Standing atop the artificial track turf, Saul Villegas faced the home crowd as the only male cheerleader, surrounded by confidently radiant female faces. What started off as an innocent and unsuspecting hip roll soon turned into an explosive hip thrust. Villegas was dressed in spandex with the cardinal and gold Lancer logo on the face of the shirt. Lip gloss—check. Highlight—check. Hair styled—check. And don’t forget the contacts. No, not those. The one’s with the blue tint. Yeah, that’s better. Perhaps the night would be special for a few lucky individuals who considered homecoming a right of passage to a four-year university, but for Villegas, it was another chance to shine.
Currently, Villegas is studying theatre arts at PCC. He’s loved the arts ever since he was little. He recalls visiting a church that was showcasing a puppet show about the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Ever since then, he fell in love with theatre and acting.
“I love getting to play someone else, not exactly being me,” Villegas said. “And it’s not exactly that I don’t love being me. I love my life. I love who I am. I love what I do. But it’s just so much fun to get to be someone else for a few hours.”
Villegas loves theatre. It’s the ritual of coming in at a certain time, getting ready, putting on makeup and a costume, doing exercises to get ready and getting into a certain mindset. It’s why Villegas gravitates more towards live performances.
“For me, cheerleading is kind of like theatre or acting,” said Villegas. “You learn a routine, what essentially are your lines. Maybe they’re not speaking lines, but they’re your literal lines.”
One of the reasons Villegas joined cheer is because he admired another cheerleader by the name of Jose Franco at Rosemead High School. Franco was the “Beyonce of cheerleading” to Villegas.
“You could literally put Beyonce in front of me and I would be like, no, no, I want Jose,” said Villegas.
There weren’t a lot of out or pronounced gay kids at Rosemead High School. Franco became a beacon of light for Villegas, which made him feel that he could be the same for others.
His high school cheer coach was a very traditional woman. Two weeks into his first cheer practice, Franco put a gold glittery bow into Villegas’ hair, only for her to yell at him and say that boys aren’t supposed to wear bows. Franco took the bow out of Villegas’ hair, but told him that the cheer coach shouldn’t dictate who he is as a person.
Cheer helped Villegas get involved and get into school spirit. However, that wasn’t always the case. When he was a freshman and sophomore in high school, he didn’t have a lot of motivation. He simply showed up, did what was asked of him and went home.
“I was that loner kid for too long,” said Villegas. “When I realized that I was letting life pass me by, I said why not cheer? Why not try it?”
His friend and fellow high school friend Breanna Sanchez encouraged him to try out for the cheer team. Sanchez pushed Villegas into cheerleading.
“[Cheer] made me want to come to school, [cheer] made me keep my grades up, so I could perform,” Villegas said.
Being a cheerleader doesn’t absolve Villegas from family drama. Villegas’ parents are avid church goers, so they feel ambivalent about his cheerleading. When Villegas wears makeup, his mother makes comments.
“She would say ‘Por que tienes que ir tan maquillado, no me gusta cuando vas todo maquillado,’” said Villegas. “No se ve bien.”
In other words, “Why do you wear makeup? I love you just the way you are.”
“She doesn’t like when I look [feminine],” Villegas said. “I know she isn’t doing it to hurt me. She’s doing it because she’s scared of what’s going to happen to me.”
Villegas understands that his parents may not entirely agree with his lifestyle, but is happy that they acknowledge who he is.
While at a USA cheer camp for PCC, Villegas felt that he looked nothing like the boys on the other cheer teams. The other boys were physically toned and masculine. There was a point where the boys ran a relay race and the girls learned a routine.
“I was kind of stuck in the middle,” Villegas said.
He knew that there was an image that PCC presented and he wanted to be an ambassador for the school, but he also wanted to be himself. Jesse Moore, cheer coach for PCC, let him choose, so Villegas decided to learn the dance.
“The dance was very pop, pop, pop,” Villegas said. “It was like a booty twerk-a-licious dance. It does not hold a candle to what we were doing at the football game. It was way more booty-licious. We were literally popping, dropping it to the floor, and bringing it back up.”
Villegas is cognizant of the social construct between femininity and masculinity. For Villegas, words such as “he” and “she” only hold power over those who believe in it. He understands why others may judge him for wearing makeup, but that does not keep him from being himself. That’s the most important part—to be true to himself.
“My ideal world is a world where we can truly be anything without anyone batting an eyelash,” Villegas said.
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