By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Throughout middle school and high school, I was suicidal. You kill yourself slowly, through drugs. Now I could never picture myself taking my own life, because why leave this Earth when you are doing something different? I try to expose my daughter to everything. She's been to the Gay & Lesbian Center. She saw two guys hugging, sort of cuddly, lovey-dovey. She just stood there and stared for two minutes. Oh, my God. My daughter is opening her mind.
JESSIE FUNES is a 21-year-old lesbian Latina participating in a 10-month fellowship with Public Allies Los Angeles, a nonprofit leadership and training organization. "I prayed to God, 'Can't I be straight?'" --Jessie Funes
I DID HOLD CRUSHES ON older people in kindergarten, first grade, second grade. I knew that there was a feeling inside that you call different, but [I didn't] understand what "different" meant. I don't remember her name, but there was a girl. I used to hold her hand. The experience was totally different from when I held hands with a boy. It's like saying the word sex. You hear it, but you don't know what it is. I don't think I was conscious of having to hide yet. I developed a stronger crush on a girl, second or third grade. That's when I started hearing people talk about same-gender [couples], always in the negative sense -- like my family making jokes.
In fourth grade, the girls were like, "Why is she following us?" They called me weird. I think I was too close with the girls. I was a very sensitive kid. I just loved being with -- I don't even remember her name. I don't even remember her face. I just remember it was a girl, and I remember playing merry-go-round or something.
For years I believed the Catholic stereotype that homosexuals were pedophiles, drug dealers, bad -- the devil. That's how I was raised. It was hard, because at the same time, I tried to say, "Stop it." I had this whole internal thing going back and forth: Don't think this, don't feel this . . .I stopped writing in seventh grade, because my mom found from my journal that I had a crush on Leslie [a pseudonym]. And she's like, "You want me to tell her, I'll show this to her." I'm like, "No. That's just a story." From that point I stopped writing.
My mom hated the way I dressed, thought it was very guyish. I wasn't the little girl she wanted me to be. I think my aunt knew. I will never forget. I was 7, 8 or 9. I remember my aunt telling my mom, "She is going to be . . . ella es marimacha?" And I remember my mom got so upset. I think my mom from that point started to think of how I was going to be or what I was going to become.
The weirdest thing about growing up with Catholic people and seeing them as great people comes when your peers in ninth grade turn their backs on you. A lot of harassment. I prayed to God, "Can't I be straight?" I did the whole boyfriend thing, having intercourse. All I could picture is the feeling that I had with a woman, even though I had never been with a woman before.
Once I came out, word spread, and I was forced to change high schools three times. It was a small school. Everybody knew Jessie was gay or a dyke, right? I couldn't take it. I was excluded. All of the people on the soccer team, football team were very negative -- stones thrown at you, gum in your hair. Religion class was difficult, because the teacher would always put me on the spot in terms of biblical scriptures. He'd say homosexuality is the cause of AIDS. I failed the class. From that point on I got depressed, and I probably would have killed myself in ninth grade. My first try was at my grandmother's house in Echo Park.
All of this has led me to try to define my spirituality, because when people ask, "What do you believe in?" it's like, well, "What is it that I need to believe in?" Why do I have to believe in something? When I told people that I'm no longer Catholic, they're like, "What?" Because before, it was all "God is love, love is beautiful." That was all I grew up with. That was all I could relate it to. That's what I considered spirituality. I always said if you believe in God, nobody can take that away from you. Now, I don't believe in a He-God. So in terms of my mother, I told her, "I'm a great kid, even though you might not think so. I'm a great daughter and a great sister, even if you don't think so just because I cannot identify with the religion you baptized me in. It doesn't change anything." And she didn't say anything. I don't want to hurt her.
I am in love right now, and I can finally tell my girlfriend that I love her. I can say it in Spanish, and I can say it in another language. It's bigger than physical affection. It's so much more than we are able to understand, because we're taught to limit our minds. I love the space I'm in now, because I'm able not to feel limited. It's not an easy space to go. How long did it take to think or feel this way? It took me forever, and it's still difficult.