Some of us spend our entire lives trying to fit into the claustrophobic confines of everyone else’s expectations. We sacrifice our own happiness for the sake of those we love dearly.
But if we’re lucky, we stumble upon a reason to choose ourselves, first, discovering happiness on our own terms. Martin is no exception.
And after spending most of his childhood being painfully aware of where he didn’t fit, when his opportunity came, he bravely took a chance, experiencing a new outlook on life and what it might have feel like to breathe for the very first time.
If my life were a movie, it would be a musical that starts off in black and white with a lot of high contrast lighting–picture German expressionism, film noir. And then slowly you will see little drops of color coming in one by one until eventually there’s an influx of color and sound. The music would start as classical piano but would segue into soulful house music with amazing vocals. You’d see a profile of my face with revolutions and me growing up into the person I am now before your very eyes. You would see and experience the changes and evolution, how my world has slowly become more colorful and vibrant.
Growing up, there’s a lot I never understood because you were never allowed to ask questions. You weren’t allowed to respond; you just did as you were told. And you certainly didn’t deviate from the protocol and traditions of being Catholic in a Dominican family (and culture) where any expressions of love, longing, or very intimate/raw defenseless emotions were looked down upon. Men were expected to have this stiff upper lip and be stoic, unless they were showing anger, more destructive strength. Any sign of perceived weakness was frowned upon.
But for as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a person who wanted to give and receive love in return. I’m very affectionate. I love kisses, hugs, and leaning on someone’s shoulder. So the visuals in the movie inspired by my life would represent that longing for a sense of belonging and trying to find that connection through expressing love and unity, while trying to make sense of where I came from, how I was raised, and where (and what) I wanted to be. And one powerful example of my life going from black and white to being full of vibrant colors is the first time I was ever with a guy.
After sharing so much about myself, I felt liberated yet vulnerable…I asked him what he would do if I tried to kiss him. He replied, “We’ll have to find out if you ever try to.” So, I did. And once my lips touched his, it was like breathing for the very first time.
I was 17 and it was the first Friday of my first semester in college. He was my Resident Advisor (RA). I can’t remember how we met, perhaps it was through a mutual friend I’d made. At any rate, somehow we got to meet and get to know one another. That night, we were hanging out in his room, conversing, and somehow he casually mentioned a guy he was seeing or had seen. At that moment, he said he was gay, but I didn’t believe him. I had a very sheltered idea of what being gay was, and he didn’t fit into that idea at all.
He was very masculine and I thought he was straight. Somehow I opened up to him and told him my story about how I’d been attracted to guys. I explained what kind of guys I’d grown up with and what gay looked like: white and super flamboyant. Up until that point, I’d really swore up and down it was never going to happen between me and another guy because I was always attracted to the wrong kind of guys–straight.
After sharing so much about myself, I felt liberated yet vulnerable. Then, I asked, “What would you say if I told you I was very attracted to you?” He smiled and said he could tell. He knew, even though I never thought he did. He said it was okay and that he thought I was attractive, too. I couldn’t believe it. I asked him what he would do if I tried to kiss him. He replied, “We’ll have to find out if you ever try to.” So, I did. And once my lips touched his, it was like breathing for the very first time…
I hung out with him and studied as he started his first shift. All night we kept stealing glances of one another, and he kept winking at me. In my head, I was like, “ohmygodohmygodohmygod!” I don’t know how I got anything done because I was a nervous wreck. After his shift ended, we made it back to his room, and there was all of this anticipation. And then it all happened. We had sex.
Afterward, I felt alive, but all of a sudden I also felt so scared. I wondered, “What the fuck does this mean? What just happened? What did I just do?” The guilt set in and it all became real. I started freaking out and I high-tailed out of there. He was not just a guy but he was also an authority figure. He kept trying to get me to calm down. He could tell I was freaking out. I remember running back into my room, jumping into the shower, and listening to Garbage, one of my favorite bands at the time. I was shaking and not necessarily traumatized, but wondering what I had gotten myself into. I kept thinking, “I’m fucked.”
I didn’t interact with him too much during the rest of the semester. We had mutual friends and we would hang out, but I wouldn’t say much. I went through a messy phase where I partied quite a bit–I still don’t know how I made it through with good grades. That’s around the time I first started experimenting with drugs and things. I just wanted to suppress it through drinking and everything else–I didn’t want to deal with it. I had those moments where I went back and forth about whether I was really gay or not. I worried about bringing shame to my family and the pain that everyone would experience because of it. It was a lot.
I was able to apologize and really tell him what was going on with me at that point…He said it was okay. And then we were intimate with one another again. But when it ended, there was no shame or guilt. I had figured out who I was and who I wanted to be.
We weren’t intimate again and I wasn’t with another guy until almost two years later. I started interacting with a guy online while I was back in my neighborhood during a break and we would hang out in the park. Then, I made a choice to explore what this feeling and these desires meant. I stopped the experimenting with drugs and all the heavy drinking, and worked hon figuring out where it would take me. I did my research and slowly started to get out there, focusing on being more comfortable with myself and a lot less shaming.
By my senior year, a lot had changed. I’d had a lot more experiences with men and I’d even become a Resident Advisor (RA). In an interesting turn of events, the guy I’d lost my virginity to–the RA during my freshman year–was one of my residents since he was a graduate student. It gave us an opportunity to converse and I was able to apologize and really tell him what was going on with me at that point. We laughed as I explained all of the thoughts that were going through my head after my first time and my own journey of discovering who I was over the years that followed. He said it was okay. And then we were intimate with one another again. But when it ended, there was no shame or guilt. I had figured out who I was and who I wanted to be.