Not in Kansas Anymore: How Traveling Opened My Eyes to My Privilege as a Chicago Queer

by: Ariana Barreto

I started my first year living in Chicago as a self-identified straight girl being an ally to all of my queer friends. Through an LGBT organization at DePaul university I learned, cried and danced with all wonderful walks of life that supported me in every decision. With some of the most amazing queers behind my back, I came out to my friends and family. Now, the vast majority of people that I surround myself with are queer as can be.

This past spring break, I decided to embark on my first vacation sans parents and out to the world. I drove 20 hours to Daytona Beach Florida with my girlfriend. I knew driving through some states that PDA was completely out of the question. I knew that she had to be my friend at the gas stations and rest stops. Most importantly, I knew I couldn’t show I was queer in anyway shape or form.  However, when we finally arrived in Daytona, I acted as if I was on my vacation. I thought I could be back to be back to being…well, me.

With the sun kissing my cheeks and an ocean breeze grazing my hair, I felt intoxicated with joy. The hot sand made me squeeze my girlfriend’s hand while we chuckled at my sensitive chubby toes. In the distance, I could hear a pop song playing about summer love, and then someone clarifying that the two people holding hands in front of them were indeed women.

Initially, I was shocked that someone even bothered or cared enough to notice that we were both women. My mental response was: “Who the crap are you?” I didn’t see how holding hands could merit such disrespect or conceive such an ignorant comment. Needless to say, I shuttered with disgust and shook my head on my queer-elitist throne.

For me, heterosexual folks had (until now) been the champions of my sexuality, and for the past two years, my queer life in Chicago has made me ignorant to the reality of being queer in a heteronormative society. I was actually starting to naively believe that the majority of cities were all queer friendly.  Maybe I was expecting to travel outside of Chicago and scream “I’m so fucking queer!” and have everyone applaud and then snuggle.  (And in case you didn’t know, I’ve been residing in Never Never Land instead of Lincoln Park. For the past two years I’ve been encompassed in this bubble of tolerance. Chicago has indeed spoiled me rotten.)

I never would’ve thought about the consequences of personal displays of affection and didn’t stop to think that hate could spew at me because I simply caressed the lips of the woman I love in public. The only thing in Chicago that has ever happened after I kissed her was a synchronized “awww” from the onlookers.  I am deeply saddened to have taken advantage of such a beautiful bubble. Although Chicago’s tolerance is not perfect, I am heartbroken knowing that some of Chicago’s streets may the limits of the bubble, that others may not have the same privileges that I do.

Living in Chicago has changed me completely. This city has embraced me with its large arms and comforted me in every career, educational and romantic move I’ve made. And I’ve grown accustomed to all of the wonderful things this city has to offer, especially it’s queer community. I’m undeniably grateful and humbled to each and every one of you who make me proud to say this is my home.

Ariana Barreto studies at DePaul University majoring in Public Relations and Advertising with minors in LGBTQ Studies and Spanish. She’s also the interm Co-President and Event Coordinator of Spectrum DePaul. Ariana is a Latina Queer Activist and a sassy one at that.

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One response to “Not in Kansas Anymore: How Traveling Opened My Eyes to My Privilege as a Chicago Queer

  1. Yeah it’s funny how *this* always seems like it stands perfectly on its own until you run into the “that” for perspective =)

    I wouldn’t call your experience in Florida good, but sometimes those kinds of things at least have the benefit of creating a pause that makes us grateful for all the support that we do have.

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