In an effort to broaden its perspective, Sex Week hosted a talk on gender, identity and sexuality in immigrant families on Sunday.
At the event, feminist writer and blogger Miriam Perez discussed how she came to terms with her homosexuality as the daughter of Cuban immigrants in front of 11 students. Sex Week 2012 coordinator Tatiana Lam ’12 said the organization hoped that Perez’s talk would diversify the event, which she said has predominantly featured straight and Caucasian women in the past.
Perez, who has written for publications such as the Nation and is an editor for Feministing.com, focused her talk on the challenges she faced while growing up in North Carolina and eventually coming out to her family as a senior in college. At the start of the event, Perez showed a short video clip of Asian and Pacific Islander families discussing their different experiences with learning to accept queer or transgender family members.
While Perez said racial stereotypes have typically depicted minorities as less accepting of LGBTQ children than Caucasian parents, she said that is not always the case. She added that Latino parents are statistically less likely to force LGBTQ children leave home because of their sexuality.
“It’s really hard to generalize around hundreds of ethnicities,” she said.
While she was growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, Perez said she lived in a family that valued gender norms. She had her ears pierced months after she was born, she said, and the virginity of female family members was protected more than that of male members. Her father and grandfather also made homophobic jokes to reinforce their “manliness,” she added.
Even outside of her immediate family, Perez said she had few LGTBQ role models to look up to in American society while she was growing up.
Perez said she was better able to accept her sexuality once she left home for college, but added that she still struggled to reconcile her identity with her Cuban culture and her family’s values.
After Perez had spoken about her personal experiences, several students asked questions about why different ethnicities would react differently to LGBTQ family members.
Perez said both the “generational” and “cultural” gaps among immigrant families have historically made coming out harder for children in those families. She cited her family as an example, noting that her parents came to the United States as preteens during the counterculture of the 1960s, but had not assimilated and did not adopt those values.
Today, Perez said the nation as a whole is more accepting of LGBTQ people than it was when she was growing up. She said many modern films tell the stories of LGBTQ individuals, while the Internet offers online forums for those communities to discuss their experiences.
Marija Kamceva ’15 said she thinks LGBTQ teens could benefit from recognizing that there are many ways to deal with the problems they face.
“Everything is not exactly Western [and] white, but when you get and see only that, there’s that expectation and you feel you’re not right,” Kamceva said. “[Perez] said that it’s nice to have a spectrum of this. It doesn’t have to be all pride. You can be more subtle.”
The event was co-sponsored by six Yale undergraduate organizations: MEChA de Yale, CAUSA, Q Magazine, Sappho, the Women’s Center and Despierta Boricua.