Two months before Ricky Martin announced on his website that he’s a “proud homosexual man,” one of his former Menudo band mates came out ... in an interview that accompanied a provocative underwear shoot for the magazine Paragon Men. The interview with Angelo Garcia came and went and didn’t get much attention. Then Ricky came out, and suddenly news outlets Googling “Ricky Martin gay” found Garcia’s interview.
The 34-year-old Brooklyn-born singer was instantly dubbed “the other gay member of Menudo,” with most outlets claiming he’d come out after Martin and was simply riding his coattails. But Garcia, who left Menudo in 1990 when he was just 14 to pursue a solo career, says he’s been out to his mother since before he graduated from high school. Professionally, his first solo CD came out when he was just 16. In the 12 years before his next release — during which he put himself through college as a stripper in Florida and, later, New York — he lived what he calls a “very out life.” Now, as he readies his latest album (due later this year), he says he’s looking forward to doing it on him terms: completely open, completely out.
Garcia talked to The Advocate about the Ricky rumors, dancing to pay for college, and what he hopes life will be like as an out pop star.
The Advocate: You seemed to be genuinely surprised that your coming-out got so much attention. Did you think you would come out and that no one would pick up on it?
Angelo Garcia: You know what it is — I’ve been an openly gay man since my late teens, so having been out for so long, I’ve never tried to hide anything from anyone. It stresses me out to see the media has taken this whole thing, which was something I casually talked about in an interview, and turned it into this whole “another ex-Menudo comes out.” I don’t look at it as me coming out, because I’ve been openly gay for so long. I hold my boyfriend’s hand when I walk down the street; if you look at my Facebook page, it’s clear that I’m out. For me, it was a nonissue.
But it did hit the media around the same time Ricky Martin came out, so there was that connection.
I spoke publicly about my sexuality two months before Ricky Martin formally came out. So for the media to try and twist this into, “ex-Menudo member follows Ricky’s footsteps,” it’s kind of mind-boggling. I might not have been the most famous member to come out, and maybe Ricky coming out is why the media took an interest in my story because there isn’t only one “ex-Menudo” who is openly gay now. For the media to say I followed in Ricky’s footsteps, no ... Ricky Martin followed in Angelo Garcia’s footsteps. That’s just the truth. It’s really frustrating because a lot of comments have been very negative and very nasty: “He’s just an ex-Menudo trying to ride Ricky’s coattails and wants attention.” If you’re going to say it, say it how it is. This might have exploded in my face because Ricky has the fame he has and I’m not the famous one, but the truth is, I spoke publicly about my homosexuality two months before Ricky posted whatever it is he posted. I’m not trying to ride his coattails. I’m not trying to gain fame.
So when did you first talk about this?
The original interview came out with a photo spread I did for Paragon Men. A lot of people are saying, “Oh, it’s unfortunate you had to do porn to get noticed.” My photos are very artistically done. I’m not trying to compare myself to the Michelangelo paintings or anything, but there was a lot of nudity in those. I don’t have erections. All you see is my butt. They’re beautiful, I’m very proud of them. In no way are they porn. But that was the first time I ever talked about it publicly. Paragon Men put that story out ... it went unnoticed because I’m not famous. After that happened, Ricky Martin came out. Then, that story on Paragon Men resurfaced and caught the attention of TV y Notas, which is the equivalent to People magazine in the United States. A reporter from that magazine wanted to do an interview, and that story exploded.
When you did that interview, did you know, at that point, it would catch on?
I didn’t think it would get the attention it got. For me, being gay is as nonissue as a heterosexual person saying they’re straight. Why should anyone care? Even when Ricky came out, who cared? It should be about his music and what he contributes to society. Ricky may have felt he needed to hide his sexuality because he has too much to lose, but I’ve never looked at life that way. I never felt being gay would take away any opportunities I might have.
Do you think you’d feel differently if you had that level of fame?
I don’t think so, because I like to push people’s buttons. I like to make people think. You don’t have to be a nelly, flamboyant gay guy, which is the way media and sitcoms like to portray gays. Gay could be right next to you, and you wouldn’t even realize it. If more gay people stepped forward, society would get over their gay hang-ups.
In the same way some entertainers fear coming out might hurt their careers, you worked as an exotic dancer in college, after Menudo. Did you ever worry about what that might do to your career?
No. I did what I had to do to survive at that time. I learned a lot from it. Everybody’s life has their ups and downs — you take the good with the bad. I don’t necessarily look at it as a bad thing ... it’s a part of my growth. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Having had to put myself out there in that way to pay my bills and put myself through college, a lot of people who aren’t in the public eye do it. It made me stronger. I’m thankful for what I learned, and I’m in a much better place now.
You did it not long after you left Menudo. Did people ever recognize you?
You know, I really had transformed at that point from a skinny little boy. It was really like going from a caterpillar to a butterfly. To be a go-go dancer and a stripper, you have to have a certain look. You have to have a body that looks good in hot pants and a Speedo. I didn’t start flirting with the idea until I thought my body was in the condition it needed to be in. So I changed so much, I didn’t get recognized a lot.
How old were you when you first came out?
I didn’t come out to the world, but I felt I owed it to my mom. I was 17. By that time my father was gone. He died in a tragic car crash when I was 15, and that changed the whole dynamic of our family. It was such a shock. So when I finally started to come to terms with who I was, I felt I owed it to her because I wanted to be honest with her about what was going on in my life. I wanted my mom to be involved in every aspect of my life.
Was she supportive?
No. She had what I call the textbook Christian response. I carried a lot of guilt in my heart for being gay and a lot of fear because of the wrath of God. My mother loved me no matter what, and she always told me that. But she had that fear too. The fear of what society would do to me. So I went to therapy sessions to see how they were going to make me straight. I did it to humor my mom — “If you think you can fix me, if you think I’m broken, OK.” Ultimately, I knew this wasn’t something she could change, and I wanted her to see that. She’s done a 180. She’s totally supportive. She’ll go to the gay clubs, dance with the boys. I’m really lucky to have a mom like her, because a lot of people don’t.
When did you first know?
[Laughs] I have to thank Madonna for this one. I was watching Truth or Dare, and she tells Slam, one of her dancers, truth or dare. She dared him to kiss another dancer. It was the first time I’d see a boy and boy make out. I got very aroused. That was the first time I realized, Wow, you’re gay.
That’ll do it.
[Laughs] I went into the bathroom, looked into the mirror, and I don’t know ... I just sort of told myself I was gay.
You have a new album coming out. How long have you been working on it?
Probably for the last six months. I’ve been writing. There’s some writers who go, “Oh, I need to write my next song.” So every day they’re trying to figure out a formula that works for them. I need to live life and experience life and take from my life. So when I wrote this album, I needed to have life as my inspiration and as my muse. I just finished writing the 14 tracks. My website is finally up [AngeloPop.com] and we teamed up with a website that helps fund artists to create their music through the support of friends and fans. We’re getting the fans involved, hands-on, in the creative process. The fans are going to pick the first song we’re going to release. You can find out more about it on the website. We’re doing it like this because the music industry has changed so much. We had to find a way to morph with the industry.
Do you want to continue pushing this independently, or do you think eventually you’d like to sign with a label?
My ultimate goal is, me being a creative person, the music, regardless of whether I become a huge star or not, needs to get out there so I can share it with the world. The creative process, for me, is self-gratifying. I don’t know if we’ll stay indie or go with a major label. For me, this project is right now in the fetus stage. For me to find a way to birth it and share it with the world, that’s the biggest goal. As long as I can do that and continue to do what I love, that will be the most gratifying thing.
You’ve recorded albums and taken long breaks in between. Why do you keep coming back?
I can’t see my life without music. It’s something that, regardless of whether I ever become a huge star or not, I will continue to write songs. It’s something I can’t shake. It’s in my blood.
So when you’re not singing, what are you doing?
This is going to surprise you, but I love to work out. [Laughs] I’m very outdoorsy. After my go-go dancing days, I got over the nightclub scene. When I go to a nightclub, it feels like work. I love to go to Muir Woods. My partner and I like to do silly things. Last weekend we went to a water park. I felt like I was 10 old again.
You weren’t much older than that when you did Menudo.
[Laughs] No, I wasn’t.
Looking back on that time and kind of seeing what’s happened to Ricky and with his career, when he came out, were you surprised? Not that he was gay, but that he said it?
I was so proud. Ricky Martin has the kind of popularity that can change minds. People like Ricky, Ellen ... people that are gay that have a mainstream appeal ... people like that can make a community realize, “You know. We’re not much different than you.” We’re all the same. So when he came out, I was so proud. If more artists like him — and there are so many — were brave enough ... because there’s still a lot of hatred. I learned that when I read some of the comments on my interviews. In the Latin interviews there was still a lot of hate. He has the power to help change that, and I’m so proud that he’s going to be able to do it.