The touching stories in the feature documentary Room to Grow evidence the uphill battle LGBTQ youth continue to face even in a post-woke world – one that’s much less accepting than we’d like to think. Co-directed by Jon Garcia, a Latino from South Texas, and Matt Alber, the project was produced by Revry, the first-ever global queer streaming service, and recently premiered at Outfest in Los Angeles.
Among the seven people from across the United States interviewed for the film is Chris, a gay Latino teen from Hillsboro, Oregon who struggles to fit in at his mostly Latino high school, at home with his mom who’s from El Salvador and his dad who’s Mexican, and at his evangelical church – none are fully accepting of his identity.
Since filming wrapped, Chris has come out as trans and now lives her life as Harmony, a fitting name given that she has been part of the Portland-based LGBT choir Bridging Voices for the last three years. “I want to love myself more than anybody could ever hate me,” Harmony told Remezcla about how she has endured and survived rejection from relatives and her community at large.
“I want to love myself more than anybody could ever hate me.”
Harmony identifies with the term transfeminine as opposed to trans female, which allows her to paint her trans experience in a way that doesn’t fall prey to the assumptions people make about trans women regarding medical procedures or physical changes. For better or worse, her journey to living her truth has been inevitably shaped by her upbringing in a traditional and religious Latino household.
“Coming out the first time as just a gay man was pretty shocking for my family. There is so much machismo in Mexican culture, so when I still was identifying as a man there were a lot of expectations for me to be tough.” said Harmony.
Recalling the moment she came out to her father as a queer individual, Harmony finds humor in the language barrier that made the ordeal even more awkward. “My dad had told me the word ‘joto’ meant gay in Spanish. So I told him, ‘Pa, lo siento, tengo confianza que todavía vas a quererme, pero soy joto.’ Turns out I told him, ‘Dad I’m a faggot,’ so my dad was like ‘Dios mio!’ He was so shocked because he taught me that word!”
Gradually, her father accepted her as a gay. Harmony chose to remain living as a man in order to hold on to that relationship. The process was much more challenging when she finally decided to come out as trans.
At first, her father expressed the embarrassment he felt being in public with her wearing makeup and female clothing. Her dad’s statements were emotionally devastating. Thankfully, Harmony believes that today her father is slowly assimilating and understanding who she is, but the road has been long and often harsh.
One of Harmony’s heroes is actress Laverne Cox, who, she says, opened her eyes to the possibility of having a happy and fulfilling existence as a trans person. She believes having advocates like her and images on screen that depict a myriad of LGBT experiences is the only way to eradicate stereotypes.
As a trans Latina who doesn’t look traditionally feminine, it has been difficult for her to engage with the queer community at large, the trans community, and the Latinx community. The reason is in part the lack of representation in mass media – she credits this for her delayed coming out.
Although LGBT-friendly churches are difficult to find, and since she is no longer welcome where she used to worship, Harmony maintains her faith through music. “I grew up with the idea that my faith was tied in with my voice and my singing and that’s how I could connect with God,” she added. At Bridging Voices, she serves as a mentor for younger kids looking for a place where their spirituality, artistic expression, and acceptance can coexist.
When singing in Spanish, one of her favorite tracks is Marc Anthony’s Vivir Mi Vida, because of its empowering lyrics that function as an anthem for anyone who’s ever been judged or faced adversity for being their true selves.
Room to Grow will be also be available on Revry later this year, and an episodic series based on the same stories will premiere on the platform October 11 (National Coming Out Day).