Being Chamorro and Gay


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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.

GCN Fiestan Chamorro-Dancers

GCN Fiestan Chamorro-Dancers

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.

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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.

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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).

 In Chamorro culture, the elders are highly respected and given acknowledgement by the younger generations by kissing the hands and saying ‘Ñot, for the males.

In Chamorro culture, the elders are highly respected and given acknowledgement by the younger generations by kissing the hands and saying ‘Ñot, for the males.

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.

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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.

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12 thoughts on “Being Chamorro and Gay

  1. Hey man stumbled onto your page… you go dude! persevere in the face of adversity ^.^ and great pics too

  2. Hey I’m a Queer Chamorro too! ooh oooh! I’ve been thinking about that too…hopefully one day I’ll go back home to study at UOG and do research on being gay and chamorro and a woman and everything…colonization messed us up, sad 😦

  3. Hafa, how are you? I came across your page as an accidental related search I was doing on Guam. I just want to say that I’m sorry things were hard for you growing up but they have made you the person you are today. I am glad that your family accepts you…I know the Roman Catholic imposition on the island has made homosexuals less accepted as a whole. The masculinity posturing is certainly something to consider, though I recall watching a documentary on Netflix called “The Butch Factor.” It explored the lives of homosexual men who were incredibly masculine…some of them didn’t think they were gay because they didn’t like “sissy stuff” but yet still had an attraction to men. Even if you aren’t a butch type, it’s still an interesting thing to watch.

  4. JP,

    I happened to stumble across your blog as I was looking at google images under the topic “Chamorro Pride.” anyhow, I was born in Tamuning on November 25, 1970. My dad is a Texan who met my mother, a native, while he was stationed there in 1969, I believe. My mother’s maiden name is Duenas and her family is predominantly from south of the island, specifically Inarajuan. I have lived in San Diego, California ( twice ), the country of Panama ( twice ), and finally here in Texas since 1985. My dad was in the Navy, so that is the reason why I have been to and fro so much. Anyhow, I last went back to Guam in February of 2004, the year my mom passed away. Her death desire was to be cremated and have her ashes spread in Inarajuan Bay. My father, brother, sister, and myself carried out this request. Prior to my 2004 visit, it was 1976 when I last was in Guam. I have been yearning to learn about the Chamorro culture since I have been ” westernized ” and have neglected my Guamanian roots.

    I truly enjoyed your story and applaud you for your perseverance. In the face of adversity in today’s society, it is hard to lead the life you choose. All I can say is soldier on and wish you the best of luck in your life’s endeavors.

    I have twin, 17 year old boys who I so hope to take to Guam and visit my mother’s side of the family. All of their cousins and nephews know their names only from pictures my mother has sent to Guam. It was truly amazing when I arrived in Guam for my mother’s funeral that all the little kids knew my sons names from picture collage put up for everybody in the village to see the Duenas family and other kin.

    Anyhow, I have rambled on enough. Take care of yourself and I hope to hear from you soon.

    Rey Reyes

  5. It’s almost 2015, and there still lurks this forbidden message that being LGBT within Chamorro society is undesirable. In order to rid the taboo nature of LGBT in the Chamorro culture, we must first address cultural attitudes and questions of identity. As you said, many male adolescents grow up with the traditional mindset of needing to be masculine and “macho” in Chamorro society; they want to conform and preserve the honor of the family name. How we define honor is the key. Many who have not experienced anything outside of the Chamorro culture are not knowledgeable of the idea of “safe space.” This is not their fault and we need to switch some things around to allow everyone within the Chamorro culture to feel safe. Bringing in new perspectives and a sense of “open-mindedness” may potentially change cultural attitudes and how queer individuals are approached by Chamorro peers. In other words, we need to first build an environment where people who are queer or questioning if they are LGBT may have the freedom to talk without being judged for such an identity. In this particular “space,” we can talk about issues from every angle such as the implications of the term “faggot” or what it means to be a man or woman in Chamorro culture, the bullying from fellow pears, demeaning comments from elders, and much more. Honor doesn’t have to mean being masculine or a “woman who knows how to make good Chamorro food (which is still amazing btw).” We could introduce new standards to honor, such as appreciating one’s differences and valuing an individual for who they are instead of what society enforces him or her to be.

    I apologize if I made it seem like I’m calling for a cultural revolution or something. I just felt so empowered by your blog post and felt this need to speak up for individuals who are facing issues because of cultural taboos. I hope that someday, everyone within our beautiful culture and islands can feel safe regardless of who they are.

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