Authenticity, transparency, and vulnerability have always been my style. I was a mouthy little shit as a kid, never afraid to speak my mind, fine with being the nonconformist. This carried into adulthood, and it became my personal brand, what I am known for. I bring this aspect of myself to both my professional life and my advocacy work.
Growing up during the height of the AIDS epidemic, being anything but straight was villainized. I was bombarded with homophobia, as were most of us. “Gay” was used to describe anything stupid, gross, or disliked. “Smear the Queer” was a game where you tried to annihilate folks against a wall with a ball, and the “queer” was the loser.
I knew I was different. As I grew older, I understood that my feelings towards people weren’t the accepted “norms.” I didn’t know what to call it or how to describe it at that time. I just knew that I could love and be attracted to anyone.
Like many who identify as queer, it’s been a journey. As I learned more about the different sexualities, I began to learn more about myself. The reclamation of “queer” felt empowering and natural for me. I found what I felt. It was such a small word, but it described the words in my heart that I couldn’t explain.
I raised my children by asking about boyfriends/girlfriends, instead of applying the societal expectation for them to be involved with someone of the opposite sex. I wanted them to feel they were in control of their sexuality and their romantic choices. I raised good humans. I still wasn’t out though and I felt something was missing.
Life has a way of throwing curveballs. Little did I know that everything would change in an instant for me and being whole would mean so much more.
In 2018, I was hospitalized after a host of strange symptoms. After some scans, we discovered that I have numerous brain lesions (too many to count) and I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I “officially” became disabled. I took a few days to try to come to terms with an incurable, progressive disease diagnosis. I coped by coding from my hospital bed. A few days after being released, I “came out” with my new diagnosis and immediately began advocating for folks with chronic illnesses and disabilities.
I was forced to come to terms with the new “terms” of my body. I realized that my life would gradually become more difficult. I had to accept that I would lose function in various parts of my body. In these moments, I realized just how important it was for me to be authentic and live an intentional life.
You see, I had no problem being transparent and vulnerable in my advocacy. As time went on, my MS diagnosis was removed, but I was diagnosed with several rare, genetic, and degenerative diseases. I shared my journey publicly. I took taboo topics, like bladder and bowel problems, and talked about them openly so others knew they weren’t alone. I candidly shared my experiences with my physical health, as well as my mental health (as someone who is also neurodivergent). I showed up on my good days and my bad days with my transparent, vulnerable, and (almost) authentic self.
Almost Authentically Bela doesn’t have a nice ring to it, does it? I was already Authentically Latina, neurodivergent, single mom, daughter of migrant workers, and disabled Bela. But I still didn’t feel whole, complete. I had to complete this epic puzzle that is me.
In June of 2021, I was attending the Work Pride summit hosted by myGwork, which is like LinkedIn for LGBTQ+ folks. I met so many amazing people, learned so much about myself, and truly enjoyed genuine connections with “my people”. On the final day, in the closing moments, I came out as queer in front of everyone. I wish I had a video of the reaction — folks clapping, cheering, and the chat blowing up with support! A few days later, I publicly came out to everyone.
I was complete. I was able to add “queer” to my authentic identities. I felt like a spinning rainbow unicorn topper on a cake lit up with sparklers.
I still do! I’ll forever light the way down my path with sparklers blazing. I’ll never stop helping others along the way. I’ll always prance boldly and point my glittery horn towards the light.
And I promise to always be authentically queer.
Bela Gaytan is a Technical Instructional Designer for Pantheon, Community & Social Media Manager for The eLearning Designer’s Academy, and freelance ID and WordPress Web Developer. You can find her on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and BelaGaytan.com.