It was Pride month and like most other LGBTQ individual’s in this country, I was highly aware and on the constant look out for what was happening around me. Reading and writing blogs over issues that affect us, attending events across Austin, and having interesting conversations with my peers were among some of the things I did last month to be present in the moment. Before deciding what to write about, I contemplated over topics and ideas. Pondering for weeks, scrambling through my mind as to what I could write about and then it hit me. The reason as to why we’re here and visible, why we’re fighting back, and why we haven’t given up. It all starts with us coming out and telling the world who we are and expressing our pride. Whether we are gay, bisexual, transexual, pansexual, asexual, queer, or questioning, we all find ourselves rationalizing our acceptance or rejection from the world we live in during several stages of our lives. Everyone’s experience and circumstances are different as well as every outcome, but the important thing is that despite our fears of the unknown, we build the courage to do it. The act of coming out in itself transforms us, it’s an experience like no other, and explaining it with just words doesn’t justify the enormity of it.
Last month I met with two incredible people, Juan Flores and Rahel Fox. I met Juan during the #FYPx trip with the National Park Foundation last year. Since then I’ve been interested on his perspective as a gay POC living in the north side of the country. I met Rahel when I first moved to Austin from working with her at a coffee shop. Hearing her talk about how she was involved with photography automatically grabbed my attention and I’ve been wanting to collaborate with her somehow ever since. Sitting with them and hearing each of their story has not only been beneficial for myself as a self indentifying queer person, but beneficial for those who will read them. My hope is that no matter how you identify, you can take something from this and come to an understanding that helps you see that we are all human. It was my initial intention when I first started writing for UNICO.
Juan is a 28 year old self-identifying cis-gay man living in Indianapolis Indiana. He’s a social media manager, photographer, and lover of nature; it’s where he feels the most authentic. Being aware of his own sexuality means being aware of his own privileges and non-privileges and being able to empathize with people just like him. Going back a few years to when he was 19, Juan started to recognize his attraction to the same-sex more than ever. After emotional and mental changes occurred and a short relationship in college, he began to accept the fact that he was gay. A developing new sense of who he was had emerged. He was more in tune with his emotions and physical attractions which ultimately led to a better understanding of his own life path. Eventually, this new self-discovery wouldn’t necessarily lead him to answers but to more questions over who he really was.
Coming out of the closet was a process, which initially, Juan thought could be panned out to his expectations. But as we all come to learn, coming out of the closet should be passive and practical, or at least that’s what he concluded. The first person he told was his best friend at the time who he related to academically and later he came out to his family, which was a tough one. Finding the courage and right moment to tell them was a major obstacle, after all, Juan was the youngest and only son in the family. As he built a support system around his circle of friends, the pressure of coming out to his family grew bigger. All he hoped for was for his family to show the same love and support that his friends reflected.
Anxious and nervous, he went for it. At a family event he went up to his mom and handed her a note, which explained to her who he was, a gay man. Not knowing what to expect, after reading it, she looked at him.
“While I don’t agree with it, you are my son. I love you and support you.”
He took this as a step and as some of us have experienced, it means more than rejection. After telling his mom and sisters, which some accepted and others questioned, he knew it was time to tell his dad, but how? Coming out to his dad was an even bigger obstacle. Juan idolized him throughout his entire life and the thought of denial haunted him. After thinking over and having some encouragement from his family he went for it, but it wasn’t what he hoped for. Emotions of resentment and rejection were felt; his dad was not happy. Being neglected by his own father, Juan spiraled into a state of depression. Like many others who unfortunately have had similar experiences after coming out, he went through some negativity during this time. Thoughts of suicide and not finding a way out were some of them and still struggling to understand himself didn’t make things any easier. Fast forward a few months later, Juan started to think more deeply about his early 20s and how things were changing. It was seven months since he came out to his dad which were also seven months that his dad banned him from his home. Past all the fog that flooded his mind, the thought of his mother was what kept him going, plus the support system he received from his friends. Despite having this safe space, he knew he still had to talk to his dad. So on Father’s Day 2016, he stepped out of his comfort zone and went back to his family’s home. Determined, Juan went straight to his dad for the conversation he knew they had to have. After all this time of not talking or acknowledging each other, they embrace. The conversation was everything he wanted and to this day their relationship has only gotten stronger.
Today Juan is proud of himself, it’s been a long journey and he no longer feels ashamed. He appreciates all of his quirks and uniqueness and he feels good to be visible.
“What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from coming out?”
“Bad things turn into good things. Trusting my gut feeling and knowing my inner instincts. Knowing who I am. It’s something reflective and I’ve learned that you just have to look for it. Your own personal experience will lead you to what you want and you’ll have people’s support along the way. Remember that you are loved and that you matter. You’re deserving of your thoughts and feelings and who you’re attracted to. You don’t have to go through this alone. There will be people and places to reach out for help. The ones that care about you will push you.”
Rahel Fox currently lives in Austin Texas with her partner, Diana, who have been dating for the past year and a half. It’s the longest and best relationship she’s been in, as she puts it. She like a lot of creative people in Austin, has a passion for photography and design. At eight years old she was introduced to one of those outlets during her time at the Boys & Girls Club. While in her computer class, where she would take them apart and learn how they worked, her teacher allowed her to borrow a camera as a way to discover something else. Her love for photography flourished when she was encouraged to take as many pictures of whatever she wanted whenever she wanted. Since then, Rahel has had an eye for aesthetic and it shows. Other activities she enjoys doing include, checking out museum exhibits, walks at the park with her dog, going swimming, and hiking. She expresses her confidence in everything she does and knows her value as a human being.
“I love who I am as an individual and aspire to inspire others in the community…”
But things haven’t always been like this. Before accumulating a sense of self-worth and a stable level of confidence, life was the opposite. As a child she always felt different from her peers, but couldn’t find the words to describe how she felt. For a long time, she thought she was the only one.
As her childhood went by, she swept the uncertainty under the rug and would try not to think about it. But as soon as she started middle school, Rahel started to go through changes which led her to deeper questions about who she wanted to be. One thing was certain, her connection between men wasn’t as as strong as it was for women. Thus she began to recognize her sexual attraction to the same-sex.
The beginning of high school, as for many, is always a rough one. Figuring out where you fit in, who your friends are, or in Rahel’s case hiding her sexual orientation from the ones she loved. Being closeted was a new and changing concept, especially in a time when MySpace had emerged as ‘the’ place to be in terms of social media. Being online meant filling in details about yourself such as who you were attracted to. Assuming that no one in her immediate family were online, Rahel decided to go for it and label her sexual orientation as ‘bisexual’ just to play it safe. Then one day, after being picked up from school by her mom as she usually did, Rahel noticed something was off. As she rode in the back of the car, she could sense a weird vibe coming from her mother’s eerie silence.
“Are you a lesbian?”
Her mom finally shouted. It turned out that this whole time her mom was on MySpace and had seen Rahel’s account.
No response. Rahel was shocked and speechless.
Thinking about what to say, Rahel found herself in a state of unbelief. Was this really happening? This was it, like it or not she knew she couldn’t keep hiding.
“Yea, I like girls and there is nothing wrong with that.”
Just like Rahel, her mom was also in a state of unbelief, but unlike her daughter she was not opened to the idea of Rahel being gay. Some of us are lucky the moment we come out to our parents, we embrace each other and our relationships only become stronger. Unfortunately for Rahel, this wasn't the case; the months that came after were detrimental. After coming out to her mom and siblings, things only got worst: name calling, being teased, and being neglected was only the beginning.
“You’re sick and you need help!”
She would hear this phrase over and over from her mother and later on she was denied from using her phone and hanging out with friends.
“I was grounded because of my sexual orientation.”
One thing she wasn’t denied from using was her computer, which ultimately saved her life. At the age of 15 she started dating a girl she met online. Their relationship was beneficial as it gave Rahel a chance to explore her early changing perspective. On top of that, she would write blogs and participate in online forums that talked about coming out of the closet and being gay.
“It was helpful… it kept me going. Other people’s words kept me going. I could only go so far alone and the advice from other people that told me to stay strong and be proud of who I was, was great.”
She embraced the kind words from strangers she met virtually, but in the real world, back at home, she had no one. Being the middle child and being gay, in the eyes of her sisters, was one more reason to mistreat her. Fortunately, throughout this time, after realizing how much they had in common such as having similar taste in music, some of her sisters started to see her as equal. Acceptance between them developed but at a slow pace, but the sense of vindication from her mother was and is still the same. After all these years, she hasn’t fully come to terms with the fact that Rahel is attracted to the same sex.
“It kind of hurts. I thought we were passed this…”
Looking past the setbacks, Rahel can acknowledge that not all is bad. Having a huge weight off her shoulders, allowing herself to be true in every aspect, and not having to pretend are some of the positive gains she’s developed over her life.
Today Rahel is proud to identify as a lesbian, a POC, and as a strong woman. She sees the changes of today, both bad and good, and embraces them everyday. Her sexuality doesn’t define her, but only adds to the incredible person she sets herself to be.
“What advice do you have for people still struggling in the closet?”
“The only person who can be the strongest for yourself is you. Stay positive and create various outlets for when you feel down like music or dancing. There is no right moment or time to come out, you just know it and you do it. Be prepared because it’s life changing. Just know that some people will accept you and others won’t, but the important thing to take from this experience is that it will guide you towards your own personal happiness.”
Having hard conversations with the one’s you love are always the hardest and for many of us, it's coming out of the closet to the people we care about. It makes sense, after all we are all just human and we make mistakes, so don’t hold yourself accountable. To the one's who've had the opportunity to come out, whether your experience has been a good or bad one, be proud of yourself. You did it. And to the one's who are still struggling with their sexuality and can't find a way to express it, just hang in there. You are not alone. Everyone's experience, lives, and outcomes are different so embrace your own; make a difference. After all we are only here for a limited time.