Iara Santana | Coming Out As a Queer Latinx Woman

A big part of my coming out was knowing that I wasn’t alone. With my internalised homophobia, and lack of any knowledge about the queer community, I actually believed there were just the two labels; gay and lesbian. Bisexuality was just a phase, there weren’t really any grey areas, and I had no personal LGBTQ+ community; so who was I? Now I identify as queer and pansexual, but I only wish I could have been shown the stories of other queer identifying people growing up.


Iara is a photographer, sharing her journey online about what it’s like to be a queer, undocumented woman in America. She is hella real (my jam), super sweet, and true to bringing an authentic story to the world. She was kind enough to let me practice my interviewing skills on her, while she opened up more about what it’s been like coming out as a Latinx queer woman.

I just love learning more about how unique our experiences can be, and that’s the point of this all; to know we’re never alone. To understand that we each have our own story, and they’re all equally valid and important.



Iara's story

When did you come out? How was that process for you?


I never had any indication that I was queer until I was 24. I always crushed on and dated cis-men, so feeling something similar for a woman came out of nowhere for me.


I had just come to terms with what it meant to be an undocumented Brazilian-American, and felt like I finally understood who I was. I thought I wouldn’t go through any more drastic changes any time soon, and could focus on my education, mental health, and building my life. So when I realised what the feelings I had for this woman were, I was debilitated.


For a while, I hid it from everyone I knew; trying to make sense of what was going on. I tried to find comfort in reading other’s coming out experiences, only to find that most stories of women coming out in their mid-twenties were very different from my experience. Most queer people I knew at the time always knew or suppressed it, but had signs. I felt very lonely in my experience.


I struggled to not only feel validated in my feelings, but to find a new label for myself. That was stressful as hell. I felt like my world was turning upside-down and I had no sense of control.


When I finally decided to confide in a friend, talking to them about what I was feeling, and experiencing, and what it all meant for me felt really good. They were essential in helping me not go to a dark place, but embracing change.


Since then I never officially came out to anyone but my parents and brother. I don’t know if correcting people when they assume counts as coming out, but that’s basically what it’s been like. I never felt the need to publicly come out unless it was part of the conversation at hand and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because relationships are the one thing I keep private, maybe it’s because it’s no one's business but my own, but I make it pretty obvious to people paying attention.


In your friend group, are you the only person that identifies as queer? Or do you have other friends that identify as queer as well?


I think at the point in time, more than 50% of my close friends are queer. It’s so strange because some of them are friends I grew up with and we just never knew or talked about it. Brazilian culture is still very religious and heteronormative and it’s so annoying to deal with at times. But I can honestly say that I couldn’t be happier right now when it comes to friendship.


I have a close group of friends, we’re all queer, and I’ve never felt so comfortable and accepted. I’m able to play around with my gender expression and they are completely supportive. There is no pressure, there is no judgement, I can truly be the real me.


How did you come to the word queer? Because I know that there is a lot of controversy around this word, and I’ve come across a lot of people who are still confused as to why I even use this term.


I hate labels! That’s mostly why I like the term. In the beginning I was trying to figure out what to identify as, and was too overwhelmed. I was like: “Am I demisexual, what is androsexual, could it be pansexuality?”. The labels were taking up space that I didn’t want to bother myself with. I found myself asking questions like “Why can’t I just be me and that’s ok? Why do people need to ask me how I identify? Why does any of this matter to anyone but me?”. I chose to identify as pansexual for a while, until I discovered the word queer and what it meant to be queer. I’ve labeled myself as that ever since. I like that it’s an umbrella-term. That people don’t question you after you say you’re queer. They might think I’m a lesbian, but that’s their assumptions. It leave room for change and growth. It feels so empowering to say, I’m queer.


Has your fashion changed since coming out as queer? Did/do you ever feel like you need to dress another way?


I think there’s always pressure to fit in! In the beginning, I found myself choosing specific outfits thinking that that would make me look more queer, but it just wasn’t me. I like dressing more femme and that’s usually how I express myself. Now I feel like I live in Converses, leggings, and whatever top fits the mood and situation. I dress for comfort!


I will say though, part of feeling accepted for who I am in my home and with friends allowed me to experiment with “men’s” clothing. I’ve only done that once, and hope to do it more as I found some pieces I actually really enjoy. It feels so empowering to be like “screw societal norms”.


Has being undocumented, or being an immigrant, in anyway affected you being queer? Or within your community where you’ve grown up?


In most ways I will say no. I distanced myself from the Brazilian community when I was in high school and haven’t really gone back since. Brazilian culture, like I mentioned before, is very religious and heteronormative, which angers me. However, I was brought up by amazing parents that taught me to not judge, to be my most authentic self, and accepts me for who I am. I’m so grateful for them and their unconditional love.


I do miss my culture though, and being a part of a strong Latinx community. I want to learn more about my roots and ancestors. About Brazilian history and current events. About music, movies and so much more. I feel as though I missed a big part of who I am by ignoring the community, even though it was the right thing to do at the time. I feel ready to fully embrace my culture now, and will do it my way and in the way I think it was intended to be.


So have you been able to find much of a queer Latinx community? In person or online?


A very small one, yes. I’m still actively searching for other queer Brazilian and Latinx individuals to connect with. It feels reassuring when you connect with queer individuals from similar cultures and understand each other in that way. It feels less lonely I guess.


Is there anything that you would have done differently? I know that you’ve come out more recently, but is there any advice that you’d like to share?


I would tell myself to stop trying to fit into this box. To stop trying to fit in, period. Labels don’t matter, what matters is being true to who you are, and whatever that means to you in this moment. People change, and that’s ok. We go through changes all the time. You are ALLOWED to change. I was too focused on labeling myself because I had this obsession with finding my identity. But not preoccupying my mind with how I had to act to fit into this label felt so freeing, and I don’t want to let go of that feeling.


I would also encourage people to find other queer friends! Friends that align with who you are and have similar values. The best thing about being queer for me is finding an amazing group of diverse queer friends from different backgrounds and upbringings that encourage each other to keep learning and growing by sharing our stories and experiences with each other.


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There is an emphasis on labels, or more accurately, a lack of. I’ve noticed this a lot when talking to others about why they prefer to use the term queer, and the fluidity of the word seems to be the most appealing. I mean, sexuality is on a spectrum, isn’t it odd that we typically assume that someone is heterosexual unless told otherwise? Wouldn’t it be more normal if we lived in a world of queer humans who came out as straight?

I also could never understand what it's like to try to understand my cultural identity on top of my sexual identity, so I appreciate Iara's vulnerability on this subject.


In the beginning of this interview I also told Iara that I lack a real life community of queer identifying people. I explained how apart of my process for understanding myself more has been through listening to other people’s stories online, and even how creating Well and Queer has played it’s part too.


So I know that these stories matter.


Iara is a gentle badass who is owning her journey and wearing it loud and proud. She is a DACAmented Brazilian queer woman who is following her dream to become an inclusive photographer. She’s just beginning, and I cannot wait to see what she has in store to share with the world!

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You can connect with Iara via insta here!