Shortly after the 2016 shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Anthony Ocampo began writing his most recent book.
The book, “Brown and Gay in LA,” tells the stories of gay sons of immigrants in Los Angeles — specifically of Filipino Americans and Latinos — including his own. It publishes on Sept. 19.
“That event just really hit me pretty hard because a lot of the young men that I interviewed came of age in these kinds of places of queer Latinx or queer POC bars and clubs,” he said. “Myself included.”
Ocampo, a sociology professor at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, began working on the book a decade ago. He initially took a scholarly approach while writing it, but the Pulse nightclub shooting prompted him to change direction.
“It kind of stopped me in my tracks,” he said. “It just felt like the version of the book that I had at that point was too academic. And so I did a little soul-searching after the Pulse shooting and I felt like I had to write the book in a completely different way with a sense of urgency.”
While Ocampo was working on the book, the United States legalized gay marriage, after which it seemed that the majority of people believed that meant everything was fine for the LGBTQ community. He wanted his writing to capture that while same-sex marriage now existed, gay men had lived lives with extreme difficulties in their families, communities and schools beforehand.
“For me, it was really important to really chronicle all the labor that goes into just plain existing because I felt like people were forgetting how hard it is to navigate those two identities,” he said.
Some of the themes the book covers are the definition of masculinity men learn early in their lives and dealing with the pressure to succeed academically.
In one chapter, Ocampo writes about “covering,” a concept that refers to how marginalized people amplify one part of their identity to offset the impact of a marginalized part of their identity. For the Filipino American and Latino gay men he interviewed, many turned to academic covering — which “would allow them to win back points they would lose if their parents were ever to learn they were gay” — in primary and secondary school.
Ocampo wrote that one of the main goals of the book is to “bridge scholarly and public conversations around race, immigration and LGBTQ issues.” It’s something that was inspired by his experience as he pursued his doctorate in psychology during his 20s. He decided his expertise in the field would be in immigration and race, and noticed it was rare that conversations on those topics ever included the experiences of queer immigrants or queer children of immigrants.
Ocampo said the men featured in “Brown and Gay in LA” are redefining what it means to be gay, a man and an American.
“The idea that gay men aren’t men is a fallacy,” he said. “That was something that they weren’t always afforded the opportunity to do because people would call them f----, or people would say you’re not a real man because you like other men.”
They also challenge the preconceived notion of an American being a white middle class person, he added.
“When you think of America, you hardly ever think about the queer, gay children of immigrants, even though they are very much part of the mosaic of this country,” he said.
Writing the book was a cathartic experience for Ocampo, who came out when he was 22.
“What that means is that I lived half my life without mentioning or even thinking about a major part of my identity,” he said. “And what that does is that it can make you feel very much alone.”
But every time he talked about his identity, whether in interviews or regular conversations, he would feel a little less alone, he added.
Ocampo hopes his book will make queer people of color seen and empowered.
He also hopes it provides readers who don’t share the identities of the people in his book with an opportunity to understand them.
“I think anytime you take the effort to see the world through a different lens, it makes you a better person,” he said.