Despite this not being his hometown, Daniel Albert Bisuano says he began his long, on-going journey of finding self-acceptance in Boyle Heights. Despite dealing with incarceration at a young age and with housing insecurity, he said that the hardest thing he ever did was to come out.
Having to accept himself and navigating a journey of self-love is something the writer, actor and advocate still deals with to this day. Our reporter Valeria Macias had the chance to speak with Bisuano as part of the Beat’s Pride Q&A series, to learn about his journey towards building compassion for all throughout Boyle Heights.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
BOYLE HEIGHTS BEAT: Describe what being from Boyle Heights means to you personally?
DANIEL ALBERT BISUANO: For me it means diversity. It means culture. It means community. And kind of learning to embrace my roots. I moved here from a predominantly white neighborhood, Monrovia in the San Gabriel Valley. And I moved here when I was 14, almost 15. And it was a big culture shock because my family conformed to that community. And when I got here, it was the opposite. I didn’t know how to speak Spanish. So it gave me my little Mexican spin back.
BHB: So how was that, growing up in the neighborhood in the valley?
DAB: I don’t know. For me, you know, at that particular point in my life, I was a gang member and I was lost. You know, I didn’t know how to accept my gayness, I didn’t know how to accept who I was. So I acted out. And for the majority of the time that I was in the valley, I was either incarcerated or on drugs.
BHB: How would you say your identity within the LGBTQ+ community has shaped your journey through life as someone from Boyle Heights?
DAB: Well, I guess at the beginning, you know, I thought of myself as a demon, you know, I thought that I had a curse, and that I didn’t know what the feelings of liking men were. I just knew that people would tell me they were wrong. And then when I got older, I went on my own and started learning things… at the age of 19 is kind of when that shift happened. And I started to learn how to embrace all aspects of myself. But I guess, two years ago, is when I really embraced my sexuality fully, and my femininity that’s involved with that, as well. And just like being able to just be me in all aspects.
BHB: What are some issues you feel the queer community is facing and do you feel it’s more perpetrated in the Boyle Heights community?
DAB: Being taught that being ourselves is wrong. I think that for me that was the biggest obstacle, knowing that just by being myself, people are gonna judge me. Just by holding my partner’s hand or giving them a kiss and how awkward both of us feel because of the judgment, when it shouldn’t be that way at all. Anywhere you go, it doesn’t matter. If you go to West Hollywood, we’re just a fetish. We’re just like a zoo for all the rich white people to come see. And if you go anywhere else, like, I’m not going to be able to hold his hand without one person snickering or staring. So it’s really anywhere you go. But there are places that are more than others, like LA.
BHB: So how did that go for you, like accepting yourself, when you came to that realization?
DAB: It’s a constant journey, a daily journey, I have not fully embraced all aspects but I don’t know if I ever will fully because I’m always changing. But for me, it was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, you know, I’ve been incarcerated most of my life, homeless, sex work, you name it. And all of that was cake, compared to learning how to look at myself in the mirror and love the person staring back.
BHB: What does pride mean to you? In what ways do you celebrate your own identity?
DAB: It means taking the power back from society and giving it to yourself.
I celebrate just by being myself, by wearing paint on my nails when I feel like it or putting a crop top when I feel like it. Or I love wearing pink, just whatever it is. If I feel like wearing heels, I’m gonna wear them. But just being able to own that person. And when people stare at me not feel funny about it.
BHB: Can you tell me more about you and your journey through life, any particular moments that stand out for you?
DAB: When I was like 18 years old, I got into a car accident, driving drunk and I had just turned 18. I almost killed myself, I was in a coma. Before that moment, I remember thinking that I wasn’t meant to live. But I woke up from the coma. And my face was full of glass, like I had holes in my legs, all this stuff. And the first thing that I did when I woke up was look up car accidents, deaths from car accidents, and the cars were half as bad as mine. And I remember thinking that if God hated me that I’d be dead. And that moment really allowed me to know that I’m here for a reason.
BHB: Was there any advice you would give to younger generations struggling with the same things you went through?
DAB: Yeah. It would just be that when you look in the mirror, just like what’s staring back, you know, learn to love that person at every moment.
BHB: Are there any misconceptions you face as a person, as part of the community?
DAB: All the time. I mean, people will assume I’m straight, like a lot. And when they find out I’m gay, especially men, it’s like a whole transition… And for me, it’s not my job, I don’t think, to navigate those type of situations. It’s just my job to know that it has nothing to do with me.
BHB: There’s something that you miss when you don’t grow up with with your culture. How are you? When did you realize that you wanted to start getting more involved in your culture? And how has that journey been so far?
DAB: I’m still realizing. I mean, the black culture took me in faster than my own community did. So still navigating that, still trying to figure it out, doing things like this, trying to be you know, on that radio shop there, you know, being more involved in that way, but my culture isn’t very accepting of me.