As a teenager, I would listen to Bikini Kill and Bratmobile as I imagined myself making feminist zines. I wasn’t afraid of what anyone would think and was excited to be a creative adult. Years later, as I began to think about creative projects on a professional level, I suddenly felt held back by the thought of my family seeing my work on display and the consequences of this exposure. I am a performance artist. I have envied former castmates who had parents sit among an audience of opening nights. I have felt waves of sadness when I’ve seen friends take photos with family members who attended their performance. I'd love to see my own parents sitting among my audiences. But my thought process is that I don’t want to run the risk of my parents being upset with the content that I expose.
Why would that be risky? Well, let’s review a few of my projects: I began a blog called “Punk and Pussy” (now retired). I don’t plan to translate this name to my mom any time soon. I wrote a poem in Spanish about how the layers of skin that protect the clitoris are like flower petals. I don’t think I’ll let my mom read it, even if it is written in Spanish so she could understand. A solo show that I wrote features a final scene where I describe sex with a woman and I am nearly naked on stage. It is definitely too soon to invite my parents to this show, and I don’t know if I ever will.
My work is queer. It’s raunchy. It’s honest. It’s very me and I love it. But it’s also risky and dangerous. While I am out to my parents, I still walk on eggshells around them, making sure that my queerness does not trigger them. The last thing I want to do is upset my parents over their internalized guilt and confusion over how I turned out queer. The last thing I want to do is scare my parents away (or remove myself by going too far into my own queerness).
In my grown, private life, I hold space for myself to absorb and accept my creative desires and expectations. I am told, as an artist, to put myself out there and allow myself the freedom to play. Acting coaches have encouraged me to tap deep into my vulnerability in order to believe in the situations around me. But it becomes difficult for me to step into that realm of vulnerability and exposure when I also know in the back of my head that my family will see my work. My blatantly queer work. I don’t care if the world sees it; I strive for the world’s attention and soak it in when I receive it. But my parents who are still uncomfortable with learning everything about my queerness? My cousins who I am not out to? My judgmental tías? Their attention terrifies me. It is like having to come out all over again. Like having to sit on the edge of my seat before I find out if it is safe to call my mom.
I recall the first time I wrote a spoken word poem for a class project. After my presentation, the professor offered me a list of venues that host open mics so that I may share the piece with larger audiences. I let myself get excited as images of myself in front of an audience began to surface in my mind. But when I went home, I immediately dismissed the idea of going to a local open mic for fear that someone might record me and the footage may make its way to my family. Like a typical fear, the thought was enough for me to feel a large lump rise in my throat and experience nights of insomnia.
These days, I convince myself that I engage in my art unapologetically. But at the end of most Sunday nights when I sit and call my mom, I suddenly feel a wave of rigidness rooted from an uncertainty of what I’ve revealed about myself in my latest creative project. I feel a wave of doubt flood over me and I suddenly question my next creative projects. Will they expose too much? Am I being too much? What if my mom sees it? What if my cousins see it and tell my aunts and they tell my mom?
Every creative project I’ve done saw a long process of gathering the courage to start. Even allowing myself permission to play with ideas and let them simmer requires a process of self-encouragement to get myself out of the paranoia. The fear does not go away.
On this Coming Out Day, I am still afraid.