This Bi Life: Growing Up in Mexico

BioI grew up in Mexico City. Although it is a very big city (and more progressive and liberal than the rest of Mexico), it is still more conservative than, say, Los Angeles. I think this is due, at least in part, to the fact that Mexico is the second most Catholic country in the world (after only Vatican City).

I was raised Jehovah’s Witness, which means I was in a religious minority, but the pressure to conform to society’s expectations was still strong. Even people who don’t take their religion seriously are influenced culturally by some of its core ideas. This includes homophobia.

In Mexico City, people are still afraid to come out of the closet, probably because there is a perception that everyone will make fun of you if they know. Some of them might call you names, tease you, even beat you up, certainly ostracize you.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been aware of being attracted to both boys and girls, although I didn’t tell anyone when I was younger. Many times I evaded being caught looking at guys while in middle school, because I was afraid I would be referred to with derogatory names. The idea of people making fun of me haunted me until I graduated middle school. During that time, I was a very insecure kid, living in confusion, questioning myself, full of fear and incomprehension.

Middle School in MexicoIn addition to being very Catholic culturally, Mexico is also extremely misogynistic. I was indoctrinated into a kind of machismo culture, which is to say I grew up believing that a man must behave in a stereotypically masculine manner at all times. This meant carefully hiding any parts of myself that might have been perceived as stereotypically “feminine.” Attraction to men is seen as feminine, so this meant hiding my “gay” side. I was not worried about being mislabeled as gay. I knew I was bi, and I was comfortable with that fact. Rather, I was worried about being perceived as “not manly.”

In Mexican society, homosexual behavior is not necessarily punished but it is severely judged. Mexican men have a specific way of behaving toward one another other; it’s like a general “bro” culture. In some ways, the men feel more comfortable being close to each other than in the United States (where I live now). They hug each other, caress one another, kiss one another, but none of that is perceived as gay or feminine. It’s kind of like the “no homo” joke in the states.

It’s ok to be as intimate with another guy as you could want in Mexican culture, as long as it never goes to the level of romance or sex. And even in that regard, there’s a kind of “it’s only gay if you take it” mentality. I had opportunities to fool around with guys, but I was afraid to participate in that kind of play. I was afraid I might like it too much, want something else, something more – and then I’d be mocked for being too “girly.”

I decided to suppress my attractions toward men. I decided to only focus on women. Since I am also attracted to girls, I guess I figured I’d just get everything I need emotionally and sexually from girlfriends. I hoped I would never explore my same sex attractions, ever. I also tried to become more “masculine” by enrolling myself in martial arts training, as well as going to the gym. I thought that such activities would make me “more of a man.” I wasn’t obsessed with being a man, but my culture wanted me to be obsessed with it.

CurrentI never tried to be the classic macho guy some men try to personify. I didn’t take it that far. But then maybe I did. I mean, I noticed that we constantly are reinforced to think that masculinity means means uber macho. A macho man is strong, quiet, direct, emotionless, unable or unwilling to show vulnerability, driven to have sex with as many women as he possibly can, to lure in the ladies with his big muscled physique and then protect them / disrespect them in a way that I can only describe using the American slang term – douchebag. I don’t think I ever wanted to be like that, but I guess I did try to be perceived that way sometimes.

It is hard even today to make myself vulnerable to some people. I grew up thinking that it is not okay to express emotions – at least not in a healthy way. Men are supposed to bottle everything up and then explode violently if challenged or threatened. This is all about avoiding vulnerability. To allow myself to be vulnerable to somebody, to open up, would mean that I am weak and thus “less of a man.”

Unless, of course, you’ve gone through half a bottle of tequila. Then you can open up as much as you want about your feelings without any repercussions, because the next day you can say it was the alcohol that was talking (or acting, or flirting with your bro). Guys in Mexico drink a lot, because it’s the only way many of them feel they can ever let their guard down. And that’s sad.

Even as a kid, I didn’t want buy into the dichotomy of “masculine” or “feminine.” Even at a young age, I had realized that every one of us has traits or behaviors that might be considered masculine or feminine regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity. We are all different, and attraction is based upon these differences. I couldn’t help but notice that some of the most macho guys I knew were clearly attracted to my “feminine” features – although few admitted it directly.

Having gone through all that confusion and come out of it ok, I now consider indoctrination into this dichotomous way of viewing gender roles as harmful. Hyper-masculinity or hyper-femininity are unreal products of our cultures – not necessarily what human beings are supposed to be.

LAToday, at the age of 21 and having lived in the United States for about five years, I have begun to notice that U.S. culture has many similarities to Mexican culture. In the U.S. many heterosexual men see bisexual men as less “masculine,” and many gay men look at bi men as more “masculine.” In many instances, straight and gay people see bisexuality as a phase that will pass; they call us liars or pretenders or promiscuous. We bi people are the most stigmatized of the LGBT+ community, even though we are the majority of that community. And too many of us are still in the closet as a result of all this stigma from “both sides.”

In Mexican culture, bisexual men are considered sexually promiscuous, so incapable of containing their libido that “they also need men to satisfy their sexual hunger.” Bi men, thus, are seen as so hyper masculine that “any hole will do,” as long as you are the one doing the penetration. On the other hand, if you like to receive penetration, you are seen as too feminine.

Bi women, too, are seen as promiscuous. They are regarded as “sluts” who are addicted to sex. They are not seen as masculine (while lesbians are). This is because bisexuality is considered “a choice” and not a sexual orientation at all in mainstream Mexican culture. Thus, bi women are seen as straight girls who are so horny they will fool around with one another sometimes.

While it might seem to some gay men and women that these Mexican attitudes toward bi men and women are somehow better or allow bi people to enjoy “straight privilege,” that’s not really the case. Because, in the end, bisexuality is simply erased. And any bi people who enjoy (as I do) a variety of sexual positions will still be regarded as too feminine (in the case of men) or too masculine (in the case of women). The stigma is just as great; it’s just that Mexican culture mostly stigmatizes the acts and behaviors that challenge the hyper masculine / hyper feminine gender roles. In this, bi and gay people can both be equally implicated.

Teen in OregonIt’s sad, but I tried to conform to this view of sexuality for most of my childhood. Until, at the age of 16, I moved to a small town in Oregon, USA. That’s where I finished High School. It was a chance to start over, an opportunity to introduce myself to my new friends the way I wanted, as who I am. I came out, finally, as a bisexual guy. I knew that most of my friends would be ok with it; I no longer feared being ostracized. I made friends who are also LGBT (or allies). Even my heterosexual girlfriend at that time didn’t care that I was bi. I still had some insecurities to work out, but this open minded environment helped me to overcome my fears.

Today, I don’t have to fake it anymore. I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not. I don’t feel the need to apologize for who I am. I still come into contact with people who don’t accept bisexuality (certain gay and straight people). But instead of allowing them to scare me back into the closet, I just walk away. If they don’t respect me, they don’t deserve to know me. Simple.

amBi

at Pride with my amBi family!

Of course, all of this was possible because I had people around me who support me and understand me. This is why community is so fundamental. While in Oregon, I joined a great social club, amBi. It’s just a great group of bi folks (and allies) who do fun things together. Being surrounded by people like me is so empowering, so freeing. There’s no way I’d ever go back to being alone.

I live in Los Angeles now, and there are millions of people outside my door. But I still feel no need to conform. I figure, there will always be people who will not accept me for one reason or another. You can’t please everyone, as they say. But there will also always be people out there who will accept me, who will hold my hand in tough times. Those are the people worth knowing.

To anyone out there struggling right now to accept themselves, struggling to come out, afraid of rejection: I’d just say this. You’ve got to be true to yourself first. Otherwise, how will you ever find those friends who can accept you for who you truly are? You can’t expect others to accept you until you accept yourself – in all your glory, without regard for whether or not you fit into this or that gender norm or sexual role. Be you. It really is step one. And then the search for a community that will love you can truly begin.

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Damian Emba
Damian Emba is a Mexican/American artist, activist, translator, and writer. A contributor for Bi.org, Damian also coordinates Spanish Language & Youth Outreach for amBi, the world’s largest bi social community. You can follow him on Instagram @dmntial.