After Years of Searching, Queer Man Finds Community In Philadelphia. “This Is What A Family Feels Like.”

by Gabriel Marenco-Garcia

My name is Gabriel Marenco-Garcia and I’m from Tomball, Texas.

I grew up in a predominantly Latinx household, which was also dominated by Catholicism. Even the location of where I grew up is on the far northwest side of the Houston suburbs, borderline rural, and so it was an interesting combination of both city folk and also rural folk. Additionally, my family identifies as an immigrant family and so a lot of these cross-sections of identities were extremely salient during the formative part of, like, my years in my childhood.

As I grew and graduated from high school, the next piece of my journey was really, of course, the college journey. And I stayed in Texas. I looked at a lot of different places but stayed in Texas for my undergraduate career at Texas A&M, which is in College Station, an even smaller area of Texas. I didn’t come out till I was in college. I was 19 the first time I ever came out to anybody. What was interesting about living in College Station as a newly open gay man is that there wasn’t a lot of – there wasn’t a huge queer scene. There were a lot of queer people, but there wasn’t necessarily settings are spaces in which I could, you know, thrive or see myself. There was one gay bar I did go to when I was an undergrad. but again even then it was one and it was so far away.

I decided to pursue a degree in higher education and so I looked at different schools and ultimately landed just a couple hours and hundreds of miles away at Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Oklahoma. So I got another small college town. There was a lot of overlap between, like, being in the same spaces as students and the same spaces as graduates and professionals. There was no way to really differentiate or separate the personal and professional aspects of being an openly gay man. So it was kind of like I can’t really fully engage in the ways that I want to.

After, you know, six years of education, it was finally time to really again find a place that spoke to me. And while I did search nationally, interestingly enough landed in Tallahassee, Florida where I worked for Florida State University for about three and a half years. I had a roommate, and he’s one of my best friends to this day, who oversaw the LGBTQ services and center that were part of Florida State. I got to really, for the first time, really meet individuals that were outside the binary. And that was particularly monumental for me because growing up I don’t think I would have ever found that.

But at the three-year mark, I was ready for something different. I was out at one of the queer nights at one of the two bars that had them and just looking around and just being like, There’s a lot of cisgender white man here. And even though I’m friends with, you know, a few of them, this isn’t really my scene anymore. And it was that feeling of isolation again of just like, Hmm, this isn’t really the community for me. And so it was time to look for something better.

So I searched and searched and searched and ultimately landed a job at Penn, so working in a similar capacity that I was prior to at Florida, and I moved here to Philadelphia during what was an extremely cold winter. What was great about moving here is that I did have one connection already. Instantly reached out to my friend and said, “Hey, now that I’m here… where can I find like my space and place? And, you know, I just want to make new friends.” And so was great was that that one connection really opened the doors completely for what was kind of another transformation, so to speak.

And really within those first 6 months, there was just a moment that really struck me and it was after hanging out with my friend that had moved from Florida and then now who the group of friends that I call my closest Judys to this day. So we have this GroupMe and that’s how we communicate and send – whether that is loving messages or silly gifs and memes every single day. Literally, it is active every single day and they’re some of the funniest people I’ve ever met. One of them had said, “Let’s add Gabe to it. He’s so much fun to be around.” And so that was such, like, a pivotal moment within my experience with them, you know? And it wasn’t just the GroupMe itself, right, because I think that’s a little bit material. But I think that was still meaningful and the fact that, you know, what each of them had to say to me why it was so impactful and was really that moment of, like, This is what a family feels like.

These are people that I think, like, especially because we cover such a wide spectrum of gender identity and expression, that I think has ignited more of, like, the advocacy pieces within myself. As a result of the community that I’ve become a part of and those close-knit group of friends have really allowed me to, again, have that new transformation and like further understanding of myself.

And so my journey is still not completely over by any means. I think there’s still more to this story, but I think from where I started ten or so years ago, a little over ten years ago when I was 18, to now being 30 years old and have moved several times, I think that transformation has been such a beautiful thing to watch within myself and even for others that I remain close to to watch as well. And what lies for me up ahead – who knows? But I will say that I cannot be any happier than where I have been.

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