Maricón and Proud: How I Reclaimed the Word That Tormented My Childhood
by Johnny Lopez
Maricón. It’s a derogatory Spanish word that I, like most gay Latin boys, know far too well.
As a kid, I heard it on the street. I heard it from people I knew. I even heard it at home via Spanish-language television. Whenever I heard it — even when it wasn’t being hurled directly at me — it made me feel small, ashamed and less than. It’s a word I could never really shake off.
Growing up, I was also frightened by the partner-in-crime of maricón, “faggot.” He came around a bunch too, but mostly in the schoolyard.
The Big F was extra loud and obnoxious, so I could usually see him coming and find ways to avoid the line of fire. Unlike Señor M, I knew that Big F had little chance of showing up in my safe spaces or in the middle of my abuelita’s Telemundo soap operas. Señor M was stealthy, and always looming, ready to expose, ridicule or worse.
During my time in the closet, Señor M made sure I stayed locked away in the dark. He kept me in check, on alert and miserable. He made sure I was punished whenever I was overly expressive, played with my sister’s Barbies or hung out with the neighborhood girls instead of the boys. Even worse, Señor M threatened to tip off my parents about my dirty little secret.
Unbeknownst to me, the bastard was also a pretty effective teacher. By the time I got to college, all of his lessons had been fully mastered; I scored straight As in both Suffering in Silence 101 and Denying Yourself Happiness. Now the only person beating me up was myself.
This internal war went on for several more years, continuing to rob me of joy, love and romance.
Then one day, at the point of exhaustion from repeatedly fighting off my persecutor, I surrendered. Taking a deep breath, I turned to my Cuban-born parents and simply said, “Soy gay.” I exhaled for what felt like the first time in my life, unleashed a deluge of tears and collapsed into my mother’s loving arms. I had survived the worst and made it to the other side. I thought I was free.
As most in the LGBT community know, coming out is an ongoing process that extends well beyond the moment you first announce who you are. It took me years to garner the strength to accept and reveal my truth, but it would take even more years to undo the residual shame, internalized homophobia and general feelings of unworthiness that came from being bullied by this slur.
Even after all of my work over the last two decades, living my best life as my authentic self, I realized I was still under the tyranny of my captor. I could still hear that Spanish voice telling me to dim my light in order to make others feel more comfortable. I could still hear that voice calling me maricón.
So this year, I finally said enough. Enough to this one-word childhood oppressor. Enough to these seven letters (accent on the ‘o’) that continued to have a hold on me as an adult. Enough to feeling small, ashamed or less than.
This year, feeling louder and prouder than ever (the one positive effect of being subjected to this relentlessly vulgar, corrupt, backward and vehemently anti-LGBT administration), I chose to unravel the grip of Señor M once and for all.
This year I chose to reclaim the word for myself, and reclaim my time (thanks, Auntie Maxine) under its torment. This year, maricón, I chose to stand tall in my rainbow socks and finally own you!
Words have power, but so do I.