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WINDYCITYMEDIAGROUP

Columnist Esther J. Cepeda on coming out, writing career
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2019-07-31


When Washington Post Writers Group columnist Esther J. Cepeda recently came out as queer in one of her pieces, "Mental Health Needs of LGTBQIA+ go beyond Pride month," they joined a small number of prominent Latinx LGBTQ people in the United States.

"Coming out in this way was not about me at all," said Cepeda ( who also identifies as non-binary and gender non-conforming ). "If I was going to talk about young people who have mental health issues, I wanted the public to know I have experienced one tiny little slice of what they are going through. I am a whole adult with lots of resources and I am having trouble in the same situation."

Cepeda explained that the therapist they originally sought out through their health insurance carrier list of doctors earlier this year was not a good fit. They said the therapist acted in an imperious manner and did not understand the issues LGBTQ people like them self face in the wider world.

"She questioned why I was in a relationship with a transgender woman and asked why I did not find a cisgender woman to date—and also suggested I go to an orgy," said Cepeda.

"I felt like she looked down on me and that included the way I was exploring my sexuality, which she disapproved of.

"My girlfriend, Karoliina, also experienced roadblocks during the initial stages of her transition because her first therapist did not have proper training around transgender people and their issues and this is a real problem in the medical profession."

Karoliina ( Cepeda requested that her last name be omitted ) has been in Cepeda's life for the past five months. Cepeda has also been married to their husband John for 22 years, and the couple has two sons—ages 18 and 20. Due to Cepeda's relationship status, they also identify as pansexual and polyamorous.

Cepeda said they came out to John years before they got married and he accepted it immediately. Ahead of Cepeda's public coming out; they told their sons, parents, editors and closest friends to varying degrees of acceptance.

Depression and anxiety has been a part of Cepeda's life since they were a child and that has resulted in off and on bouts of insomnia.

"When I found a new doctor a few years ago, he put me on the proper medication and everything clicked," said Cepeda. "I finally realized that I deserved to be happy and this included exploring these other parts of myself for the first time. I talked with my husband about it and he said go ahead. My son's are starting to trust that this will not break up our family but my parents are still having a hard time accepting my girlfriend. My editors are totally supportive and only one out of ten people have criticized me for publicizing my identity."

Cepeda is the only child of an Ecuadorian father and Mexican mother. They were born in Chicago and grew up a mile from Wrigley Field in what was then a working-class neighborhood and graduated from Lane Tech High School. Cepeda explained at first their family was surrounded by white people; however, over time the neighborhood became a multicultural oasis where people supported each other. They grew up in an extremely strict, conservative and traditionalist household where the expectations were to be a submissive girly-girl and have a Quinceañera when you turn 15.

"When my mother went to Mexico, she bought me hard shiny shoes and frilly pastel dresses. I was disgusted by all of it because I wanted to dress like Billy Idol, be a boy and hang out with other boys—and that caused a real rift with her," said Cepeda. "I have a ton of Legos that I play with because I was not allowed to have them as a child. They were for boys according to my parents and my mother was even concerned with me riding a bike because it was not a girly activity."

Cepeda said they were very aware of their sexual attraction to people of both genders when they were really young but their culture frowned upon anything outside of the gender binary. They explained that although they feel they have a "man brain" they also identify with their womanhood because they have had children.

Although Cepeda's parents wanted them to go to a local college and live at home, they went to Southern Illinois University ( SIU ) for a journalism/advertising degree. This was possible since Cepeda's boyfriend at the time was going there and according to their parents, "he could watch over me." Cepeda explained that going away to college gave them the license to explore their identity—and it was an eye-opening experience to live in a rural area and meet people who grew up on farms.

"When I came back to Chicago, I was already engaged to my now-husband, who grew up in southern Illinois and also went to SIU," said Cepeda. "We got married and lived on the North Side of Chicago until we had our first child. Then we moved to Lake County when my husband's company relocated there and have been there for 18 years."

Cepeda has spent the majority of their career as a journalist and was previously a Sun-Times columnist who wrote about sports and politics, and penned op-ed columns. They also created a marketing and communications consulting company EeJayCee, Inc. and is a full-time ESL ( English as a Second Language ) and ELL ( English Language Learner ) teacher for a northern suburban school district outside of their writing career.

The Washington Post Writers Group syndicates Cepeda's columns to newspapers across the country and also posts a small amount of them to their website. Cepeda explained that they are one of only two Latinx writers in the group. They said there is an underrepresentation of Latinx people in the media and that has to change because their voices are vital to the national discourse. Cepeda told Windy City Times they have been writing about the Latinx LGBTQ community since 2006 and "will continue to do so with more authority now that I have come out."

After nearly seven years of being absent from the pages of either of Chicago's main newspapers, Cepeda's column can now be read in the Chicago Tribune,

Since coming out publicly, Cepeda attended their first-ever Pride Parade and marched with Equality Illinois and the GenderCool Project, which they have written about in the past.

"The loving response from the crowd was something I have never felt before," said Cepeda. "I am close to one of the GenderCool Project founders, Jen Grosshandler, and just met another founder, Gearah Goldstein, at the parade. I love their mission and think it is really important to make transgender teens feel like they are well represented in society, not as victims, but as empowered young people who are going to change the world."

Cepeda added they are also looking forward to cheering on Karoliina when she plays on her LGBTQ hockey league team and exploring other ways to get involved with the LGBTQ community.

Another thing Cepeda likes to do is attend creative community-focused conventions. Recently, they attended the MaxFunCon podcast convention in California with their husband.

"In one of his classes, he did a whole stand-up routine that was all about being polyamorous and having a transgender person in his life," said Cepeda. "He was pretty pleased with how well it was received."

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