Written by Yesenia Guadalupe Berrios.
Photo by Francisco J. Ojeda.
My upbringing in Catholicism failed me. The expectation that I should believe and follow rules without question (and often without explanation) did not serve me. Rather, it conditioned me to value the opinions of men; Padre, Hijo, y Espíritu Santo, above my own voice and intuition.
Catholicism taught me to fear my own queerness. Y hasta el sol de hoy desire and tension fight inside my body, my muscles contracting in reaction to years of suppressing my desires, of erasing and rewriting, of not allowing myself pleasure or release. The psychological trauma inflicted on queer children in churches is criminal. Desire was a temptation of the Devil, Eve’s disobedience brought shame to the Earth, María was a virgin chosen by God, and her purity made her womb a sacred and worthy vessel of the son.
I didn’t want to repent. I didn’t want to be forgiven or absolved of my “sins”, I needed to be celebrated in my truth but I never was.
Nevermind what desire looked or felt like in my body, it was only allowed in marriage and marriage was only between a man and a woman. I learned what people and relationships were okay to pursue and if my feelings weren’t in alignment with these rules, I hid or rejected them, passing along my shame like a virus. That wasn’t its intention. I’m told the church sought out to teach me love, but with its doctrine on what is and is not “acceptable” the impact of its teachings strayed far from the mark. I didn’t want to repent. I didn’t want to be forgiven or absolved of my “sins”, I needed to be celebrated in my truth but I never was.As a first-generation, brown, fat, feminine child in amerika, I craved the approval of my parents and community, but I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. Not quite a fiercely Catholic Nicaragüense, but not fully “amerikan” either. “Where are you really from?” folks asked. So I adapted as best I could, even if it meant burying the most special parts of myself. Sure I liked girls, but I also liked boys, why not just lean into the acceptable option? If I could go to church and pray and play the part, I was safe; but all that did was convince me that my whole being was “too much”. Church is where I learned to shrink myself to fit into a mold that was always too small for all of me.
The first time I experienced queer joy it happened on a dance floor and came draped in deep cocoa skin. We were children, but he already knew.
Parallel to the teachings of the church, I learned the highlight reel of amerikan history as it is neatly packaged and disseminated in public schools: “Columbus sailed on the ocean blue and found a country for me and you, Abraham Lincoln declared war to free the slaves, Martin Luther King Jr. marched for equality and civil rights prevailed, and one nation under God indivisible.” Why then did my Black friends suffer? Why was Black joy a punishable offense? The first time I experienced queer joy it happened on a dance floor and came draped in deep cocoa skin. We were children, but he already knew. “I like boys,” he said matter-of-factly. An after-school dancing confessional. Later, I learned that when his joy spilled out into the light of the sun it would be pounded back into the darkness, leaving a residual ridicule and shame that could never be washed away. Eventually, I learned self-deprecating humor and how to weaponize the word gay. I realized that proximity to whiteness, like straightness, was “safe”, and I needed desperately to feel safe. Throughout my youth I felt joy vibrate inside my body in places and with people that I was taught were “wrong”. I spoke hateful words with a lump in my throat, my mind and intuition constantly at odds. It was decades before I could confront my own homophobia and anti-Blackness and awaken to the fact that the source of our collective liberation existed there; in the solidarity and friendships and love that I once cultivated but eventually turned my back on.Colonialism stripped our ancestors of their rich, communal, fully embodied spiritual practices, replacing them with the hollow simulacrum of organized religions so we could be dominated. As if spirituality can be contained. As if divinity doesn’t bubble over in its loud and joyful expression. As if its terrifying silence doesn’t reveal all truth. As if we have the Earthly right to police and try and contain something that already belongs to us, that is us. Divinity, replaced with biblical stories of punishment and dominion infused with the desperation of hope. We’re taught there’s honor in enduring pain gracefully, there’s safety in conformity, and there’s peace in surrender. We welcome abuse and turn the other cheek on our own humanity.
Colonialism stripped our ancestors of their rich, communal, fully embodied spiritual practices, replacing them with the hollow simulacrum of organized religions so we could be dominated.
Ave María, llena eres de gracia; while my complexity, my desire, was never epitomized in you, María you taught me the divinity of femininity. In rooms of collective action, and study, and camaraderie where the voices of Black and Brown queers and peers are amplified, and human, and resonate with the uninhibited timbre of a voice finally heard; I know God. In spaces of liberation, where love and femininity are expressed and revered and embodied in large and sweeping audacious motion and all-encompassing heat and feeling and bliss; I feel the roots of my own humanity. During dancing confessionals where I feel the promises of the American dream fulfilled if only for the duration of a song that unites us in its vibrations and transports us to a more connected past and future; I find the will to live. I can taste our freedom as it emanates from my pores. It tastes like beads of sweat, and salt, and tears of joy. These are the spaces of my wildest and most grounded dreams, the spaces inhabited in words and collective visions of a communal future. And while I’ve yet to allow myself to dance the way my body truly yearns for, in my desires, in these brief but fleeting moments of ecstasy and unity, there is hope.
I cannot yet fully express my uninhibited truth in the ways I only dare dream, but I know now, that together, it is only a matter of time.
About The Author
Yesenia Guadalupe (she/her) is a 33 year old Nicaraguan-American artist and activist born, raised, and residing in Miami, FL. She is a former English & Writing educator turned full-time writer, #DreamDefender, and multi-disciplinary artist exploring themes of collective liberation and the intersectionality of being a fat, queer, person of color in her works.
You can support her work via Patreon.com/myxxfly, myxxfly.com, victormoranlive.com/jocotejams, and @myxxfly on Venmo, CashApp.