BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Jaime Ortiz is a Psychiatrist in his 50s here in Bakersfield and also serves as Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity, which serves as a nonprofit organization providing safe spaces for the LGBTQ community here in Kern County.
Up until a few years ago, Jaime was married and raising two children with his wife. For most of his life, he's had to hide who he truly was, a gay man.
Being from Puerto Rico, and being male, it was difficult for him to live his truth and fully be accepted by his community and family. He feared ridicule or being misunderstood.
"I grew up in a generation that didn't really have much understanding of what gay or being different was. I remember growing up not understanding what homosexuality was. I remember when I was growing up seeing TV shows where gay people were being portrayed as clowns, they were very feminine, very exaggerated, they were people to make fun of, basically a comedy sketch."
Growing up he had a fulfilling and worthwhile life, but something was always missing. Something he knew was there but didn't want to admit it.
“I was an odd kid, quiet, straight A's. Not too many friends. It was easy for someone like me to hide under the radar. I was different already. I was alone already. I knew there was something off with me."
Coming up in the 60s and 70s was difficult for Ortiz in the aspect that he felt alone, and was without knowledge of a world he belonged to. He had no communication with his family regarding homosexuality, nor did he know that gay women also existed.
"I lived in a house with a lot of love, but not a lot of communication.”
He learned quickly to stay under the radar and bury things that felt different to him. Thus, creating a closet, his own closet within himself. Once he did learn to understand the concept of homosexuality, he still didn’t see himself as a gay man.
In his young adult years, he wanted a wife and kids, which created a lot of confusion for him. He did get married, and he happily raised two children. Two kids whose lives he was very involved in.
As he grew in years, his introspection of who he was grew too. He recognized there were parts of himself in hiding. He recognized there were parts of himself he was denying.
In 2018, in his 50s, he decided he’d come out to friends close to him. At first, it felt good. He felt like just getting the information out. But he quickly saw that not coming out fully would leave him feeling as if he was still hidden.
“If I just tell someone, I'll be fine, you can’t. Once you pop your head out of that closet, you don’t want to go back.”
With his sexuality out in the open to those closest to him, he experienced liberation, but was it enough?
“When you come out the first time, and you're ready, it's kind of hard not to tell anyone. It's like you want to tell the world and shout it.”
Coming out for the first time encouraged him to walk into the Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity. He was surrounded by people of all different ages and sexuality, just being. They didn’t have to explain who they were or their lives, they were just already accepted by the community the Center created.
In this environment, the complexities of sexuality set in.
“It’s not just attraction, it’s emotions and feelings.”
During this time Jaime was still living a “double life,” having two groups of friends and two separate Facebook pages. He thought of just combining the two. But Ortiz says, coming out wasn’t the problem, it was how he’d be seen by the gay community.
“How would I be seen by the community, living life in the shadows, closeted?”
In 2019, Jaime decided he would come out to everyone. He didn’t want to feel he was keeping a secret anymore. He felt he had been pretending to be “out.” So finally, he told people at work and his community by combining his Facebook pages and finally being authentic on the public forum. He wasn’t afraid of rejection anymore and didn’t receive any at all.
“I did something subtle and let people decide what they wanted to.”
In his eyes, he came out to the world. This simple act of changing his profile gave him much pause and nervousness.
“That day I went to my car and longed for my life. I just broke down. In part, because I killed who I used to be, and felt I couldn’t go back to the life of being ‘straight.’”
This day was the most difficult of his whole journey.
“Surely we move on. Eventually, it just didn’t matter.”
He reflected on his life and often thought of the peace he had experienced now that he had come out to his community. He experienced internal turmoil. It wasn’t easy doing what he did.
“I didn’t come here on my own, this didn’t happen by myself,” he adds.
Still, he has experienced nothing but love.
He has a simple but impactful message for those who share his experience or wish to.
“If you're ready and want help, moving through this is not easy at any age, you can be 15 or 65 or 80, it's not going to be easy and there is help.”
“There’s nothing wrong with you and there’s nothing wrong with the decisions you made to stay in the closet. There's nothing wrong with your decision to come out of the closet.”
“I am what I need to be, I'm out and proud.”
Where he is now, and where he used to be are nearly polar opposites. He’s grown so much in his life and even more in the past few years. The relief he feels is immeasurable and he knows he couldn’t have made it here alone.
He shares his journey freely and without hesitation, as he moves forward in his path to complete liberation.
“Hardly anybody doesn't know who I am.”
Jaime encourages those in this predicament to call or message the Center for help or even just someone to talk to. Even though the pandemic has closed the Center to physical visits, their presence is still online. They’re here for everyone, no matter what.