“By my 21st birthday, I am going to be skinny,” Jose Facio had said in summer 2017.
Now two and a half years later, he reflects on that goal. Facio, 20, was always unhappy with the way he looked. When he began his freshman year of high school, he promised himself that he would finally start working out, eating better, and lose weight.
But there was something in the way. Along with the weight issue, he also struggled to accept a huge part of his identity.
“I’m gay. I knew from a very young age that it was something that was within me. I didn’t fully understand what it meant and I didn’t even know there was a word for it, I just knew I was different,” said Facio.
Facio comes from a Mexican-American family of five. His youngest sister is 17 and his younger brother is 4. He grew up in Orange County and he considers his family to be generally close to each other.
Facio said, “In my head my family was a perfect family and everything was peachy when I was growing up. My parents weren’t divorced and it was obvious that my parents loved each other. I thought that when I came out, it would be the only struggle my family would have.”
The only person that knew about his orientation was cousin Jasmine Facio, who is four years older than him. He was close to Jasmine growing up. When he told her, she was supportive of him. He felt relief knowing that someone else knew his secret.
In Hispanic cultures, a set of values, attitudes, and beliefs define masculinity. The term machismo represents the strong, aggressive, masculine pride Hispanic men are expected to have.
His family’s culture, ideals, and religion lead him to believe that he would never be accepted by his parents if they found out he was gay. Out of the family tree, he is one of three boys that would be able to carry on the family name. That put a lot of pressure on him.
“This part of my culture wasn’t something super big in my family, but the idea was still present. I know that they expect me to honor our family and it is always in the back of my head that it is up to me to keep it going,” said Facio.
However, you can’t keep secrets from family forever. He knew it was going to come out eventually, but he tried his best to stop it from happening.
Unfortunately, Facio knew his parents suspected something was going on. His dad had asked him once if he was gay, but Facio denied it because he was scared to tell his dad the truth. Then, a female friend of his slept over at his house.
“I remember my dad pulled me aside and asked me questions like, ‘How is this okay with her parents?’, and, ‘What’s the reason they’re okay with her sleeping over at a boy’s house?’. Nothing necessarily happened in that moment but from then on, there was tension in the house between me and my family,” said Facio.
Facio felt like the pressure to come out to his family was increasing. He was at a family gathering held at his uncle’s house, sitting with each other, talking. Jasmine sat beside him. The adults raised a question to the young teenagers in the family.
An uncle asked, “Why is it that you guys tell each other and your friends more than you tell your parents? What is it that you are hiding?”
Facio did not want to say anything. His cousin was in his ear pushing him to speak up. He even let a few moments pass. Jasmine grew irritated with him. He didn’t want her to be mad at him, so he blurted it out.
“As soon as I told them, I immediately started crying,” said Facio.
This day was an important turning point in his life. His cousins, Jasmine Facio and Marissa Gonzalez, have known Facio their entire life. They trusted each other enough to talk about things they could not share with others.
Jasmine remembers the day he told her his secret. He was nervous, taking very big, deep breaths. Finally, he let it out.
“I knew for a while that something was really bothering him, and I was just waiting for him to be comfortable enough to tell me. Once he finally did, I was so happy for him. Of course, we were kids and we didn’t know entirely what it meant but I knew he was scared and that it was my job to be there for him,” she said.
As years went by, she decided that this family gathering was the moment he needed to let everyone know. Looking back on it, she does have some regrets for pressuring him to do it at that moment.
Jasmine said, “Sometimes I feel guilty because I realize that maybe he wasn’t ready. I still feel like he resents me for it sometimes. Other times, I’m glad that I pushed him. Who knows when he would have finally did it?”
She felt the tension in the room after it had been done. Her mother and aunts cried. The men looked stern and disappointed. She never knew what to expect, but she knew that her family dynamic was about to change.
Her father was the only man who did not seem ashamed or disappointed in Facio. She said he was supportive and glad that his nephew had told everyone the truth. Marissa’s parents felt differently, however.
“My parents are probably the most religious out of the family,” Marissa said. “They were not happy with Jose that day and they still aren’t happy with him now. It definitely affected how often we would visit their house, unfortunately.”
Facio was disheartened at his parents’ response to the secret his relationship with his family would not end up happily ever after, yet, he secretly wishes that it was.
“If I could take a pill to be straight, I would do it in a heartbeat,” he said.
Knowing he could not change, he focused on something that he could control – his weight. Eating healthier and working out became the biggest priorities.
Facio said he ate a lot when bored. He would consume unhealthy amounts of food and never exercise. He recalls when he ate with his cousin and her boyfriend.
“This is the food for all of us. Each individual person would eat two party size bags of Hot Cheetos and then an entire Little Caesars Pizza box to themselves,” he said.
This was a wakeup call. He knew that he had to stop overeating and making unhealthy choices. He has since taken numerous steps to eat healthier. If he does eat junk food now, he gets a smaller size and shares with friends instead.
Jana Hassanpourgol and Gregory Lange, close friends who have known Facio for eight years, saw the changes.
“I’m impressed with how determined and motivated to lose weight he has been over the years, I know it isn’t easy for him,” said Lange.
“Seeing his transformation has inspired me to lose weight as well and I have been trying to eat healthier,” said Hassanpourgol.
Facio became committed to going to 24 Hour Fitness.
“My commitment got to the point where I didn’t say anything like, ‘Oh if I have time I’ll go to the gym’. No. I’m going to the gym. If I was hanging out with my friends, I would leave even if it meant missing out, because working out is my top priority,” said Facio.
He showed old pictures of him overweight. He never worked with a fitness trainer because he was too insecure about himself.
Through strict dieting, healthy eating habits, and many late nights in the gym, Facio has lost 122 pounds so far. He dropped from 310 pounds to 188. He is not done yet. His goal is to maintain his healthy lifestyle and keep pushing through it.
Although he is still struggling to accept a part of his identity, he is happy that his confidence in himself has increased. Being healthy and fit has been his top priority the past couple of years, but he has realized something more important to achieve – his happiness.
Facio said, “I overcame two things that consumed my life the most. I’m not afraid anymore. I’m ready to conquer all my fears.”