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Harvey Guillén on Coming Out and Wanting His Story to Help Others

The road to coming out can consist of detours and pitstops, but each journey is extremely personal. Actor Harvey Guillén knows this and was able to add pieces of his own experience to his acclaimed character Guillermo’s coming out in the hit show What We Do in the Shadows. In an op-ed for Esquire, Guillén reflects this and his own coming out journey. 

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“If you had put a mirror to my face while filming this episode, I feel as though I would have seen a younger version of myself anxiously waving back at me. We had lived this life before”, Guillén stated for Esquire.

Growing up as a kid in a Mexican family, Guillén grew up conflicted between how he expressed himself and what was expected of him. 

“In traditional Mexican culture, having a boy means you’ve hit the jackpot. You’ve borne a son who will grow up quickly, learning the importance of hard work—most of that being manual labor”, Guillén writes. “The son will grow to be a ladies man, el hombre de la casa (man of the house), eventually finding a girlfriend while he plays sports in high school and begins to join his father on weekend jobs”.

But for Guillén, he always knew that he was different from other kids. He was unapologetically himself, finding joy in theatre and always looking to make new friends out of his fellow students, but only able to make them with teachers. 

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Additionally, Guillén discussed the struggle with wanting to make his family proud and failing to meet “traditional masculine ideals”. 

“It would be shameful to your parents who have worked hard to raise you. The community would whisper in passing, saying, ‘probrecita, su hijo es gay’ (that poor mom, her son is gay), and although they are whispers, they’re heard in the highest decibel. The last thing I wanted was for my parents to be the talk of the town”, Guillén writes. 

It wasn’t until a family trip to Mexico where Guillén felt the impact of his difference. Young Guillén was playing with his toy truck, until he saw a group of kids he wanted to befriend and approached them to do so. Instead, Guillén was pushed away, taunted, and attacked, causing Guillén to run back to the arms of his mom, hurt and confused. 

“Panicked, she asked me what had happened. ‘Mijo, que paso!?’ she yelled. While still crying, I told her about the kids. I said they had called me mariposa over and over. I asked her to tell me what they meant; I couldn’t understand what had just happened. ‘Que importa lo que digan’ (who cares what they say) she said. ‘Mariposas are beautiful’”, Guillén writes. 

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That moment let Guillén know that he wasn’t alone and that people who meant the world to him, would love him exactly how he is. Queer actors like Guillén recognize the impact of their visibility as high-profile people and Guillén wants his story to be a part of the support needed for other queer folks to love themselves. But he knows that each coming out journey is personal. 

“If the truth of who you are was a home, you are allowed to live in it before having to invite everyone in”, writes Guillén. “To all those who may feel alone in their journey: I want you to know I see you, I stand beside you in full support, and I love you as you are. The right people always will”.

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