I am a Puerto Rican gay man. That is how I identify. That is my identity. I say Puerto Rican first because it is the obvious. It’s written all over my face. It’s in the curl of my hair, in the width of my nose, and in the color of my skin. I name that first because it is the first thing you acknowledge about me. It is the first thing you see. You make your first assumptions about me based on that. Even if you do not know that I am Puerto Rican you know that I am not white and something probably tells you that I am not black, at least, not just black. The truth is, being Puerto Rican, I am all of those things and Taino, and who knows what else mixed in. I am one of those Puerto Ricans for which this is obvious. It’s not true for all of us. Puerto Ricans come in a spectrum of hues, but it is true for me. It’s a fact that, for a part of my childhood and adolescence, despite my parent’s best efforts, I wished wasn’t true, because it would’ve made life easier. Being white is easier. For one thing, everything in American popular culture when I was in my teens affirmed the beauty of whiteness. I wanted to be considered beautiful, just like anyone else. It wasn’t until later that I learned how beautiful this blend of cultures really is.
My parents, my family, worked very hard at arming me with enormous pride in my culture, perhaps because they knew I would need that armor to face the truth about the world. That truth is that I felt I’d have to be smarter, work harder, and just BE better to get a fair shake. And here is the unintended consequence of that fact – working harder and being better makes me love being Puerto Rican even more because I know what I had to face down in order to achieve it. I’ve earned that pride.
I say I am gay after I say I am Puerto Rican because without learning to be proud of my “Rican-ness” and the strength I gained from that pride, I wouldn’t have had the strength to share with you that I am a gay man. I choose to declare that to you. I do not choose to be gay any more than I choose to be Puerto Rican, but I do choose to share that information with you so that you may take the time to question your assumptions about what that means.
One of my heroes, James Baldwin, a black gay man, once said, “You have to impose, in fact – this may sound very strange – you have to decide who you are, and force the world to deal with YOU, not with its IDEA of you.” So, I have decided to identify myself as a Puerto Rican gay man not just because of what I know that to mean for ME, but because of what society has told YOU to believe it means and then hold myself up as a reason for you to question it. And I need you to question it because we still live in a world where you can be shamed, bullied, or even killed for identifying as a Puerto Rican gay man. We still live in a world where you can be shamed into taking your own life for identifying as a Puerto Rican gay man. We still live in a world where you can be fired from your job or denied housing. We still live in a world where I can be denied my right to marry another Puerto Rican gay man. So, you see, my identity is my sword in the fight against prejudice and I hold it high – like a torch.