2 min

Fresh off the boat

Growing up gay in an Old World Portuguese household

When someone recognizes my last name is Portuguese, they’re usually trying to sell me something.

“Señor Correia,” they’ll say, rolling the Rs perfectly, and then ask if I’m interested in buying real estate or insurance.

That’s why it came as such a shock to see my last name and the word “history” in the same headline.

“Huh?” I said.

It turns out I’m the first openly gay columnist of Portuguese descent in Canada. Who would have thought the one thing I spent the better part of my life running away from would get me a sash and sceptre.

“Does this mean you’re gonna go all Janice Dickinson on us?” a friend asked.

The more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I became with my little moniker. Am I really the image gay Portuguese people should be projecting? I’ve been “between careers” for like, 20 years now; I’m broke, HIV… I don’t even speak Portuguese!

Growing up gay in an “Old World” Portuguese household was like trying to be Amish in Greenwich Village. I watched my friends do with abandon and without consequence everything my parents convinced me I would go to hell for.

Like so many gays and lesbians, I was forced to choose between my culture and my sexuality. “I’ll take blowjobs for a hundred, Bob.”

Unfortunately, culture and family tend to go hand in hand. I know of a Portuguese lesbian who won’t even tell her mother she lives around the corner from her.

“Congratulations,” I told my sister. “Your brother is the first openly gay columnist of Portuguese descent in Canada.”

“Huh?” she said.

The pregnant pause that follows these types of statements has grown less pregnant over the years; more of a late-term abortion pause.

My sister has been the repository of all my deep-dark secrets ever since I moved away: she was the person I turned to when I came out, tested positive, married a lesbian so I could live in the States. Her advice was always: “Jesus Christ! Just don’t tell anyone.”

“Did you get any money for it?” she asked. Considering she did not begin with “Jesus Christ,” her reaction was historic in and of itself.

Okay, so maybe I’m not the best of example of what a gay Portuguese person is, but I think my experiences are pretty typical of what a lot people who were raised by immigrants go through.

For me, being Portuguese was a fate worse than glasses-a source of self-loathing, something to distance myself from.

But if gay culture continues down this path of constantly confusing its identity with registered trademarks, soon being Portuguese will be all that stands between myself and homogeny.