Our interview series, exploring lesbian* life all over the world, continues this month with a special guest. After hearing stories from Curitiba, Brazil and Amsterdam, the Netherlands, we are now turning our attention to Yosi from Mexico, who is special not only because she will tell us about a unique place on earth - the busiest border-crossing in the world, twin cities Tijuana-San Diego - but also because she has been an inspiration for me.
This month is OUTober, which is 31 days dedicated to Coming Out. Yes, I write it with capital letters because it is a big deal. A big deal that many of us have problems with. I personally had problems with it for a long time. But not Yosi.
You see, Yosi never had big coming outs, while I had like a gazillion. Actually, they were big not because of the reaction they triggered but because of the worry they were preceded by.
After so many years I finally realized, partly because of Yosi’s unapologetic attitude towards her truth, that it was a big deal only in my head. The burden I had been carrying was my own fear, not people’s homophobia.
Contrary to me, Yosi has never overthought it. Her truth was simple: she likes medicine, video games, and women. Why should she deny or apologize for any of these?
Why is it that for her coming out was a lot easier than for me (or perhaps for you)? Is it her personality? Is it her environment? Let’s try to find out from the interview.
Hey, Yosi, happy to have you with us. You know, October is coming out month here at qLit, and you definitely are a big inspiration. Can you introduce yourself briefly?
My name is Yoseline Ibarra Pimentel, I’m 28, currently doing my medical residency in ophthalmology. I hope to become a licensed eye doctor soon. I am originally from Tijuana, Mexico, but due to my medical studies I have spent quite some time in different parts of Mexico (like Mexicali in the middle of the desert; Puerto Vallarta, a beautiful beach town close to Guadalajara; or Mexico City, the capital) and recently neighboring country Guatemala.
And I’m happy to be here with you too, Anna.
It’s our pleasure. So, based on your travels, then, I have the impression you know a lot about Maya Land. How would you summarize the general situation of the LGBTQ community in Mexico?
Contrary to the general impression about Mexico, it is not a uniform country. Thanks to the dominant US perspective, Mexico is viewed as a dangerous, violent, backward place. In reality, Mexico is very big and populous, so ideas, culture and laws are very different in each state (we have 32!).
So, to answer your question, the LGBT situation is very variable depending on which part of the country we are talking about. There are some states like mine, Baja California, where even though the laws are not favorable, people are more open-minded, so it is not so hard. And others like Chiapas, in the South of Mexico, where generally people are more traditional yet laws are progressive.
So, to translate this into rights, what can you say? Is same-sex marriage legal?
It is in several states. In Mexico City, it is legal for example. And all the marriages performed in the country are recognized wherever you go (within Mexico). So it is not hard to legalize your relationship.
Even if your state does not allow gay marriage, you can have civil union in most places. The difference is that marriage gives you all the same rights as any other couple, including insurance and some government support, whereas civil union is just like signing the paper and it’s valid in that city, not even the whole state and gives you no rights. So, go for the marriage.
Deal. Now, let’s talk a bit about your city, Tijuana. How are things there?
You see, Tijuana is a very special place within Mexico. It is a border city but not just a border city but actually the busiest border in the world. Most of us that live here have visas to cross to the US, so it is very easy to go to San Diego; Tijuana and San Diego have practically grown into one.
San Diego, and actually California, has been one of the most progressive areas in the US, so the LGBT community has been active for decades, much earlier than Tijuana - or Baja California, my state - started to open up. So, due to the easy accessibility, it was just much easier for the LGBT in Tijuana to join an existing community, in San Diego, than to start to fight and build a new one, in Tijuana.
Actually, I can get to Hillcrest, the gay area in San Diego, in an hour from home. Effectively, that’s why Tijuana itself has very few gay or lesbian places.
Very interesting. That sounds like Buda and Pest. Pest has all the LGBTQ places, while Buda doesn’t have much to offer in this respect.
Yeah, but crossing takes a bit more time than in Budapest, hahaha.
Haha, true. So, even if you don’t have much of an LGBTQ community in Tijuana, how easy it is to be a lesbian* over there? How visible are local lesbians*?
Well, there are some gay bars but mostly men go there. For lesbian events, people go to San Diego. Still, occasionally you see same-sex couples walking hand in hand.
Even if Tijuana doesn’t seem like a gay haven, in my circles it has never been a problem to come out, not even to my grandma or grandpa. But generally, when talking to older people it can be hard because they are very conservative.
And what about your workplace? Are you out? I think most of us are curious how the medical community handles gayness - we tend to have some reservations about our sexuality when seeing a doctor.
I have been out in the hospital all my life and never had any problem. In fact, in most places where I have worked I knew about other gay or lesbian doctors as well.
Strangely enough, it is more of a stigma in the medical world to be young and to be a woman. Both patients and fellow doctors tend to treat you as if you were a student. Once a patient almost died because the senior male doctor didn’t give credit to my diagnosis - I had to fight for days so he finally believed it was correct and approved the treatment. Medicine is a very hierarchical and still a hugely male-dominated world. Imagine, it was just now, in 2017, that the first heart transplant performed by a female heart surgeon could take place in Mexico!
That is surprising indeed. Sorry about your difficulties as a woman but happy about your acceptance as a lesbian. Now, tell us about Pride.
In Tijuana, we don’t have one. In San Diego, of course, there is. And in Mexico City it is a huge deal. I think once I heard that it is the biggest Pride in the world.
So, as I see, Tijuana is not necessarily the best place for a lesbian*. I mean, no Pride, no lesbian bars, few events - in short, not a lot of visibility and community support for lesbians*. It is true that you can cross to San Diego but still you spend most of your time in Tijuana. How come, despite this, you never had problems with being out?
I think it has two main reasons.
First, like I said the political-social situation is not bad at all. Tijuana has been considered a very special city, not completely Mexican, but not American either; it is a peculiar mix. Due to our situation as a border city and our closeness to California, a very progressive region (and more specifically to San Diego, an open-minded metropolis), the general population in Tijuana is tolerant. People are exposed to more cultures, because, really, San Diego is just going to another neighborhood of the same city.
The second is the personal level. I knew that my close environment would be OK with it, so I didn’t hesitate. In the hospital it was easy too because I wasn’t the only one, so I knew they wouldn’t mind. As for the rest (I mean my extended family of about 50 people, plus the medical community), I just didn’t care what they think. All I cared was that this made me happy and that’s what matters. I simply wasn’t going to sacrifice my happiness for people who didn’t really care when I was not happy (so why would they even care now?).
Well, that’s a very constructive and healthy way of thinking. See, that’s why I admire you; you don’t worry about things that don’t matter. To summarize the case about Tijuana, altogether, do you like living there? Would you recommend our community to visit or live in your city?
I do like living here. It is true that there are no specific things for lesbians in the city but it is very easy to cross to San Diego and there you have all sorts of lesbian related activities. In Hillcrest, for example.
In my city (and generally in Baja) what is very popular lately is gastronomic tourism: we have the best tacos in the country and we have a beautiful wine region near the beach where you can just spend a nice weekend. Also, there’s a beautiful national park outside the city where you can go hike and see the stars in the clear sky.
Sounds tempting. And I must agree, Baja wine is excellent. Just don’t make me drink raw coconut water again!
As Yosi revealed, Mexico is a very colorful and huge country, which is far from being homogenous (contrary to what is often implied by mainstream media, especially by US President Trump). Certain parts of the country are as progressive as, say, its California in the United States or Spain in Europe, while others are more traditional, like Texas or Hungary. In many states, same-sex marriage is legal, in others registered partnership is available. The Pride in Mexico City is one of the biggest in the world.
In short, then, how easy it is for you to be out depends on both: your environment and your personality. First, you need to believe in the general acceptance of the LGBTQI+ phenomenon and in the love of your closest circles. Second, as you can never be sure of how people will react, you still need a pinch of courage and confidence. Let them do the processing, instead of you the worrying.
Next month we’ll ask Dina from next doors how she feels about it. She is from Austria and Bosnia, two (almost) neighboring countries to Hungary, yet both very different in their LGBTQ+ situation.
Happy OUTober, girls!