My young family used to gather at my old house and share too many drinks and anecdotes. My father would prod my uncle, a master comedian, to do his Juan Gabriel impression and He would. My uncle would open his eyes wide, shimmy his shoulders, and sing, biting at the words. They would poke fun of Gabriel’s facial expressions, theatrical and flamboyant. Those two words, not-so-subtlety meaning gay. My father, my uncle, the other men in my family, misogynistic homophobes. What more to expect from working class immigrants from the Latin American region. Their father’s were like that too, and their fathers too, had they stuck around long enough to express such thoughts. Needless to say they were fans of his music, who could deny Gabriel’s voice? While Latin music is forever dented, I am glad that his untimely death has sparked the conversation of misogyny and homophobia in the Mexican/Central American region as well as the unfair, unapologetic speculation of his sexuality.
Are you gay? Why do you act like a girl?
Questions which pervaded the innocence of this pansy boy. The dimming of the light. Those questions would break my day, shatter my week into shards of glass. I can recall other children asking me things I was not ready to admit. I would shed layers of me and wear the rags of someone I made up. Say things, hurtful things to people, to myself because I was not happy with who I was pretending to be. Everyone struggles with identity, mine had a lot to do with coming of age within a culture that enforces tradition. My family being from El Salvador, Juan Gabriel being from Mexico and popular across the Americas.
When Univision reporter Fernando del Rincon asked him about his sexuality in 2000, he responded:
That’s what’s most important because your worth isn’t based on the things that other people can hold against you. Because everything that one does is what stays, what matters. Actions are what’s important. To transcend and be yourself. People are smart, they’re not dumb…I have no reason to tell you, and others, something that is not of interest to you. I think I am an artist. I think I am Juan Gabriel, who has given so much with my songs. And I’m going to tell you something, Fernando, I’m not a saint but I’m also not the little devil that many think I am or that people want to make others think I am. They say we’re living difficult times, that people are curious and they want to know more, but people also aren’t dumb.
From the Huffington Post
That is how I approached my coming out and my sexuality. I did not think it was anybody else’s business. I told my best friends and my immediate family. I certainly did not post a picture on social media with a rainbow ribbon and certainly don’t knock anyone who chooses to do that. After all the traumatic experiences LGBTQ people endure growing up, everyone deserves to reveal themselves the way they see fit. Five years since coming out, people still make it their business to question and wonder. I am not ashamed, not anymore, it took a while to share with my best friend that I find so-and-so attractive. It was not as natural as other friends who have been out since 16 and are able to be so free about it. I think it comes from my upbringing, my parent’s rarely talked about anything intimate/sexual, everything else I learned from my older brother and MTV.
I think, today, television is asking too many loaded questions, pushing further for the ratings. I’ve learned during my life that if I am in hell, I make my own glory. I’ve also been in glory and perhaps I’ve made my own hell, but I certainly don’t take anyone down with me. And [I’ve learned] that I am not a liar. What I say is what I feel, whether anyone likes it or not. But there’s something else I have to say as a human being, and that’s that you only get one life and you have to live it, and if we have to eventually pass to a better life then it has be an honest one. Let others worry about their own lives, and let the rest of us live.
Juan Gabriel leaves behind a rich discography, theatrical performances, and fabulous costumes. He leaved behind a unique aesthetic. Opened a dialogue in a culture where the way men and women should behave is written in stone. It’s crazy. I wanted to ask my dad how he felt about Gabriel’s death, and what his favorite song of his is. Our relationship has improved, I just did not think it would be appropriate at this time. While my cousin, admitted to the melting of my staunch Republican uncle’s glacial world views. My uncle who imitated Gabriel with flamboyant limbs, acknowledged my sexuality at breakfast one day and accepted it, accepted me.
Not unlike Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, and Prince. Juan Gabriel dared to blur tradition and he was successful. Proof that authenticity above all else, results to greatness.
Juan Gabriel Spotify Playlist