Being gay and Chamorro adds a nuance that is unique to the whole LGBT experience. I am Chamorro, meaning I am person who has the native blood of the indigenous people of the island of Guam. Although no pure natives exist anymore and we are a mixed race, the Chamorro culture has survived hundreds of years.
Through those years it was impacted by a heavy dosage of Spanish culture and Roman Catholicism which has become a predominant force in my culture and its spiritual center.
Guam is a small island. It is only 32 miles long and at its widest point, it is about 8 miles long. It is a United States Territory where all its citizens are United States citizens since 1950. There is are Navy and Air Force bases on Guam. It also has a thriving tourism industry. It is also has a major shipping port. There are about 200,000 people on the island. It is located in the Western Pacific Ocean in the upper region of the world known as Micronesia.
Growing up on Guam and in the Chamorro culture offered a close knit extended family of grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins many times removed. Weddings, Christenings, and Catholic Feast Days were regular weekend events that brought the family together. Everyone seemed to know each other. You identified yourself with your family name and your family clan. Your family history was told through oral stories passed down by your elders. It built solidarity and it has been the way the Chamorro culture has survived.
However for a young boy who was gay it did offer challenges. The image of a Chamorro male was always to be ultra masculine. There is this toughness associated with it. So from day one of birth there is already this posturing of masculinity indoctrination in a Chamorro boy. Any hint of sensitivity or any mannerism contrary to that image, often invites on the teasing and sometimes some bullying when you are younger. I guess that is similar in most other cultures.
In the Chamorro culture , teasing is our national past time so you can imagine what middle school or junior high was like…especially for someone that did not fit in some of the circles. I did not exactly cower but I fought back in my own way by excelling in academics, student involvement and spiritual search. I was struggling with same sex attraction but I did not even know what it was and I felt like I did not know who to talk to and what to do. Then something pivotal happened to me that almost destroyed me.
I was thirteen years old. I was at my most awkward stage of life. I was in 8th grade in a Catholic school. I was being bullied and being called a sissy. I could not talk to my parents who were having marital issues. I was struggling with my same sex attraction and well just adolescence. I was trying to be a good boy. I was so alone.
There was an older man. He was an adult who had approached me at an Uncle’s party. He was the brother of a relative’s husband. He engaged me in conversation and really listened to me. He was very touchy feely with me. I was really drawn to him. I was a lonely boy. He asked if we could take a walk and I went with him into the jungle area nearby. He told me words that I wanted to hear and drew me into trusting him. Then he molested me. What he did with me was minimal by today’s standards, but it was such a violation of me that I was living in fear on top of being alone for months after that incident. It was not well into my adulthood that I finally was able to address that issue in my life.
Why couldn’t I have told my parents? I was too ashamed to have them find out that I was gay. That was the truth. Imagine a kid being that afraid of telling his parents he was abused because of revealing who he was inside. I believe, at least, I hope the world has changed since that time, especially in Guam.
To come out in the Chamorro culture impacts not only the individual but the family also. In some cases, a family is actually accepting of the gay person as long as it is not public so the family name is protected. I think that is one of the deterrents to really coming out in my culture. There is so much love in the family and they will go to bat for you (as long as you do not embarrass the family).
My family has thankfully been loving and understanding and accepting of me. These are changed times and we have grown throughout the years.
Our Chamorro culture has actually helped us to do this in our lives. You see the beauty of my culture is its resiliency. It has survived the onslaught of foreign conquerors, the ravages of disease, the imposition of religious dogmas, the force of the sword and the destruction of Mother Nature. It is our sense of family and pride. It is our understanding that the Chamorro blood runs in the veins of many of our brothers and sisters who are unique individuals. We embrace each other because we belong to each other and we are Chamorro. We continue to survive and thrive.
Yes, I am an openly gay man. I have Pride in that and look forward to gaining full equal rights. More importantly, I am a Chamorro. I look forward to the day that my people are fully recognized in their quest for self determination.