El proceso contínuo de desclosetamiento

Voilá! He aqui la última columna que escribí bajo el título de Border Jumper (cuya idea no fue mía nombrarle así). Me quedé bastante satisfecho con casi todos los temas tocados y mini-ensayos resultantes de esta colaboración entre Queerty.com y yo. Gracias a todos por haber leído:

It was one of my first days at the Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero, in Acapulco. Standing in front of level 300 English with around 40 students, they began to shoot me questions regarding my thoughts on ACapulco; where had I been, where had I gone out, what had I seen. It just so happens that I had already acquainted myself with the gay scene visiting a few bars and clubs the prior weekend. Deciding to be a jokester, un estudiante asked if I had gone to Demas before turning to his group of friends and cracking up--sólo faltaba chocarles los cinco. "Actually, yeah I did," I shot back in a very nonchalant manner. The student's demeanor immediately turned from jovial to serious as another asked, surprised, "Wait. Did you really?"

As we all know coming out is a process, and not a single event. I guess in a heteronormative society, it's to be expected. Before traveling to Acapulco, I promised myself that I would continue my coming-out philosophy of reacting in all situations as a straight person would. Imagine this exchange:

Acapulco Taxi Driver: "...and what do you think about the boys from Acapulco."

Heterosexual gringo: "I will begin my response by negating the false presupposition of my sexuality behind your question."

Okay, perhaps that's not an authentic hypothetical response, but you get the message: if someone assumes I’m straight, there’s no reason for me not to casually correct them. Of course at times my nerves or overthinking impede me from fulfilling this goal 100% of the time, but it is something I strive for. Nonetheless, because I was going to be teaching at a school in Acapulco, in a different country and culture, I made sure to speak with my supervisor about the issue. "You mean you're just going to randomly tell the students you're gay?" she questioned. After further explanation she concluded it would be a non-issue...and it was.

Although the topic never really presented itself in the classroom, other than the example above, it definitely did outside of class, usually initiated with a question about my “girlfriend” back home, or what I thought about acapulqueña girls. I guess the “news” traveled fast because, soon thereafter, one of the secretaries in the department, with whom I shared a workspace, approached me one day very concerned. To sum up her comentario she told me to be careful because Mexico was diferente de los Estados Unidos, and in essence being gay wasn’t as accepted. However, based on my experiences I had somewhat of a different perspective.

While living in Guadalajara a couple years ago, the San Francisco of Mexico, I remember having a heated argument with a roommate, an older man in his mid-50's, who believed being gay went against nature. "There are cases of homosexuality in animals," I contended visibly upset. "Right, so gay people are like animals," he responded chuckling it up with another roommate, which infuriated me even more. The following morning I was prepared to give him the silent treatment until he offered me some of his daily banana-chocolate licuado as a sign of peace. I gladly accepted.

That’s not the only example of contradictory machismo. On numerous occasions while being taxied around Acapulco, my main source of transportation, the conversation would inevitably lead again to Acapulqueñas, their beauty, and at times the size of their mammary glands. According to my policy, I didn’t just “play along” with this male-bonding ritual but honestly expressed my sexuality. No taxista ever gave a negative response (to my face), and some exhibited a curiosity about the topic that made even me feel a bit awkward. I told the secretary at the school about these experiences, but nonetheless she insisted.

She said that straight teachers would never share or mention their personal lives, or anything related, with a student. It could have helped my argument if I would have known that I would later attend a school pool-party where one teacher decided to sport a tank top with “Squeeze me” written in the front in English. Aside from the double-standard, my philosophy is based on integrity; fighting that feeling that tells you to hide who you are.

My last anecdote I’ll write about is of another student, who confided in me enough to come out of the closet to me early on in the year. So comfortable indeed that he approached me to ask if I was activo or pasivo, because he and his friends "couldn't tell." Of course this is where I had to draw the line.

Forget Leading a Double Life. Try Wrestling With Double Meanings

This is my second-to-last post I did for Queerty that originally appeared on the website July 3rd, 2009:

One day I was putting up flyers around the school to advertise a scholarship program to the students. I entered one class and began taping a paper — hoja in Spanish — up to the window. I asked one of the students if the hoja was crooked, to which he yells to some girls standing outside the door, "Hey! Brandon wants to know if he has it crooked." ("Quiere saber si la tiene chueca.") I held back the laughter shaking my head in disapproval, while making a mental note of the joke for future use.

Just to provide a little language lesson: La (or "it") is the direct object here and replaces la hoja, or "the flyer." However, one with their mind in the gutter could possibly "misinterpret" the la as not replacing la hoja but la verga—a crude way to refer to the masculine member.

Now in my second stint living in Mexico, I've come to better understand what is now my favorite part of the language and culture: los albures, or the Spanish version of double entendres, usually goosed with a sexual connotation. Remember in grade school when someone would say they were going to “do it,” or had “done it,” and everyone would immediately take it out of context, "Eww, gross! You’re gonna do it with who!?" Well, it's like that, but a bit more complex. Anything you say can be used against you … in the court of social opinion.

When I first lived in Mexico, in Guadalajara, I didn’t catch on to los albures. Fast-forward to the numerous times where I was the only one not laughing. But, I was indeed aware of them. In fact the first thing I was usually quizzed on when locals pegged me as a foreigner was my understanding of albures: “Do you know what albures are? Do you understand them?” And the fact that they often asked with such pride, like a little kid asking if you’ve seen their bug collection, gave me a sense of their importance within Mexican identity. Armando Jiménez, the Mexican author behind a book about albures’ role in popular culture (Picardía mexicana), champions them as a defining characteristic of the national culture.

Of course, not everyone uses albures. My supervisor at the university where I teach English, for example, never used any, at least not in my presence. And there are certainly times when albures are inappropriate. But, both friends and students albur-ed me so much I began to learn the rules of the game.

My landlords own a restaurant downstairs where, every morning, I order scrambled eggs with frijoles and tortillas. Sometimes I change things up and wander over to the girls selling bagged jugo de naranja around the block. Once I decided to switch up my order and naively asked for some milk—leche. You can probably guess the double meaning. Of course the owner, Don Miguel, jumped at the opportunity, “¡Ora! ¡Quiere leche con sus huevos!” Perhaps I should have clarified that I wanted cow milk before they could erupt in laughter, although that probably would have dug myself even deeper.

Another time, I had just purchased a brand new guitar so I could start taking lessons. I told my friend Blanca that I’d play it for her whenever she wanted: “Te la toco cuando quieras.” If you’ve got a loose understanding with Spanish, you know I just set myself up. Tocar not only means “to play,” but also “to touch.” I just offered to touch it whenever she wanted.

Admittedly, in the beginning this style of humor really got on my nerves — until I realized how fun it is when I join in and torment someone else! But it’s more than cracking jokes; it’s being able to participate in and enjoy an aspect of the culture that many Mexicans take pride in.

As I was saying goodbye to some students outside the school, we decided to take a small group photo. “Me la sacas?” I asked one of the students, which in this context means, “Will you take my picture?” However, knowing that it could also translate as “Will you pull it out?,” I jumped to clarify what it was before they could get me: “¡La foto! ¡La foto!


C'est moi en route a la plage.

I tried to create a seamless trail of photos to the beach, although most of the time it just appears to be jumbled street photos. Oh well. It makes me nostalgic nonetheless. Mission accomplished.



The sun slowly disappeared over the hills surrounding the bay of Acapulco and the water was now freezing. My friend Carlos agreed it was time to get out. In the elevator on the way down to let me out of his apartment building (the pool's on the roof) I noticed in the mirror that my eyes were excruciatingly bloodshot, as if they had just been rubbed with a handful of sand. Carlos saw me off and my tummy began to rumble urging me to stop in a restaurant for a bite to eat. I slipped into a nearby Subway on the Costera and quickly noticed I was the only one without cubrebocas (face masks), including the employees. Not only did I look like the walking dead, but I could feel the "tickly sensation" of an oncoming sneeze. Immediately I released two mists of saliva into the palms of my hands. "Do you need a cubrebocas?" the employee asked. Behind his "face condom" I couldn't tell if he was joking or legitimately concerned.  

Unlike the clientele and workers in the restaurant may have believed, I didn't have the dreaded swine flu; a combination of bad allergies and my eye contacts had caused the inflammation. But who could blame them for their suspicions fed by the exaggerated climate of an incessant media and quick-acting government. Here in Acapulco, within days of the outbreak and at the hest of the Health Department, cinemas and malls were closed, restaurants were ordered to serve only take-out, all classes were canceled for two weeks in some places, up to three in others, and all of it giving the idea that this was an extremely contagious deadly disease.   

I admittedly fell into the trap constantly checking the news online for anything swine-flu related and readily sent it to the other Mexico Fulbright assistants. The WHO raised their "warning" level to the very scary-sounding phase 5-6, Widespread Human Infection, while the media relentlessly counted and reported both confirmed and unconfirmed cases. Then there were the constant images of cubrebocas in newspapers, TV and on the internet, although I could just take a glance out my window to see people walking down the street in them. Family members understandingly fearing for my safety also helped fan the flame. One of my aunts wrote me an email pleading that I return home. Even my dad, who's usually the rational one, sent me an email urging me to consider ending the Fulbright program early to go back to tha U.S. I started to think, "Ruh-roh! This must be serious!"  

But I began to wonder, "If it really were that dangerous the State Department would have evacuated us already...right?" That is unless Obama really was plotting to take over PEMEX and distract the Mexican public by infecting them with pork influenza like one of the conspiracy theories I had heard.  

I had been planning a 14-hour bus trip to Guadalajara but then I chickened out since I had to pass through-- gulp -- "ground zero," Mexico City! However, I started to think about it; Acapulco is the number one tourist destination for Chilangos (those who live in the capital). It could indeed be safer to travel at this time than to stay put in this popular vacation spot. As I headed out of my house with my duffle bag, the landlady was picking mangos from the branches above the carport. I explained to her where I was going, which was met with a dramatic pause. "Cuídate mucho (Take care of yourself)," she said almost as if it were a final goodbye.   

Of course I made it to my friend's house in Guadalajara alive and ended up spending a week there because the Health Secretary in the state where I live, Guerrero, decided to push back classes. I was happy for the extended vacation, although with bars and clubs closed there wasn't that much to do at night, except grab my friend's wig and make a low-end remake of Beyonce's "I'm a Diva" video.  

At the beginning, it kind of sounded like the plot from Outbreak, but now seems just blown out of proportion, and I'm still left a bit confused as to how serious the threat is. Mexico's Minister of Health claims to have avoided 8,000 potential deaths with their measures; a total of 66 deaths have been reported. This is hardly the killer Flu of the early 1900's and more than a hundred times more people have been killed by the drug war, but the swine-flu fiasco unfortunately has probably done an equal amount of damage to Mexico's image abroad. Cubrebocas may filter out the virus but it can't filter out the hype.

Confessions of a Taxista

I had to take a taxi to meet with Gabrielle, another Fulbrighter who has been doing performance work in Mexico City, since we probably won't see each other before I leave. She is staying a couple of days at Pie de la Cuesta, where Rambo III was partly filmed. It's a beach about media hora north of Acapulco. I first took a blue taxi to the parada where I could agarrar a yellow one, a taxi colectivo. 

The first driver, who had lived in N.Y. for 3 years with his brother, immediately began to express his disdain for Acapulcan English teachers, especially one of his daughter's in particular who would say "very well" to respond to "How are you doing?"

I told him that people usually don't say "very well" but that se entiende. (Perhaps a literal translation from muy bien)

He tells me that if you go to the states and gesture itching your rear accompanied with a moan of uncomfort también se entiende.


Lost in Translation

Just imagine for a moment that you enter a McDonald's with antojo for a Mcflurry and you're not sure which to get so you review the flavors. Let's see, Oreo, M&M, strawberry... Milch? 

I don't know about you but the word "milch" in my mind sounds like everything I wouldn't want mixed into a McFlurry.

Just thinking about it makes me wanna milch.

(According to this website, Milch is a famous chocolate bar here in Mexico with pieces of hazelnut and rice.)


Confessions of a Taxista

I've always thought that I wish I could secretly record the conversations that I have with the taxistas of Acapulco, or rather, their monologues about life in Acapulco, where they've been, what they've seen. Perhaps I did not mention it before, but even my maestro de arte used to taxistear (my own palabra inventada).

Today I've come down to the Costera to, según, be productive working on my resume and finding a news article for WatchingAmerica.com to translate. It is walk-able or even bus-able, but I opted to agarrar un taxi. 30 pesitos, but we would have to stop in a gasolinera to change my billete de 200. For the umpteenth time a taxista revealed that he had lived in the U.S., Los Angeles, for three years only to return to Mexico because his mother had become ill. He arrived through the Sonoran desert and would maybe go back once the economy turns around. I did not have the chance to ask what he worked in. 

Thinking I was an arquitect at first because I had la pinta de arquitecto he soon realized I was not from Acapulco, which is when he began to speculate that las acapulqueñas were "after me" because I don't look like a local. I look "Hawaiian" or "Caribbean" or "Jamaican" he tells me, while the local people are more morenillo.

He then proceeds to ask me the obligatory "Which is more difficult to learn Spanish or English?" to which I respond with something akin to "No lo sé, o sea, realmente no tuve que 'aprender' inglés entonces no te puedo decir."

Before changing the 200 bill we stopped on the side of the road so he could fill up the tank with gas he keeps in a Coca-Cola water bottle as he explained to me that the vochos-- almost all taxis in Acapulco are old VW beetles-- have the gas tank up front and the engine in the back. Interesante.


Influenza Porcina

As I chill in la casa de Misa en Guadalajara, hace casi 3 años que estudié en la Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara, and the news anounces that the influenza está en decenso, me pregunto si debería de regresarme el miércoles o hasta el domingo. Le marqué a mi tutora y básicamente she told me that I could come back Sunday if I wanted ya que no esperaba un gran turnout de estudiantes esta semana.

Mientras tanto Novedades Acapulco reporta hoy que:



What do you do when Acapulco shuts down because of the Influenza Porcelina outbreak? You google yourself of course to see what comes up! 

Last time I happened upon an old article from a BGSU newsletter about my Fulbright grant, and this time I found out that I'm a celebrity.

That's right, I have my own Imdb.com profile page. This is the website that gives all types of information about movies, their release dates, the cast, directors, synopses, etc. It also gives you the work history of anyone that you look up. Just so happens that I had a minor
production assistant role in the small indie picture, "Eating Out" filmed in Tucson and released in 2004. (No it's not a porno. And why it associates me with BBS: The Documentary, I have no idea.)

Not only did I help out with moving stuff around on set, the director practically begged me to use a piece of my artwork in his film. I finally caved in and gave him one of my best drawings. 6 1/2 minutes in you'll see a colored-pencil sketch of a face, eyes nose and lips, on the wall above the bed to the left that I actually did senior year of high school. (Warning: this clip contains nudity and is not suitable for children)

I also make a grand guest appearance in the film playing partygoer #10. Fast forward to around 1:50 into the video clip, and don't blink.

Sorry Telemundo, Univisión, Telefutura...

As I walked to the Comercial Mexicana to buy some cleaning supplies for the aseo lady, my mind began to wander from counting all the passersby wearing cubrebocas in the street to a posting I had made a month or so ago about the use of Spanish in mainstream media in the U.S. I realized that what I had done ultimately was exclude Telemundo, Univisión and other Spanish media outlets from the "mainstream," which silences the voz and poder of the Spanish-speaking community in the U.S. 

I do, however, still believe that networks which broadcast predominantly in the English language need to offer a better representation linguistically of U.S. society especially by including characters for whom code-switching is an integral part of their every-day life.