Q: Tell me about yourself?
A: My name is Raul Alonso Evans; I was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and moved to Los Angeles at the age of seven. I am the spokesperson for AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) and have been living with HIV for the past 23 years.
Q: What does it mean to be the face of AIDS Project Los Angeles?
A: It's an honor to be representing the organization and the people who belong to APLA. It has helped so many people's lives and continues to do so on a daily basis.
Q: What is Aguruphobia?
A: An independent feature film that I worked on as an Assistant Director. It follows a group of friends united by their love for internet spiritual guru Nanak (played by Pepe Serna). We are holding a fundraiser screening Oct. 25th at The Frida Cinema Theater 305 East Fourth Street, Santa Ana, CA 92701. Fundraiser screening tickets are available at the door cash only $20.00. Student discount $15.00 or you can also buy tickets online at http://ocaguruphobia.bpt.me/
Q: How did you become involved with Aguruphobia?
A: I met the director Richard Montes and producer Jade Puga through the West Hollywood T.V. Station. They were guests on The Sally Kirkland Show which I direct I am also the host of WeHo Sports. Both Richard and Jade thought it was important to have on set a person from the gay community to serve as an adviser and keeping dignity and authenticity to the transgender character of Sandra, who is played by Carlos Ramirez.
Q: What was your involvement with Aguruphobia?
A: Second Assistant Director and adviser for the gay, lesbian, transgender community.
Q: How did Aguruphobia speak to you?
A: After reading the script I immediately felt compelled to be a part of the film. Aguruphobia spoke to my life's mission of bringing more awareness to the gay, lesbian, transgender communities. The character, Sandra played by Carlos with such commitment and truth, really appealed to me. I thought the character was portrayed in an honest way. I also appreciated the fact that as filmmakers -- both Richard and Jade -- thought it was important to have me and my partner Kurt Evans on set. The filmmakers and Carlos did a lot of research into the transgender community. Reflecting back I was really impressed that on set as a collective group, we never ridiculed Sandra. We appreciated her.
Q: Why is Aguruphobia important to APLA and the gay lesbian transgender community?
A: It's an eye opening project for the community in that Aguruphobia portrays a transgender character without focusing on her sexuality or identity. She is the best friend who keeps the protagonist Crystal Luna sane and is really the voice of reason in the film. I loved the fact that Sandra in the world of the movie is accepted for being herself and does not have to justify or explain or hide who she is. We put a project together that depicts a group of people from all walks of life interacting as a community just as we did making the movie.
Q: How did you become the AIDS Project LA spokesperson?
A I've been a part of AIDS Project Los Angeles for the past 23 years. AIDS Project Los Angeles came into my life when I was really sick. I was diagnosed in 1991 with full blown aids. At that time the doctor said, "Go home, you have six months to live." My mom was waiting for me outside. How do you tell your momÔÇªthey just told me, 'Go home and die.' I had a priest tell my family what HIV and AIDS was, and what to expect and prepare to lose me. The priest asked them to write three names of the people you love the most and prepare for his death.
I got sicker and sicker, ended up weighing 90 pounds. In those days, HIV was about counting the T cells. Now it's about how much virus is in the T cell. The doctors ordered me to smoke marijuana to keep down food, coming from an athletic background I had never touched the stuff. The discrimination from my family was so harsh. I was given paper plates and plastic cups. They cleaned the restroom with alcohol every time I used it that I started stopping at gas stations to use the restroom to avoid the embarrassment.
The biggest blow to my spirit came when I could no longer touch my sister's kids-that was the hardest for me. I was very close with her kids and we used to bake on the weekends all of which I could no longer do. I did not know they were afraid. I felt disgraced and alone. I decided to go live in my car. I got real skinny and sick and ended up in the hospital-that's when APLA came into my life. They found me a place to live and provided me with 24 hour care which I needed at that time. My life changed from that point on. I was no longer in a hospice I was alive. I started asking god, "what do you want me to do?" I was in a hospice dying! Why did I survive? For what purpose? I found the answer in public speaking.
Q: Tell us more about your public speaking
A: I've been doing public speaking for APLA for the past 17 years. I started doing it when I was really sick because I thought before I die I want to help save others lives. Public speaking makes me feel good to help society, give back and bring more awareness to aids.
Q: Why is it important for you to be outspoken about AIDS?
A: When I was diagnosed my family was telling people I was dying of cancer and not of AIDS; I was shamed and forced to live in the shadows reminiscent of the shadows I lived in before I came out as being gay. All of which have consequences and I stop and think of how many people's lives I could have helped save had I not been so ashamed. I needed for people to understand and be educated about AIDS to create awareness one less diagnosis. At the end of the day I want people to know that no one is safe. HIV does not discriminate. Right now in the clinics sometimes you see whole families and many eighteen and nineteen-year-old black and Latinos infected.
Q: Can you talk more about living in shadows before coming out to your family as openly gay?
A: I come from a traditional Mexican family. My parents had thirteen children and I always felt different. At an early age I took the initiative with helping my mom with house chores and spent a lot of time with the women in the family. My brothers started calling me joto, maricon, pu??al, puto all slang duragatory terms to describe a gay man. I knew the words were bad and that I shouldn't be like that. I felt different -- but at a young age had not connected with what it really meant to be gay and the messages from family and society were that to be gay is wrong. I conformed to a straight lifestyle until my family and I could no longer run away from the truth.
Q: When did you first start identifying with your own sexuality?
A: It was in Mexico sometime before I was seven. I noticed a neighborhood man that lived near my grandmother's house and helped my grandmother with chores. He liked sitting with my grandmother and the women gossiping and knitting. He was flamboyant and living an openly gay lifestyle. When he walked, he owned the street no matter what derogatory terms were flung at him. He walked with his head held high. The men in town were very abusive towards him physically and mentally; many of them tried to beat him up in the morning and then tried to sleep with him at night. He made a living selling his hand-crocheted manteles on Sundays in the plaza. Watching this man, I started to identify with him but also saw how he was treated and how difficult it was to be openly gay in those times.
Q: When did you come out as openly gay to your family?
A: Well, I tried once when I seventeen but that just created the exact opposite effect that I thought it would.
Q: Can you tell us more about that?
A: At the age of seventeen I wrote a letter to my parents explaining that I was attracted to men. I had not acted upon those feelings yet and they thought it was a phase and I would get over it. All I wanted was for them to accept me. My brother gave me 100 dollars to go have sex with a prostitute but I told them it wasn't about sex. My parent's solution was to send me to Mexico to join a professional f??tbol team in Jalisco Mexico. Which made no sense to me- now I was with thirty naked guys in a locker room.
Q: How did that soccer experience effect your coming out?
A: It started a series of events that hid my truth. I could not come out in Mexico to thirty men whom I spent almost twenty four hours with as we lived nine of us to a house. I was attracted to the men but could not show it. I had relationships with women so that the guys would not suspect me. They were my pretend girlfriends which would visit me and come watch the games. I called my teammates fags to fit in with the macho culture. I was afraid to come out as gay as I would lose my career and my whole life would be affected.
Q: When did you finally come out to your family?
A: I wish I could have done things differently -- I tried to cover up my gayness by doing what was socially accepted as the "right thing". I was so embarrassed of being different. I kept so busy with working to stay away from the family so they wouldn't know I was gay. My brother threatened to kill anyone in the family who was gay, so when I came back to Los Angeles at the age of twenty in efforts to please my family and my mother, I married a childhood friend. I was so disconnected from any sort of gay community that the only choice I saw was to try to conform to a straight lifestyle. This fa?ºade eventually blew up in my face. When my wife and I were having problems, she made the announcement to my family that I liked men. My mother and sisters cried. My brother got up to hurt me but my father stopped him. My father stood up for me and defended me and said that whoever hurt me, they would have to hurt him first.
Q: What changed?
A: Everything. That night I felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. My communication with my sisters became more open and flourished. Our relationships grew and I became one of the girls for them and to a large extent an advisor for the women in the family. Some of my family just ignored the fact that I was gay but did not care as long as I did not throw it in their face. When my partner Kurt Evans and I got together, I felt proud to be able to bring him home. I became more involved with APLA volunteering at the West Hollywood Public Television station and created several shows for the station Living Well with HIV and WEHO Sports and through the station met many people including the Director and Producer of Aguruphobia.
Q: When can we watch Aguruphobia?
A: October 25th 7pm at The Frida Cinema Theater 305 East Fourth Street, Santa Ana, CA 92701. Fundraiser screening tickets are available at the door cash only $20.00. Student discount $15.00 or you can also buy tickets online at http://ocaguruphobia.bpt.me/