3rd Place Essay: “A discussion: Intersection of ethnicity, nationality, body image, mental health, and LGBTQ issues”

February 16, 2016
Alex Villafuerte
When I was eight years old and watched the Selena movie for the first time, I immediately identified with her and our shared Mexican-American struggle. It reminded me of kindergarten, where, despite attending a diverse school, I was told by my teacher that I wasn’t allowed to speak Spanish and that my native tongue was filthy. This created a barrier I wasn’t able to climb until middle school where I took my first Spanish class and realized the rich history I was keeping myself from. Prior to then, I believed Spanish and my Mexican heritage was forbidden to speak of. That in turn made my Mexican relatives judge me as I struggled to hold a small conversation when visiting in Baja California.
This ideology also followed me into my adolescence when I first began to discover my queerness. Androgyny depicted in the media was the opposite of my body’s characteristics – I was not a pale, thin, masculine presenting person but rather a brown, fat, more feminine presenting individual. This misconception that “queerness” was defined by how flat I could bind my chest or how well I could fluctuate and “pass” as both male and female made me feel like I would never be transgender enough. My biggest challenge after coming out as genderqueer at school has been trying to create a positive and safe space for other queer students and our allies on campus. Issues arose after attempting to start our first Gay-Straight-Alliance club that led to several board meetings, contact with the ACLU, as well as my hospitalization in a mental health institution and rehabilitation center for several weeks.
While there I realized that my school as well as these health and wellness establishments were lacking in its inclusivity of transgender identities nor did they know how to respond to issues such as body dysphoria, bullying by staff, and abusive relationships within schools and the greater LGBTQIA community. After returning to school, our gender neutral bathroom was set in place which took a very heavy weight off my shoulders as well as the change in my school email to my real name rather than my birthname and staff being informed of my identity and pronouns. Three major steps I believe all schools should take to be supportive of LGBTQIA students are to create safe spaces like GSAs or community groups where youth can come and discuss their gender or sexuality questions without judgement or fear as well as establish gender neutral restrooms and use inclusive language within the classroom (ie “class” instead of “ladies and gentlemen”).
Now, a year after my hospitalization, I’ve made it my goal to educate and advocate for transgender and race issues within my school, workplace, and general public. I’ve come to learn that my Mexican-American experience is different than others’ and as long as I identify as queer, my appearance is “queer enough.” I don’t have to prove myself to anyone. I am always enough.