For Young, Queer Mexicans Like Me, Juan Gabriel Changed Everything

Juan Gabriel is (and will be remembered as) Mexico’s greatest performer, singer and songwriter.

But there’s one part of El Divo de Juarez's legacy that remains an asterisk in his history — Mexico’s greatest performer was also a gay man.

I was introduced to Juan Gabriel’s music through my mother. His romantic love songs like “Querida” and “Abrázame Muy Fuerte” were the soundtrack to my childhood, the songs my mom played on the stereo as we cleaned the house on weekend mornings. To this day I know the lyrics to most of El Divo's songs — not only because they were played often, but because his songs were also played at family weddings and birthday parties. 

When I was 12 years old, I saved up my birthday and Christmas money to surprise my mother with tickets to a JuanGa concert. It was a special moment for my mother, who stood the entire time, singing along to every song, and dancing to the beat of Juan Gabriel’s lead in Phoenix that night. 

It's a moment I have looked back on often, particularly while I was in college, when I wrote a poem about it that I had forgotten about until JuanGa’s recent passing. I have since come out to my mother, but it's easy to forget, now that I’ve been out of college for five years, how much I struggled with when, how, or even if I could come out to my family.

The poem I wrote then was less about the concert itself than what Juan Gabriel’s life represented as I tried to make sense of how I could exist in the world as a queer Mexican woman.

No, Juan Gabriel was never a publicly out gay man — but through him, I saw a channel. At the time, I was using him as a metaphor in a poem for my own desire to want to live out and openly, and Juan Gabriel was a language that I knew my mother would understand.

I wrote about him dancing in his tight, all-white suit across the stage, moving jubilantly, his face illuminated by the spotlight. I wrote about how he was able to communicate through his music and through his way of dancing and dress in a manner that functioned outside the traditional narrative of gender expression that Mexican culture expects of men.

It’s always been an interesting juxtaposition for me, as someone who is gay and Mexican. The older I got, the more I started to really understand the complexity of why Juan Gabriel’s existence was so special to me, and also why he never “came out” (and never needed to).  

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I'm not “hiding" in the closet anymore, writing poems that allude to how I wish I could communicate with my mother about my sexuality. I don’t need to use Juan Gabriel as a metaphor because these days I am living out.

One of the biggest contributions to the evolution of my own identity is my job — I am an LGBT reporter. I was so closeted in college that I could have never imagined that five years after graduating, I would be working at The Advocate, the national LGBT publication. 

While on assignment yesterday for a story, I spent my evening hanging out with two gay Mexican Juan Gabriel impersonators at a mariscos restaurant in East L.A. I was disappointed at first, because as the evening started, the emcee made several gay jokes. The room laughed. My spirit sank. But later in the night, while hanging out with these two older men in the back, as they prepared to get on stage, I had a different thought.

At one point, I held up a mirror for Marco, one of the impersonators, as he looked at his reflection, perfecting his concealer, to properly serve El Divo face onstage moments later. I was thinking about how far I had come, to a place I thought I might not ever get to, and how hopeful I feel that despite the immense loss, JuanGa’s life will start a conversation in my community about how being gay and Mexican are two identities that are not at odds with each other. 

El Divo, the male diva, was a Mexican star who never allowed the confining expectations of gender and sexuality to limit his own expression. Because of that, he opened doors for Mexican queerdos like me. 


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