At age 18, in Long Beach, California, I made some goals for me — most prominent being to turn 20 in Berkeley. Truthfully, I was very unsure what my next goal would be, but with Berkeley being Berkeley, finding goals to set for oneself is never too much of something worth being worried about. Now, at age 21, not only can I say I achieved the goal of transferring from community college to Berkeley within a two-year time frame, I can say — with pride — that I am probably one of the oldest people anyone has ever met to have never had a valentine.
My first semester at UC Berkeley was probably the most exciting. I had the world’s best roommate — I thought — an internship in “The City” and a boyfriend. My boyfriend — now ex-boyfriend — was one of my closest friends since high school and an incredible human being. While visiting home from UC Berkeley one long weekend, we discovered we both had feelings for each other and became a couple. Suddenly, trips for him to visit the Bay were being planned and we were becoming “official.” Despite the excitement, his first trip up was the worst trip and the trip that ended our relationship.
Any respectful relationship that had been built between us before that trip deteriorated by the time he finished calling me “confused.” Confused — not to be mistaken for misinformed, disoriented or befuddled. Confused in its most conservative, white American-ly rightist colloquial way of containing meaning. He, a timid, soft-spoken, undocumented (at the time), college student of color, was using “confused” to describe and reference my previous, and very serious, relationship with a female.
Had I still been in Southern California, immersed in traditional values and conservative experiences, I probably would have ignored the comment. What Southern California’s bountiful quantity of big, commercial-fueled entertainment outlets kept me from coping with — the loss of my first serious and most meaningful romantic relationship — I was given space to deal with in my far-off world of anti-big-business philosophers, intellects, creatives and critics in Berkeley. This meant that for the first time, I was free to think my own thoughts without the worry of having family or community members judge the thoughts I was producing.
I decided to end the relationship with him and continued to take control of my relationships with others by making a conscious effort to learn to value my emotional well-being. I claimed agency over my physical being by reclaiming creative control over my physical image, representing my personality through my style.
My first facial piercing became the visual symbol for my understanding that I am an incredibly beautiful human being regardless of the way others value or judge my physical appearance. It also symbolized this blind kind of love I had embraced and stood as a symbol of my desire to practice this kind of love toward myself. My body modifications became an external expression of myself — a symbol of my pansexuality.
I’m reluctant to define pansexuality because of the patriarchal roots and history of the English language. But I will do so in order to provide a means of common understanding to be used in socially conscious conversation. According to Google’s dictionary, the definition of pansexual is “not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity.” I identify as pansexual because I have found myself fortunate enough to be an individual who has the capacity to feel romantic love for folks regardless of physical anatomy and self-identification.
Learning to see this aspect of self in a positive light rather than one of crisis, turmoil and drama-laden family meetings generated an intellectual and spiritual evolution of being: an evolution that resulted in practicing acceptance and love for myself in the way that I wholesomely have with romantic interests.
Rather than allowing myself to fall subject to the social and commercial pressures of finding a valentine or a more permanent partner, I discovered that having myself to adore felt more than sufficient. Instead of sharing a day dedicated to love with someone lost in labeling me, I choose to spend it building a community of love, with friends, family and all those I love.
Gabriela Mendoza is a contributor to The Weekender. Contact her at [email protected]