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Love in Black and White: Loving Myself Was a Radical Act

loving myself was a radical act

He was interested in me until he found out I was Puerto Rican. He doesn’t do Hispanic men, he said—so casually you would have thought he was telling me he didn’t have a taste for broccoli. It wasn’t me, but it was.

It’s a privilege afforded to me as a light-skinned Latino man—I’m not dark enough to be immediately turned away, at least online. My ethnicity is ambiguous enough that you can’t quite place me in photos, which can work to my benefit. I have more luck on the apps if I keep my ethnicity out of it. It’s a lie, if only by omission. 

Yet I shouldn’t have to hide my background. I’m proud of where I was born and where I come from. It wasn’t until I was told to be ashamed of my skin color and heritage that I began to feel ashamed. It wasn’t just the queer men I found attractive who told me to be ashamed, but in many ways, it was communicated through various aspects of LGBT culture. 

Related | Love in Black and White: Perspectives on Sexual Racism

There isn’t a single gay magazine that hasn’t made people of color feel ugly. Without fail, the gay men embodying what is attractive are built like a god, masculine to a fault, and almost always white. They don’t even have to be into men to be put on a pedestal. Straight white men who play into homoerotic subtext get more notice than actual queer men of color. 

When I was younger, I would bastardize the pronunciation of my name to make it easier for non-Spanish speakers to pronounce it. I straightened my hair to get the curls out and would avoid aspects of my culture that would paint me as an “other.” I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be white. Because being white meant you were desired.  

The self-loathing came easy. Learning to love myself was harder. Not just accepting who I was, but celebrating myself in all that I am—that took time. It also wasn’t a singular moment but an everyday journey. I choose daily to reject a narrative that says I am less beautiful because of my ethnicity. Instead, I recognize part of my beauty comes from my olive skin and how I roll my r’s. I choose to embrace not just my beauty but the beauty in others of all shapes and colors. There wouldn’t be beauty if there weren’t diversity.

I will never let a white man make me feel less than what I am. I’ve worked too hard in acknowledging my self-worth to be brought down by someone who is too narcissistic to see beauty outside of their own whiteness. I, too, am beautiful, and in loving myself I perform a radical act against a culture that tells me otherwise. 

A guy on Grindr told me he wanted to fuck me before Trump got rid of me. I stared at the screen absorbing his words, before smiling at his idiocy. He didn’t realize that by being Puerto Rican I’m an American citizen. He didn’t understand how fetishizing my body wasn’t funny in a time when many in my community were terrified of a president vowing to break families apart. He didn’t understand why I wouldn’t respond to his messages or why I didn’t allow myself to be subjected to his sexual racism in exchange for the three minutes of sex he could provide. He didn’t understand that I’m too valuable for that.

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