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Rejecting Catholic shame and machismo: Queerness as a Latina

By Manuela Vega

Photography by Manuela Vega

An illogical, reverberating voice in my head begged me to say something; do something; be something even if it took months — so she’d notice me. I’d only met her once at a party, but I was mesmerized. 

Up until that point, I had been comfortable with people thinking I was straight. I still believed that maybe I actually was. 

But when I met this girl, I was faced with the undeniable truth that I had feelings for her. 

After high school, my environment no longer scared me into pretending I was straight. Most, if not all, of my close friends were queer. Seeing them unapologetically living out their truths inspired me to do the same. In their company, I was free to be myself. 

At home, however, I still had reservations that stemmed from the fear that my family would judge me.

My parents grew up in Colombia, where most of my extended family still lives. They were kids in the ’60s. Catholicism and machismo, or toxic masculinity, dominated norms that nurtured them.

My mother would argue about feminism with her militant father. Her socialist views made her a rebel. My dad, on the other hand, had his own conservative beliefs, although they have changed over the years. Still, both of my parents internalized some of the homophobia that pervaded their upbringing.

Despite her solidarity with gay and trans folks in rights battles throughout my youth, my mother had made comments in the past that stuck with me. I remember her allyship, but I also remember when she expressed the obscenity she felt seeing girls kissing on screen. I felt resentment knowing that feeling was rooted deep within her.

My reserved father would raise a brow whenever girls held hands or showed affection. He sometimes even questioned me about my friendships. I could tell there was a part of my parents that was afraid I’d be gay. Every instance felt like a brick to my stomach.

I desperately wanted that feeling to disappear. I began talking more about queer icons, my queer friends and queer relationships. If there was an opportunity to normalize the subject, I would take it, even though I sometimes feared outing myself in the process. If my own sexuality was called into question, I would lie. 

My family is rooted in Colombia, but its branches extend from the southern part of Chile to New York. When my parents migrated to Canada with me and my older sister in 2000, they maintained the familial relationships they’d cultivated over the past thirty years.

I have about thirty cousins to keep up with. My mom has six siblings and my dad has four. Throughout my life, visits from relatives or trips to Colombia have been fairly regular. Beyond travelling, an evergoing group chat keeps us connected.

My mother, who doesn’t go a day without speaking to her sisters, has always told me about the importance of family. Knowing that half of them are conservative and some are blatantly homophobic drives the feeling that I can’t fully be myself. It’s scary to think about how differently they might act if they knew I wasn’t straight, or if they saw me with a girlfriend.

For now, I’m opening up spaces in my family where I feel comfortable, and expressing my queerness at my own pace. From coming to terms with my own sexuality only a couple years ago to letting trusted family members into my realm of truth, I’ve come a long way. Although I worry about how my family might react, I know I need to live my life honestly.

About a year ago, I came out to one of my cousins. I told him I thought that with a family as big as ours, there must be someone else who’s queer; that I wished someone else could come out, so I wouldn’t have to be the first one. He reminded me that our cousins live in Colombia, and I live in Toronto. If there’s a first, it’ll have to be me.


MARTINA - queer, Ecuadorian

“It was really nice outside. There were fireflies and I was walking with this girl and she wanted to hold my hand. In the moment, my heart was beating so fast… The moment was romantic [but] I wasn’t gonna do anything because it was wrong in my mind.”

“Lots of Latinos are very Christian or Catholic so [there was this idea that by being queer,] you sinned or you did something wrong and your parents are going to be disappointed in you.”

“Within the last year or two, the conversation really changed because of how confrontational I became. Not in a negative way; I just made [the discussion around queerness] more open."

“I just recently told my mother like maybe a few weeks ago. It went well.”

“I stopped going to church. That was a big factor of guilt and feeling like I wasn't able to be myself.”

“The more that I had an open conversation with my mother, the more… she would support me. Even though there was a slight chance in my mind that she might react poorly because of her old beliefs, part of me also felt like it would be OK. And it was.”

L.J.- bisexual, Colombian

"Pretty early on into my childhood, I realized I liked girls. Luckily, I feel like I grew up in a different kind of Latino household."

“My mom was always so against everything that her family was for. [She] got us baptized for the sake of having it done, but we never went to church."

“I never felt shamed, per se, but I only came out to my family like this year… [My mom did have] an inkling in the past when I had been seen with other lesbian girls, when I was younger. So when I told her she was like, ‘K?’”

“I don’t think [my extended family] needs to know. I mean, they live in Colombia — what the fuck is that their business? ... If I were to have a girlfriend [things would be different].”


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