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All About Alma

Alma Izquierdo

Alma Izquierdo. Photo by Mystic Images Photography

Even before I met and became friends with Alma Izquierdo, I’d heard about her and I’d definitely seen her around. It’s hard to miss the busy, little spitfire whizzing past you at one event on her way to go to the next. With the launch of her advice column on The L Stop, I got the chance to sit down with Alma so we can all get to know her better.

TLS: I brought this tape recorder because my handwriting is crap and you talk
fast.

A: [laughs]

TLS: Okay, let’s get started…If not yourself, who or what would you want to be?

A: My answer to that is I’m really happy being who I am. If anything, I would say
I would love to be somebody a little bit more persistent, more confident and I really would love to be a professional dancer [laughs].

Alma

Alma in the center of the Dykes on Bikes posing for a ride to the historic "Out in Chicago" exhibit at the Chicago History Museum. Alma has dabbled in almost every single special event or celebration for the lesbian community of Chicago.

TLS: Really?

A: Yes, I would have loved to have been a professional dancer!

TLS: Well, what stopped you?

A: Honestly, it was lack of parental support. And actually it was my father’s opinion that it was a stupid idea. For him, it was all about making money and having a career. To him it was not a career. So, that’s really what stopped me.

TLS: Okay. Who are your real life heroes?

A: Number one is my mom.

TLS: Why?

A: Well, she came to the United States when she married my father at the age of 23. She didn’t speak a word of English. And not only that, she was raised in a small town in Mexico where things like sex weren’t discussed. The whole birthing process and being pregnant, all those kinds of things. It was very old-fashioned and old school. So she came here, if you can imagine, as a new bride, knowing very few people, not knowing the language. She got pregnant with me pretty much right away. And although she helped raise her younger siblings, she was a kid then. And so when she had me, she didn’t know what she was doing. I think of it this way: if I was to be suddenly sent to Russia or China and I don’t know the language, I don’t know anything, I don’t know signs, simple things. You can’t
even have a conversation with your own doctor.

TLS: Right, right…

A: But she loved my father so much, and was determined to make a life here. She did everything possible to get through that. And she did it. Even though she only had a high school education, she came here and not only learned the language but, after she finished raising us, she decided to go to school to get her GED here because her high school diploma wasn’t recognized. Then she went to English classes and computer classes and things like that, all the while taking care of my father, my sisters and I. And then, when my father started his own business, she went to work with him, helping with accounting, etc. She did everything for the love of her husband and her kids, everything was for her family. I can’t even just the thought of me being dropped in the middle of somewhere, not knowing a soul, not knowing the language, it just scares the living daylights out of me. To be torn from everything familiar, including your immediate family, your mother, your father, it’s just terrifying to me. And she did it. She overcame it. And she thrived here. She’s happy here and that, to me, is like, “Wow!” I admire her for all of that. She’s my number one.

TLS: So what are you working on right now?

A: Oh my gosh. I think I’m working on getting myself centered, just to regroup. Because June – pride month – was a very busy month for me, I spread myself very thin.

TLS: You always do that!

A: It was the busiest ever! And I felt like I was working for everyone except myself. And I did that lovingly, but, I was trying to give 100% and it wore me out. So right now I’m trying to set my priorities. And I’m trying to see where I want to go. I’m trying to figure out, what do I enjoy really doing? For me, putting my heart into something, I have to love it and enjoy it, it has to get me excited, otherwise it
won’t be successful for me.

Angelique, Alma, Jen

Alma has made solid friendships throughout the community. Clockwise: Angelique, Alma, and Jen

TLS: So, I know you do both makeup and massages professionally, which one
do you do the most?

A: I do massage more than makeup. But that fluctuates. And then promoting for
events and organizations, as well.

TLS: Do you give massages at a specific place?

A: Health clubs, and I have my own private clientele. So, I do house calls.

TLS: And I know you were working on films and stuff, too.

A: Currently, I work at WGN, I do makeup at the tv station. And also the Lyric
Opera and I work on commercials.

TLS: Anyway, tell me about your involvement in the LGBT community.

A: Well, I’m really excited about it, because up until 2 years ago it was purely social. My “involvement” was going out, socializing, and having parties at my house. Or going to the clubs and seeing people.

TLS: Yeah, I know what you mean.

A: During that whole time, I really felt like I wanted to be actively involved in the community. Now, I’m very proud to say that I’m on the LCCP advisory board, I’m part of the Director’s Circle at The Center on Halsted, I’m part of Amigas Latinas: they actually invited me to be on the board, so I’m the process of talking to them about that. Right now, it’s a passion of mine to be helpful, out there in any way I can to help a community that’s given so much to me, that’s been my second family. I want to put all my connections and networking to good use. To me there’s nothing more fulfilling right now. I can’t stress that enough.

TLS: Was there a specific thing that made you initially decide to get more involved, or was it just a gradual hey-I’m-out-here-anyway-I-might-as-well…

A: It was definitely gradual, but I think what started it was that people started to ask me for help promoting. Whether it was a business or an event. Then when my former business partner and I decided to form Ola productions, we were asked to help Amigas Latinas. So that was really my first experience directly helping a not-for-profit LGBT organization. Once that started, a lot of things followed immediately.

TLS: Do you have any advice for the lesbians out there, on how to get more
involved?

A: Take yourself out of the box.

TLS: How’s that?

A: Get it out of your head that being a lesbian is just about going to the clubs. Because it’s not. I mean, that’s what I did. You need to go to fundraisers, go to an actual LCCP event, an event for Amigas Latinas, an Affinity event, or Howard Brown, and talk to the people that are a part of those specific organizations. Find a passion that you have, whether it’s working with women of color, youth. Even if you’re really connected with the arts, a dancer, painter, there are so many things you can participate in.

TLS: You’re right, there are.

A: My biggest issue is how outside people view the LGBT community only as partiers, like clubbing is the only thing we’re doing. It’s not. There are so many other options out there for lesbians. Socialize while helping.

TLS: How do you balance socializing, work, and a community presence?

A: [Laughs] I have no idea whatsoever. It’s very difficult and I know that I’ve hurt people’s feelings because I haven’t had time to spend with people. Obviously it’s very unintentional. If I could just clone myself! But, I guess it’s just priorities. I try to do as much as I can, knowing my limits.

TLS: Tell me about it. So, What are you thoughts on the current administration’s
actions in terms of the needs of the LGBT community?

A: When Obama was running for president, I think after he won, everyone was so hopeful that there were going to be changes. Now, I’m a realist, so I knew that it wasn’t going to happen overnight. I know he’s most definitely more of a supportive candidate than anyone in the former administration, so I’m very happy that he’s in office. However, it almost seems like his enthusiasm and his promises have fizzled. Quite honestly, I think that it’s up to us to.

TLS: …to keep on him.

A: Yes, to keep on him. To remind him that we’re still here, we’re still waiting, we’re still going through the same discrimination, violence, and lack of funding for our programs.

TLS: If you don’t mind me asking, how and when did you come out to your friends and family? I actually don’t know this story.

A: I was 21 when I realized that my urges to experience a relationship with a woman were really, really strong. I knew as a little girl, but I didn’t understand what it was. I didn’t understand why I was feeling that, what that meant, I had no concept of lesbian, gay, or anything. I didn’t understand it – I thought it was weird and I kept it to myself throughout high school. But, once I got to college, I mean those feelings, those urges were really, like, bursting and it was like an uncontrollable desire to know what that meant. And when I was 22 I had my first experience meeting people in the community, and when I did it was such a sense of, “Oh my god, this is me, this is where I’m supposed to be!” I told my best friend from high school and she was very accepting and that turned out really well and we’re still friends. But I didn’t tell other people in my life because I didn’t think they could take it, they wouldn’t understand it. So, I was in my first lesbian relationship when I was 23 I didn’t come out to my parents until 1997.

TLS: Oh, wow…

A: Yeah, so I was in the closet for over 12 years with my parents. But then I knew things had to change. I was suffering through a horrible, abusive, 6-year relationship and I couldn’t tell my parents what was going on. I was depressed and I couldn’t share that with them. I got to a point where I said, “You know what, I can’t keep this in anymore.” And at that time, the woman I was with wanted to take me on vacation to Mexico, during the same time and at the same location that my parents wanted to take me.

TLS: That’s crazy!

A: Since I couldn’t say no to one and say yes to the other – I said, “Okay, well this is it.” By the way, it coincided with Ellen DeGeneres coming out. Anyway, I told my youngest sister first, because she’s very liberal and I wanted her to be present when I told my parents. I directed all my attention to my Mother, because I connect with my Mother, I do not connect with my Father. So, I sat down with my sister at my side, and I was crying, and my Mom said, “What happened, what’s wrong, are you sick, do you have some kind of terminal illness, etc.” I said “No, Mom. Do you know how you’re always asking me whether I want to get married, settle down, have a boyfriend, whatever and you ask me if I’m lonely? Well, I have been in relationships, just not with men.”

TLS: Very direct…

A: And she looked at me and I said, “Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?” And she kind of gave me this, like, *tsk* questioning kind of look and she goes “Oooooh, ooookay.” And I clarified and said, “I have been in relationships, just with women,” and I started to cry again. She got up, hugged me and she said, “You’re my daughter and I love you. I don’t care, I love you no matter what.” – you know? – “No matter what anybody thinks, what anybody says, you’re my daughter and I love you.” So that of course that got me crying harder…

TLS: Right – I love a happy coming out story.

A: It was just amazing – she just got up right away. My Dad, being the guy that he is, just basically said, “Yeah, yeah, I knew that. I just figured you’d let me know when you were ready.” So all they really said, other than the fact that they accepted me no matter what, was that they were sad that I didn’t tell them.

TLS: …sooner…

A: Yeah, sooner. They wish they would have been able to be there for me through all the terrible moments that I had. But, other than that it went well.

TLS: Did everyone in your family take it well?

A: I saved my other sister for last – my sister is a born again Baptist, and she has a son. At the time he was not even a year old and I literally was afraid that she was gonna throw the Bible at me, and say, “You’re evil, you’re the Devil incarnate, you’re gonna burn in hell, I don’t wanna have anything to do with you, and I don’t want you to have anything to do with my son.” I was more afraid of
her than my parents. And I called her and I was crying again, and she laughed and was like, “Oh, I knew that already!”

TLS: You’re kidding!

A: She told me, “I’ve told all my friends,” and that was shocking because all her friends are the same: very religious, they’re very… how can I put this…Southern. [laughs] So, that takes care of that. That’s how I came out to my family, and so right now I’m out to all my friends, and most of my co-workers but, because I’m in the massage industry, a lot of people that I used to work with are still my clients but, those kinds of people I’m not out to. But, I mean, if anybody asks me…

TLS: I get it. What overall life advice do you have for the baby dykes that are just
coming out?

A: Know that this is not an easy lifestyle, but so long as you respect yourself, and respect others in your community, so that you can build a supportive, loving group of friends, you can get through hell. I would definitely say, if possible, to find a mentor – that would have helped me so much. To find a mentor who is a great role model for you, to help you out because, again, it’s not easy facing discrimination, it’s not easy being in a lesbian relationship. That was my number one mistake, assuming that, because I’d be involved with another woman, they would understand me. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It can be really, really difficult. Definitely be a part of the community. In order for this world to accept us as the amazing human beings that we are, they have to see that our community loves, that we love and respect each other. It’s really bothersome to me that, within our community, it’s men against women, old versus young, gay against trans, some people won’t date outside of their race, there’s discrimination against bisexuals…we face such turmoil from the outside, why do we segregate from within?

TLS: Amen to that. What do you wish the 2011 you could tell you 20 years ago. And, would 1991 Alma have listened?

A: Oh my God! I’m still learning! Probably the same advice I would have given the baby dykes, to love and respect yourself first and foremost. And become involved with the community…I wish I would have become more involved in the community way back then. Because, when you do that, you learn so much more about yourself and what you’re a part of. In terms of relationships – bottom line, if you know it’s not good for you, let it go. But I also don’t have regrets. I don’t regret the relationships I was in, at all, because I’m such a stronger person for it, wiser. I can deal with people better, you know, and help people through my own lessons.

 

L Stop midsommarfest

Alma with The L Stop team and volunteers at Midsommarfest 2011.

TLS: Speaking of relationships, what are your favorite qualities in a woman?

A: Confidence, intelligence, self-respect, definitely someone with manners – that
turns me on big time!

TLS: Manners are becoming so rare…

A: Yeah, nowadays. Someone who knows what they want and goes after it, has passion for life, and someone that can laugh at everything – you know? You have to laugh.

TLS: So, what do you think is your present state of mind? And that can mean whatever you want it to mean.

A: [Sighs] Honestly, I’m really happy with who I am now, flaws and all. I accept myself and that is the most amazing feeling in the world, it really is. And, it’s part of being the age that I am. I feel that, with all the experiences that I’ve had, my eyes are open wide so I can see everything for what it really is. Therefore, I can step back and deal with whatever situation in a much more intelligent way. And, I think because of being happy with who I am, I’m really excited at the potential of what is yet to come. Once you open yourself up like that, it’s like you’re opening the floodgates: literally anything can happen, anything good can happen, when you let go of your fears. It’s very freeing. Whew!

TLS: Thank you, I think that’s good.

A: Those were great questions! Thank you!

About Angelique

Angelique worked in advertising for six years, but quit once they stole her soul. She has been the Marketing & PR Director for Reeling, Chicago’s LGBT International Film Festival, for the last three years. She can currently be seen going out too much and ignoring the stack of books on her floor that she really wants to find the time to read.

Discussion

2 Responses to “All About Alma”

  1. This is a wonderful interview. Alma may very well be considered a staple in the lesbian/bi/queer community, and it’s great to know her background story, which you could miss, if you only ran into her at a bar, or club. It’d be great to see more of these Q&As, especially about the gals you always see around town at every major lgbtq event – and the L Stop provides a great forum for us to get to know them on a more intimate level (no puns here!)

    Posted by Peggy Hill | August 9, 2011, 2:23 pm

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