It Really Does Get Better: Coming Out to My Venezuelan Family

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It Really Does Get Better: Coming Out to My Venezuelan Family

For a long time, family was, for me, a Christmas Eve table at my grandmother’s patio. Circa 2002: usually engulfed by Maracaibo’s humid heat, sliced turkey on the table, my cousin, sister and me running around, swerving around various relatives. These dinners could easily host 20 of our closest relatives and they would happen every year without fault. That’s from my mother’s side – from our dad’s side our family seemed to be even bigger. Being at our other grandparents’ house was an exercise in remembering which cousin is ours and which cousin is just a close family friend from yesteryear.

Back then, my Mom and Dad were fed up with their hometowns so they found a coastal city called Puerto La Cruz. There were jobs, there was opportunity, and a clean slate for our young family. I always felt like I had been shared between cities during these years. My mother’s native Maracaibo, a metropolis of fire and desert, and then my father’s Maturin, a small town of incessant rain and weeds. During the summer we would do 10 hour plus road trips to visit my mother’s family, and travelling these kinds of lengths wouldn’t be out of place to visit family.

I was closest to my grandmothers; my young queer heart couldn’t wait to be with them, hear their stories and eat their food. There were aunts, uncles and cousins too who also orbited the house and got to be part of our lives. For the first 13 years of my life they were a vibrant presence in our lives and I never imagined this permanent distance would become normality, and that indeed, their presence would quit being so instrumental. 

In 2007 my parents made a radical shift and moved our family to Qatar in search for more opportunities. Our connection with our extended family now hung in the balance of a good wi-fi connection and coordinating time zones for Skype calls. With no familiar faces to look to in this great migration, we turned towards each other and rejoiced in this shared experience. Perhaps an old bond ended, but a new bond began taking place.

coming out

Venezuela by lalo Hernandez

Retrospectively, life in Venezuela had been difficult for my parents with their working lives being especially consuming. We loved each other very much, but we didn’t know each other very well. This new dynamic of making our own immigration bubble was encouraging us to learn about each other. We would spend dinners together sharing our latest foreign experience, or the latest cultural faux-pas we learned about. My father was the only fluent English speaker, so in the beginning we would also practice with him.

During the 5 years of living in Qatar, there was a deep evolution in all of us. In my case, my English language skills had far surpassed my Spanish and my relationship with my extended family seemed more of a memory than a factuality. Trips to Venezuela did not come as often as they once did and we felt culturally more attuned to each other than we did to our extended family. 

Watching Venezuela deteriorate from afar was a source of sadness for all of us. In the beginning I thought about my culture and country with ambivalence, but with the years I began yearning for knowledge. It was at this time that my parents became windows for me and my sister to a Venezuela we never had a chance to meet.  A place of discos and music, with history, artists, dialects, natural wonders and enough folklore to fill out encyclopaedias.

I lived vicariously through their memories, deeply grateful for their voices in my life. In time however, an elephant I had put to rest in the corner of the room hoping it would stay calf-size began growing. My parents’ stories were beautiful but I wasn’t straight, and I was super imposing myself in their memories deep down feeling like… I do not belong here. I am a lie, they don’t love me, they love who they think I am. I’m gay and I need to tell them, basically.

coming out

Pride Photo by Stavrialena Gontzou

Coming out for me was like ripping a band-aid off. I couldn’t hold it in anymore, and the depression had gotten me to a point where I knew exactly what the matter was. But I didn’t have the guts to address it. Moving to England in many ways gave me the guts. Being in that tight family unit for so many years had made me push my sexuality to the bottom of the priority list. As soon as I was by myself, in a completely new environment, all of those neglected feelings started rising to the surface.

When I decided to come out my first summer back from university, I ushered my mother away on a long walk where I talked around the issue for an hour or two. Eventually I came out as bisexual, thinking that it’d perhaps lessen the blow even if a few years later I’d come out as gay. The blow was not lessened, it wasn’t any easier, if anything it was more complicated because I decided to come out and be ‘truthful’… with another lie. So it was a mess.

This began a long period of two years where I needed emotional distance from my family in order to understand myself and reckon with the fact that the head of the family, my mom, was not accepting of me. My dad’s cautious support was encouraging, but not quite a parade of acceptance. My sister being younger than me had the best reaction, and throughout the two years her support, love, and acceptance played a massive role in our reconciliation.

When I graduated in 2017 my family came to the UK for the first time, to celebrate and reconnect. My being gay hadn’t been discussed openly or in good faith for two years and the emotional distance was palpable. Down to the tension in our calls to catch-up, I very simply did not fit in the closet anymore. No matter how short the phone calls were, any amount of time avoiding the fact I was gay felt like too long.

I think my mother felt the emotional distance during that time but had a difficult time reconciling this son of hers I had ‘killed’, and replaced with this gay one. She took time mourning the person she thought and making space for the real me.

The conversations we had that summer were some of the most important ones we had as a family. Seeing me in the flesh, being the way I am, acting the way I’ve always done only with a bit more confidence, I think my mother realised I hadn’t replaced anyone. I was still myself. A happier, prouder version of myself. She and I bonded over the time lost, and restarted our relationship from a place of honesty.

coming out

Pride Photo by Clem Onojeghuo

In time, a couple of years later and with my consent, she informed my family in Venezuela about me being gay. She spent time with me and my partner, and she made space for him at our dining room table so he could spend Christmas with us. At our wedding both my parents were present, dressed to the nines, taking pictures smiling.

In my adolescence I used to hear the mantra ‘It Gets Better’ repeated often. I recall not knowing what that could look like for me. When I think of my upbringing, the values I was brought up with and that my parents were brought up with, I feel a great sense of pride, and awe, and disbelief even. I was never convinced it would all work out, and I wanted so fervently to not break that bubble of harmony we had made from our first migration. Watching my family accept me and support me for who I am has only strengthened my love for them and my desire to live out more life with them near to me.

 

If you were touched by this coming out story, please check out some more of our personal coming out tales here.

About Post Author

Henry Tolley

(he/him) Henry a previous Editor-in-Chief of Chapter Z magazine. He specialises in LGBTQ+, film and in-depth community/cultural features.
author

(he/him) Henry a previous Editor-in-Chief of Chapter Z magazine. He specialises in LGBTQ+, film and in-depth community/cultural features.