Christópher (Ófe) Abreu Rosario- A Man of Many Home
Ófe is someone I recently met in August. From our first encounter, I've been intrigued by him. He is one of those well-dressed people who carries the air of someone who has traveled and experienced a great deal more than the average individual. He is also one of the absolute nicest humans and has a quick and easy smile. Naturally, our interview did not disappoint. As always, happy reading!
Name: Christópher Abreu Rosario
Home: Wherever I am
Work: I am a seminarian at Columbia Theological Seminary working on a Masters of Divinity. Prior to that, I worked in the television/video industry for many, many years. I’ve also always done other jobs like summer programs, nonprofit work, or teaching young adults with physical and mental disabilities.
How do you identify? I identify as a Christian, Hispanic, gay man.
Do you have a queer resource? The Sci-Fi book series The Silent Empire by Stephen Harper and the movie The Way He Looks (Portuguese: Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho, a 2014 Brazilian coming-of-age romantic drama film about a blind high school student struggling with independence.)
The heart of it:
When did you first realize your identity?
When I was 4 years old.
What is one of your first memories associated with that realization?
My brothers and I lived in the Dominican Republic for a while when my mother was working in the U.S. Later, she brought us back and we were finally united all living together in a one-bedroom apartment. It was me, my two brothers, my uncle, and my mom. We were that typical Latino family with 10 people to a room. That was us.
Well, one night one of my older cousins was there. He was in his late teens. He was getting ready for bed and he took his shirt off. And I just looked at him and I couldn’t stop staring until he looked at me and he was like, “What are you looking at?” I responded, “Nothing!” And started to pretend like I was sleeping. In that moment I realized that I liked what I saw and that it was wrong. Or that it was perceived to be wrong. It was an intense realization of “Oh, that’s bad.”
Did that negative feeling continue?
Later that year, I started kindergarten a year early and I got in trouble twice. Once because I had all the boys in the bathroom show me their willies. Then another time because I snuck into a stall with another boy and we touched each other. Our teacher caught us and she told my mom. My mom, a very Latino, Hispanic, religious mom, punished me to the extent that I knew that I could never ever get caught doing something like that again, or that I could never talk about it again.
I will go on to say how I was punished. I’ve always been nervous about sharing it because it’s kind of extreme and I don’t want people to think poorly of my mom, it was just a one-time thing. When she found out, she had me kneel on rice and beg God for forgiveness. It was her way of making sure that I knew what happened was not ok while also making sure I would remember the punishment so I would never do it again. So I retreated for many, many years after that.
Tell me about coming out at 16.
I was not ready to come out when I was 16. I was forced out by two friends. My intention was to leave home for college and then come out. I didn’t end up coming out to my mom or family members until much later. I didn’t feel safe in New York where we lived - especially as a Hispanic living in a machismo Hispanic community, living in the places that we did, in the late 90’s. It was not safe to be open and out. I had no intention of ever being out, there.
How was the coming out process with your family?
You know, my mom is a funny woman. I’ve had to come out to her like 6 times. She forgets or she chooses to forget, I don’t know which one it is. She’ll still say things sometimes and I’m like, “Really? I’m not having this conversation with you again.” Like there was this one time in particular, I was in the middle of a really bad breakup. My mom called me one night when I was crying. And I didn’t want to hide in that moment.
She asked me what was wrong. I had never spoken to my mom about a guy but that night I told her what had happened and how miserable I was. Throughout our conversation, she kept changing his pronoun from “him” to “her.” She kept asking me questions about, “her,” and saying, “Maybe she’ll change her mind.” I told her to stop. She knew perfectly well that I was talking about a guy. She said, “Yeah, but I’m just trying to make this easier.” But it was easy for her, not for me. That was the last time I spoke to her about a boyfriend.
Do you have to keep coming out now?
Having to come out as a Christian is definitely a thing. Having to come out as not white, is definitely a thing. Oddly enough, I never have to really come out as gay, I feel like I just always presented that, especially as an adult. Like I don’t have any problem with saying, “Mmm, that boy is fine!” to my co-workers or friends.
It’s funny, being a Christian is easier in America than it was in London. When I lived in London, I had to come out as a Christian to my gay friends. That was actually harder than coming out as gay. I had some friends who asked a lot of questions, some of which were actually really hurtful. It’s interesting to me that they asked me all the same questions that a straight homophobic person would ask them, yet they could not see how hypocritical they were being. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the confidence or the words to express that at that time.
Tell me about your travels.
When I finished my undergrad degree in Saint Louis, I left for London to pursue my Masters in film production. It was miserable. There was a guy in Saint Louis that I was in love with. Our first kiss was the day before I left. My phone bill was like $5,000 because I called him or friends almost every day. After my first year, I decided to leave early and finish my dissertation back in Saint Louis to get closure with that relationship. Then, I returned to London for my graduation.
After graduation, one of my friends helped me secure a Visa and a job with a production but within two weeks the project fell apart. I was counting on it for a salary, but also housing. Overnight, I found myself homeless in a foreign country. For the next year or so, I did odd jobs here and there. But they were always one or two-day jobs. I had no money. I still had my friends from grad school - many of them would let me come over during the day. Some even let me spend the night on a couch or something. Over time, as I got more and more desperate, I ended up having to leave London altogether. I had an aunt and uncle living in Amsterdam, so I went there and lived with my cousins, two of whom were illegal. It was kind of awesome to be living with so many people again, but it was also really sad. My cousins couldn’t really ever leave because if they did they could get deported. We just lived day to day.
What happened next?
Three months later, I was offered a very short-term production job back in London. I relied on my friends to let me stay with them while I did the job. I managed and I got through. I started doing volunteer jobs on UK Film Council films. I worked on two short films with them. While I was doing that, I got offered a job on a feature. So I had three projects back to back. It was crazy. When those ended, another friend offered me a one-day job at a TV company she worked at. It was just cleaning up a storage room. I did that and then the receptionist was sick so they asked me if I could do phones, so I did that and they started calling me in whenever the receptionist was sick. I sustained myself just answering phones and running errands for about 6 months.
After that, the head of drama asked me, “Hey, do you have free time? I need you to watch all of these videos and see if they’re good.” She was looking for new directors for her show Sinbad. And I was like, “Sure!” I stayed up all night and watched all of those reels then wrote a report because that was my training. I gave it to her first thing the next morning. She read it over and said, “What are you doing on reception? Who are you?” I was like, “I have a Masters in producing.” She hired me that day in her department and, in a lot of ways, she saved my life.
Are there any producers who inspire you?
That’s a really hard question. Ten years ago, I would have said yes. But over the years, I’ve watched producers either sell out or we discover that they’re actually people that we don’t respect that much. There’s a really weird source of power in that industry. When I worked on set, I had control over people’s job and how their day was going to function. I could see how that would be very empowering. That kind of power over time can lead to entitlement. At times, I myself had to decide to do projects that would pay the bills rather than projects that were close to my heart.
What attracted you to the film industry?
The first film that made me realize that I wanted to make movies was Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. I watched it when I was 5 or 6, still learning English. What struck me was I could see how this film was someone’s dream - a dream that had been made into a reality. It didn’t matter what language it was in; it spoke across languages. And I thought, “This is how you show people your dreams, regardless of your cultural background or language barriers. Regardless of anything.” At that age, I became obsessed with Tim Burton films. They’re all kind of dreamlike and they tell stories. That's what I want to do. I want to tell stories.
Have you experienced prejudice in your career?
I think because I was in London it didn’t matter. London was very accepting of the queer community, especially in the arts. One thing I did find interesting is that while I was volunteering for The UK Film Council/BBC, there were all these minority projects for Black, Asian, and ethnic films. This was the place I could see myself telling my story among other minority filmmakers. But while BBC funded our art projects, the funding was limited. We were getting these films made, but we were doing so without getting paid. My job that I was getting paid was for producing mainstream productions and British stories. Whenever I tried to pitch a story that wasn’t mainstream, I got nowhere. It was in the midst of all of that that I realized, I would never get my story told in that industry with the funding I had.
What are your hopes for the future?
I used to make all these plans, but then I realized, I have zero control over my life. For the next three years, I’m in seminary. I’m kind of torn about what happens next. Do I lead a congregation? Do I work for the church in mission or advocacy? Do I do UN work? Do I serve my Latino community and become an example of living life as a gay Christian Hispanic man – which I don’t think is common for my church-going community? I don’t know.
One thing I will say is that I want to marry another Latino male. I want my family to speak Spanish at home. I want my kids to eat platanos and I don’t want them to feel weird about it. From a sermon I heard recently, I realized I’ve assimilated into every different culture I’ve lived in, giving up a little bit of who I am. I thrived because I abandoned my family and culture because I was taught to seek something better. Now, I’m trying to reclaim my roots by forcing people to say my name correctly, speaking Spanish in public, or eating whatever kind of food I like. It's not always easy, but I’m trying. And like we saw today, they called your name and didn’t even call my name when my coffee was ready. So I’m picking and choosing how to fight back.
What has that fight looked like for you?
The current administration definitely changed my perseverance. I did not force people to say my name correctly before January of last year. One of my brother’s name is Jorge. I went to a bar with him a while ago and people kept coming up saying, “Hey George, how is it going?” And I was like, “Who’s George?” It made me so mad. I realized that over the years more and more people even within our family have started to call him George. But that’s not his name. Now I cannot demand other people are called their true names, but I can do that for my own name. My mother named me. Regardless of my relationship with her, I want to honor what she named me. I have to remember that I am not white and I have to claim that. My given name and language are not English.
Do you have any coming out advice?
It’s hard because sometimes families surprise you and they are accepting and supportive and they’ll fight for you, but sometimes they don’t. So make sure you are in a safe place. I had to become financially independent immediately after coming out to my family. I’m thankful that I was in college and had food and housing provided for. So wait until you are situationally and financially stable. Also, stand up for yourself. Be prepared to lose everything and everyone but fight for yourself. If you’re following what you believe in, you have to be ready to lose everything for it. Finally, be wary. I came out when I was 16 and I came across a lot of predators. Not everybody who is gay is good just like not everybody who is Christian is good. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.