“Being undocumented wasn’t a choice”

I'd long known I was attracted to other boys. When I was 17, I found out another reason I was "different"

Topics: Pariah Personals, LGBT, Life stories, Real Families, Immigration,

"Being undocumented wasn't a choice"The author (Credit: Courtesy of Rahul Rodriguez)
Inspired by the recently released film "Pariah," Salon teamed up with New America Media to run a series of coming out stories by minority and immigrant LGBT youth. This is the fourth installment.

It was harder to come out as undocumented than it was to come out as gay.

Despite the stereotypes and prejudices that may still linger around the gay community, I always found comfort in my gay identity — a comfort I often struggled with living as an undocumented immigrant.

When I come out to people as gay, I don’t have to wait for the questions, “How did you get here?” or “Why can’t you just fix your status?” No, I usually get, “Oh, OK, I just wasn’t sure,” or my favorite, “Of course you’re gay! Why would a hot guy like you be straight?” That one usually makes me blush and laugh.

But just like being gay, being undocumented wasn’t a choice for me. It was something I discovered as I grew up.

I am originally from Lima, Peru. My dad was a pediatrician and my mother a teacher before we moved to the United States.

Growing up I always knew that there was something different about me; I just wasn’t sure what. I just knew I had an attraction toward guys, ever since I was about 9 years old and had a crush on a fifth grader during summer school.

I was 17 years old when I discovered I was undocumented. My dad broke the news to me that I wouldn’t be able to get a driver’s license because we were “different” from everyone else. His words were subtle but I understood.

My parents warned me not to disclose my immigration status to anyone, fearing that I would be treated differently.

I recently came out of both “closets” after coming together with other queer and undocumented folks for the first time in my life.

It was after a confrontation with my parents about my undocumented friends’ sexual orientation that I came out to them as gay. It wasn’t how I had hoped it would happen. I always thought I would come out to my parents over dinner after my college graduation.

To my surprise, it happened on a Tuesday morning in my parents’ bedroom.

My friends, whom I met through an undocumented internship program called Dream Summer and who were also undocumented and queer, were in the next room waiting for breakfast. While they were patiently waiting, I stood speechless and motionless hearing my parents go around the possibility of my being gay.

They were tiptoeing around my sexual orientation, warning me how I would be perceived if I continued to hang out with gay people.

I finally broke the silence. I looked to the ground for comfort, and in what I thought was a strong voice, I muttered, “Just like my friends are gay, I’m gay.”



The textbook questions of “how?” and “why?” followed, but so did the same warning to not tell anyone.

I had been there five years ago.

Unlike being undocumented, being gay is becoming less of a legal issue. I can freely announce that I’m gay and not fear that I’ll be arrested or deported or accused of taking some other American child’s seat at UC Berkeley. However, I still get nervous when I mutter the words, “I am undocumented” to strangers.

The stigma that goes along with being undocumented still lingers in my mind. Though I have never had trouble with my passport or consulate ID card, a trip to the Castro District in San Francisco still sparks fear and worry in me.

What if this time they don’t take my ID?

I often think about what my undocumented status will do to my romantic life. I haven’t been in a relationship since coming out as undocumented and I sometimes worry about how guys’ perceptions of me will change when I disclose my status.

Coming out of that closet still seems difficult.

Raul Rodriguez, 21, is a senior at UC Berkeley majoring in media studies and anthropology. He was born in Lima, Peru and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles.

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