The Complicated Crossroads of Being Trans and Latinx
A Q&A with Angel Flores, of Queer Eye fame.
THE CONSTANT ONSLAUGHT of legislation targeting trans people all over the country, and the inability of cisgender journalists to cover this erosion of rights without kowtowing to tired talking points, can make it easy to forget how many trans people are thriving just by being their full selves.
Confession time: Queer Eye is a guilty pleasure of mine, and my favorite episodes are the ones in which the protagonist is a queer person, mostly because we deserve to be treated to nice things, but also because there’s typically a hard conversation taking place with a family member or close one that helps me navigate my own identity. Yeah, the show has its flaws, and no, I don’t particularly feel like Antoni can teach me, a Latino, how to make taquitos, but that Bobby can come redesign my apartment any time.
Season 6 Episode 2 hit particularly close to home for me because of a conversation it televised, between a trans Latina and her dad. Maybe it’s because we have low expectations for our parents’ understanding of gender and sexuality (which themselves can be the product of our Western-centric assumptions or past displays of pure homophobia), but the episode, and the way that the father accepted his daughter, made it plain that there is hope for better things. Of course, this is just one dynamic in a community of millions, but it’s one more piece of evidence that being trans after growing up in a machista culture isn’t impossible.
Angel Flores (@arkangeljoy) is a trans activist, content creator, and athlete from Texas. Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Alienhood: Tell me a little bit about how your life has changed since the Queer Eye episode aired. I’m sure it’s been a whirlwind.
Angel Flores: That’s the word I always use: whirlwind. Honestly, whirlwind kind of bled to overwhelming because there’s a million things I’m doing now and to go from a COVID era where I’m kind of not doing much to this post-Queer Eye era where I’m talking to people constantly, constantly communicating, constantly answering emails, constantly speaking to people on social media, it’s very much a whirlwind. I have a lot of friends who have been in the content creation space for a good while now, and had the time to get used to it. But for me, it’s been just like go, go, go from Day One.
A: Part of why we’re talking right now is because it’s Pride Month. As a trans Latina, what does Pride Month mean to you? [Editor’s note: Angel is also Filipina.]
AF: My identities always come back to possibility. I grew up kind of constantly convincing myself that I don’t have any talents. I don’t have a path forward. For a while, I was just going to go into the military and forget about everything. Eventually, I came to my senses and said, Hey, I know I can learn something and I know I can teach. So I tried to play sports for a good portion of my life. It’s always just been like, I can’t do this. I can’t do that. Can’t do this.
I was the oldest of my siblings. I was probably one of the older grandchildren in my family, so everybody was always like, eyes on me—always asking me what’s going on, what I’m doing. So to go to college, and not only transition but be a very, very visible trans person, it very much shakes up how Pride fits into my life.
To answer your original question, Pride Month to me is a possibility. And it’s a reminder that every single day that I step out the door that’s me showing the world and showing myself that there’s more—that there’s possibility out there for me and for people like me.
A: I want to ask you about the other side of that coin. As a trans woman, what does Latinidad mean to you? How do you relate to that fraught concept?
AF: I’m hyper aware of my Latino background because of the color of my skin and because as a brown trans woman, my rates of survival are just really low.
But it’s kind of conflicting, right? Because I was raised in a very machista culture. I was raised to be the manliest man that I could possibly be, and to go to college and basically throw all that back at them and say, This isn’t what I want for my life, that’s a huge step and huge clash with my culture.
I have honestly decreased a lot of contact with my extended family and a lot of people in my background, just because of the anxiety, the fear, the reaction, the opinions—everybody has something to say, right? For me, it’s kind of just been a struggle with wanting to identify within this space. I want to identify with the word Latina. I want to constantly proclaim that like, Yes, I am a brown trans woman and this is what I do. I want to look them in the face and say I’m going to live this way no matter what.
But there is that challenge of the machismo that has seeped into the Latino culture to where now, if I go to a family event, I can see who doesn’t want me being here, I can see who’s having reactions and I can see people having conversations about me, right in front of me. It’s been just a conflict, to be completely honest.
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A: You just mentioned how Pride Month and Pride generally mean possibility and how, for so long, Latinidad hasn’t been synonymous with possibility. There are very constricted roles you’re supposed to fulfill as a “man” or a “woman.”
Shifting gears, I want to ask you about your name, because my middle name is Angel. To me it’s a name that transcends the gender binary and subverts a lot of those constricted gender roles. During the pandemic, I also started going by Angel with close friends and all of a sudden I started to feel more comfortable with being non-binary and using like different pronouns and all of that. Tell me about your name!
AF: My legal middle name was Angel! So we’re on the same page here. I spent a good month staring at different names. And I remember sitting down one day my ID fell out on my phone, and it looked at it and I’m like: my middle name is Angel!
It’s kind of funny. Because of that machismo culture I grew up in, because of that hyper masculinity that I really championed for most of my life, I rejected my middle name up until this point. I literally would not tell anybody because I was embarrassed about it. And so it’s so funny that the moment that I released that machismo—the moment I said, You know what, fuck masculinity. I don’t need that anymore—taking up my middle name was just so liberating. To round it out: Because it was my middle name, I decided to take my mom’s middle name as my new one, and so my full name is Angel Joy Flores, which is which is a great way of like melding my families.
And honestly, I didn’t want to get rid of my name. Regardless of the conflict that I’ve had in my background, it’s still something that I went through and this is still a huge part of it.
The moment that I released that machismo—the moment I said, You know what, fuck masculinity. I don’t need that anymore—taking up my middle name was just so liberating.
A: It can be so arresting how the reprieves we’re looking for are already within ourselves.
Your conversation with your father on Queer Eye was really important to a lot of trans Latinx people. Why do you feel like that having that conversation on camera was important, and what has your relationship with your dad looked like since then?
AF: I mean, Latino men [in general] don’t talk to each other period. Latino fathers and sons don’t talk to each other period. And I feel like a lot of that was missed on people who aren’t Latino and Latina. I very much feel like people just kind of forgot about that. But it was a huge moment.
To me, it’s a turning point saying that, Yes, this is our culture, but we don’t have to be stuck in the culture. What I remind everybody, whenever I can, is that in that year, when my dad and I weren’t speaking, my dad was still doing the work for himself, trying to work through his own issues, trying to learn more.
I actually was told by my mom that he would defend me from other family members, that other members would ask him questions and say certain things, and that he would come to my defense very, very, very quickly. And honestly, that’s a huge step for somebody to battle with their emotions—especially Latino men. My dad was the one who taught me for most of my life that we take our emotions and we put them away and that’s not his fault, because that’s what he was taught. But for two people from this background to come in and say, Fuck these barriers. We’re not going to let tradition get in the way of us simply loving each other, that’s really big.
A: There’s a lot of pressure within the Latinx community and within the immigrant community to unconditionally love our families, when in fact, so often they reject us or make us feel smaller even in the subtlest of ways. How do you navigate your own personal boundaries with your more extended family?
AF: My energy and my time are very limited. That has liberated me from caring. That sounds very brash, but if somebody’s not going to bring positive energy towards me, and if somebody’s not going to bring compassionate energy towards me, then I don’t need to waste my time on them. If there are people in my extended family, regardless of who they are, who disagree with what I’m doing (even though there’s no such thing as disagreeing with my identity), it doesn’t matter because ultimately, I’m still here doing what I’m doing. It’s funny that we grow up so focused on being successful, and now that there’s a little asterisk next to my success, things have changed a little bit. But it’s really just remembering that like, you know what, I’m still out here doing the thing.
A: We talked about the tías giving you side eye at the parties, but who are your biggest champions? Who is that person who sticks up for you?
AF: My mom. My mom was the first person to decide to do the work herself. There were a lot of friends that I had where I navigated that myself and taught them along the way: this is what I need from you, this is where I’m different. But it was my mom who went out of her way to ask questions and build upon her own knowledge.
And from there she transferred that to my dad, and now my dad is right up there next to her especially after the episode and after this last year of being communicative with each other and being open with each other and being honest with each other. I think that I wouldn’t be able to navigate spaces with extended family if I didn’t have my immediate family there. Because I know that no matter what happens at that event, whether it be Easter or a quinceañera or whatever the hell’s going on, I always have my parents. So yeah, like if extended family isn’t going to be there for me then then my immediate family is.
A: You’ve become more of a public figure since Queer Eye. And you’re also an athlete in a state that wants to keep trans kids from playing sports. Could you talk a little bit more about the role that sport plays in your gender expression?
AF: Oh, absolutely. Sport has always been my anchor. No matter what happened in my life, I could always turn towards it and I can always come back to it. As a Latino boy who was struggling with a million things that he didn’t understand, I was very lucky to have that anchor.
So with my gender expression now, it’s very much about control. I think for me it’s control over what I’m doing, where I’m going, and who I am. I think that expressing that control of yourself is the ultimate form of ownership of your body. It’s the ultimate form of thriving—that sense that nobody else can tell you what to do and what you can and cannot do. Sport and gender are just not separated. I have to keep them together. Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to kind of navigate the world without some form of physical activity and some form of competition. As a controversial trans athlete, again, it’s kind of about showing the world that there are myths out there but I’m still here, no matter what kind of asterisk you want to put next to my success.