Friday, March 4, 2005

The Leather Life Interview: Angel Rodriguez, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2005

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #255, March 4, 2005)

Angel Rodriguez became Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2005 on Feb. 2. Shortly after, I had a chance to interview him. Rodriguez was born in Chicago, but he and his family moved in with his grandmother in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, when he was about eight years old. I started by asking him to tell me his best memory of growing up in Puerto Rico.

My best memory is probably the open arms that Puerto Rican people have. They meet you and automatically they say, “Come home and have something to eat.” Our house was always open, we never locked our doors, and living in the mountains everybody kinda watched after each other.

And food, of course, great food. We cook with some great flavors.

Did you come from a large family?

I have two sisters and a brother, and I’m the youngest one out of the four of us. My grandmother had nine children, so everybody in the family, cousins and aunts and uncles, we all lived probably no more than twenty minutes apart from each other. My grandparents were very religious, born-again Christians, and my parents really embraced the church, too. So of course we kids went to church also.

What kind of church was it?

Pentecostal. It’s called Disciplos de Christos, Disciples of Christ.

Where in Puerto Rico is Guaynabo?

It’s about twenty minutes south of San Juan, up in the mountains. So basically, on Sunday, everybody goes to church. And you go, of course, Sunday morning, Sunday night—if you’re not doing anything you go to church.

What’s one of your memories about growing up there that’s not so pleasant?

I think the worst times were when I was going to church and trying to find out who I was. That was really hard.

When did you start to realize who you were?

I remember having feelings, just being curious about guys and kinda felt that I wanted to be more intimate with them, probably since I was little. In elementary school I was attracted to other kids. I never saw something bad with that until somebody pointed it out. They used to call me fag, and I was like, “I’m not a fag,” because I didn’t know what that was. But for them fag or gay was something really, really bad. And of course, coming from the religious background, then I felt horrible because I was going to go to hell because I started to have feelings for guys. You know, especially when I was in high school, I kinda had a crush on this guy, and it was torture.

So how did you resolve that?

It got to the point after high school that I really needed to leave the island, because the pressure of being there was very intense. It’s hard when you go to a church where people are speaking in tongues and there’s somebody screaming in your face, you know, you need to save yourself, you need to get rid of those sins. I used to go every Sunday and just cry and cry and cry in front of the altar for forgiveness from God because I had a crush on somebody, or when I was in high school I was experimenting—I used to go out with guys who probably had more experience than I did in touching or feeling another guy. I remember my first kiss with this guy, and the next day I was in church crying. It was horrible to feel this way.

So it was probably high school when I went to church one day and I went to the altar and I said, “God, when I walk out of here either you’re gonna change me, like the church is saying that I could be changed, and I can be, you know, what they call, straight, or I can be happy and be myself, be who I am.” And I kind of said, “God, this is it.” When I walked out of the church I still felt the same way, and that’s when I decided to be happy and stop torturing myself.

So, after high school you left Puerto Rico, and you went . . .

To Fort Lauderdale to live with my sister. That was like three days after graduating from high school—I had already bought my plane ticket even before graduation. I started to go to massage therapy school, and massage was what I did for a good fifteen years.

What brought you to Minneapolis?

Well, that same sister moved here probably six years into me being in Fort Lauderdale, and I came to Minneapolis to visit her. That was in August, and my second week on vacation here I decided to leave Florida. I needed something slower, I liked the change of season. And I just went back, got rid of everything, my apartment by the beach, I was working two jobs, everything. I moved up here with a couple boxes and my suitcase, and I worked for Horst Salons as a massage therapist.

And now you’re starting a new business, and it has nothing to do with massage.

It’s an indoor play park for dogs with retail, food and supplies for dogs and cats.

I’ve seen two cats and a dog here, so you must like animals.

I love animals! I love dogs, cats, and I’ve got two fish tanks. Minneapolis needs a place, especially with our long winters, where people can socialize and take their dogs to play.

When will you be opening?

Spring, I hope. Either spring or late spring, Petey’s Place will be open. That’s what it’s going to be called, after my dog Pete.

So you’re going to open a new business and then run off to IML. What will you do if you win the IML title?

I’m actually hiring a manager and other people, so I’m more going to be overseeing the marketing part. Right now it’s working out great that I have the ability to take time off if I need to, so I can get ready for IML.

When did you realize there was something about leather that you wanted to explore?

I think I started to know about leather through magazines, and then through videos. And that’s when I started to experiment with different leather pieces, and I found it erotic, and then I started to experiment with some other guys. And then I started to go to the Eagle, and that’s where I found the people that I actually had something in common with.

What issues are you thinking about as IML comes up—things that you might talk about in your IML speech?

I really want to look into the Hispanic community and leather. I want to know where is the Hispanic leather community, if there is one. That, and mentorship for the young generation. What happens to a young person who doesn’t have a mentor? Where do they go when they feel they’re doing something wrong because society, and especially their parents, is telling them it’s wrong? It’s very tough on a kid that doesn’t have that support.

I had somebody awesome that just inspired me to be myself. I always tell this story, because it’s a true story and I would say it saved my life. It was in 1983 or 1984, when Madonna came out with her first album. I remember I used to hear it—these girls who lived high above in the mountains would play it, and the music used to echo down. My parents used to say, “Oh, those people are gonna go to hell!” I used to do yard work outside just so I could listen to the music.

I ended up buying a cassette of that album. Then I would tell my parents on Sunday night, “I don’t wanna go to church because I’m not feeling well.” So they used to go to church, and I had taped that cassette behind the speaker, so when they left for church I’d take it out and put it in the stereo. I’d put down all the windows so nobody can see me listening to Madonna. When I felt that I was a horrible person, she really made me feel happy and good about myself. Just listening to her lyrics—“Only when I’m dancing can I feel this free”—that was the best time! And then when I see the van of the church coming down the mountain, I’d take it out of the stereo, tape it back behind the speaker, and then run and get into bed so nobody would know what I was doing.

“At night I lock the door so no one else can see.”

That’s exactly what I used to do! And if it wasn’t for her lyrics I would not be here talking to you right now. She was a very good influence, she gave me a lot of strength to believe and say that, you know what? It’s gonna be okay.

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