Slipping Back Into the Closet

My time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Macedonia (now North Macedonia) was very marked by my queer and transgender identities. I came to my host country with fears of isolation and danger as I locked myself back into the closet for 27 months, but instead I found signs of a country on the edge of queer acceptance and a community of support from my Peace Corps family.

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I was told upfront by Peace Corps staff that I could not tell my host family, coworkers, or local friends about my identity. I took this to heart, knowing that staff’s primary concern was my safety. Because I served during both the 2016 Presidential election in America — as well as multiple local elections — politics (and particularly social politics) were on everyone’s lips and minds. I also served at a youth center in my town, frequented by teenagers from various ethnic and social groups who were always curious to get to know me and the other foreign volunteers who worked there. This meant that I frequently engaged in conversations about social issues, from immigration reform to marriage equality.

At the beginning, I remained silent whenever queer topics were brought up. I would sit and listen as my host family discussed the openly gay judge of a Serbian singing competition or as local youth argued about the pride celebration in Greece. But as I got to know people better, and as they got to know me, I started to speak up. I asked a lot of questions. I offered my thoughts. I shared stories of my friends back home. And although I wasn’t always met with agreement, I was surprised when I found that a lot of people were more understanding and progressive than I assumed. I found local friends who were also living in the closet, and others who openly supported queer rights. Some of my youth club members came out to me, and asked for my advice. No one knew about my transition or my dating history, but I was able to use the straight-presenting, cis-presenting version of myself to better understand the queer landscape in my host community.

IMG_6558Truthfully, it was still scary. But I also felt surrounded by support whenever I reached out. Some of my biggest supporters were fellow Peace Corps Volunteers around the country who would let me be unapologetically queer in their presence: speaking candidly about testosterone injections and the future of avant-garde drag. Being able to share that part of myself in my friends’ apartments made the closet an easier place to slip back into when I was in my own host town. On top of that, the Peace Corps medical team always had my back and never made me feel uncomfortable or out of place.

In short, being a queer transgender man in the Peace Corps gave me insights into the culture that I don’t think I would have found otherwise. Although it was scary to be back in the closet, especially in a new culture, I feel that I learned and grew in new ways thanks to the support of my peers.

Sam Mintz served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Macedonia (North Macedonia) from 2016 to 2018. If you liked to contact Sam, please e-mail lgbtrpcv@lgbtrpcv.org to make the connection. IMG_5172

 

 

About LGBT RPCV
We are an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and others who are Peace Corps volunteer alumni, current volunteers, former and current staff members and friends. Founded in Washington D.C. in 1991, we have several hundred members throughout the country and around the world who have served in Peace Corps since its beginning in 1961. We're made up of a national steering committee, together with regional chapters. We are an active affiliate member of the National Peace Corps Association.

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