Coming Out: Nikki Lopez

Not everyone listens to the Indigo Girls

Nikki'Nikki Lopez as a child

“I think somehow as a child I always felt a little different,” says Nikki López, 24. Born in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, and raised in Daytona Beach, Florida (the home of spring break and NASCAR “and that’s about it,” she says), López – now a youth counselor at the Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative (GALAEI) – didn’t always have the language for what she felt. “I just thought I was weird,” she says.

As a kid, she wanted to be Ariel from The Little Mermaid or Princess Jasmine from Aladdin. But as she got older, singing Paula Abdul songs (they were popular then – really) and sporting her high-tops, she started to realize that it wasn’t that she wanted to be them but that she desired them. And perhaps the escape Disney promised.

“I finally came out to myself at 16,” says López. “I always saw hyper-flamboyant representations of gay men, and there was one girl in high school who was the token lesbian.” The girl – tall, white with blond hair and blue eyes – drove a BMW. “All the guys wanted her,” says López. “But I wasn’t her. Nor would I ever become her.”

The first person López told was her best friend. They were both on the basketball team, and after practice one afternoon she just blurted out, “I’m gay.” “I felt like if I didn’t say it at that moment, I wouldn’t have the guts to do it again,” she says. And the response was very matter-of-fact: “Oh girl, I know,” the friend told her. And that was that.

Eventually López also worked up the nerve to come out to the tall, blond lesbian who seemed to own the manual on what it meant to be gay. But when López didn’t know who Ani DiFranco or the Indigo Girls were – “What kind of lesbian are you?” the blond asked – López realized that she didn’t fit into the stereotype. “And that’s an experience I carry with me into my adult life,” says López, who moved to Philly in 2006 to attend Bryn Mawr College. “I needed affirmation.”

Her mother had a hard time accepting her sexuality, but her brothers were supportive from the beginning. And today, this “baby poet, gender-bending, Spanglish-speaking, womyn-loving Boricua queer,” as she describes herself, is comfortable with her identity. And so is her mom. “She now calls herself the mother of all the gay kids after meeting all my queer friends,” says López. “She says ultimately they just need to be loved.”

Nikki’s story is part of an ongoing series that appears in the pages of G Philly magazine. Want to share your coming out story? Please tell us about it: [email protected]