August 28 marks the first anniversary of the death of Juan Gabriel, one of the most beloved and popular Mexican singer-songwriters of the Spanish-speaking world. He will be remembered for the countless songs in various musical genres that have become iconic standards, for the rags to riches journey of his life story and for the energetic performances that endeared him to audiences across the globe, particularly in Latin America.
But for many LGBTQ Latinos, Juan Gabriel’s flashy personality on the stage offered a level of visibility to feminine mannerisms that were, for the most part, shunned by a culture of strict gender roles and machismo. Juan Gabriel transcended the fear of ridicule and exposure and somehow, he was and is still cherished.
Juan Gabriel — or Juanga — never officially came out as a gay man. It was one of the longest open secrets in the entertainment industry — a don’t-ask-don’t-tell agreement in which his millions of fans were complicit. As a young performer, he evaded any insinuations about his sexual identity. But as he got older, he became coy with his response. “Lo que se ve no se pregunta,” he’d say to uncouth interviewers — what one sees doesn't have to be questioned.
In the queer Latino community, there were differences of opinion about Juan Gabriel’s silence. Many pointed to Ricky Martin as a better example. When he came out in 2010, his career didn’t appear to suffer, and suddenly the word “gay,” which had rarely been uttered on Spanish radio or television, became audible and applauded by LGBT groups as a step forward in removing the stigma of gay identity, which was still palpable in the Latino and Latin American communities. Others accepted Juan Gabriel’s decision to keep his sexual identity unnamed as part of his personal journey, one that many were all too familiar with — to remain in the closet also had its complicated reasons.
When I discuss Juanga’s sexuality with non-LGBTQ fans, I usually get some pushback: What does it matter? My immediate answer is that it matters to me. Read more via NBC