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.