Written by journalist and Lambda Literary Award recipient Erasmo Guerra, Haven’t I Seen You Somewhere Before?: And other stupid things I’ve said in my search for love and sex documents the “romantic misadventures” of the gay SouthTexas native.
Despite taking place in a time before social media, location-based smartphone apps, and online cruising’s ubiquity, Guerra’s stories artfully resonate with contemporary readers. Taking them along for a trip, he unabashedly shares tales of heartache and desire while remaining faithful to his journalist background, providing proof that sometimes there is no greater story than which is true.
The radio kept dying as Pajarito and I drove through desolate back roads from White Sands to Albuquerque, New Mexico. But each time Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” blasted through the static, I sang along to her punchy anthem to adolescence.
While the song had been riding Billboard’s top spot for weeks, we still heard news of gay teens taking their lives.
By all accounts, I shouldn’t have made it either, growing up a closeted kid in the ‘80s. My dreams, like those of many gay youth, had always been deferred.
I was born on the remote South Texas border, where Mexican-American men like my father tattooed themselves with ink-soaked straight pins, and most families drove rust-bitten pickup trucks because we couldn’t afford much else. I secretly wanted to be behind the wheel of a ragtop Cabriolet. Guys like me were said to have “broken hands.” Which might’ve just been a threat about what would happen to us if we were open about who we were.
But everyone was targeted. On the school bus, the elementary school kids were forced to fight one another like roosters and even the corduroy jacket-wearing members of the Future Farmers of America were derided as the Future Faggots of America.
Home was no escape. Most of the bullying I endured occurred there. The middle child, I was teased by my older sister and younger brother for being a sissy. I thought I was being trendy, rolling around the house in my sneaker-skates, blue satin shorts and mesh tank-tops.
My mother, who grew up in a family of ranch hands, tried dressing me in cowboy boots and Levi’s. She kept an eye on my mannerisms, reinforcing behavior that she said befitted the “hombrecito” or “little man” she wanted me to be.
My father was more aggressive. Raised in a rough, south-side barrio of Mexican immigrants, he wished his own father was a violent bar brawler—not the poet that he was. Fear, my father believed, was the only way to command respect.
He once told me that he used to nearly smother his younger siblings with pillows in order to “toughen them up.”
And he was still a bully as a parent. When my brother and I complained about impossible chores, like loading and unloading a haul of one hundred bales of hay for the horses he kept, he cruelly joked that he had three girls in the family.
My father had dropped out of high school at 17. He joined the army, studied for his G.E.D., and after returning from a tour in Korea, he took a few night classes at the local junior college through the G.I. Bill. Until he quit that, too.
As a kid, I used to go through his college things. I read “Working” by Studs Terkel and learned about the Kinsey Report in his Psych 101 textbook. I studied his spiral-bound notebooks, where, in the margins, he doodled the pointy “S” logo for that Suzuki motorcycle he always wanted. All of my father’s abandoned dreams inspired me to get out and go to college, too. He should’ve been thrilled with my academic ambitions, but many nights he bellowed at me over dinner as he gripped yet another Lone Star beer: “Don’t think you’re better than me.”
I never said I was. But then I never said I wanted to be like him either. Did he think I looked down on him as a blue-collar telephone repairman?
Looking back, I’d like to think he did want me to be better, and his rages were his way of preparing me for the brutal road ahead.
Decades later, on that car trip through New Mexico, my boyfriend of three years and I pulled into a gas station in a small town where nothing else seemed to be open at 9 p.m.
We raided the aisles, snatching up Red Bulls, bags of chicharron and chipotle-flavored Cheetos.
At the counter, a chubby kid with the tell-tale swoop of a faux hawk, rang up our snacks as he worked the graveyard shift. Maybe he wasn’t gay. But he was different in this all-too-familiar middle of nowhere. More than anything, it’s the isolation that kills, the aloneness that leads you to think suicide is the only way out.
I tried to catch the kid’s look when he asked if I wanted a bag, but the woman—either the store manager or his mom—watched us.
I wanted the kid to know that unlike the silly refrain of Katy Perry’s hit song, you weren’t condemned to be “young forever.” I wasn’t going to promise that adult life was perfect—only possible.