Honesty: A Latino Family Value

ImageJaron is patriotic, young, Hispanic, and gay. He’s a son, a brother, a friend, and possibly someone’s boyfriend.  He’s a student and an activist. He’s also a former soldier in the US army. Identity is a myriad of personal circumstances. Take one part of who someone is away and they’re not a whole person anymore. They’re compartmentalized and incomplete.  Mandate that someone keep a significant part of their life a secret, and you’re asking that person to be less than honest.

Living in between the lines of truth and trickery is exactly where Jaron found himself, though, both in his family and career.  It’s a familiar place for people who serve in the US military under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Telling the truth means you’ll lose your job—and more importantly, your ability to defend the country you love. It’s also a familiar place for people who are Hispanic. Coming out in a Latino family means risking losing su familia, your family, the people who love you and the backbone of who you are as a person. Latino culture places a high value on family and extended family connections.  Because homosexuality is seen as being a threat to the family structure, many gay and lesbians within the Latino community take up don’t ask, don’t tell us their mantra. Their families learn not to ask about their love life. They discern how to keep their love a secret.

Secrets don’t settle well with Jaron, though. He came out at 16. He references the hindrance hyper-masculinity plays in Latinos being able to be themselves. Placing a high value on machismo, it makes being openly gay very difficult. “My coming out story was nothing short of turbulent. I came out the summer before my junior year in high school. I was very afraid of what my family and friends would think of me. My father was brought up in the old school way. He was a very devoted Baptist, and took the news very hard. My mother was no better. She held herself somehow accountable for me being gay,” he said.  “The rest of his family was equally aghast. “My immediate family met me with disbelief, and thought I was in a phase for awhile.”

Unlike clothes, you don’t try on a sexual orientation. Jaron knew he wasn’t in the middle of a phase.

One day after he graduated high school, though, he did try on a uniform. An interest to serve his country lead him to a new phase in his life—as a soldier of the US army. Having come out once, he didn’t want to step completely back in the closet. “It was more of an open secret to begin with. I just used gender neutral terms, never really talked about dating women specifically… that sort of thing. I came out when I was deployed to Iraq. When you’re in a place like that, no one really cared. There were many more important things to be worried about,” he said.

Jaron described a military culture that seems to be in transition on this issue. He pointed out that younger soldiers, most of who grew up around other people they knew to be gay, were a lot more comfortable. He is quick to note that his sexual orientation never affected his unit’s cohesiveness and ability to work well together. His honesty, actually, had the opposite effect. “There were some guys who didn’t really agree with me being gay at first. After awhile though, a lot of them came around and acknowledged that being gay has no real bearing on your character. They supported me no matter what. Ultimately, I found it brings you closer when you’re honest with each other,” he said.

Jaron’s service in the military ended last December. He’s now back in Wichita and involved locally as a political activist. He can be classified by many identities, but ultimately it’s his self-identity that matter most. The ability to be yourself and integrate who you are into the family dynamics and culture you were born into as well as the career you choose is the paramount of American heroism. It’s also an homage to the Kansas value of honesty.

If you’re a not-so-homogenous homo on the range, tell me you’re story! I want to hear from Wichitans from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. E-mail me at jasonaarondilts@gmail.com