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L.A. Affairs: When I came out to my father, he cried. And then he put a curse on me

Illustration of a loquat tree rising up above a single loquat casting a rainbow shadow.
I kept silent, considering my father’s words as if they were a fortune teller’s.
(Lisa Kogawa / For The Times)

When I was 17, I signed up for a free subscription to International Male, a risqué mail-order catalog of menswear that I naively convinced myself looked as innocuous as something published by J.C. Penney. The see-through mesh thong underwear it featured was usually concealed among pages of leopard-print sleeveless shirts and suede vests with generous amounts of fringe, so who could suspect this booklet was satisfying anything other than a teenager’s interest in men’s clothing?

I also presumed the catalog would arrive unnoticed in my mailbox, lost among junk mail and my subscriptions to more mainstream periodicals like Details, GQ and Interview Magazine. I was playing video games with my little brother in our bedroom one day when my father went to collect the mail. I heard him bellow, “Richard!” I rushed into the living room to find him clenching the catalog. He seemed not only concerned that this type of degenerate material was what he often spied lying on the coffee tables of suspects he detained when he served arrest warrants as a law enforcement officer.

“Are you gay?!” he demanded, using way worse words. “No-o-o,” I stuttered. I couldn’t look him in the eye. My shoulders shuddered with the humiliation, and I began to cry. He interrogated me about how the catalog could have landed in our family’s chaste mailbox. My mom, drawn in by the commotion, softly intervened, trying to temper my father’s anger. I made up a story on the spot. I said I had been duped into subscribing and that I was just into “the clothes.” I canceled the subscription immediately.

In honor of LGBTQ relationships in Los Angeles, here’s a roundup of our favorite L.A. Affairs columns.

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A year later, it was my father’s turn to cry when I came out as gay.

My father’s response, as we sat together under the loquat tree in our backyard, was less aggressive this time but still edged with disapproval. “Mijo, you’re going to have a very lonely life,” he promised.

Whenever Latinx parents preface their pronouncements with “mijo” or “mija,” you know they are about to drop something they think of as heartfelt and inevitable.

I still remember thinking, “What could you possibly know about what my life will be like?" I didn’t rebuke my father, because that would’ve been back talk. Instead, I kept silent, considering his words as if they were a fortune teller’s.

He had delivered the message with so much certitude that it sounded more like a curse than a prediction. Mijo, you’re going to have a very lonely life ...

In the years since, a question nagged: What if he’s right?

My boyfriend was sweet. My boyfriend was hysterical. My boyfriend always told me how much he loved me. When we would have sex, my whole body felt worshipped, cared for — nurtured, even.

It haunted me during the lowest moments of my young L.A. dating experiences. When I had been stood up. When a blind date turned sour. When I was ghosted or betrayed, when app-solicited hookups became tiresome or when yet another promising relationship evaporated, I couldn’t help but return to the moment under the loquat tree and deliberate upon the sturdiness of my father’s hex.

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How does one uncurse oneself?

One night, about five years ago, an Uber driver picked me up from my home in East L.A. and dropped me off in West Hollywood for a birthday party at a wine shop.

I usually avoid the expensive frivolity of WeHo, but obligatory, network-y celebrations often lure me to Santa Monica Boulevard. After the party, I joined friends in some barhopping. I was not expecting too much from the world that night because I was buoyed by things going right in my life, including my job and the great luck of having recently sold a TV show. I may have been single, but I had stuff going on, things to do, no time for useless pining over men.

Walking into Boys Town that night, not burdened by wanting anything but the companionship of friends, I felt free and easy.

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Anthony Diaz and Kevin Alcaraz’s plant shop has had lines so long since opening last fall that their neighbors sometimes joke that they must be selling something harder than pothos.

Revolver Video Bar was, of course, packed. A literal revolving door of men spins at its entrance, a constant stream of guys feeding the bar, the dance floor, and everyone’s peripheral attention. My friends and I sipped cocktails, shouting conversations at one another as the music shouted back.

My eye caught him as soon as he entered. Handsome, great skin and a killer smile. His friends knew my friends and introductions turned into chitchat, which turned into conversation. The drinks loosened us up as the night progressed and the flirting intensified. Later that night, our friends abandoned, we leaned against the back wall and made out like teenagers at the prom afterparty.

I went home with him that night, but that didn’t assure anything about the future, of course. When I left his place at 2 in the morning, it seemed like a small miracle occurred: The same Uber driver picked me up.

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The best version of L.A. is as a site of meet-cutes and happy happenstance.

I got a text a few hours later: “Morning there Mister. Well that was unexpected.”

I would later learn that he’s half-Indian, half-Chinese, an immigrant to the U.S. by way of Guyana. And here I’d thought he was Filipino. International male indeed.

From protests and parades to the homes of early gay rights activists, the Southland has played a key role.

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We date, we go on getaways, we become a couple, we meet each other’s friends, we move in together, we buy a car, and now we have a household where we argue over things like the tone of each other’s voice and money. (He’s even met my father, who, despite our ups and downs, has been accepting of him.) My partner and I order clothes from the same websites and sometimes have to consult each other to avoid buying the same shirt. I drove him to the dentist when he got his wisdom teeth removed, and I drive him to the airport when he travels for work. He buys me elaborate cakes on my birthdays and cooked dinner daily during much of the shutdown. Before quarantine, we traveled the world together. In quarantine, we have been inseparable for months on end. Away or always together, I love him.

I don’t know when it happened, exactly, or where.

Maybe it was a couple of years ago when we visited his cousins in Switzerland and then traveled on to Croatia for a wedding. Or maybe it was while we were walking on the Malecon in Havana or hanging out with his childhood friend in London or climbing pyramids outside Mexico City or hiking Cathedral Rock in Sedona.

I don’t know when it happened, exactly, but somewhere, somehow, at some point, the curse was lifted.

And the blubbering shame of a 17-year-boy who wanted to secretly ogle men in thongs transformed itself into the joy of life with a man as cosmopolitan as anything my teenage self could have ever dreamed of.

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The author is a Los Angeles writer on Instagram @amazingwatcherr

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here.


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