was 2-years-old when I was first called a faggot. My mom, still a teenager at the time, watched me cry as I picked myself up. When she tried to help me, my dad yelled at her and told her not to or I’ll end up a joto (Mexican Spanish for faggot). I was 11-years-old when I first understood that people were calling me a faggot at school. Though I had never heard of a gay person, I quickly figured out that it was something to be avoided at all costs. When I was 13, a student in my English class called me a maricón. I finally said: “So what if I am?”

I remember having crushes on other boys as early as elementary school, but I figured out enough of the world to know to keep it to myself. Through middle school, I was teased for being gay. I never thought I could be because, quite frankly, I didn’t know what it meant. When I finally accepted that I was a maricón at 13, I acknowledged something that had been so intimate and uniquely me my whole life: I was different and I was alone. My isolation fed my shame. I thought no one could ever understand who I was. How could I have revealed the thoughts that were eating me away when I was convinced my existence was an accident?

As soon I stopped denying my queerness, I tried to learn all I could about what it meant. Coming from a predominately Latinx city and Latinx high school, learning about gay people transported me to my first predominately white cultural sphere. I first understood my homosexuality from porn. My sexuality consequently developed out of a medium that worshipped smooth, muscled white men. When I searched for images of myself, I only found images of hypermasculine and mostly hairless Latino men. Alongside these images of gay men, my hairy, fat brown body felt foreign. Again, I was alone and I was thirsty to see myself.

I met my first boyfriend when I was 16-years-old: a Mexican boy who had just moved from Riverside. He was thin and hairless and lighter than me. We dated for 7 months. We walked around school holding hands. Every day people would yell at us, threaten us, and sometimes spit at us. We were alone, but together. Even though we regularly hooked up, he never saw me naked. His body wasn’t foreign like mine. I never thought he could be attracted to me if he saw the real me. I didn’t know I was allowed to be vulnerable. I never told him about the hole in my chest that kept me up at night. My sadness continued to chip away at my core.

My isolation was not an accident. The constant fragmenting of my humanity into oppressed categories of race, skin color, gender, and sexuality made it almost impossible for me to exist as a whole human. Stereotypes of gay men and antithetical stereotypes of Latino men have made me unintelligible to a world that ignores and silences the struggles of my communities. Internalizing society's fear and abhorrence towards gayness and Latinidad, I learned how to hate myself. The shame I internalized because of my isolation made it difficult for me to relate to other people. Without models of gay brown men being vulnerable — let alone existing — I was convinced that the only company I would ever really have was the emptiness inside me. I accepted this truth very early on in my life, and for much of my life it defined me.

We’re taught that before we can be in a relationship, we must first learn to love ourselves. But this is a nearly impossible task because for many of us, particularly queer people of color, loving ourselves is a lifelong journey. This journey to self-love is never linear. It can change every day, and some years are better than others. At what point do we become loveable: able to love and able to be loved? Are we loveable more days than others?

I was 19 when I first felt seen by someone. I shared the shame that had been crushing me since I was a boy. The weight of hundreds of hopeless nights immediately lifted as I delved deeper and deeper into my soul and for once, I wasn’t afraid. When I shared the depths of my fears with someone, I finally felt I could be loved and for the first time in my life, I was whole. When we broke up, I thought I would never be complete again. I eventually learned that my loveability came from this raw openness; and like love, my vulnerability could not expire.

Brown boys aren’t taught how to be open, communicative, or honest about our sadness. The resulting isolation is slowly killing us. My emptiness became such a significant part of me that it made me believe it was all I would ever have. Learning to love yourself is a lifelong journey that often feels impossible, but by bridging the fragmented parts of ourselves, our vulnerability will allow us to build a world where we can love and be loved.

Follow Gerardo on Twitter @JotitoDePerris and Instagram @JotitoDePerris.