The first thing I did when I arrived at my mother’s home country was to take off my laptop’s hardcover case because it was decorated with stickers that declared “fight the cis-tem” and “biracial, bisexual, bye asshole.” I hadn’t visited since I was fifteen but I hadn’t forgotten the quiet nights or the screech of my grandma’s parrot… nor the screaming and crying that accompanied rumors that my cousin Lauren was a weed-smoking lesbian sex worker.
Lauren was two years older than me and we had similar interests and senses of humor, so we’ve always gotten along well. We spent a lot of time together when I visited as a kid but my Mom has always been concerned that Lauren was a bad influence. Despite this, Lauren invited me to sleep over the Saturday after I arrived in Colombia.
I sat on my cousin’s bed that night when she told me we were going out for her best friend’s birthday. It took some serious prodding before she said we were going somewhere called “La Purga.” She explained that the club was for “raros” and that “gente extraña” go there. I asked if she was one of them? Laura sighed before answering almost as she was afraid I’d get angry: “ si, soy bisexual.” I smiled big and said: “yo tambien”.
We talked about our ex girlfriends and about how Lauren’s mom, my Mom’s sister, forced her to break up with her girlfriend of two years by threatening to kick Lauren out of the house for even being associated with her. I told Lauren that I had recently broken up with my ex partners and that I hadn’t told my mom I was dating anyone, let alone someone that wasn't a man! We bonded over our secrets and promised not to tell any other family member.
I’m used to being in queer spaces and queer parties, but this club was like nothing I’d ever experienced in my life: people that looked like me were being so happy and free. I was completely starstruck. The thump of the music, the bodies grinding on the dance floor, the laughing, the kissing, it felt like coming home.
Going to La Purga and seeing people that were like me, Queer and Afro-Latinx, made me realize that I wasn’t alone. But most importantly, it made me realize that I can exist. I use to think that I was “la ultima pepsi cola del desierto”, or the last pepsi in the desert. Now I know better and it made me feel proud of the color of my skin and my queerness, simultaneously.
However, this experience sadly reminded me that Lauren and I weren’t the only Queer members of our family: there was always our cousin Adam. Despite his success as a poet, painter, and lawyer, the love he had for his husband somehow overshadowed his accomplishments in a way that sucked the light from his life -- or at least that’s how most of my aunts and uncles saw it. His queerness was too much for them and it destroyed his relationship with his family.
I asked Lauren if she talked to him, but she didn’t and neither did I. I thought of how Adam was probably as afraid as we were to discuss our “dirty” little secrets within the family circle. Yet, I secretly yearned to be as unapologetic about my Queerness as he was, but I know that being Queer in many Latinx communities was seen as a disadvantage instead of an expression of love than runs as deep and as strong as their heterosexual counterparts.
Still, it was validating and joyful to know that Lauren was “una de las mias.” The aforementioned phrase comes from Latinx Queer theory that expands on the idea of the immediate familiarity to describe that feeling of hope, strength, and kinship we feel when someone else comes out as Queer to us.
Maybe one day Lauren, Adam, and I will be able to exist as queer with our family. In the meantime, I hope we can find the support we crave, and need, within our queer friendships. I’m glad I found the support I needed. Even if it took me going to Colombia to realize that I can be a proud Queer-Afro Latinx.
(Names have been changed to protect people’s identity).
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