I knew I was in trouble by the way Mami said my name. For 14 years, she usually called me "Georgie" — anglicized with a thick Puerto Rican accent — but on that summer day in 1996, my mother pronounced it in Spanish. I followed her voice into my bedroom, where she told me to shut the door. And the instant I saw my unsent, unfolded note in her hands, I knew our relationship was about to change.
"¿Que es esto?"
I feigned having no idea what it was. But her unwavering glare convinced me to look again. Given that my native tongue had stunted seven years earlier when we left the Island of Enchantment, I stumbled over the vocabulary of a first-grader. "Solo una nota para Amaya."
I was certain, with her limited English, she couldn't understand what I'd written, which was about a boy in my school. Then she mentioned Ricky by name, inquiring why this note was insisting that I loved him. I couldn't answer. I didn't know how, in either language, at least not out loud. The words had only ever existed on paper, meant for the eyes of an open-minded friend — not for my mother, who stared as she waited for a response, nor my father, who stayed out of sight that evening, unable to look at me altogether.
Mami said my name as she had before: the "Jor-" harsh as a hurricane's breath in whore. She then asked, "Tu eres gay?"
The question stunned me. I had no clue that the Spanish word for "gay" was gay. It was never said, not in my house. After all, Miami as a whole was different than its portrayal on TV — a closed city of open beaches and open minds; the place that had recently allowed both Gianni Versace and The Birdcage to come out. Only 20 miles beyond that mirage, however, lay a scorching land saturated by a melting pot of devout Hispanics. True, we were first to embrace metrosexuality in pop stars like Ricky Martin — my mother's idol — but the only homosexuals presented on Telemundo were flamboyant fortunetellers and feisty jesters. Caricatures. And there my mother was, asking if I was one: un gay.
I couldn't deny the evidence. I wouldn't. Plus, she wasn't asking if I was gay so much as how. I assured her it wasn't my choice, that it was just the way I turned out, that neither she nor Papi did anything to cause this — clichés by today's standards, but at the time, I was on my own. No one ever taught me what to do if my parents found out I was gay. I wasn't ready.
I explained myself delicately in what proved to be yet another language foreign to her. Still, no matter how much thought I put into each answer, she kept jumping to the next, until I realized it wasn't that my responses were being ignored; they simply weren't what she wanted to hear. I became disengaged, then defensive, on autopilot by the time she posed a question that blended in with the others. Was I okay with this "situation," Mami wanted to know, or did I want to change it?
Given how much it would determine the next few years of my life, I should have considered my answer with greater care. But her interrogation had become so unbearable, I would have confessed to murder if it meant getting me out of that room. So, to the question of whether or not I wanted to change, I shrugged — a defeated, indifferent shrug that condemned me to my sentence. It was the mere promise to receive treatment that would effectively revert me back into isolation.
And so it was set for later that week: my first "therapy" session. Eight p.m. Thursday night. The 30-minute car ride ended as Mami pulled into someone's driveway — a private residence with the lights all off. Dragging my feet toward the porch, I stopped when I read the sign by the door: "Welcome to the Wild House."
We were soon greeted by a married couple who kept the place lit by candle. They were in their early 40s, and I was as much struck by the woman's assertiveness as I was her husband's handsome face and salt-and-pepper hair. The four of us had a short conversation before the man took me into another room, while his wife stayed with my mother. As I imagined the details of this treatment, my heart skipped at the idea of us being alone in a dark room. There, he warned me of the personal questions he was about to impose, so I braced myself to talk about Ricky Gonzalez, the boy in the note that started all of this. Instead, the man asked, "Who do you think of when you masturbate?"
I thought of John Stamos and Jonathan Taylor Thomas immediately, but I pretended to mull it over before answering. Which made him smile, what could've been labeled a seductive grin, frankly. He did this all throughout his sexually explicit questionnaire, and as I wondered whether this man's marriage was a sham, he said, "Can I be honest about what I think? Of you?"
Gulp. "Of course."
"See, I don't think you're really gay."