I am going over my lines in the hallways on the set of my show, East Los High and getting ready to shoot a classroom scene. I'm nervous because these classrooms can trigger certain uncomfortable memories. I have to remind myself I know what I'm doing and that I have no fear, like my character, Daysi Cantu. While researching this character, I have learned that Daysi can take on anything.
I look around me and see the beautiful, feminine actresses, the popular girls, the dancers with sculpted bodies. My cast mates are kind and so welcoming to me as part of the East Los familia. In these moments I keep asking myself, is this really happening? The pretty people are talking to me!
After all my work to be taken seriously as an actor while celebrating my gender, I am now the newest cast member of East Los High and I have some hot scenes!
How cool and weird is this situation right now? On this TV show, I'm popular! My real school life was nothing like this. I hated high school. I went to a Catholic School and at first I didn't mind the religious aspect. I saw myself being of service to others and put in hundreds of Christian service hours. Then I was hunted down by the school administration and blamed for kissing a female school mate, something I did not do. I was threatened and humiliated in public, shamed for being a lesbian.
I experienced being persecuted before I'd even had a chance to actually come out! I lived my sophomore year shamefully eating lunch in bathroom stalls and the library where at times I'd cry because I felt so lonely and depressed. It felt as if I had a disease. As if I was a leper no one wanted to speak to or commune with, an outcast, thrown out like trash.
But now, here I am on set... walking the hallways, proud and out and queer at East Los High and my peers accept me for who I am. I was cast as a genderqueer masculine appearing and androgynous queer/fluid person on the show. In the scene we are about to shoot I will stand up in front of this 'class,' and speak Daysi's truth.
As Daysi, I get to stand up for myself and be confident and be supported -- even by administrators. How I wish this had been the case -- and was the case today for millions of LGBTQ youth all around the country. 9 out of 10 queer youth in 2010 said that they experienced bullying and although there are some supportive districts/schools, very few cities and states have passed explicit laws protecting LGBTQ students from discrimination. And, unfortunately, in some cities and states where such legislation gets introduced, opponents misinform the public and politicians vote these laws down, the way the U.S. Senate recently did.
Daysi Cantu is funny, loving, charismatic and confident and is supported by her familia. I am honored and blessed to play a character like this on a show that reaches so many youth and shows our communities the way we really are; a complex intersection of identities.
I am happy to be welcomed into a loving East Los family, something not many queers and trans people have the privilege of experiencing in their lives. I hope this story line and character can help those struggling with identity and security and being accepted by their families or friends. I hope it opens a very necessary and continuous dialogue about queer and trans lives.
Latinas/os need to tell their stories. I am proof that sharing your own story will set you free and make your dreams come true.
Karen Anzoategui is a performer whose solo show 'Ser!' won two LA Weekly awards. Anzoategui has a solo show and documentary on bullying playing Oct 2nd-4th at Human Resources La in Chinatown. More at http://www.karenanzoategui.com/#!csd/crce
Season 3 of 'East Los High' premiered July 15. All season 3 episodes are available on Hulu Plus, and all transmedia videos are available on eastloshigh.com
Check out Karen's campaign #OutwithKaren