For many, love and marriage go hand in hand, but for the queer community in the US, it wasn’t always a possibility – not until 2015. That year, Anabel Martinez and Perla Landeros –two Angelenas with a passion for positivity, progression and pride– met online and began their love story.
In a day and age when controversies surrounding the LGBTQIA+ community have become hyper visible, the pair have held each other close through it all and are fighting for equality in their own ways. Martinez, who grew up in Southeast LA, currently works as an attorney engaged in policy work focused on human trafficking. Landeros is a university student and researcher who was born and raised in Boyle Heights and hopes to give back to the community upon graduation.
Married for a year now and living in Boyle Heights with their dogs Pablo and Pepe, the pair are enjoying life by each other’s side and taking things day by day. For them, that is everything. Our reporter Carmen González had the chance to interview the couple to conclude the Beat’s Pride Q&A series and learn more about what it means to live and love in Boyle Heights.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
BOYLE HEIGHTS BEAT: How would y’all describe Boyle Heights?
PERLA LANDEROS: Vibrant and interesting all the time. There’s always something going on whether it’s good or bad. There’s always noise, I grew up here so when it’s too quiet I’m like “it’s too quiet, por qué?” I like how Latino it is. So welcoming.
ANABEL MARTINEZ: I’m newer to the neighborhood. I grew up in Cudahy and before we moved here to Boyle Heights, we were living in MacArthur Park for like five years. I think it has been the first community that we came to and it still feels like Cudahy in some ways, but you could definitely tell it is Boyle Heights, it just has that feeling to it. There’s pride from the community that I haven’t really seen in other spaces. I think it’s a place that is complex and because there’s so much pride, there’s a lot of differences of opinions as to what the community should look like, should be like, who should be here. I appreciate that.
BHB: What was your experience navigating sexuality and gender when it came to family? How did your family react to your identities?
PL: I feel like my family always knew. I came out because my sister’s like “are you gay?” I’m like “yeah”. When my mom was always asking me and I tried to deny it when I was younger, but I think they’ve always just known and once I did come out, I’m very lucky to have them be so open to it. I was 15 and they were asking me because I just always acted a certain way and looked a certain way. But I didn’t know it myself yet.
AM: Well, I identify as queer/pan, I think sometimes a little bit harder, because I remember trying to come out in high school. It wasn’t until I went to college all the way to Pennsylvania. I was finally on my own, that I realized, “No, I’m pretty sure I’m gay.” Once I came out to myself, I had my first girlfriend in college, I came out to everybody. I’m not the type to hide. For the most part, everyone was pretty open to it. I didn’t come out to my parents right away, because I wasn’t sure. I come from a very traditional Mexican background. I’m like, ‘let me just wait to make sure I have a job and somewhere to go’. And then I’ll tell them. I actually was surprised. By their reception, they were kind of surprised themselves. They thought my other sister was the gay one.
They were like, ‘Are you sure? It’s not your sister?’ I’m like, ‘No, it’s me. It’s not her.’ I think sometimes out of love, they were still like, ‘I’m worried about how people are going to perceive you and I’m just worried about how the people are gonna treat you. I’m like, ‘as long as y’all are on my side, that’s okay. You don’t have to worry about it.’ They did take some time to like, get used to it. I had a partner at that time and that’s why I came out because my partner was coming down. I’m like ‘I want you to know, this is not just a friend, this is my partner.
They didn’t make me gay, we might break up, I’m gonna still be gay.’ I just wanted them to know that. I was lucky that they were okay with it. It took them some time to stop being like a “su amiga.” I told them I was a lesbian because I felt like explaining queer was too much. For now, we’ll just keep it simple for them.
BHB: Reflecting on your pasts, how would you say your identities within the LGBTQ+ community have affected your journeys in life? Specifically, as people born and raised in a predominantly Latino community?
PL: When I was younger I tried to be more gendered, I didn’t have the terms of what it was. All I knew is that I like to play a bunch of sports and kick it with guys. There was no language for it back then. A big turning point for me was just to see somebody, like Shane [McCutcheon] on the “L-Word” just be kind of whatever about gender. That was like such an androgynous character. I was just like, ‘Oh my God, that’s how I want to be.’ I always kind of skated in the middle. I’ve always been lanky, just really tomboyish. I’m not just a tomboy. I’m a non-binary person. I still haven’t explained that to my parents, because that’s gonna be like, a two hour conversation. With such a gendered language, it’s really hard. It’s so taxing. I know that they accept me. My mom was like “you can be gay pero te pones un vestido?” I’m like, nah. You always kind of have to balance your culture with your identity. I’m very fortunate for my family to let me be a little masc presenting and still embrace me.
AM: I think that’s kind of like probably why I went to college and Pennsylvania. I just needed to get away. I went to a very white liberal arts college. There were a lot of POC coming out in college. Most of the gays in college, or LGBT community was white. My first partner was white. It’s kind of interesting that it had to be like in a white space that I felt like I could come out. Then coming back home, I think I myself internalized all the things we’re told about Latino communities and their homophobia because that’s a little bit what held me back from coming out to my family. Although very well intentioned, the whole, ‘we need to be out and proud’, it’s not the safest for everybody. You also have to keep that in mind. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to work in spaces that I’ve been able to come out and my family was very open to it. It took them some time. I even went back home to Mexico in 2019. I was out to my family there and everybody just had questions. There was nothing, at least to my face, that was negative. It was interesting to just get questions and get it was like curiosity with my grandma and I had a long conversation about it.
BHB: What does community mean to you?
AM: That’s definitely something that’s been ever evolving. I feel like I’m at a place now where my community is built up of my family of loved ones I have, we have friends that we’ve been friends forever and I have someone who they know me since I was eight. That’s someone in my community. We have newer friends through political science that also feel part of my community. For me, it’s a space where you feel safe and cared for. Where you feel like sometimes people anticipate your needs without you having to voice them. People doing the work to reduce the harm and make sure that people feel welcome. Sometimes you don’t just want to be one identity, right? So for me community/social space, where I could be Latina, could be queer, I could be all those things. It’s really hard to find those spaces to be honest. I feel like in a way we’re learning to build our own communities.
PL: I grew up in Boyle Heights. Once I was 18, I’m like ‘I need to get out on my own.’ I’ve lived all over LA, but I’ve always considered Boyle Heights home. Regardless of how it wasn’t as safe to be in or still like a little unsafe. It’s always just been home. I come back here and I feel comfortable. We moved back here in 2020. I still have my theater that I can go down the street and we can walk to the neighborhood bars and kick it with the homies from PodeRosas. That to me is community. Where you just feel okay. You know the spaces and the people that are around you feel safe. I just feel safe in Boyle Heights.
BHB: Heterosexual and cisgender people have a lot of media to base off what their relationships should look like. What advice do you have to younger couples who are figuring out how to be a couple with no example of it?
AM: Any relationship, whether that be a loving relationship, a familiar relationship, a friendship, you have to ask, ‘what are your boundaries? what makes you feel safe? what doesn’t feel okay’, and let that be your guiding principle. Also understanding that people’s boundaries are different, too. You have to really be willing to listen to one another, be willing to get to know each other. I feel sometimes because you don’t know a lot of queer folks, when you meet someone else, it’s so easy to get obsessive, and start to want to be together 24/7.
You have to slow down. There’s a stereotype of the U-hauling the second date for queer women. That’s not healthy. I get it, it happens. I feel like something about me and Perla that I love is that we’re very different people, but also have a lot of similarities. We constantly learn from each other. I feel like we enrich each other’s life, I don’t ever feel put down or they don’t ever make me feel any kind of negative way. Being open to learning and understanding that you might not understand why, you might not always get your partner but as long as you come at it from compassion and love, eventually it should be okay.
PL: Find someone who you feel safe with. And I think nourishment, mutual nourishment.
BHB: Navigating being an immigrant and being part of the LGBTQ+ Community can be exhausting. How do you do it?
AM: Dance parties. Queer Latin dance parties. It’s my go to to feel in community. Just find events that kind of coincide both and I actually think maybe intentionally or unintentionally, a lot of my friends I’m close to are queer immigrant folks, because I feel like that’s who I feel drawn to. I consume a lot of media that kind of depicts both. I see being part of the community is a strength rather than a weakness. I don’t know when that shift in my thought happened. I feel like once I did that shift, I think I felt a lot better about it. It’s not a weakness to be an immigrant or to be queer. It’s actually a strength because it allows me to view the world from a different perspective that other folks who don’t hold those identities are able to have and so through that I can always advocate for myself and for others in a way that maybe other people who don’t have those identities wouldn’t be able to do.
PL: I’ve always just kept friends with my shared experiences and identities. Some of my oldest friends are like from 15 even more years ago, and whether some of them are queer, non-binary or just trans people. One of my best friends is just a cis-hetero a woman but we all can draw back we grew up here. In terms of self care, we do try to like frequent spaces that kind of intersect, so like Cumbiaton, we go to, that’s one of our biggest dance parties. Personally, I’m a big gamer. I like to cook and I like to feed people.
BHB: Is there someone or a moment in your life that really helped you feel validated and safe as a queer person?
AM: For me, it would be my sister who was close to age to me and my best friend Jennifer since I was eight. When I came out to both of them, they just didn’t skip a beat. They’re like, ‘cool’, it was just simple. Just by them doing that and not making a big deal, I felt ‘okay, no matter what, I have two people who I really love and care for my life on my corner.’ I felt like I could turn to them for help. When I was trying to come up to my parents, I would talk to the two of them to be like, ‘Hey, how do you think I should handle this?’ They’re the two folks that I felt safest to when I initially came out.
PL: Let’s see. I obviously have my family and like my friends that I’ve grown up with, but I think you guys interviewed her like during the teacher protests. It was [Yvette] Olivares Estrada, she’s one of the teachers, and I saw her featured on your social media. Her and her husband were so f—– amazing to me when I was little, they got me into soccer. I remember just sitting in the back of her car and that was one of the first conversations I had about queerness. I don’t know, maybe she did it inadvertently, or like she did it just because she kind of knew. I was 11 or 12, I’m just like, ‘hmm. So this is somebody that I can feel safe with.’ And I played soccer for her husband, Mr. Jose Estrada from when I was in first grade until I was 15. I always felt safe and I knew that I could always go to them. Her and her husband were very influential to me.
BHB: What does Pride mean for you and when was the first and/or most memorable time you celebrated it?
PL: The ability to be myself, I think just my presence in a lot of spaces is just already like ‘what?’. I feel like I’ve always just kind of embodied who I am. I want everybody else to have that. Just be who you are, unapologetically and feel safe. That is what pride is to me.
I’m very proud of who I am and if you don’t like it, you can suck it.
AM: I kind of mentioned it earlier but being able to look at my own identities as a source of pride and strength. Whether that be being an immigrant, that be being a woman, whether that be being queer, those are all identities that actually are a source of strength and resilience and power. Because I have those identities, I’m able to connect with so many communities in ways that other folks are not able to. If I’m in a space that I feel a part of my identity feels like it wants to shrink. I’m like, ‘no, no. Stand by and you’re good. Just walk forward and you’ll be fine.’ I think that’s what it is for me just minding myself that I’m stronger because of my identities not despite them.
BHB: Is there anything else you want to add?
AM: Just for younger folks even though we do live in Los Angeles, never feel pressured to be a certain way or come out or anything because other people are doing it. When you feel right, and when things feel good for you, that’s when you should do whatever it is you want to do. Oftentimes, because we live in bubbles that might seem progressive, or whatever, the reality of every person, their family and their situation, is very different. Don’t compare yourself to other people and what other people are doing and where they are in their journey, because your journey is your journey, and it’s gonna look different from other people.