THE GRAN VARONES (Posts tagged portrait photography)

1.5M ratings
277k ratings

See, that’s what the app is perfect for.

Sounds perfect Wahhhh, I don’t wanna

I was born in Mexico, grew up there as a little kid but then I’ve spent most of my life now in Houston, Texas.I was nine years old actually, my dad had to come over to the US undocumented since he was 14 years old. Back in the 80s, it was more like he would spend some time working in Texas, go back to Mexico for a few months, do that back-and-forth and then that’s how he met my mom and they got married and all that. At age 9 we moved to Houston.

I mean it was weird because I come from a really tiny town that had maybe like 1500 people. We only had one school and one church, I mean everyone knew each other, it was very rural. And then I moved to Houston which was this huge city, where I couldn’t, yeah it was way bigger, but it felt a lot smaller than my town. In my town as a 6, 7, 8-year-old I could just roam around, like go to my friends house, play all around, but in Houston we moved into a tiny apartment and that’s what I thought Houston was, kind of like a tiny apartment. Getting used to that took a while but then I think that I was the lucky to find a lot of community and a lot of folks in Houston that basically made me stay here and I’ve been living in Houston ever since.

Well, I was a big nerd in high school so I did a lot of school things. One of the things I did was theatre. I started doing theater since I was in like six grade 6th grade, and you know I was like a really shy kid and didn’t like talking a lot. I also wasn’t allowed to have friends outside of school like I never was able to go to like their houses, they couldn’t come over to my house. Theatre was like the thing that I was allowed to do where it was still outside of school, but you know it was still seen as like you’re taking a class or you’re doing it for like an extracurricular and that was actually the thing that helped me most like connect with people.

Theatre was in a lot of ways a place where the queer kids would go because it was that space where you could put on different characters and sometimes the characters that we are putting on weren’t fake, they were actually the real ones, but we had to pretend. We had the space to be like “Oh this is something we can do.” When I was in high school I wasn’t at the point where I was out, or a lot of other people were out, but there with us understanding that in that space we could be whoever we wanted to be and that included like our sexual orientation, gender expression, and all of that, even if we didn’t say it out loud .

My parents came to shows and it was weird in a way. My mom actually passed away like the beginning of my junior year of high school, so she went to some of the first performances. The thing about my family, my parents in particular, was that they didn’t speak English so they would sit through an entire like two hour play that was all in English. They didn’t understand mostly anything that was being said, but then, you know, every time at the end of the performance, they were always like “That was really good, I really liked it.” I always wondered like how could they do that, I don’t think I could sit through like a two hour thing where I don’t understand what is going on, but I think in a way that kind of that was really cool to me, but at the same time I wonder if they understood, like not just what was happening in the plays, but also what I was trying to express through being in the plays. That was always like an interesting thing– they would go to all the shows, even if they couldn’t understand most of what was happening.

My interest in theatre was mainly in Houston, but in Mexico the one thing that I remember since I was a little kid was just being in the kitchen all the time because that’s where my mom was, that’s where all my aunt’s were, that’s basically where all the women in my family were–in the kitchen. I remember being there and it was just like this really special place, again ,where I felt, I never thought about this but in a way that was like a theater space. The kitchen was kind of like a theater. Every time my aunts, grandma, and mom were cooking they were always telling these stories about when they were growing up or people that they knew. Actually, now that I think about it that was kind of like “theater” that I had before I came to the US, and then had like you know like a more sort of formal or like traditional definition of the term.

In the kitchen I mean I learned so much about my family, the town, and maybe some stuff that I shouldn’t have been learning when I was that age, but seeing them there, they were the ones in power. In power in every aspect of it from deciding the dishes, dividing the labor among themselves, to like who is leading the conversation of the stories that they are telling.

José Eduardo, He/They

Houston, TX

Interviewed by: Armonté Butler

Photographed: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

granvarones storytelling family gay trans bisexual gendernonbinary portrait photography

In my time and my neighborhood, a lot of people were the single moms and they had the young single mom that was growing up with. In my culture it was very much, “Yeah stay home, work, go to school, have a kid, this is community.” In Caribbean culture, that afrolatinx culture, where it’s okay to have a family compound. We believe in community and in being together whereas in America it’s, “Oh you graduated? Move out. Time to go, Bye.” You leave the nest.

I grew up with a sense of family as well as my mom and I were really close where I felt like we were friends. But i knew i had that same level of “respect your mom” where “I’m not your little friend.” She wasn’t the youngest, my mom had me when she was around 30 but to me she was my big sister. Not like in the relationship but that I can go out with her and people will mistake us for siblings. We travel together a lot, as a child. We would get up and she would say, “Let’s go here”. We would book a train ticket or a flight and we would go visit this place for a day. That for us was bonding and of course adding into food she would take me to all these different places. And places that she also had never been and kinda expanded, “We’ve never had this let’s try and let me expose you to this.” We have a very close relationship and were able to travel and explore.

I was an only child up until I turned ten and then my little sister was born. We’re ten years apart so theres that age gap of course. Things kind of slowed at that point that where I kinda grew up. But growing up my actual childhood was really great compared to others. Looking back, as a kid you’re kinda selfish “I don’t have this or I don’t that or I don’t have the coolest” I had the coolest where I would redo my childhood or I would offer my childhood to somebody else. We had hard times and struggles but the fact that I got through and still had a type of structure.

Demitri, He/Him/His

Washington DC

GV Fellow

interviewed & photographed by: J. Aces Lira, GV Fellow

granvarones gay queer trans bisexual gendernonbinary latinx afrolatinx storytelling lgbtq qtpoc family oralhistory portrait photography

When I was a kid, I was very fem. I grew with all women, all my sisters. I don’t think that had anything to do with my queerness but I just think it really helped me to get a solid understanding of femininity and the strength of femininity at a very young age. My queerness started to develop early, ya know, like everyone, when you’re in kinder garden and you like the boys. But I think it was combination of things, like pop culture and things that I liked didn’t match the things that other boys my aged liked. And I was very strong in my opinions about it. And I wasn’t willing to budge. I loved Madonna and that what it was and I wasn’t like faking it.

When I got to junior high, I went to my local middle school, but it was like one of those city projects where they like mix all the kids together in one school. They bussed in kids form all the city. It was like a theatre /fine arts program but it was three blocks from my house. It was my first interactions with white kids and Black kids and it was like everybody just hanging out. Within that there was a lot of acceptance of my queerness. I think, traditionally, where I grew up there was a lot of cholo culture and the adoption of masculinity and so when I went o junior high, I met all these kids who were different and it made it really for me to just to be myself because the people I hing out with were also really weird. Lol

I was able to just be myself. Granted I didn’t have a real fuckin’ idea of who I was but I got to play with that. Play with my identity and how I dressed and what music I liked. I didn’t have to fake that I liked oldies or like these sad songs about heteronormative love and heteronormative breakups and the drama. And then I met somebody who lived around the corner from me and we basically immediately bonded. And it didn’t very long before we came out to each other and it was like “I think I like boys”, I think I like boys too! And from that point till to our mid- early 20s, we were always together.

Juan Fernández, He/Him/His

raised in Pacoima, CA, interviewed while in NY and now resides in Oakland.

interviewed & photographed by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

thegranvarones granvarones queer gay trans bi latinx afrolatinx storytelling lgbtq qtpoc oralhistory portrait photography community
“faggot”, he said as he walks past me. he followed up with, “he’s just so gay.” then he was gone.
i looked back with my mouth hanging open in utter disbelief. I was walking in the LGBT neighborhood of philly (the part we lovingly call...

“faggot”, he said as he walks past me. he followed up with, “he’s just so gay.” then he was gone.

i looked back with my mouth hanging open in utter disbelief. I was walking in the LGBT neighborhood of philly (the part we lovingly call “gayborhood”).

this was a few weeks ago and it was easy to brush off when it happened. However as i’ve had more time to think about it i can’t shake it. i’ve come to the conclusion that i should not just “shake it off”.

it’s okay to be angry. i feel right to be angry and i believe i would be doing myself and all of my comrades in the struggle against oppression a disservice by not appreciating this anger. i don’t wish this man any harm but i do wish for a continued push against oppressive systems and the complacency that allows for them to exist. i’ve had worse said to me. i’ve experienced more intense oppression than this incident but it is not right for me to blow this off simply because it gets drowned out by all the other injustice in the world.

the justice sought after for the LGBT community started with a riot. a rebellion led by a riot. the pressure of oppression found a limit and things changed.“

Angel Mendoza, Philadelphia

thegranvarones granvarones queer gay bisexual trans bois lgbtq latinx afrolatinx qpoc storytelling portrait photography gaylatino
his name was rob. he was 26. i met him in the bronxm4m aol chat room. it was 2005 and that was still a thing. his screen name was br0nxprynce. we connected immediately during our chat. dude was funny as hell. for a week, we chatted while i was at...

his name was rob. he was 26. i met him in the bronxm4m aol chat room. it was 2005 and that was still a thing. his screen name was br0nxprynce. we connected immediately during our chat. dude was funny as hell. for a week, we chatted while i was at work and all through the night while i was at home. mariah’s “emancipation of mimi” was a few days from being released and i remember trying to convince him to buy it. i actually did that with all my friends. i actually had a mariah album release party but i digress.

the thursday after the album was released, i called out of work and caught the train to new york. he picked me up and we hung out all day. we talked about life, dreams and how much he needed to buy mariah’s album. lol we kissed and i remember feeling “wow. latino dudes do like me.” i still had some issues to work out.

during our makeout session, he took off his shirt and immediately said, “i know, i’m skinny. don’t worry, i have always been that way.” i thought it was a weird thing to say but didn’t think much of it because i too had body image issues. so we continued to makeout. eventually, i had to get back to philly. so the magic we shared had to be put on hold until the next time. i was hoping they’d be a next time.

that following saturday, he and chatted i on the phone. he mentioned something about his bestfriend betraying him. i asked how so and he simply said “i don’t want to talk about it but he said something he shouldn’t have said.” i didn’t press the issue. he said he would call me back later that night.

he didn’t.

i didn’t see him online.

i was mad.

i told myself that he lost interest in me because i was ugly. i was fat. i was not enough. i told myself a lot of shit and i believed it all. i then reminded myself that “no man is worth this spiraling.” so i told myself to forget about him.

a few weeks later he messaged me asking how i was doing. i was short with him and simply said “fine. you?” he said “not feeling well. i think i have a cold.” i remember thinking “good. that’s what you get for playin’ me.” he tried to continue the conversation but i wasn’t into it. i was too scared to be charmed by him again.

we had a mutual friend in the aol chat room. i told the mutual friend of my feelings and how i was hurt by rob. the friend was surprised because he had known rob to be a really sweet guy. but he said “you know how dudes are anyway. fuck him.”

the summer past and in late august, i was watching “family guy” when the mutual friend called me. we started chatting about our summers and what we had done. he then asked if i had ever spoken to rob again. i said “no. our last conversation was online and it was as short one.” he then said, “i’m sorry to tell you this but he passed.” my heart dropped. my body felt hot and i was filled with dread. i asked how - knowing what he was going to say. he said “complications of hiv.” i hung up the phone and ran to my computer and messaged br0nxprynce: “hey! please respond to this asap!”

i waited.

no response.

it just didn’t make sense to me. if he had died, why was his aol account still up? why would he universe allow me to message him? i could not wrap my mind around it.

i spent the following week reliving and recounting our conversations, our words. why didn’t he tell me? surely, he knew that i would be ok with it. why didn’t i seek clarity!? why did i assume shit!? gawd damn!

then it hit me that he could have easily made up stories about me just as i had made up stories about him. i had convinced myself that his distance was because of me. i never once considered that maybe it had absolutely nothing to do with me. i felt foolish. i felt the pain that comes with loss and the anguish that comes with missed opportunities and moments.

i think of rob often. especially whenever i am making up stories about people. i remember him every world aids day. i remember him every time someone shares their story with gran varones. i remember him every time i play mariah’s “mimi” album.

on days like this, i miss him.

louie a. ortiz-fonseca

thegranvarones granvarones wad2017 worldaidsday world aids day queerpoc queer gay latinx afrolatinx afroboricua latino trans bisexual bois storyetlling lgbtq portrait photography hiv aids end stigma
“it feels good out here. it’s very hot. this is my uncle’s flag. i had to bring it out today. i hope your family is okay over there. everyone is asking about each other’s family. that’s good. we have to keep that up. i am going to puerto rico in a...

“it feels good out here. it’s very hot. this is my uncle’s flag. i had to bring it out today. i hope your family is okay over there. everyone is asking about each other’s family. that’s good. we have to keep that up. i am going to puerto rico in a two weeks to help out. they need us. here is a flag for you. keep it, it’s yours. wave it high!”

- jonathan, philadelphia

photographed by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca
thegranvarones granvarones storytelling boricua orgullo puerto rico north philly gay latino lgbtq latinx heritage month puerto rican day parade portrait photography
Louie: What was it like growing up in Orange County?
David: I grew up with undocumented parents. I didn’t come out until after high school, to a couple of friends. I am still not out to a lot of people. Majority of my friends know and most of my...

Louie: What was it like growing up in Orange County?
David: I grew up with undocumented parents. I didn’t come out until after high school, to a couple of friends. I am still not out to a lot of people. Majority of my friends know and most of my family knows but it was tough. Growing up in a Jehovah Witness family with a homophobic dad, it was intense. It’s a challenge but I have but going through a process of self-love and understanding who I am and it’s working out.
Louie: So what inspired that journey to self-love?
David: I remember growing up being 11 or 12, always telling my mom that I was depressed.  So it wasn’t until she took me to a couple of counselors and I had told her that I found boys cute and what she did is that she took me to a counselor to basically like “cure” the gay away. And so it was that point that I started realizing that probably wasn’t ok. The media and TV was telling me it was ok to be gay and here I was at home with my mom trying to “cure” the gay away. So there was a point after high school that I started talking to boys and interacting with dating, that I realized that I was ok and I am good the way I am.
Louie: So your mom took you counselors, what was the reaction from your father and siblings?
David: My father was quick to tell me not to tell family in Mexico. My dad is a little more liberal but there is still sorta this thing where his machismo won’t allow me to come out to his extended family, aunts and uncles, brother and sisters.
Louie: Your siblings?
David: They know I date bit it isn’t something that is brought up at the dinner table.
Louie: What about your activism work? Is that talked about at the dinner table?
David: It does but it is very hetero centered. I never talk about the intersectionalities of being queer and brown and being queer and Latino. It’s always just my anti-gentrification work, it’s always migrant justice. It’s never the intersections of being a queer brown person. So I think they are open to the activist work that I do just as long as I don’t talk about queerness in general.
Louie: So who do you talk to? Where is your outlet?
David: My friends, social media, Facebook! I let out all my thoughts. I’m very open about the way I think, the way I feel, my process of self-love. I think that social media has been a huge tool for my self-expression and coming out to a lot of friends. So being unapologetic about my thoughts, about the work that I do and how I feel about certain things.
I started to really understand my queerness, believe it or not, when I fell in love with this guy. It was on and off for about a year, and then we finally met. It wasn’t until he stopped talking to me after we met and the whole break-up that I realized that there were so many politics, just so many layers, as to why things didn’t work out. That’s when I started deconstructing that and saying, “Shit, it didn’t work out because of my insecurities, my body issues. It didn’t work out because of my femininity. It didn’t work out because I wasn’t masculine enough.” And that sorta triggered this inner revolution where I said, “Fuck that! I am gonna love myself, I am gonna accept and embrace my butch queen identity. I am gonna love and navigate the gender binary the way I fuckin’ want to. I am gonna be butch one day and queen the other.”  And sorta rebel against this broken heart. And that’s when I started evolving into this fucking self loving, beautiful feeling that I am now and that I am continuing to discover and love. But yeah, it took a broken heart.
Louie: If you could talk to David, let’s say at age 13, what would you tell him?
David: What would I tell myself at 13 years old? I think that it gets tough but that they are people that are gonna love you and that there will be people that will come out at 11 o’clock at night, drive to your house to hug you and tell you that you are amazing. And it’s ok to not be ok. Many years growing up, I hated myself for not being ok but now I know that it ok to not be ok. So I think I will tell that to 13-year-old David.  

David Carbajal Torres, Orange County, California

interviewed and photographed by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

thegranvarones granvarones queer gay latino latinx self esteem self love body posititivity photojournalism portrait photography storytelling lgbtq orgullo coming out Oral History