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Op-ed: Coming Out to a Cuban Mother Is Its Own Special Hell

Op-ed: Coming Out to a Cuban Mother Is Its Own Special Hell


When bad machismo happens to good moms.

Why aren't there more Latino men visible in the gay rights movement? Maybe because telling Mom you're gay is a little different for a man whose family values masculinity above all else.

"Do you like it when they put it in you?" my mother asked.

"No, I don't like that," I replied.

"?Entonces, tu se las mete?" (Literally: "So, you stick it in them?)

"Yes, I prefer it," I told her.

And so went my coming-out conversation with my Cuban mother many years ago. My talk with her went nothing like I had feared, but everything like what most gay men I know would have wanted. I was fortunate. Of course, having been raised in a Cuban family in Hialeah had all of the ingredients for possibly keeping me closeted and in therapy for the rest of my life. It's the culture. I, however, chose to push against it.

Many Anglo gay men ask me why it is that Hispanic gay men are so closeted, have so many hang-ups or issues, or live in fear of their families. It's the culture, I tell them. They ask me why it is that many Hispanics aren't into the leather scene, don't participate in bear events, or aren't visible in gay events. It's the culture, I tell them.

Give them time. Rome wasn't built in a day.

Years ago, when I came out to my mother, I had already been in a relationship with another gay man for almost six years. Since my partner and I lived hundreds of miles away in the Deep South, it was easy to hide being gay from my family in Miami. However, after I saw the movie Torch Song Trilogy, I knew it was time to tell them. So I invited my mother to our home for Mother's Day week in hopes of coming clean with her. My father and brother would be next. But when my mother visited us, I couldn't do it. She mentioned how she wanted me to give her children; how I, as her youngest child, was so much like her: full of life, responsible, carefree, daring. She just knew I had the best qualities in the world to raise a family in the United States, which was still a foreign world and culture to her. Additionally, though it was the mid-1990s, she spoke disparagingly of maricons (fags), saying that she didn't understand how it was that men could allow themselves to become so effeminate. That was what the media portrayed, and that was what she and my family perceived.

With role models like Ricky Ricardo and Ricardo Montalban, and a father who embodied machismo to the nth degree, it was a tough row for me to hoe. Of course, coming from a Roman Catholic Hispanic family didn't help matters either; that was before we learned in the 21st century that many Catholic bishops, shepherds of their dioceses with hundreds of Catholic priests going through their offices, had been shielding pedophile priests from the legal authorities. That was then; this is now.

It wasn't until toward the end of her visit that Mom outed me. Though she hadn't gotten very far in grammar school, a bit further than my father, she said she might not have been intelligent, but she wasn't stupid. She immediately embraced my partner as her son, told me that she still loved me, and she insisted on staying an additional week with us.

My partner enjoyed a doting mother-in-law who cooked Cuban meals, starched his shirts, and cleaned our house. Then she left for Miami and wept for six months secretly behind my back. Gone were her hopes of me being a father, giving her grandchildren, and embodying a young aspiring Cuban family in the United States. Gone were festive Cuban holiday family parties, a grand Catholic Cuban wedding mass, quinces (a "sweet 15" party) for any future granddaughters, and so on.

In her mind she had failed to raise me to become a man but instead had raised a maricon.

My father passed away before I had the chance to tell him he had a gay son, but in a twist of irony that few would have predicted, his brother, my uncle -- who raised my father in Havana -- embraced me as his own. My uncle recently celebrated his 80th birthday and had a large Cuban party at his home, complete with a traditional pig roast. He insisted I bring my new boyfriend. My uncle doesn't speak a word of English, and my boyfriend doesn't speak any Spanish. Yet my uncle pulled me aside and told me he really liked him. "Muy masculino," he said. Very masculine.

Ah, to be Cuban and gay.

Why aren't Hispanic men more involved in the gay world? Miami is definitely the exception, but even so, being Hispanic and gay still do not mix for many Latinos. Do you expect a Hispanic gay adult to march in a pride parade, be active in a gay leather group, or wave pride colors? Not in droves, at least not any time soon. But progress has been made, and with each passing generation, Hispanics are being empowered to come out of the closet.

Picture this: a modern-day Ricky Ricardo storming out of the closet, setting his eyes on a handsome muscle bear and shouting, "Agachate!" ("Bend over!"). Pure Cuban. All macho. And probably wearing a Catholic scapular. Now, there's a thought.


WILLIAM JORGE DEL CASTILLO REYES is a Cuban-American, practicing Catholic currently completing MD-MBA dual degrees. He led a successful career in the oncology pharmaceutical industry and will use his medical education and business knowledge to start cancer centers in the Caribbean, including Cuba. He may be reached on his website:

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William Jorge Del Castillo Reyes