Coming Out of the Closet in San Francisco, Muy a la PRIDE!

What a young man did to finally say “I am Gay.”

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By Lupita Peimbert

(San Francisco) –  A few days before PRIDE San Francisco weekend and parade, 20 year-old Juan Pablo Fernandez can’t decide. Should he wear a very sexy outfit to PRIDE or should he be a little more conservative? – “I want to attract older men, just my type, and so perhaps I will show a bit of skin,” he told me the other night during our telephone conversation.

Come on, I said. “You told me earlier that you wouldn’t like to be labeled, just because you are gay, as someone who is all about sex and sexuality; and there you are, talking about showing off your skin to spark a sexy fire.”

He paused. The young man is still learning to accept, like most of us, his own contradictions. He is a lot more than a gay young-man in very-short shorts wanting to have fun during PRIDE San Francisco, the crown event for the LGBTQ Community each year.

 A Long Way

For most of his life, Juan Pablo Fernandez did not tell anybody his sexual orientation; in other words, he did not tell that he was gay and that he liked guys. “I denied it when someone asked. I was afraid,” he remembers.

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4 year-old Juan Pablo Fernandez.

But last summer, his stay in the Bay Area and what he saw in San Francisco, touched a button on his soul, and gave him the courage to come out. He had moved to Northern California temporarily, to work as babysitter/nanny for a local family.

“I think that one of the reasons to move to the United States for me was, deep inside, to be able to say: I am gay and so what?,” he says “I just did not exactly knew how to do that.”

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Juan Pablo during adolescence, in Guadalajara, Mexico.

 It All Started By Getting Out

Juan Pablo literally made it a priority to get out and see what was happening at festivals and other community events organized by, or related to the LGBT community.

“I went to PRIDE last June, and loved it, but I could not take pictures or post anything, fearing that friends or family would judge me wrong.” And when Juan Pablo remembers that, there is a hint of sadness coming through his voice.

 With July, came the annual AIDS Walk in San Francisco, and Juan Pablo attended. He saw actor and singer Cheyenne Jackson on the stage, singing “Imagine,” and he was moved by it.

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Artist Cheyenne Jackson signs “Imagine” at the AIDS Walk in San Francisco, in 2014.

Juan Pablo found his way to take a picture with the singer, and of course, Pablo found him very attractive (me too!), and instantly became a fan. Intrigued, Juan Pablo did what most of us do: Google someone.

“I saw photos of Cheyenne, and he was with someone he loves, happy, openly gay, and that hit me hard. I thought: Why can’t I have a happy life too, and be with someone I love?. I cried, and while crying, a bunch of feelings came to me: I felt jealous, depressed, and sad.”

All this tormenting feelings turned into anger first, but quickly metamorphosed into courage, he says. “I thought, if others can be happy, I can be happy too. I am going to start by saying that I am gay, Pase lo que pase (regardless of what happens after.)

Admitting It

Here is where WhatsApp came very handy.  “The first person I told was my mother, who is in Guadalajara, Mexico, my hometown. I texted her. She already knew, of course, and she had cried and worried for years. She told me that she had waited for me to be able to tell her. I got immediate and unconditional support.”

Juan Pablo realized how safe he felt living in the San Francisco Bay Area. The emotional safety propelled him to making new friends, and saying “I am gay.” He then began insinuating his sexual orientation on his Facebook postings. The ball started rolling: Visits to the Castro District, learning about Harvey Milk, making friends with other gay men, attending the Folsom Fair, and so on.

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JP at the Folsom Fair, 2014.

Back to Reality

By then it was time to go back to Guadalajara, his hometown, a place more conservative and anti-gay than what many would like to admit, where gay bars are mostly in “red” zones, and you rarely see one in the so-called “nice” areas. Some fears came back, but he was determined.

Closet No-More

October 11, National Coming Out Day (US) was perfect timing for the young man to get out of the closet –and so he did. Juan Pablo came out to friends, relatives, and fellow church members. Some people stopped talking to him, but most of them reacted favorable, although they put some distance, he says.  The most difficult test –he was terrified just thinking about it, was to tell his father.

“I grew up hearing my dad’s indirectly saying that he would be mad if I were gay. My father, like many traditional men in the world, has reservations about people who are gay.”

Their relationship was difficult, as it can be between father and a teenage son. Would his father disown him? Would he be kicked out of the house? Would his father kick or beat him? Juan Pablo’s fears were fueled with the worse scenarios, and kept him awake many nights.

Confronting His Father

Almost two months after coming out of the closet, Juan Pablo’s father, longtime divorced from his mother, came to the house and invited him for a ride. Inside his father’s truck, Juan Pablo listened carefully. His father asked if he had a girlfriend, and if he was sexually active. Juan Pablo said no to both questions. The young man’s heart was pounding harder, he was nervous; yet, he took the Bull by the Horns.

“Are you not going to love me because I am gay?.”

 Silence.

“You are my son and I love you. But, don’t you know that being gay is not normal? You are going to die from AIDS. I will always love you son, but I do not want to know anything about your boyfriends, or nothing.” His father said.

Juan Pablo felt relieved, even though it hurt to hear the negativity about being gay. “I defended myself by giving him information about gays,” he says. Somehow, their relationship has improved.

Back in San Francisco

Juan Pablo is back in the Bay Area, openly gay, working with the same family who trusts him with their children. He loves taking care of them “I feel like I am a Chef every time I cook,” he jokes.

He recently met a man a few years older than him, and they are “dating.” These days, gay or straight, single people give the “dating” word each a different meaning.

A year later from those days wondering if it would be okay to get out of the closet, Juan Pablo has lost weight, shows more confidence, and looks happier. “I will always be grateful to San Francisco. I found myself here,” he says.

 He hopes that many other young people find the courage and support to come out.

As for what to wear at PRIDE this weekend? — Sexy or not, there he will be: Juan Pablo Fernandez, out of the closet, openly gay, and loving it.

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This is Juan Pablo now, a man who is openly gay.

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