Coming out is one of the bravest things a person can do. Some are lucky and have parents that are completely fine with their children and always will be. Some of us are less lucky. Coming out to my Latino family has not been a one step process. Although I’ve been out for years, every time I mention my bisexuality in conversation they bring up all the same old criticisms. They demand that I re-enter the closet in order to protect the family honor. “We get it; you’re bi. But why do you have to tell anyone that? You should keep that quiet.” It feels like I must constantly remind my parents I am the same person they raised, that the fact that I am bisexual doesn’t change anything.
Family is extremely important in Latino culture. Having a close and healthy relationship with one’s children is important, but even more important than family is a sense of religious duty. My parents aren’t even that religious, but the Catholic culture in which they were raised still holds a strong sway over them. Some people simply cannot get around their own cultural and religious beliefs, not even in order to understand and accept their own children. And that is truly tragic.
I try to understand where they are coming from, to have some compassion for their struggles with my openly bisexual nature. They feel guilty, as if they made some mistakes raising me. And they are afraid that the whole family will be judged by Latino society. I understand that their anger toward me is just a matter of projecting their own guilt and fear onto me. That makes it easier to forgive them, but it doesn’t make it any easier to put up with.
I don’t want to upset them, but I must live my life genuinely as myself. I cannot allow them to silence me, and I certainly won’t allow them to force me back into the shadows. That was a miserable way to live. My culture and religion silenced me during my childhood, disabled me, prevented me from growing. Not any more. Now that I’m free to be myself, there’s no way I’m going back. It took enormous strength to overcome the fear, frustration, and guilt that was forced upon me by people who love me and who should have known better.
The fact that I’m bisexual actually makes it worse for them. My family doesn’t regard it as a real orientation. It’s like a joke. My mother has told me several times how she wishes I were gay, she wishes I would “choose a side.” In this regard, she’s made her motivation explicit. At least if I were gay, she could tell her friends that I was born that way. But being bi just means I’m a slut who will “have sex with anyone.” I try, of course, to explain to her that I was born bisexual. Nobody chooses their orientation. The only choice I made was to accept my sexuality and to be honest about it. A choice for which my family constantly punishes me.
This is one reason it upsets me when gay men presume to inform me that I’m just calling myself bi in order to “make things easier,” or as “a baby step,” a “stop on the way to gay town.” I always tell them the truth: If I were gay, life would actually be easier. Certainly my mother would find it far much easier (as she constantly reminds me). But I am who I am. And, besides, I like being bi. Even if my family gives me shit about it, I love my bisexuality. It’s freeing and empowering and I wouldn’t want to be any other way.
My family often just pretends I came out as gay (wishful thinking, I guess). They wonder aloud why I “never showed such behavior,” insinuating that I didn’t present the “signs” of homosexuality – you know, those stereotypically flamboyant behaviors from stupid movies. They wonder why I’ve had girlfriends (as if bi guys never date girls). It’s like they think gay people are born with a mark of some kind so that parents won’t be “surprised,” and maybe then they’d be “off the hook.” But, no, I presented outwardly as “normal,” so they can’t abide the fact that now I’m suddenly “abnormal.” This is the hardest part, the implication that being bisexual is abnormal. It’s perfectly normal. It’s my nature; it’s natural. That makes it normal for me.
I could, of course, have gone all my life without ever telling any of my relatives who I am. But that would only maintain a false kind of love, a love dependent upon dishonesty, insincerity, and self-loathing. For me, loving somebody is accepting the person for who they are.
In a way, I feel like my bisexuality isn’t really the source of this conflict with my family. Rather, it’s my independent spirit. I mean, even if I weren’t bisexual, I would still be an atheist, and I’d still be polyamorous. I simply don’t conform to their traditional ways. If it weren’t bisexuality, plenty of conflict would arise still from coming out as a raver. The difference, of course, is that those are choices I made, whereas I didn’t choose my bisexuality. But, to what extent do we ever choose our personalities? We can refine them, learn to be polite, learn to appreciate things for which we don’t have a natural capacity. But we are all subject to our natures. I am who I am. Families everywhere would do well to remember that it isn’t healthy to force their children into boring little boxes. We are all unique, and that’s a beautiful thing. I just hope that, one day, mine will learn to appreciate the real me.
Coming out is definitely not a one step process. I came out first to my mom, then to my grandmother (the wonderful woman who raised me), then to the whole world in the NY Times Magazine. When that story ran, I was inundated with messages from members of my family who read it and who were ashamed that I would publicly admit that I’m bisexual. Then I compounded it by being featured in a BuzzFeed video titled “Things Bisexual People are Tired of Hearing.”
It took a year for the furor over those to die down. Then, just last week on this very blog, I came out yet again. Once more, my inbox was flooded with demands that I stop embarrassing the family in this way. You’d think they might be proud instead they continuously try to force me back into the closet.
It is disheartening, all that judgment from people who say they love me, but I try to be patient. After all, it took a lot of soul searching to learn to accept myself, to be proud of myself. I know that it is incredibly important to be out, because being out challenges people to think differently about the world. By being out we improve bi visibility in our families, in our communities, and in the world. The more bi people who are out, the more we will be accepted and someday bisexuality, homosexuality, heterosexuality, etc will all be treated equally. In the meantime, maybe my family will figure it out. Until then, I’ll just keep being me, out and proud.
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.