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Confessions From the Closet

Embracing my bisexuality inside a homophobic culture while using art as a lifeline

By Mercedes Mehling

One of my favorite lyrics comes from a Frank Ocean song where he said “I see on both sides like Chanel.” Through this clever declaration of his sexuality I found something I could relate to. I found a mirror. I have been listening to this song since 2017, and yet this particular lyric only resonated with me around last year during an identity crisis. Ever had one of those? They’re fun. 

I have always sensed a strong feminine side of my personality, however subtle it may have been in high school. I never felt attracted to another guy, and I was in a relationship for five years with a girl, never doubting my sexuality once or having it questioned by any family members or friends. 

Until I started college.   

But before we explore the story of how I channeled my inner bad bitch, I must indulge in a brief history about myself. I have lived in Cali, Colombia for my entire life and I was raised by Catholic parents who have little tolerance and understanding for the LGBTQ+ community—as most of the older generations in Latin America. I grew up hearing countless homophobic comments and I was always quick to get into arguments about the subject with my parents.

On one occasion I dared to ask my mother: “If I told you I was gay, would you stop loving me?” 

A melodramatic question, of course, but here was the answer: 

A long, painful silence. 

In Latin America, men who show basic human emotion receive derogatory labels and those who don’t oversexualize women are considered strange. It feels like anyone and everyone will look for a rumor to stain your image.

The culture is plagued by chauvinism and homophobia, a toxic macho mindset, and endless gossip and judgment. Even in 2020. 

Going to art school in the United States was a huge relief for me, and also an unbelievable contrast. I had the freedom to be whoever I wanted to be because people didn’t really care. My feminine side flourished in college and I was able to breathe for the first time. 

I could finally be myself. 

Back in Colombia, I shackled myself to the social conventions and settled to wearing a mask. This Alejandro spoke in a more serious tone, forced himself to move his hands a little less when talking, didn't tell his girlfriends how regal their outfits looked, and he pretended not to want to dance like Shakira at the club. 

While I still do this sometimes, I have had the chance to take the mask off and explore myself. This personal journey has been both strange and beautiful at the same time.

I still had crushes on girls, but I was also able to admit that I was surrounded by fine-looking men, and I recognized their beauty and their appeal.

The first time I experimented with guys happened after several daiquiris and months of accumulated curiosity, where the chance presented itself inside a packed club where people just cared about having a good time. Loud reggaetón, strobe lights, confetti falling from the ceiling, and bodies doing what bodies do in the dark. I started making out with a guy, unaware that I was being watched by my own brother and some of my friends. What I received was their full support and confidentiality. They accepted me when I hadn’t even started to accept myself. 

To achieve that I decided to find refuge in art. 

Whenever I feel misunderstood I just listen to Lana Del Rey. Whether it’s crying to Old Money, daydreaming about sugar daddies with Yayo, or doing an imaginary pole dance routine to Cherry (which is fantastic, by the way) it makes me feel more inclined to accept myself. 

One of my biggest platonic loves and idols is Harry Styles. He could punch me in the face and I’d say thank you. 

I see in songs like Adore You and Medicine a man who is confident in loving whoever he wants, the video of Lights Up makes me feel seen and invited to embrace my sexuality, and his beautiful outfits make me swoon and realize how powerful it is to be different. He lets me know that there is something strong and special in accepting who I choose to be. Not what someone else wants me to be. 

Back in Colombia, most people think that I’m straight. The inner bad bitch is suppressed by the mask that I wear. It has been a challenge to deal with that in quarantine as I’ve had to live with my parents all the time, inside a cage and practicing lies, knowing for a fact that revealing the truth would ruin our relationship.

So, I dance.

It gives me the freedom to take the mask off. I lock myself in my room and tell my parents I’m doing intense push-up routines when in truth I am learning professional choreographies of Rosalía songs. I perform for a phantom audience, for myself, and set that bad bitch loose. Her name is Esmeralda, by the way. I channel the sensuality of Rosalía’s voice through my movements and feel like nothing can stop me. And she always has the fiercest nails which inspired me to paint mine back in college, as I wanted to feel beautiful and more like myself. 

I had that same feeling on Halloween when I wore a long white dress, put on gorgeous eye-liner, flowers in my hair, and went to a party dressed up as Lana. 

Now, my nails are normal and boring, there are no dresses, and I keep fantasizing about the long acrylics that I’ll get when I return to the States. 

But, in the meantime, I’ve opened up to other people about who I am, who I choose to like and love. I’ve reached out to people from my own culture who have already stepped into the light without fear. That’s the goal for me too, but there’s still a long way to go.

Yet, putting this to words makes it easier to consider the possibility of just saying fuck it and wear something cute that matches the color of my nails, express myself with the grace of Lana, move with the power of Rosalía, and find the courage of Harry to step out of the suffocating cage that is the closet.   


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