One afternoon, during naptime, I felt a sudden surge of courage. I seized the moment and went down to the room that housed all the costumes and toys. My heart raced as I reached for the skirt… I started to walk around the living room, spinning and jumping. The skirt hugged my waist, swirling around me gracefully with each turn. I felt like I transformed into a princess, like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.
CORRIENTES, Argentina — As a gay kid growing up in a conservative city, daily life felt immensely challenging. I overthought everything, constantly full of fear I might do something wrong and attract attention to myself. Hiding away for years robbed me of the chance to live authentically.
Little did I know my introduction to theater would open a world of possibilities. In time, I became an award-winning actor, dancer, art director, and puppeteer – acclaimed not only in my home country of Argentina, but at the Berlin International Film Festival and around the world.
At just nine years old, kids began to tease me and call me derogatory names. They noticed my mannerisms and decided my natural behavior needed correcting. They expressed these feelings through insults. The pain of rejection permeated my home as well.
One evening, during family dinner, we saw the transgender celebrity Florencia De la V on television. My brother made a transphobic comment. Though my parents immediately reprimanded him, I felt small in my seat. It felt as if the world around me loomed larger and harsher than it had before. Fear took root inside. “What if my family comes to reject me if I express my true self,” I worried.
In time, I began to discover my identity. I experimented with clothes in secret, in my bedroom. Between noon and four o’clock in the afternoon, many people in the city, struggling with the heat, took naps. It felt like the world paused for a moment.
That time felt became sacred to me. As the hours ticked on, I dressed up, using sheets and towels to create a dress. Exploring different sides of my personality without the lingering sound of my brother’s homophobic comments gave me a sense of freedom.
I clung to that feeling, and began to look for ways to build my identity – to pry it away from staring eyes. Right then and there, standing in my room, my journey of becoming commenced.
Every summer, I went to my cousins’ house in Rosario. We played dress up, but I timidly picked outfits that fit my gender. I yearned to wear the dresses my girl cousins donned, especially the frilly Spanish skirt. I saw it in my mind, but the thought of putting it on my body and being seen filled me with fear.
One afternoon, during naptime, I felt a sudden surge of courage. I seized the moment and went down to the room that housed all the costumes and toys. My heart raced as I reached for the skirt. As soon as I put it on my body, I heard a wonderful classical song in my head. It felt like being in movie.
I started to walk around the living room, spinning and jumping. The skirt hugged my waist, swirling around me gracefully with each turn. I felt like I transformed into a princess, like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.
I jumped up and fell to my knees, savoring the sensation of the skirt settling around me. Those fleeting two minutes remain one of the best moments of my entire life. Afterwards, I quickly peeled it off and put it away. Immediately, I felt overwhelmed by sadness.
It pained me to think that other people could wear that skirt all afternoon or every day if they wanted to. I, on the other hand, had two short minutes to enjoy it. I never truly felt at ease in my childhood and teenage years. It appeared I constantly stole away moments – like I hid my enjoyment from the world. I desperately longed to ask my mother for a dress.
At a friend’s house, we played with dolls, and I dreamed of creating my dollhouse, complete with fully developed stories. When I got home, I mustered up the courage to ask my parents to buy me a doll. While my father disapproved, my mother supported me. They bought me one, and it was the likeness of Ricky Martin. I consider the irony: my first and only doll represented a Latin American gay icon.
As I grew older, I went on dates with boys. Walking down the street with them proved a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, I felt the joy of getting to know someone I liked. On the other, I faced a constant, underlying fear someone might see us. “What if they recognize and expose me,” I worried.
It seemed the only sense of peace and intimacy I felt growing up happened behind the locked doors at my friends’ houses – where I escaped the judgement and harsh comments of others. Yet, even there, fear lingered.
When I turned 14 years old, I put heels on the first time. My best friend Flor, who is a lesbian, saved my life. We shared so many experiences on our journey to self-discovery. Today, when I wear heeled boots, I reclaim the experiences stolen from me as a child.
The pain of growing up in fear, always hiding, lingers with me even now. I work hard today to nurture that inner child, and to share my pain with people around the world.
I eventually left Corrientes for Buenos Aires to fully discover myself, holding nothing back. Seeking my place in the world proved more difficult than I expected, as I continued to try and conform to others’ expectations. One early morning at my ex-boyfriend’s house, everything hit me at once.
A sudden wave containing all the painful memories of my life to that point flooded my body. “I cannot continue living like this,” my mind shouted. I ran from the house, overwhelmed and consumed by raw pain. As I walked back to my place, I felt like a zombie with a knife piercing my heart.
Behind closed doors, I began to scream and cry. My upstairs neighbor heard me and slipped a note under my door. They introduced themselves and offered me some cake and a listening ear. The gesture touched me deeply. I accepted their invitation and right away, we clicked. This person became my best friend; their kindness giving me comfort as I navigated some of the hardest days of my life.
I hit rock bottom, but it became the necessary starting point for me to rise up again. At that point, I began to write my one-man show Rogelio. I based the character on my life experiences, connecting not only with my story, but with others like me. When it went into production, I handed out paper and pen to each person in the audience. “Write down how you view yourselves,” I instructed. Their words touched me.
Some people wrote poems or artistic expressions. Recently, my grandmother attended the show, and she wrote a score with musical notes. She saw herself in that score – offering me a heartwarming surprise.
Theater and puppets always fascinated me, and acting became my salvation. It gave me the chance to be anyone I wanted to be. Through theater, I connected deeply with the environment and the present moment.
The essence of theater lies in the shared experience between performer and audience. When I am on stage, I feel vulnerable, but it remains an authentic vulnerability. Recently, I had the opportunity to work on a play called Fierce Tales. It is based on a podcast that reimagines classic tales with contemporary themes.
In one of the stories, I portray a king who parades proudly in a giant glittery skirt and heels. This role gave me the opportunity to live out my dream of wearing a quinceañera dress. As I stepped on stage, the audience greeted me with applause. It felt incredible.
For such a long time, I felt afraid of showing who I was. This experience allowed me to embrace my inner child and finally make peace with all the pain I carried. Looking back at all those years I spent hiding in the closet, I cannot help but feel immense pride for the person I am today.
I no longer feel the weight of fear and shame pressing on my chest every morning. Today, I feel free in my own body, able to navigate the world in whatever way I choose. I am finally free.
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