What I Learned about Queerness and Latinidad While Working at Telemundo
We were two stereotypes—the sassy gay best friend, and the hyper-sexualized reporter—working at a place that highlighted our biggest insecurities.
This is Werk., a monthly column from Edgar Gomez on what he’s learned about queerness and identity while navigating the US workforce.
The day I found out I’d been chosen as the newest production intern at the local Telemundo news station in Orlando, no one was more excited—or confused—than my mom.
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I wonder, if there was something he was keeping to himself, whether it was easier for him to give his audience an outlandish answer than reveal the truth. I wondered, sitting behind Olga’s desk, if my coworkers were speculating about me. Were Walter and I scared? Or was everyone else?
When the cameraman and I weren’t shooting the broadcast, reporters frequently sent us out to interview the public about topical subjects that they would later edit into their news packages.
Our questions were fairly vague, usually something like: “There’s been an increase in burglaries in Orlando. What do you think about that?”
In order to eliminate bias, we would then have to grab a sound bite from someone who thought burglaries were bad, and one who could see the silver lining in being forced to downsize.
That wasn’t the hard part. The problem was finding new Spanish-speaking people to interview every day. In a city like Miami, where you can stand on any street corner and yell “hijue” with the assurance that someone will yell back “puta,” collecting sound bites is easy. In Orlando, however, the station had to come up with a slick way of hunting down Spanish-speakers. The cameraman told me his favorite places: the bus stop outside the mall, the parking lot at Walmart, the picnic tables at a nearby taco truck.
The latter is where we went the first time he let me tag along. He operated the camera while I approached dudes brooding into their al pastor tacos with a microphone. I was a little grateful that in Spanish, wearing business casual clothes, my queerness was invisible. I wasn’t so sure these guys would have talked to me if they suspected that beneath my slacks I had on a Nasty Pig jockstrap. “So, um, how do you think Obama is doing on immigration?” I’d ask.
Although I was happy to have an important job, I didn’t really love spending my weeknights with the cameraman, who ate fried chicken as he drove us between locations and left greasy fingerprints on everything he touched. Being with him reminded me of all the awkward excursions my mom used to send me on with my straight uncles to toughen me up. I never knew what to talk about, and though some of it was paranoia, I felt like he was constantly testing me.
“What kind of music do you like?” he’d want to know as he turned the knob on the radio. By the uncomfortable look on his face, I could tell “Shakira’s first album” wasn’t the right answer.
One day I asked one of the reporters, who I’ll call Carmen, if she needed help filming. There weren’t enough cameramen on staff to go around, so she often had to set up a tripod and record herself on the scene, flipping the camera screen over and squinting at the monitor to make sure she was in focus. She squealed and clapped her hands. “Yes! Thank you! You’re an angel!”
As we drove to the airport, where the story we were shooting that evening took place, Carmen asked me how the internship was going, whether I was learning a lot. Frankly, I wasn’t. None of the straight male producers or production people wanted to teach me what they did. “We got it covered,” they’d say when I offered them help. I was certain it had to do with the fact that I didn’t watch soccer with them on my break, or talk about the hot chicks on the novelas playing constantly on the television monitors all around the station. I couldn’t prove it, but I believed the cameraman was, indeed, speculating about my sexuality, and as soon as he had an answer he would join everyone else in giving me the cold shoulder. To survive at Telemundo, I realized, I needed allies.
If I had them on my side, the women at Telemundo might get me hired on permanently, or at least show me how to properly pack away a shotgun microphone.
At the airport, I tried to find a way to naturally bring up that I’m into dudes. “This lobby is stunning,” I told Carmen, though we were standing in front of a Starbucks. “By the way, that nail color is gorge on you. What is that . . . red?”
It was overkill. And desperate.
“I’m sorry if this is personal,” she said, smiling knowingly. “But can I ask you something?”
By the following week, all the women at the station got the memo. Perhaps because they didn’t have to dodge unwanted sexual advances with me, they suddenly became extremely friendly, whereas before I’d just been a no-name intern.
On my daily walk to the vending machine for a bag of chips, a reporter stopped me.
“Edgar!” she said, ironing out the wrinkles on her body-con dress with her palms. “I need your help. Don’t lie. Do you think I’m fat?”
It was then that I realized my mistake. In my attempt to bond with the women about things like hair maintenance and dating, I’d accidentally turned myself into a cartoon of a queer person. We were two stereotypes—the sassy gay best friend, and the hyper-sexualized reporter—working at a place that highlighted our biggest insecurities. Maybe I should have been more prepared for this. After all, I’d sought Latinx community here, and that’s what I got: the same machismo, racism, misogyny, and homophobia that plagues Latinidad everywhere else.
“Girl, shut up,” I told her, and it was as if I was reading from the world’s most annoying script. “I would kill for that body, honey!”
“You’re not just saying that?” she asked.
I pursed my lips and snapped my fingers in a z-formation. “You are sick-en-ing.”
She looked so grateful; I thought she might cry.
The months passed, and I kept up the character I’d fallen into, figuring it was better than going back to being under the cameraman’s wing. After we were sent to a Catholic church for a shoot, he used the setting to talk to me about being saved by Christ for almost an hour. Apparently, the news that I was gay finally reached him. It didn’t get completely out of line—he didn’t call me a fag or say I was going to hell—but the subtext was clear to me: If I wanted to learn anything from him, I’d have to pretend to have sexuality with the wind.
Part of me wished I could be like Olga, who, to my mom’s endless disappointment, I never got to know. It’s not that she didn’t care about the rest of the crew. She was busy. Mostly she stayed in her office, working on the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. broadcasts. When she did emerge, it was to go to the studio and sit behind her desk for the show. Olga gave the staff exactly as much as we needed, getting her work done on time, maintaining a professional air about her, keeping up with unreasonable beauty standards. Her private life she kept to herself.
Yet as much as I tried to keep mine to myself, my silence ended up being part of what outed me. The hints I dropped may have been what pushed me completely out, but it was obvious that I was different from my other male coworkers every time they bragged about women they wanted to hook up with, and I sat there quietly. They had the opportunity to bond with each other about their relationships, bonds that led to better opportunities, or promotions or, for an intern like me, the chance to be taught. I, on the other hand, spent most of my time agonizing over who it was safe to reveal myself to, and how much, and in what spaces (definitely not the taco truck).
In the years since that internship, things have begun to change for the better in Latinx media—across race and sexuality. In 2018, Ilia Calderón made history as the first Afro-Latinx person to anchor the weekday evening news at Univision, the rival news station. And for years now, Paola Ramos (the openly queer daughter of Ilia Calderón’s Univision co-anchor Jorge Ramos) has served as an on-air contributor at Telemundo. Still, the fact that these are standout examples only proves how long a way we have to go.
I’m not interested in making history as the first openly gay, gender-nonconforming Nicaraguan-American anywhere I work. These days, all I want is to find a job where I can show my worth and be myself, performing nothing for no one.
Until then, if you happen to see me in a hallway, wagging my finger at a girl’s butt and telling her she looks fierce, mind your business. I’m working.
Edgar Gomez (he/she/they) is a Florida-born writer with roots in Nicaragua and Puerto Rico. A graduate of University of California, Riverside’s MFA program, he is a recipient of the 2019 Marcia McQuern Award for nonfiction. His words have appeared in Poets & Writers, Narratively, Catapult, Lithub, The Rumpus, Electric Lit, Plus Magazine, and elsewhere online and in print. His memoir, High-Risk Homosexual, was named a Best LGBTQ Book by Harper’s Bazaar. He lives in New York and Puerto Rico. Find him on Twitter @OtroEdgarGomez.