What My Suegra Taught Me About Pride
"In 2020, while I write this, it is still not safe for anybody from the LGBTQ+ community to be open with their sexuality everywhere they go. I believe in the importance of spaces that allow us to self-affirm who we are."
At first sight, my suegra is a typical Mexican mother. Lilia is a devout church-going Catholic in her early sixties. She loves her cats and sending out WhatsApp messages with a blinged-out “Good morning sweetie” text and a big ol’ Piolín in the middle. Her house is filled with tiny knick-knacks and family photos — mostly of her two children who are her pride and joy. My partner had told me the story of her coming out, and how her mother was the person with whom the process had been particularly slow and difficult. Lilia’s religious views made her daughter's identity very hard to digest but, with time, she came around.
When I met Lilia, her daughter and I had been dating for about six months. Even though she knew about me, I was still very nervous about what her reaction towards me would be; my in-laws in past relationships had always been standoffish — despite supporting their child’s sexual orientation. I guess as a parent it’s easier to blame someone else for enticing their daughter into being a lesbian, rather than confronting the idea that it’s a part of their individual identity. However, as soon as I said hello to Lilia I felt a calm come over me that completely settled my fears. She was very sweet and began asking me about my interests, school, and where I was from. From that moment on I’ve never felt nervous or insecure around her at all.
After a while, she began to invite me to family parties and even though I appreciated the inclusion, I understood if I was introduced as a “friend,” as not to make her family uncomfortable.
The first party I went to, we all walked into the room and Lilia began introducing me as Jumko — her daughter’s girlfriend. Her tone was calm and nonchalant and I acted accordingly but I could feel my eyebrows trying to travel all the way up my forehead in surprise. We were seated at a large table with her siblings and some of her cousins when she started telling them about me and asking them to tell me the stories about their own family. I listened eagerly and by the end of the night I was dancing, enjoying the party, and laughing along with everybody else. As time went on and I tagged along to different parties and events, Lilia always introduced me as her daughter’s girlfriend. She has never tried to hide who I am or been ashamed of my part in her family’s life.
I had never been so forward or open when meeting new people, and my suegra's demeanor as she said whom I was made me feel accepted in a way I had never experienced with my past partners’ family. I think that perhaps, unconsciously, this caution and avoidance of speaking openly about my sexuality made me feel like I was hiding something shameful. While trying to find a balance between being careful and talking about who I am, I realized I had almost completely buried a part of my identity for caution's sake.
In a society that constantly asks me not to “flaunt” my sexuality, not “be obvious” or any number of hateful epithets, Lilia has shown me that I have a right to NAME who I love. If others feel uncomfortable by my visibility then that is their own problem, not mine. In 2020, while I write this, it is still not safe for anybody from the LGBTQ+ community to be open with their sexuality everywhere they go. I believe in the importance of spaces that allow us to self-affirm who we are. Being able to share these spaces with people we love allows us to be free, to find joy, and express our identities in a way that makes us feel complete. For some, this space may be a Pride march or a gay bar. For others, it could be a diary or the photos in a camera.
The spaces we create for ourselves are all equally valid and depend entirely on how each person feels best expressing themselves. I have never been to Pride, and for a long time, I wondered if it meant I was not recognizing myself fully or being proud of who I am. My suegra taught me that sometimes Pride resides in our words, and in the places we allow ourselves to exist. She is still profoundly Catholic, but her practice has never questioned my girlfriend’s or my own identity. Instead, she has loved and accepted us for who we are, manifesting this love through her words, actions, and her efforts to educate those around her that may not understand sexual diversity.
Lilia has shown me that we cannot control how our loved ones will react to our coming out; they may not accept us and want to change us solely because they believe it is wrong. Even if they never come around, we cannot depend on their choices to live our life to the fullest — our own decisions will shape our happiness. If we accept ourselves and live the way we feel best, our loved ones will see that our integrity is what makes us happy. When we become our own safe space, there is always hope.
Meet The Family
Jumko Ogata-Aguilar is an Afrojapanese chicana writer based in Mexico. She is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in Latin American Studies at Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM). Her work is mostly short fiction and essays, based on her experiences with identity, racism and multicultural heritage in the Mexican Caribbean. Her work has been published by Universidad Veracruzana, the British Council of Mexico and Urban Ivy Co.