Seeing in the Dark: Deaf, gay author's novel looks at conversion centers

  • by Belo Cipriani
  • Wednesday June 15, 2016
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Many people have great tales about how they came into the world. For César Baquerizo, the story of his birth includes a near death experience, surgery in a foreign land, and the loss of most of his hearing due to a reaction to medication.

"I suffered a condition called choanal atresia bilateral bone, which caused my internal outlet nostril to be closed. My grandparents paid for an expensive operation that took me to the U.S.," said the 30-year-old Ecuadorian writer.

Three days after his birth, Baquerizo had surgery at the Ear Center of Greensboro in Pennsylvania. And right after the procedure, he began a treatment of antibiotics that would later claim most of his hearing. In addition to losing 90 percent of his audible range in both ears, Baquerizo had to use a device to clear his nasal cavity for the first couple of years of his life.

"I used an electric vacuum cleaner to wipe inside my nose for a while," he recalled �" a task that proved to be extremely inconvenient.

However, with the support of his family, who was determined for Baquerizo to enjoy a full life, he traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina at the age of 4, from his native Ecuador, to take language classes. At that time, he also received his first set of hearing aids, and began developing his speech.

But while Baquerizo relished in the support of his family for all things related to his disability, when it came to his sexuality, their bond was tested.

"For me, being gay is a natural part of who I am. In the beginning, I didn't feel a need to hide my true sexuality ... until I was exposed to the prejudices of others around me. Because of these external influences, I wasn't proud of that part of who I am. I was ashamed, embarrassed, depressed, and alone," he said.

His family was shocked when, at the age of 20, Baquerizo said to them, "I'm gay."

Initially, his parents wanted to send him to a psychologist for help, but they later refrained from doing so.

"I'm so grateful they were so quick to see the real me �" the same son I had always been," he said.

And even though Baquerizo's family's idea of sending him to a psychologist to help him "cure" his homosexuality never materialized, it did serve as inspiration for his debut book. A Safe Place with You is a novel that captures the experiences of LGBT people at straight conversion clinics in Ecuador. Based on newspaper accounts about the unlawful conversion clinics, Baquerizo embarked on a journey to find these victims.

"When I first started writing the Spanish version in August 2011, it was difficult for me to talk directly with the patients, because most of the victims did not give their whereabouts and their names for fear of danger," he said.

Later, he was able to find the victims' testimonies and the reports about the illegal clinics from the Health Ministry of Ecuador, which helped shape Baquerizo's characters in his novel.

A Safe Place with You was published in Spanish in 2013, and is now being released in English by Pen Name Publishing. Baquerizo will be launching his book tour this summer in conjunction with Pride festivities around the country. Here's the schedule: San Francisco, Books Inc., June 30 at 7 p.m.; Los Angeles, Book Soup, June 25 at 4 p.m.; Dallas, Barnes & Noble, July 9 at 2 p.m.; and New York, Bluestockings, July 14 at 7 p.m.


Belo Cipriani is the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and Midday Dreams. He is a disability advocate, and is currently the national spokesman for 100 Percent Wine �" a premium winery that donates 100 percent of proceeds to nonprofits that help people with disabilities find work. Learn more at