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Burn the Closet

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

by Yulissa Emilia Nuñez

At twenty-nine years old, I got with my first boyfriend. I initially thought something was wrong with me, but I wasn't going to wallow over it. I wasn't religious or ugly, nor did I hate men—I had no attraction toward them. I followed my heart, and most of the time, it led me to a dope-ass female.

My sexuality is not a sin. I knew God could see through to my heart; he knew I was simply a little different.

A true immoral act is being with someone you're not genuinely in love with. Besides, I'm lousy at lying, so if I found a lil novio, I'd embarrass myself because my heart wouldn't be in it.

I engaged with girls who intrigued me… left me yearning to be near them. I'm not the type to avoid relationships outside of my ethnicity, but I was around a lot of Dominicans, so they were the ones that I usually fell for. The women I dated were intelligent, sexy Latinas and trailblazers in their respective fields. Overall, two five-year relationships consumed me, and about four embarrassing, mediocre month-long situationships ensued the same craze.

My first girlfriend experience was in college. She was a senior, and I was a sophomore, meaning she was far more experienced with men and women. Her family was unaware she was bisexual. It wasn't until after I told my mother I was dating a woman that she decided to come out to her family. While they blamed me for "tainting " their daughter—like she was una fucking santa—my mother remained indifferent.

Mami cited something relating to the Bible, which pissed me off because I felt no attraction toward men. Did she expect me to let them have their way with me, with my body, without me enjoying it? Or would she have me entertain them while disregarding my happiness?

Absolutely not.

Besides, not that I cared, but from all the stories I heard, dating a man was the worst thing that could happen to a woman. Men are portrayed as emotional wrecks who aren't capable of talking about their feelings—they have to front like they are in control.

I'm Dominican, so already I grew up believing that men cheat simply because it’s embedded in their biology. Reasonably assuming all men were cheaters, I wondered why men couldn't be upfront about their shortcomings and why women would get so worked up about their nature—they were just born that way.

I tried the men thing when I was younger, but it never worked out. I fooled around with two guys (at different times) in my teenage years. One was a tall basketball player with a small penis. We didn't do anything, but it wrecked our friendship. The other was a double date situation that turned sour after I admitted to the guy I was just helping my cousin out. I lost my virginity to a football player in college whose physique I craved, but he was unable to hold a decent conversation. I never regretted losing my virginity or lamented my inability to connect with men. Instead, I went with the flow and solidified that I was the "L " word.

Samuel and I met while accompanying my cousin to get her eyebrows done. He was the owner of a barber shop, but you wouldn't have distinguished him as such. He tended to my cousin right away and was incredibly respectful. He barely acknowledged me, but I was comfortable with it, seeing how most men offer unsolicited comments toward females in that space. I watched him work. He was meticulous with his hands and held down a whole conversation while charging every unruly hair on my cousin's eyebrows. She teased him about his non-existent romantic life, "Y la novia, pa' cuando?" He replied, “Si, hay que buscarla.”

As I sat across from them on a hot-ass bench near the entrance, a whole-ass conversation played out in my head. Not to say it was love at first sight, but I was attracted to him and sensed an eruption of chemicals all through my brain and body. I was drawn to his smile and swagger. Samuel's vibes were right, but clueless about how to handle my first boy crush, I interrogated the shit out of myself. So, we're into guys now? What Am I?

Since I was leaving the island in a few weeks, I decided to YOLO the whole thing. My other cousin was ecstatic to help devise a plan, albeit unsure because, till that point, I had only dated women. We called Samuel, and after my cousin abruptly asked him if he had a girl; Samuel thought my cousin was trying to make a move on him. After exchanging Instagrams, Samuel didn't add me for an excruciating seventy-two hours—annoyingly taking his time while I accepted his request that night. Samuel and I spoke for hours on end.

On our first date, we coordinated outfits—he sent me a picture of his shirt, and I had a similar dress that matched. The chemistry was there because we were corny as hell for that! He picked me up in his friend's beat-up hooptie that was missing its front bumper. My stomach twisted tighter in a knot as Samuel got closer to greet me. Samuel was so tense, and his hands began sweating. He repeatedly asked if I was comfortable as I gazed toward the streets, people, and trees. I soaked in the serene moment.

Our first date was also the first time I didn't have prying eyes on me because of whose hands I was holding. I was used to assessing my surroundings before kissing a girl, but Samuel caught me off-guard. I wasn't prepared for him to kiss me in public or for how effortless it seemed after so many years of hypervigilance, especially in a place like DR. I was enraged, too; this was a privilege that so many couples are denied. It was wild how we even received compliments on our matching fits. This moment allowed me to see that I wasn't paranoid; the world did treat me differently because of who I dated.

In Mirador del Sur, we sat on the bench with the best shade. There, I revealed that he was the first guy I was interested in romantically. Shocked, he whispered, "Pero tu eres linda." The stereotype on the island was that most lesbians were ugly ass man-haters. He straightforwardly asked if I was a virgin because dique if we were to have sex, he would feel pressured to give me the finest performance. Amused, I wasn't about to claim whether straight sex or gay sex is more pleasing. He never let go of that conversation for the first months of our relationship. And I never changed my stance. They were two distinct experiences, each with its own delights.

As a barber, he is well-versed in male psychology, so his remarks intrigued me. I asked him if it's true what people say in the streets, that most men are more loyal to their barbers than the women they date. He said yes, the relationship between barbers and their clients is sacred, but contrary to my biased views, there are good men that don't cheat. He had fair questions for me too. He'd ask what made him so special that I chose him as the man I wanted in my life. I didn't know where to start without seeming naive.

With Samuel, something felt different. I was attracted to him physically, and the excitement I felt was similar to that of being with a woman, but a more potent force drew me. He plagued my thoughts—his damn smile, piercing eyes, and that liveliness and sensibility. He wore regular clothes, but I could see his biceps and fit chest. He wasn't like my brother, who wore tight-ass shirts to show off his physique, and I could tell he was a little sneakerhead too. It was a whole vibe.

The questioning of where I stood in the sexuality spectrum during the first months I dated Samuel never ceased. My friends, equally confused, sent messages saying, "So you're just with this guy to get pregnant?" A bit taken aback by that rude remark, I knew that if I couldn't face them, how could I face the comments from other people in my queer group? I researched the sexuality spectrum, and I fit the pansexual category because I was more interested in how someone makes me feel. Ultimately, I shared with them my truth: I had burned the closet. For the first time in my life, I developed feelings for a man and was now dating him. I went with the flow of attraction.

As the first girlfriend Samuel's family had ever met, there were indeed pros and cons, but I wasn't worried. On the one hand, there wasn't anyone to compare me to, but on the other, it was a lot of pressure. “Yo no me meto con cualquiera,” Samuel once told me. “Que romantico eres, vamos a buscarte un noviecito,” I often joked back. Samuel's grandmother told him I was stunning and, in the same sentence, asked if my curly hair was a wig. They were far from perfect, but they were my type of people—the types to hang out on front porches with a warm breeze looking out in silence.

The wildest response after sharing my big news came from my father. Rest his soul. He was so torn when I disclosed my relationship with Samuel. "Como que tu ta’ con un hombre? Y un barbero? Yuli, eso son los peores!" He instinctively assumed Samuel was manipulating me to obtain a visa. I adamantly voiced that I had caught the fish! To that, he yelled, "Traeme una mujer!" We went back and forth on WhatsApp and argued through audio messages.

He believed men were trash and that I was being played. That I was a brilliant, beautiful woman who didn't deserve a trashy money-seeking barber. His words wounded me. Why couldn't he be like my religious overjoyed sister, who probably prayed her ass off that I would get over my "phase" or shared the same enthusiasm as my cousin, who was also a barber and said, "I'm so happy! I hope this works out!" I had finally settled on being with a man, and he was a barber and pelotero just like him; it was our destiny.

Papi eventually accepted my new reality and requested I introduce him to Samuel on my next visit to Puerto Plata. He died before meeting him, but Samuel was there when we spread his ashes into the sea.

Admittedly, I stalled the meeting of Samuel and my father—prepping him for ridicule, rejection, and the plain sinverguenceria that would come along with my father's disposition. I couldn't picture a conversation between them. I saw myself shitting bricks, sweating, and hyperventilating throughout their encounter. I was scared. I knew Samuel could hold his own; he was a barber, fluent in tigeraje. But my father was a different beast, especially when drunk; he had this alter ego that would boast about his ability to bag any girl with his rico suave tactics. I was embarrassed by my father, and having Samuel meet him felt like I was exposing myself.

Still, I think it would have turned out differently; my father was a lot of things, but he knew genuine people when he met them, and Samuel was a good guy. Tan bueno que, when I told him two weeks in to let me know if he ever wanted to go for another girl, that I was fully prepared for him to cheat and that it was okay if we simply part ways, that I understood it was part of the male makeup and had nothing to do with me, that I wouldn't hold it against him, he was visibly enraged. To this day, I remind him about the cheating thing, and he still gets annoyed by it, but I'm not the type to get caught off guard.

I'm grateful to my cousin for pushing me out of the house that shmegular day to get her eyebrows done. Samuel and I celebrated our first anniversary this past August, and we're still as facetious as ever—he makes WhatsApp stickers of my cat, and I send him motivational pictures of groomed dogs.

I abandoned the labeling myself thing and focused on my love for him. In my thirties, with the stupid biological clock looming over me, I hope we don't succumb to a five-year expiration date like most past relationships. I am also equally grateful Samuel doesn't pressure me about our future pendejo Jr.


Yulissa Emilia Nuñez is a Dominican-American memoirist. Her fondness for reading and appreciation for the written word propelled her career as an educator for high-school-aged youths. Yulissa scours and contests the world through the refined lens of creative prose, enabling her students to strengthen their writer's voice in her classroom. She obtained a master's degree from the Bread Loaf School of English and participates in writing workshops hosted by the Dominican Writers Association. She resides in Lawrence, MA, with her loving cat, Lunita.

Yulissa's piece, "After the Funeral, " will be featured in the Sana, Sana: Latinx Pain and Radical Visions for Healing 2023 anthology.

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