When I first realized I was gay, and in the years after I came out, I was so busy trying to make everyone else happy that I forgot who I was. I felt like I was being pulled in a hundred different directions. There was the person I was around my family, the person I was around my friends, the person I was at gay bars, the person I was at work, the person I was while alone in the bathroom playing with makeup. Caught up in pleasing others, I prioritized everyone else over me. Reading, and eventually writing, was a safe space where I could go to ask myself questions I didn’t dare ask anywhere else. I could be as messy and risky as I wanted and tell the stories I desperately wanted to hear without worrying about who might hear them. Music was like that, too. A sanctuary. Throughout my life, when I wasn’t sure who it was okay to be myself around, I turned to the songs in this playlist to give me direction at my most lost, to help me voice the desires that terrified me, and to give me courage to celebrate being a high-risk homosexual.
1. Do You Really Want to Hurt Me by Culture Club
opens with me at the most vulnerable time of my life. I’m 13, in Nicaragua away from my mom, and had a lot of shame about being gay. I was scared everyone would hate me if they found out who I was, and I was scared most of losing my family. Though I was in denial about my sexuality and desperate to be straight, I knew that coming out was inevitable. Girl, I was so sad. I just wanted, like Boy George says at the beginning of the song, a little more time… to be with the people I loved, just in case they ended up hating me.
2. We’ll Never Sleep (God Knows We’ll Try) by Rilo Kiley
I was obsessed with Rilo Kiley in high school. This song perfectly captures how I felt sophomore year, after I’d gotten expelled from my first school and started at my second. By this time, I’d accepted that I was gay (though I still wasn’t happy about it). Coupled with the expulsion, everything felt incredibly bleak. I sought hope and romance wherever I could get it, usually by staying up all night drinking coffee and watching JLO rom-coms. The guitar solo in this song gets me every time. When I hear it, all I can think of is those hours that I spent on the living room couch watching Maid in Manhattan
after everyone fell asleep.
3. Baby I Love U! by Jennifer Lopez
Something good happened! I fell in love! I came out of the closet at school! This song makes me feel like the hot Puerto Rican girl around the way. She has wet-gel curls and carries a box of Cheerios in her backpack. She’s in a secret relationship with a boy named Angel. If her parents find out, they’ll never let her out again. Once she graduates, she and Angel are going to run away together.
4. Million Dollar Bill by Whitney Houston
Senior year of high school, I became best friends with a drag queen who was obsessed with this song, and they got me into it too. Underrated Whitney. We’d drive around in his car listening to Million Dollar Bill
on repeat, screaming at the top of our lungs with the windows rolled down. This song reminds me of all the hours we spent together doing nothing special: watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s
, painting our nails, eating Wendy’s. We were so young and careless and happy.
5. Te Espero Sentada by Shakira
I mean, I could make an alternate soundtrack to the book with only Shakira songs. This one is one of my favorites. I’m pairing it with the chapter called “A Room of My Own” about moving out of my mom’s house for the first time. I like to think of that chapter as a little noir film (LOL if that’s pretentious!). There’s a lot of deception, coded language, strange lighting, mind games, desperation. This song has similar vibes to all that — it’s one of her moodier tracks and gets a bit unhinged halfway through. Plus, Shakira is super horny in it, and so was I. Like Shakira, I was sitting around hoping some guy would show up and do me.
6. Kiss by Prince
This is the first song I ever stripped to after joining a burlesque troupe in college. I was feeling really insecure about my femininity back then because of a weird breakup. Prince helped me feel like I didn’t have to perform as a tough macho Latin man to be sexy. Thanks Prince!!!
7. A Quien Le Importa by Thalia
I had a hard time deciding what song I associate with Pulse. The club was thirty minutes away from my house. The shooting was, to say the least, devastating. I chose this song because it’s a gay anthem that would always get played on Latin Night. When it came on, we’d all drop whatever we were doing and run to the dance floor and cheer and sing along. I want to remember Pulse that way.
8. City of Angels by The Distillers
After the shooting, I moved away from Orlando to California to try to get my mind off things. I had all these fantasies for what it would be like there. I thought it’d be like the movies: sunsets, and lemon trees, and the beach. But where I moved to — Riverside — wasn’t like that at all. It was a desert, and I was even sadder than I was in Orlando, because I’d stupidly left behind my support system. I felt like California lied to me. And I couldn’t stop thinking about Pulse. “They say this is the city, the city of angels. All I see is dead wings.
9. Asi Fue by Isabel Pantoja
One thing that comforted me around that time was watching a YouTube recording of the drag queen Valentina performing Asi Fue
at Mickey’s in WeHo. I’d watch it constantly. The song is about a woman who gets her heart broken by a man who leaves her without a warning. She’s heartbroken but eventually moves on and finds another love. Then, out of nowhere, the first man comes back and is like, “So… wanna get together again?” And the singer is like… “Um, are you serious? Was I supposed to sit around crying over you every day of my life?” Seeing Valentina’s chaotic performance of the singer’s grief made me feel less alone.
10. Like a Star by Corinne Bailey Rae
This song is for my mom.
11. Guatauba by Plan B
After I went on PrEP, I entered my hoe era. A little perreo never hurt anybody.
12. La Vida Es Un Carnaval by Celia Cruz
Had to end with Celia. If there’s a party happening at the end of the rainbow, this song is playing.
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(all pronouns) is a Florida-born writer with roots in Nicaragua and Puerto Rico. A graduate of University of California, their words have appeared in Poets & Writers, Narratively, Catapult, Lithub, The Rumpus, Electric Lit
, and elsewhere online and in print. Their memoir, High-Risk Homosexual
, was called a “breath of fresh air” by The New York Times
. They live in New York and Puerto Rico. Find them across social media @OtroEdgarGomez.
is currently featured in our Self Portraits