I’m not sure exactly when I first admitted to myself that I was gay, but it was somewhere between my sophomore and junior year in high school.
Growing up in New York City, I was surrounded by just about every type of race, color, creed and religion you could think of. But I was raised in a very conservative Christian family, not to mention a Puerto Rican one, that sheltered me pretty heavily until I went to public school for the first time in tenth grade. I discovered an entire world that celebrated who I really was, who I was scared to show to the world. I could be myself with my friends, but at home and in my religious environment, I had to hide who I was out of fear of the repercussions.
At age 19 during my second year of college, it all blew up and I came out to my parents. That was also the week I left home, as I was told I could not be gay in my parents’ house. I was terrified. I knew nothing about living life as an adult. I was in a really dark place for a few months, as I stayed at my aunt’s house trying to figure out what to do. But I wasn’t going to allow this rejection to end my life.
From them on, I depended on only myself to get through and worked both to have my own place and put myself through the remainder of college. With my own determination pushing me and the loving encouragement of a few very dear people in my life, I graduated from Hunter College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and Journalism, a passion I had held for many years, and began working in the writing and publishing industry.
As I grew more into adulthood, I discovered the colorful realm of gay nightlife and was exposed to something that I had understood very little about before: drag queens. Anything that was considered ‘sinful’ by my family, mostly meaning anything having to deal with homosexuality, was forbidden in my house. It wasn’t until I made friends with a few of them by going out to bars and then religiously going to shows did I fall in love with the art form, a type of self-expression I had never seen before.
Towards the end of 2015, one of my best friends talked me into doing a “First Timers” show where guys would get in drag for the first time and perform a number in front of a live bar audience. I agreed, thinking it would just be a great experience to have under the belt. I had someone help me learn to walk in heel, pick out my dress, do my makeup and help me choreograph the number. I remember telling myself that if I was doing this, I was going to do it right.
The night of my drag debut came and I was a nervous wreck. I had not been on stage since high school electives, where I had done theater and dance. (My parents previously refused to give me performance lessons outside of school as they wanted me to pursue a more “substantial” career.) But when they called out my drag name, Bella Noche, for the first time, something in me came alive and there are few moments in my life where I felt happier or more empowered. I remembered what it was like to be on stage, to embody a character, to let the lines of a song take you to another place.
That same night, I got my first booking invite to guest at another bar, and I readily agreed. Soon after, as of January 7, 2016, I decided to pursue drag officially, both as a side hustle and a way to put my art and mark into the world.
A lot of people ask me if Bella is a character or if she’s just my real personality. The answer is both, honestly. At the same time that I do play up a persona, especially during performances, Bella is the aspect of my personality that I had always been to shy or scared to let come out. It’s so freeing to be able to not only unleash but be given such an amazing reception for the part of you that you thought would never come out, back to the days where I would lip sync to “Part Of Your World” in the mirror of my bedroom as a little boy.
There comes a time in your life where you’ll find a use for every skill that you possess, from the littlest quirk to the grandest talent. That what I’ve learned on my journey. If you have the confidence to face a road ahead of you that you know is going to be tough, you’ll discover that you’re already equipped with everything you need to get through it. All you have to do is believe that you’re going to make it.
I now work full-time as a social media coordinator and freelance writer, and I also spotlight as a NYC drag queen that does anywhere between two to five shows a week. I have an amazing support system and I recently started seeing an amazing guy who not only loves that I do drag, but also supports my creative endeavors in any way he can.
The relationship with my parents has improved substantially since I came out, but it’s not where I would like it to be. They don’t know I do drag, and I think they’re not ready for that quite yet. Still, I remain in contact, tell them I love them and let them know that their son is thinking of them. Family is family. They’re an aspect of our journey too.
If you would have told me three years ago I would be on the path that I am now, I would have said you were insane. But I look at my life and where I’ve come from, and it’s almost unbelievable when I think back and remember everything I’ve gotten through, the chances I’ve taken and the successes that have come from the most unexpected places. Life is about exploring new things, keeping an open mind and just enjoying the journey to whatever your glittering destination will be. And that’s exactly what I’m doing every day from now on.