The priest said, “Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters that have chosen a sinful way of life –– homosexuality.”
My heart started racing as I thought to myself, “He’s talking about me, he must know I am a lesbian.” My body began to tremble and warm as I felt the judgemental stares of everyone around me. As I walked out of church, I felt relieved and told myself that I would never return.
The isolation I felt because of my sexuality was caused by my family’s deep ties to the church that constantly preached homophobic rhetoric. The church taught them to believe that marriage was only between a man and woman. So, they raised me to think it was immoral for two girls to like each other.
My family constantly mentioned that queer relationships were abnormal and that a woman’s duty was to marry a decent guy. When I was 12, my aunt turned to me in disgust and said, “Did you see them? They’re machorras—bull dykes,” as a lesbian couple walked by at our family reunion. My uncle joined in to exclaim, “They shouldn’t even be able to get married, marriage is between a man and a woman.” I didn’t know how to respond to these comments and remained silent, avoiding eye contact with them.
In Catholic elementary school, the minimal amount of sex education enforced heteronormativity. During the presentation my sixth grade teacher said, “Coitus occurs when a man penetrates a woman.” As the presentation continued, I zoned out in the classroom. I thought to myself, “Is my attraction to other girls immoral?” I felt unsafe openly asking questions about my sexuality. I was afraid to raise my hand and ask about what happened when two girls loved each other.
I grew up internalizing this homophobia and I didn’t fully realize I liked girls until I dated my best friend at 14 years old. Even though the relationship felt right, I would still think to myself: “What am I doing?” I knew that if my parents were ever to find out, they would reject me.
Eventually, they did find out.
One day when I got home after school and my dad asked me to “talk.” My dad’s serious face turned to a vulnerable one as tears streamed down his face and he sternly said, “Promise me you’ll stop doing this.” My heartbeat was racing as I asked “Stop doing what?” He said, “Stop dating that girl.”
I swallowed my true feelings in an attempt to make him proud of me and hesitantly said, “I … I promise I’ll stop being a lesbian.” He gradually stopped crying and looked at me, unsure of whether I was telling the truth or not. “Good.” He wiped his tears and again said sternly, “I really hope you stop doing this.”
For fear of ostracization, I continued to hide my sexual orientation throughout high school. It wasn’t until I moved to the United States that I started to embrace my identity.
In community college, I joined Gay Straight Alliance and finally found a community of queer people who had similar experiences as me.
During National Coming Out Day, the club and I organized an event to empower LGBTQ+ people in embracing their identities. I was in charge of creating a wooden door frame that people would walk through to symbolize their coming out. After the event, everyone talked about their queer experiences. While at the event, the club’s president asked, “Who wants to share next?”
A person from the club volunteered and said that he was going through rough times at the moment because he was living with his parents and they didn’t accept him for being gay. He expressed how painful it was for him that his parents thought he was a deviant. Hearing this made me think of how difficult it was to live with my parents and know they didn’t love me for who I was. Before this, I hadn’t met someone that had gone through the same things I had as a queer person.
Joining GSA made me become unapologetic about my sexual orientation. But, I continued to lie to my parents.
One day, my parents were looking through my cell phone messages and found out I had a girlfriend. They told me they “always knew” I was a lesbian. My dad said, “When you were younger, we just thought you were confused. But then we realized you were always sure of who you were, it was us that made you doubt yourself.”
I believe my family’s homophobia was correlated to their extreme devotion to Catholicism.
I do not blame them for not accepting me when they first found out I was dating a girl. I’m just glad they were able to challenge the heteronormative ideologies that were imposed on them once we moved away from such a toxic environment.
I, too, finally realized that the heteronormative expectations that were enforced on me were dictating my life. The same tools that settler colonialists used to spread white supremacy were now imprisoning me.
But I’m not ashamed of disclosing my sexual orientation anymore. I now can confidently take my girlfriend’s hand and kiss her in public and no longer tremble when someone condemns me, saying I’m going to hell or calls me a bull dyke. I can now go back to that church and not feel a bit of remorse for the life that I have chosen to live — a truthful one.
Lupita Lua writes the Friday blog on unlearning white supremacy and decolonizing aspects of her life. Contact her at [email protected].