2/7/2024 1 Comment
Ethan Malaver (he/him)
And my fall term ended. And I had to remove my nail polish.
I’d painted them just a few days prior, and I always take my time with it because my hands can’t stop trembling sometimes. However, I really wanted to look pretty for my lecture crush, so I knew it was worth it. Anyhow, in all seriousness, I hate having unpainted nails. I know that doing your nails is not that deep, but to me it really completes a part of my gender expression that I’ve been repressing for years because of my family. I knew I needed to do this before going to Peru for winter break. Otherwise, I would get in trouble". It wasn’t the biggest catastrophe ever, but it hurt…just a little bit.
Growing old is scary. One day I was this overly affectionate little kid always smiling to everyone and the next I am this grumpy hater who has gone through his first gay relationship and does not even use my name assigned at birth anymore. This change obviously took years, around seven to be more precise. I promise I am not a completely different person, or at least that’s what I want to believe. Thing is that I’m such a cultural mess. I am Puertorican, but only my brother and I were born in Puerto Rico. My dad moved to the island, from Peru, with my mother looking for a better lifestyle in the 90’s. So we grew up in Puerto Rico, but every summer we used to go to Peru and visit all our family. Those two months were such a beautiful escape from the stressful urban life for me. I don’t think anyone understands how important Peru is for me. So sometimes I say I’m Peruvian, because it’s easier than to make people listen to the paragraph I just wrote.
My brother, Ernesto, insisted that I shouldn’t bring anything that would definitely reveal I’m queer- which included a lot of my favorite clothes, some accessories, and all my makeup, obviously. Gay marriage is still illegal in Peru, and the spanish word for the f-slur is used so careless over there. Knowing this, I decided to read a lot of stories of aggression against the LGBTQ community in Peru before traveling. To tell you the truth, I don’t know why I did this, but it certainly scared me a lot. I knew that my brother was protecting me, but at the same time, I really wanted to show my new self to the places that gave birth to the person I am, or at least was…for a while. All my grandparents had died already, so that meant that time was actually passing, and that I really didn’t live in the summers that I used to spend in Peru.
My first ever love was a childhood friend from Peru. In the plane I wondered, pondered even…will she still love me knowing I was queer now? I hadn’t come out to her.
The airplane pierced through the clouds and began its descent over Peru. The mesmerizing yellow flickering lights all over the city stood as ancient sentinels all over the city of Lima. We don’t talk anymore and probably won’t again but the thought of being exactly what a whole culture despises, terrified me. At the end of the day, she was Peruvian. So… was I Peruvian too? I know that sexual preferences and gender identity in reality are meaningless, they shouldn’t be a big deal for anything. But the reality is that they are not seen this way, and in Latin America, even our generation is violent towards queer people.
I decided to take out my headphones and just stared at the sun dipping towards the western horizon, casting a golden glow upon the land, as if nature itself was bestowing a final, radiant blessing on the clouds.. I loved Peru even though it meant letting my identity be erased.
When the airplane landed, Ernesto told me to pick up my long hair, so I took my claw clip…and he just looked at me. I hate how he is always right. So I asked him for a pencil.
- You look like a girl - was the first thing that my mom told me after 6 months.
I don’t mind people calling out my feminine features. I enjoy it, but I know that my mother does it with derogatory intentions.
My trip to Peru was full of misfortunes but also happiness, but to not turn this short story into a longer piece, I would tell one story that will stick with me for a long time…because I honestly don’t know when I will come back.
My brother was waiting for me outside of the bathroom at a party, as I was painting my nails again. I would say I used nail polish because I wanted to flirt with a guy I met there and I thought was cute but in reality I just wanted to feel like myself again.
Ernesto kept knocking on the door. So I finally came out from the bathroom, stare at me with horror. I think maybe just maybe I overdid it with lipstick. I just smiled at him and he was looking at me like the world was about to end. I told him to not worry that no one would notice in the dark. He was about to start a rant, but I pushed him to the bathroom, because after all he has been waiting to use it.
This was a New Year’s Eve party. My nails were yellow, because here in Peru everyone dresses yellow to receive the New Year. We were on the third floor of a house deep in the mountains of an urban section of Lima. The flickering multi-colored lights were caressing my tired but drunky eyes. Yes, I’ve had a few drinks already. My cousin approached me…
- Oe que te hiciste, pareces mujer-
- I know -
When I’m starting to get dizzy I can’t speak spanish. She said “Ayoo what did you do to yourself? You look like a girl”. She was laughing, I didn’t feel the aggression of my mother in her voice. By this time during the winter break, a lot of people around Peru had confused me with a woman, which has been pretty funny for me…but this time as those words came out from my cousin’s mouth, I saw different judging looks from people walking around. Strangers had never looked at me like that before. The confusion was shown as disgust, but my mind decided to ignore it.
We went back to the dance floor. The traditional Peruvian music was exploding through the speakers forcing its way through everyone’s minds. I danced my way to my cousin’s circle of friends. I couldn’t explain how different I felt moving through the sea of bodies. I could mark the difference between the elements that made me who I am from the elements that made them…them.
Let’s name the guy, Anthony. Well…I got close to Antony, we were dancing, smiling at each other. He was smoking, so now, feeling more like myself, I grabbed his hand very softly, and took his blunt. As I smoked a bit, we were laughing at each other, dancing. My brother had joined the group by this point. We were dancing with the group, jumping from side to side. I’ve never felt Peruvian music as I did that night. The traditional music felt so new, and my being felt the waves of each folk instrument, it all felt like I was experiencing it for the first time. Because in a way I was, this new version of me was listening to these songs for the first time again.
Anthony and I were definitely vibing. But also in an obviously friendly way. Not the flirty way I was picturing in my mind. But I was so trapped in the emotion of feeling a different type of Peru in my body, so I started to dance closer and closer to him. Taking every smile as a kiss to my brain, I craved for more.
I thought that this was my Peru. My queer Peru.
Sadly, and tragically but also extremely dangerously…I got extremely close to Anthony. Someone yelled:
“Marica que tu haces!”
Anthony jumped far away from me. Other people started calling me the hispanic F slur. This was again the first time I was being referred to with these heavy words. I just looked at these people, with my mouth opened, as I lost track of time. I felt I was going to say something but my words just didn’t come out.
Each word surrounded my head and drove in circles throughout my eyes. I saw Anthony go away with the people that called me slurs. It was like someone had thrown me cold water to wake up, only that the reality was just as confusing as the dream. I don’t know…a door closed at that moment. I remained standing, as my body moved on its own from side to side. Ernesto came, picked me up, and asked me what happened. I turned non-verbal and he just took me to a chair.
I remained there for the rest of the hour. Was I gross? Was my long dark hair gross? Was being feminine as a man gross? Was using lipstick as a man gross? So, was my existence gross? Very negative thoughts came to my head as now Peruvian music haunted my ears, just like it did years ago. Everything was so messy. I didn’t like Anthony, I just wanted something to remind me, that Peru could enjoy me, that Peru could hold me, that Peru could like me and that Peru could love me. But maybe that wasn’t the case…
We left around 5 am. And in the car ride back to our house, my mind kept repeating the slurs these people called me. I was still dizzy and out of it, so I decided to stop looking at the window, and when I looked at the other passenger seats, I saw my childhood friend. She was just there, looking at me, so profoundly…
Next thing I know, my mom is waking me up. Mad, about to kill me. She saw my nails. Before leaving my childhood bedroom, she said…
- I’m ashamed of being your mother -
I just went back to sleep. Maybe Peru is not ready for me yet.
And my winter break ended. And I had to paint my nails again.