Hi. My name is Jose Ramon. I’m from the Bronx, New York.
I was 13. I lived on Riverside Drive on 160th and Riverside. Beautiful neighborhood. My mother and father were both born in Puerto Rico. I was born in Puerto Rico. My father served in World War II, so he was very militant. My mother was subservient.
One day, I was in the house. He was out like he normally would be. And I was looking at my mom with all these chores, with the washing of clothes. The machine wasn’t working then. I decided I’d give her a hand. She had already been teaching me how to cook, so I was, like, kind of familiar with the kitchen and, you know, it was interesting to me. But I never really washed dishes or anything. I’ll do that.
My father came – had come up for whatever reason. He would never be there at that time. That day he came up. He sees me washing dishes. He calls my mother right away.
He says, “What is he doing?” ¿Que lo que está haciendo? My mother was like… what does she do?
“What do you mean?”
“He’s washing dishes. That’s not something, you know, men do.” And they started arguing and next thing you know – I’d seen it before, but this time was different – I was told to leave. He kicked me out of the house for washing dishes.
I didn’t come through with identifying who I was as sexually or my orientation. Any of that. I just knew I was different.
I must’ve been about 14 and I go to a youth group. It was called the Gay and the Young Youth… Youth Aid and Advocacy Program. I call and I show up. It was great. Went after school because I came back to go to school. And the program had a few counselors and had a lot of the kids. Well, my first week of it was fine, counseling and How are you? How’s things at home? The usual.
They would send us off to go to job interviews, after school work. So we would – I went to my first one. So this person who ran this studio liked me. So this one particular night – I was there for about two nights – afterwards, he said, “No, stay for a little while so we could talk.” He told me his wife was out of town. He had a house – a townhouse – on 32nd Street. I’m being offered $100 to spend the night.
So I go and I freaked out. I said no and I ran out. I went back to the counselors and I told them what happened. Oh we’re sorry. That won’t happen again. Try this one. I went to another place. Same thing. In a period of about a month or so, I had developed friendships with a few people. So I knew not to go on job interviews again.
Because of the traumatic experiences that I was already having in the house and that I have had, I found it safer and more secure – a lot more safer for me to develop this alter, so I went from being Jose to being called “Joe”. That’s how I wanted to be identified. So Joe was a clean slate. A blank canvas. I was able to fill in all the blanks. Who was dad? He was a frenchman. Who was mom? She was a showgirl on a boat. I can’t swim, never been on a boat at the time, but I, you know, this was great. It was the opposite of everything that was there.
Everybody, from that moment on, I introduced myself as Joe. Even my own family. Being the youngest out of nine, they noticed the change, the shift from Jose to Joe. So I held on to that.
But the kids that were there, they introduced me to Greenwich Village. I’d never gone to Greenwich Village, down Christopher Street, ever. I was new. I didn’t know what to expect and I’m walking down Christopher Street and I see guys holding hands, girls holding hands together. So you got to feel their happiness, their openness. That was fabulous for me. So I would come back at night and that’s when I saw even more stuff happening. The drag queens. The trans women.
My mom also, parallel to this, was always having trouble pronouncing Joe. But not pronouncing it. Just associating it with Jo- with Jose because I was always Jose to her. So she would have to really stop and think Joe. So she’s making the effort. My father had already passed away so he was no longer in the picture.
So my mom develops Alzheimer’s and Joe has to now take care of Mom. I’m with my mother, a home, a career, put myself through school, had to drop out of school again, take care of Mom. Now it’s in the added responsibility. No sooner that I have my mom and the joy of having her that I lost her.
The interesting and most pivotal thing for me during that period was the point where I decided to stop with the person, the personality, the alter of Joe. And when she passed, to honor that, her, I decided to call myself Jose.
I had a break – a breakdown and ended up having to go in and seek therapy. So I did that. Jose became active again. He wants to live. He started doing different things. I’d just gotten into a relationship that didn’t work out too well but it made me realize of what I didn’t want and didn’t need in my life, which was anything that was not positive, you know? So I looked for everyone and everything that had some kind of light.
Here it is, I came around a lot of people that never knew me as Joe. And it was okay. I had all of the sudden developed this need to reintroduce myself to society. The best way I thought how, even though I used a vehicle, was through photography. I didn’t have to converse much with people. I could just walk up to – excuse me – to someone and say, “Hi, my name is Jose. Could I take a picture?”
Jose met this guy named Albert. And Albert from the first day had this smile. So I waved and I said, “Is it okay for me to shoot?”
And he said, “Yeah.”
I met him and I say, “Hey, listen, you know, this is my email. Contact me so I could email your picture.”
He said, “Okay, fine. Here’s my Facebook. Just contact me on Facebook and send them there.”
I said, “Okay, fine.” So one thing led to another and sure enough, about a week or two later, he had invited me over for dinner. And then we had a second dinner date and so on. And then then we decided to just go out together. We’re seven years in so far. It’s going great. Congratulations, Jose.
Today, Jose Ramon is this well-known artist. Photographer. Well, at least I think I am. So I have all these great things. I have had these recognitions and proclamations from state senators. I’ve had gallery showings and submissions of so many great things. I managed to create a project called the White Shirt Project which deals with the stigma of mental health. Managed to create the Bronx LGBT expo, which is a platform for people to also explore their creativity and greatness and put it on the stage and let everybody see.
I never thought that I would have the notoriety just from being this Joe, this Jose, that I am today. It wasn’t something that was planned. I made it a process. I moved to appreciate it. And Jose, today? Jose is in a good place.