Wounded Pride

Despite its reputation, gay-friendly San Francisco is still a tough place for teens to come out.

Still, for some kids, the real problems start in the one place no one can control it: at home.

Priscilla Fallas struts out of her house onto the mural-covered Balmy Alley, past the fruit markets and bakeries selling pan dulce on busy 24th Street in the Mission, and ducks into Laura's Beauty and Barber Shop. Inside, the walls are plastered with pictures of curls and long dos for women, crew cuts and stylized sideburns for men. Fallas' style falls, well, somewhere in the middle. A long ponytail hangs down her back, but Fallas likes to shave her temples and widow's peak in the style of guys from the neighborhood.

Fallas greets a woman walking in with her two sons, recognizing her as the wife of her old baseball coach at St. Peter's grade school. (Fallas was the only girl on the team.) They don't know she's gay. So as Fallas settles into the barber's chair and tells her coming-out story to Alvaro — a hairdresser from Mexico City in a bubblegum-pink shirt — she lowers her voice to a murmur.

Watch a video of artist Scott Bakal creating this week's cover for "Wounded Pride."
Watch a video of artist Scott Bakal creating this week's cover for "Wounded Pride."
Rafique Franks transferred schools after facing bullying for dressing as a female.
Josh Edelson
Rafique Franks transferred schools after facing bullying for dressing as a female.

"It's like nothing ever happened," Fallas tells him in Spanish. "My mom doesn't want to accept it."

"That's hard," Alvaro says in an equally hushed voice.

"I'm like, this is my life. I look more like a boy than a girl."

"You look good," Alvaro says.

"Gracias. I would like to be able to take a girlfriend to the house and say, 'This is my girlfriend,' but I don't know if I'll be able to do it."

"It's easier once you leave the house."

Fallas is studying sound arts at Ex'pression College for Digital Arts in Emeryville, and can't afford to move out.

She continues, "I think they're mostly worried about how other people will treat me, but I'm like, 'We're in San Francisco!'"

"Puh-leeze!" Alvaro exclaims. "You're living in the perfect city. Here, if you want to put on red shoes and a green shirt, no one will say anything to you."

But Fallas isn't from that San Francisco. She isn't one of the queer girls rocking a Mohawk and clasping her girlfriend's hand while walking down Valencia. She's from the Latino Mission, where Catholic and evangelical mores run deep, and gender roles are not exactly subtle. Here, in a neighborhood where shops sell puffy gowns for a girl's sweet 15 party or tight bejeweled jeans for everyday wear, Fallas is sometimes mistaken for a boy.

A self-proclaimed "soft stud," she likes her jeans and shirts baggy, a blingy cross dangling from her neck, a flat-brimmed S.F. baseball cap plunked over her ponytail. So perhaps it's fitting that Fallas finally decided to come out a year ago to her parents while shopping at the mall, after telling her mom she wanted to check out the men's jeans. "She's like, 'Fucking lesbian, you're not a man, you can't be wearing that,'" she recalls her mother saying. (Fallas said her mom wouldn't agree to be interviewed for this story.) Now she says her mom mostly doesn't talk about it, though sometimes she will call her a marimacha, a colloquial Spanish slur that combines Maria with the feminine version of "macho."

It's a similar situation being lived all over the city by kids with conservative parents. "I sometimes feel like Latinos think that if you're gay, you're gonna be like the pictures in the Castro, like the white guys in the leather suits, because that's what's gay to them," says Carla Moreno, a 20-year-old who identifies as lesbian. Kathia Ramos, 17, says she's accepted by students at John O'Connell High School of Technology in the Mission. Yet when she came out to her parents, her dad punched a hole in their apartment wall and told her to go to church. "We go to church maybe once a year, on Christmas maybe," she groans. "I'm like, 'What the fuck is going on?'"

An extensive field study by the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University indicated that young people with unsupportive families have a much greater risk of depression, substance abuse, contracting HIV, and plotting suicide.

Fallas says her mom voted to ban gay marriage, while she voted against it. Fallas blames it on a generation gap — she's noticed first-generation Americans raised in San Francisco are more accepting, even if they're a little less politically correct than what would fly in the Castro.

On a recent afternoon, Fallas sat at a picnic table in Garfield Park a block from her house. She slapped hands sideways guy-style with Rene, a 19-year-old acquaintance from the neighborhood. He asked what the interview was about.

"Me being gay," she said, with a quick laugh.

"Are you gay gay or are you bi?" he asked.

"Nah, nigga. I'm gay gay. Fo' real?"

"I didn't know. We haven't talked. Why you gay gay?"

"Because I don't like guys," she answered, chuckling. "I'm not attracted to guys. I'm into the same thing you're into. C'mon, man."

"I mean, I'm not trying to be rude, but how come you don't like," he paused, "dick? That's weird."

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