Photography by Dusty St. Amand
From covert kissing in the high school parking lot all the way to weekend brunches at their favorite Nolita haunt, Victor Borbolla and Javier Perez have a love that begs for adoration. Two handsome strangers of Cuban descent who hail from Miami, they discovered each other nearly by accident, in an environment where it was tough to find another gay man—let alone the love of your life. As they describe the evolution of their romance, their insecurities, and their sex life, Victor, a bartender at Manhattan's Hardware, and Javier (or Javi), a dancer/choreographer and painter, suggest that the flame they lit while not holding hands at their conservative school is nowhere close to burning out.
Newly engaged, and photographed exclusively for Out by Dusty St. Amand, these sentence-finishing soul mates, both 24, dish on a Fire Island proposal, and a photo shoot that captured them at their most intimate.
Out: When did you meet?
Javi Perez: We met in our junior year of high school in Miami—we were about 17. We went to the same all-boy, Catholic Jesuit school. I was there from sixth grade to 12th grade and he was the new kid—this troubled kid. It was, like, his third high school. He had issues with all his high schools. I'm painting him as this bad student, when he was really the best student.
Victor Borbolla: Yes, I went to a few different high schools because I guess I had issues with my parents. They wanted me to go to these well-known, Catholic, all-boy schools and I rebelled against that. All my friends were going to public school, and I wanted to go to school with my girl friends.
Were you out at the time?
VB: I wasn't. At that age I just knew I wanted to be with my friends who happened to be female, and who understood me more than if I went to an all-boys school. I identified better with females. My dad wanted me to go to an all-guys school because generations of my family had. I went to one school, and I was very unhappy, but I learned a lot about myself and my sexuality. Then I went to another all-guys school.
JP: Which is where I was!
Were you out at the time, Javi?
JP: No, I wasn't out—not at school, anyway. I was living a double life. I was a competitive cheerleader, so as I did cheerleading and gymnastics I started to come out to those friends. I was already dating and hooking up with boys, but it was very easy to keep those lives separate. No one on my cheerleading team went to my school, so there was really no chance of someone catching you. When I met Victor I was already more comfortable with being gay—I was already out to myself.
VB: We didn't speak for about a year because I was just one of the “straight” boys at school that he didn't allow to know he was gay.
JP: Well I also thought he was a huge nerd. I didn't think he was going to last at the school. It was a college prep school, Belen Jesuit Prep, and it's where our parents and grandparents wanted us to go because it's very Cuban. We're both Cuban. We sat at the same lunch table but he was a friend of my friend. He just happened to be there and I never spoke two words to him. We actually met because a boy I was dating said, "Hey, my ex boyfriend goes to your school and he's actually in your grade." When he said it was Victor, I was in shock. That kid? Really?! The next day at school I started looking at him and I was like , Holy shit, that kid is so cute.
So you have the same ex-boyfriend?
VB: Yes. I dated him before he started dating Javi. We're actually still friends with him. His name is Alex.
JP: At one point I was sort of dating both of them, but Alex knew that i was hanging out with Victor a lot.
VB: And alex got very jealous.
JP: Yeah, but it's kind of his fault that we got close because Alex was the one that got me to notice Victor and and at one point Alex got so fed up that he said, “You two should probably date; you guys are actually perfect for each other.” He said it in a way that he didn't really mean what he was saying, but I took it to mean “We're done.” Because maybe he was right. Then I started dating Victor and we haven't stopped dating since.
Tell me about your first date.
JP: It was after school—senior year.
VB: We went to great lengths to hide our relationship and get some time together. We would arrive to school 30 minutes early so that we could just sit together in the parking lot and hold hands. Otherwise we'd be in school and be with each other, but not really with each other.
JP: Being gay in Miami was super taboo, especially in our all-boys school. There were a lot of boys that were scared of homosexuality and would actually get angry at boys that were gay in our school. There was only one kid that was out in our school—one of the bravest kids i know—and he was out freshman year. I did theater with him and I would see what he'd go through. Keeping a secret was just easier and, yes, we'd go to great lengths to hide it—like restaurants that were far enough away from school. On our first date we went to grab sushi, and it was near school because I had to be back for a play I was doing. We went back to the high school afterward, where he left his car parked, and we're in the car and I just remember being like “Alright, i gotta go...”
VB: We were sitting there in silence—in the parking lot of the school where we're not supposed to be gay.
JP: And it's not like we hadn't kissed boys before. But I guess it was the first time I was about kiss a boy I had really strong feelings for. The other kisses had been hookups or whatever, but this was a boy I really liked and it was now or never and I just sucked it up and leaned in and kissed him and it was so scary.
VB: It's just funny looking back and reminiscing on it because we're very different people now.
JP: So then I went to go do my play and I'm putting my make up on, and that gay kid I mentioned was there putting his make up on. And I'm kind of late with all this pep in my step, and I'm so excited to be alive, and all of sudden this kid says to me, “Oh my god, Javi, there's another kid here that's in the closet at this school—Victor. He's totally gay and he's going to be totally mine.” I told him “Good luck,” but I just had the biggest smile on my face, and i thought to myself he's MINE.
How long were you dating before the proposal?
VB: About six and a half years. The proposal happened a few weeks ago—July 12, on Fire Island.
Were you waiting for marriage equality to pass?
JP: No, huge coincidence. I was actually thinking about the proposal before it was really publicized that all that was happening. And I needed to get a ring and I was like, How does a gay proposal work? What do you do? I just know of men proposing to women and it's very traditional. Do I get one ring? Two rings? I was on Yahoo Answers: “How do you propose to a man?” And it basically said, “Whatever works for you.” I have a friend who's a jewelry designer and we went through all these different ring designs. I wanted something traditional with gold, but it had to be a little edgier and cooler because Victor's edgy and cool. But not too flashy. I've been dating him for nearly seven years so I know his style. But it's hard for me to keep things inside, and I had to keep it a really big secret. I barely told anyone about the proposal, only my family. I told my dad two weeks before it happened and then I told my mom the day before. Because she's like me—she wouldn't have been able to hold it in.
Did you suspect anything Victor?
VB: No, not at first.
JP: Little did he know our whole stay at Fire Island was planned around this proposal. Our friends that we went with were super cute and helped me with everything. We set it up on top of the roof of the house we were staying at. Victor was downstairs making margaritas for everyone. I thought he was going to go upstairs and find everything and ruin the proposal, so I'm starting to freak out and stall him. Finally after everyone set up, he was getting frustrated so I was like, I have to do this now. Our friends set up all these brown paper bags that were supposed to have lights in them, but the lights weren't on so there were just 50 paper bags, like a mother was setting up lunches for kids. Victor's like "What the hell are these bags?" And I'm laughing, and then our song, “Two Weeks in Hawaii” by Hellogoodbye, starts playing, and he looks at me and I start crying. I'm hyperventilating and this speech I planned isn't going the way I wanted it to. He's comforting me, petting my chest hair.
VB: I was just trying to comfort him—I wasn't even paying attention to what he was saying at first.
JP: I finally got down on one knee and I popped the question. And Victor covers his mouth and goes, “Really?” But he finally said yes and he hugged and kissed me and I screamed to the world, “We're getting married!” And our friends were downstairs watching and they popped champagne and we toasted.
Plans for the ceremony?
VB: I have a few ideas. Within the last few weeks everyone's been asking us, “When is this happening?Where is it happening? Can i take the pictures?” I think it'll happen within a year.
JP: I say later than a year! That's so soon it's giving me anxiety.
VB: I don't think it'll happen in Miami—it was such a closeted time for us and we didn't really get to be ourselves together until we moved here to New York in 2011. The right people will fly here for the wedding. And i don't want it to be super over-the-top. We went to a wedding not too long ago and the couple spent over $1,000 on the menu alone. We don't want to do that. and we'd rather spend that money on something else like...a home, or a car.
JP: Or our honeymoon.
Any ideas for a honeymoon destination?
JP: Ooh, that we have a lot of ideas for that. I want to go to Thailand
VB: Thailand works. I just want to go somewhere nice, like the places we see in house hunters. (Laughs)
JP: We like tropical destinations.
I wanted to bring up the pictures that accompany this interview. Given that the photos Dusty shot of you are very intimate and provocative, it seems you're very open about sex and sexuality.
JP: I've never done anything like that before. I've never been naked in front of another person before that wasn't my boyfriend. I'm a modern dancer and we're all very comfortable with our bodies as far as being around each other and touching each other, but being completely naked in front of someone that I had just recently met and also being with my boyfriend made me feel very vulnerable. But Dusty did a great job in making me feel comfortable. I feel like he did captured the intimacy of our relationship because it was so organic the way that it happened.
VB: I did eventually have to grab him and remind him that somebody else was in the room.
JP: I got very excited and I forgot that someone else was there. And I was with my boyfriend who I'm very sexually attracted to even if there was someone was in the room. The photos escalated a lot more than I thought they would. I thought we would be standing there in our underwear. It speaks volumes to our comfort and sexuality with each other.
VB: I think that relates with certain gay milestones because we did a lot those together. Sexually and emotionally. Everything that comes with coming out and being gay and being fearful of being gay and discovering ourselves sexually—we did all that together. This was another experience.
JP: It's true. Being dominant; being submissive; the moment you decide, “Oh, maybe we should switch it up.” Usually you experiment while you're single, and it's awkward trying things out. We've been together and we went through those awkward things together and it worked because we were supportive of one another. He was like my best friend while I was going through these weird experiences and he was going through them too. We just supported each other and we were never embarrassed or ashamed. We were both in the same stage sexually, and we grew together.
Can each of you give three words to describe the other?
JP: Selfless, optimistic, and sexy.
VB: Exciting, sexual, and caring. He looks out for me a lot. I don't like being helped and I think that's something we struggled with a lot in the beginning of our relationship. I think he had issues trying to figure out my balance. That's why I said caring. Because he does care about me. I don't let him be too helpful, as long as he cares.
JP: I try, sir.