women but claimed gay identity. So him talking to me about his own experiences openly and candidly, I knew that I could top and bottom with him. I guess I should say that I felt comfortable trying out different things. What felt natural to me at first was to top and that was fun. I think he was meeting me where I was at. After that, we started experimenting and exploring more. He topped me and I remember feeling incredibly comfortable with it. It was one of the first times that I stopped subscribing to the idea that men don’t take it up the ass and I think it was because I felt so comfortable with him. It didn’t feel uncomfortable bottoming and it certainly didn’t feel uncomfortable topping either. But that was with him. I think race, class and gender, all of this plays a role in informing sexuality and I think that informed the dynamic that him and I had. Which is a dynamic that when I date other Latinos, isn’t there. To be more specific, I have dated Latino men who are very “set” in their ways; if they’re a top, this is that that means and if they’re a bottom, this is what that means. There’s very little going back and forth. Because there is this notion that being versatile is “You’re saying you’re a top but you are really a power bottom.” There is this sorta demonetization and stigmatization of not being able to say “I like fucking and I like getting fucked.” I don’t have to choose one of the other. Of course now, years later, as an adult, expressing my sexuality and having a different understanding, I feel really comfortable and I know where that is coming from. But back in the day, I didn’t.

Louie: What would 31 year old Michael of today tell Michael back then?

Michael: The first thing that comes to mind is “Do you.” Feel good in your skin.
Understand that people are sheep. Value yourself. Ask more questions and take it one at a time.

Michael Diaz, Jackson Heights, New York

Interviewed and Photograph by: Louie A. Ortiz-Fonseca

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Sometimes I feel it’s as if my family pulled me out of the closet.

The summer before my sophomore year at Temple my dad helped me move into my first off-campus house with my roommates. I didn’t tell him everyone I was living with was queer, or the fact that I was heavily involved with queer groups on campus but after meeting my friends he put two and two together. He didn’t say anything right away. A couple of months later he called me late one night because he couldn’t stop thinking about my living situation, and I guess he also thought about all of the clues that were right in front of him my whole life. We ended the conversation with him asking me not to confirm or deny whether or not I was gay because he couldn’t bear to know the truth.

When it came time to go back to Florida for winter break I debated whether or not I should tell my mom, but ultimately decided not to. I did get to come out to one of my brothers and his wife during that trip, though. He basically asked me questions beating around the bush so I just decided to give up the act and come out to him. It was the first time I got to tell anyone in my family I’m gay and it was a relief. He always let me know growing up that I could confide in him but he never pushed me – he would actually tell my parents when I was growing up that they better not disown me if I ever did “end up gay.”

I didn’t feel like I was openly gay until I came out to my mother. Two years after both interactions with my father and brother I hadn’t come out to anyone else in my family. Being so far away from them made it easy for me to live a double life. One day while I was out running errands my mom called me on the phone to catch up. While we were saying our goodbyes she said she needed to ask me something. She said people have been saying things about me, and she needed to set the record straight. She asked me if I was gay, and she refused to hang up until I answered her. I finally told her the truth, and after some tears plus talk about my “sinful lifestyle” we ended the conversation. Fun Fact: After coming out to my mom, I walked home and listened to the best of Donna Summer mix on my phone.

The next day my mom called me again to tell me she had already been talking to my family about whether or not they thought I was gay (and they were like “GURL, YES”) and she did me the ‘favor’ of officially outing me to the rest of the family, including my dad, so I wouldn’t have to. Not my ideal situation but my mom doesn’t waste any time.

It’s been a long journey and while it wasn’t on my terms I finally feel free. After being closeted to my family up until two years ago, I still have a wall up with them but it’s nice that I can work on breaking that down.

- Luis Fernando Rodriguez

Luis is a queer identified creative writer based in Philadelphia

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Nick (left):
Before puberty hit, I had a very squeaky voice, so I just got made fun of a lot. I remember, middle and high school, I wanted to run away. I would beg my mom to home school me. It was a dark time. It was a sad time. I was overweight. I...

Nick (left):
Before puberty hit, I had a very squeaky voice, so I just got made fun of a lot. I remember, middle and high school, I wanted to run away. I would beg my mom to home school me. It was a dark time. It was a sad time. I was overweight. I was very insecrure, low self-esteem and it really wasn’t until I lost about 80-90 pounds, after high school and after I came out, that I really started feeling good about myself. I didn’t need to tackle being gay. I just felt good being me.

Nate (right)
Coming out to my family, loved ones and friends, I was afraid. I was scared of their actions and how they would take it. That same night, I remember crying a lot, by myself before going to bed. When I woke up the next morning, I felt wonderful. I felt great. Because at that point, I was like “I don’t care if my family accepts me. I don’t care if my friends never speak to me.” I just didn’t care because it just felt great to come out. Then slowly, I started to fear becaause I started hearing stories about gay bashing. My uncle, who is also gay, got beat up. I was about 15 or 16 years old and he was put in a hopsital. I didn’t even recognize him. So that put fear in me. The fear dimmed when my parents began to accept me. If wasn’t that they accpected their gay son but rather they accpected their son who just happened to be gay.

Interviewed by: rafael alvarez-febo

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