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Coming Out Again
by Oriol R. Gutierrez Jr.
POZ’s new deputy editor Oriol R. Gutierrez Jr. bravely shares how he came out twice to his beloved Latino family—the first time as gay and the second time as HIV positive.
(Clic aquí para leer este artículo en español.)
I first came out as a senior in high school in 1987. I decided to tell my best friend that I was gay. I was too afraid to say it face-to-face, so I wrote him a letter and put it in his knapsack. It was a torturous few days before he found it, read it and processed the news. “It’s OK,” he said. Thankfully, we’ve remained close.
Taking that initial step and getting a good reaction was encouraging, but I knew that it was going to be a long time before I felt comfortable as an out gay man. It was many years before the majority of people in my life knew. I started outing myself as gay to friends and co-workers in college, but I didn’t tell my parents or my sister until 1996.
To complicate the coming out process, I was diagnosed with HIV in 1992. Since then, I’ve told friends and boyfriends my status, but not my co-workers until a few years ago. I didn’t disclose my HIV status to my parents or my sister until this year.
I’m still telling new people, even today. When I first shared my news, I had no understanding that coming out as gay—let alone HIV positive—is a never-ending process. No matter how “out” you think you are, there is always someone new to tell.
My parents and my sister were born in Cuba. They immigrated to the United States in the late 1960s and made New York City their new home. As so many Cubans before them had done during that decade, they fled communism for a better life. Most of my father’s family managed to leave Cuba; most of my mother’s family stayed behind.
I was born in 1970 at Metropolitan Hospital near Spanish Harlem. As my father’s only son, I was named after him. To this day, my family’s nickname for me is Junior.
We lived in an apartment near 125th Street in Harlem with my paternal grandmother until 1979. During those years, my uncle and his family lived downstairs; my aunt and cousins lived across the street; and many other visiting family members constantly rotated through our home.
I often visited my three male cousins who lived downstairs. Their mother frequently yelled at them to stop playing rough. Even though she wasn’t reprimanding me, I was the one who cried. I was a sensitive child.
I didn’t know the word “gay” at age 4, but even then I knew that I was gay. I preferred reading to roughhousing. I was obedient and loyal, much like a dog. (I suppose that explains my deep affinity for animals.) I also felt that being gay was something I shouldn’t tell anyone.
In 1979, my parents bought a small house near JFK International Airport in Queens, New York and we moved. We were the first Latino family in the mostly Italian-American neighborhood. The first black family in the neighborhood had moved in across the street only a short while before us. We were living our version of the American Dream.
During my adolescence, I learned the word “gay” and knew it described me perfectly. I believed then that it was the worst thing anyone could ever be. My family, friends and society disapproved of homosexuality, and their direct and indirect condemnation of gay people started to overwhelm me.
My Roman Catholic guilt and the inherent machismo of Latino culture further stoked my own homophobia. I tried dating women in high school and college, but it never felt right. I joined the U.S. Marines Corps Reserve in part to find a solution to my sexuality.
While at New York University in 1991 in my senior year of undergraduate school, I was called to active duty. I was to be sent to the Gulf War. I went to Camp Pendleton in California to prepare for the ground invasion, but the land war lasted only 100 hours. I never went to the Persian Gulf. When I got home, I returned to college part-time until I graduated in 1992. I was proud to have done my duty for my country.
The Marine Corps also did its duty and tested me for HIV. Under a provision that makes HIV testing mandatory in the Marines, I was tested and the result was negative in 1991—the same year that both the red AIDS ribbon was born and Magic Johnson was diagnosed with HIV. When they tested me again in 1992, I was positive. It was the same year Freddie Mercury died of AIDS-related complications. At the time, early anti-HIV drugs such as AZT had become available, but there was still a strong likelihood that I would die of AIDS.
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