On growing up gay in Mexico, Academia, and the lack of queer spaces in Hamilton

Two of my parent’s concerns when they discovered I’m gay were that I would (1) die alone because of (2) an AIDS-related disease. Their constant remarks echoed the position of most Mexicans that grow up in smaller cities: gay was a synonym of sin, solitude, and AIDS. He was profoundly concerned about my future. As a matter of fact, I was too. The lack of visible queer Latin American role models and the lack of queer spaces throughout my life—and my inability to show both him and myself any evidence of a “gay life well-lived” —really fucked up with me while growing up. My name is Hector. I am a 24-year old Mexican who moved to Hamilton 8 months ago and this is my story.

I grew up unable to put a finger on what was different about me. I was in an all-boys Catholic school in which our “daily bread” was the condemning of homosexuals. I discovered my attraction for the male body from a very young age. I thought it was a phase: I approached a priest, concerned about this, and would undergo multiple confessions a week as to rid my body of these ungodly passions. As far as the priest was concerned, I was a monster in God’s eyes. “There must be something wrong with me”, I told myself multiple times a day. A year before starting high school, I started watching a TV series with a gay couple in it. It struck me. There was nothing wrong with me. I’m just gay. I didn’t know being gay was a thing. As I owned to myself my gayness, I felt lost. There was little to no gay representation in Latino media for me to follow. The only gay characters I was exposed to were very feminine, thin, stereotypical characters that talked with a high-pitched voice and were very interested in arts and media. I was a thick, nerdy guy that looked nothing like them. People don’t understand the importance of both media representation and its quality. And don’t get me started on intersections: as a masculine, homosexual Latin American I couldn’t identify with the (very few) gay characters I saw around me. Representation matters. I dream of the day that a queer kid can turn on a TV and see a variety of depictions of queerness and see themselves happy and successful in the media. To not show the whole of humanity is to deny the existence and experiences of us, queer people.

Time moved on and things got (a hell of a lot) better. I moved to Mexico City and finished a weird engineering degree and about a third of a Psychology degree (yes, big nerd here). During these, I landed a couple of internships in Montreal that lead me to get accepted to Mac last year. When at the lab or in Academia related events, I’m still sometimes scared of coming out. The worst part is that it is a daily thing: you meet new people every day at the lab, in the university, at conferences… And I hate myself for this. I hate myself for watching my back, always being careful to not be too feminine, as if there was a socially acceptable limit as to how gay I can be in Academia and still be taken seriously. I hate it because visibility matters. The media misrepresenting us is enough; we should not engage in this conversation. We’re not used to seeing other queer people in high academic positions. I’ve been in this field for two years now. I’ve met one (1) queer principle investigator (an amazing queer women in the faculty of Sociology at Mac), and, trust me, I’ve been around. I’ve been in Academic circles in Mexico, Montreal, Hamilton… We are standing on giant’s shoulders. We have a debt not only to ourselves but to all of those who came before us and to all of those who are yet to come. Queer academics need to start owning their (our) identity. Identity should not, and cannot, be hidden.

Without going into too many details, after a second internship in Montreal, I accepted my McMaster offer right away and moved to Hamilton last September. At first, it felt like a very drastic change—I had lived in Mexico City for five years and in Montreal for almost a year. Mexico City really messes up your perception of size: once you go Ciudad de México, you never go back. Hamilton surprised me. It has a thriving and beautiful culture scene (with Theatres all around, art galleries opening constantly and even the film industry targeting the city) and an amazing academic scene (McMaster University is the fourth-highest rated University in Canada and Columbia International College is Canada’s largest private boarding high school). What surprised me the most, however, was the lack of queer spaces in the city. Just a couple of months ago the last gay bar/club that we had (the infamous Embassy) closed down. And this brings me back to the recurrent topic of my story: representation and visibility matter. The gay bar has played almost a ritualistic part of the gay history: traditionally, these were the only places were gay people could mingle, ringle and fingle with each other without being judged. The lack of openly queer spaces in Hamilton is worrisome. The worst part, I believe, is that we are expected to put up with this and be thankful that we do not live in a country were being gay is still illegal. As if life was a competition and the fact that our situation is not as fucked up as others should make us silent about any improvement.

I Skyped with my parents last week. Their two main concerns now are that (1) perhaps me being too ambitious is chasing potential mates in my life away and (2) I need to stop overcommitting (I should really learn to say no to offers like writing in queer blogs or such).  I grew up in a world where queer Latin American representation was non-existent to stereotypical. My name is Hector. I am a 24-year old Mexican doing the best I can. I am queer. I am here. And I am not fucking going anywhere.

Hector Domingo Orozco Perez

Hector Orozco is a graduate student at McMaster University (and wanna-be blog writer for Bent Q Media). An engineer by training, and neuroscientist at heart, he researches people’s brain activity while playing music together

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