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

 

 

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Queer and Abroad… a Collaboration

In collaboration with the It Gets Better Project, LGBT RPCV gathered some of our members and friends to contribute to “Queer and Abroad” a video where four people share their experiences of living outside of the United States. Give it a watch, tell us what you think! Storytelling is a cornerstone of our organization and it’s ever more exciting for us to see and hear these experiences.

Queer and Abroad

Clockwise: Lisa (Ghana), Manuel (Paraguay), Patrick (Senegal), and Jim (Brazil) tell their stories in a YouTube video, click the image to watch.

Gay & Christian ft. Terrace Hill (RPCV Peru)

Originally posed on Facebook and can be watched in full on YouTube, CLICK HERE.

Gay and Christian

Can you be a Christian and gay? Often times these two traits can seem at odds depending on the church or crowd you’re apart of. An issue faced by many Christians who are also gay, Terrace Ewing-Hill had to deal with this seemingly contradictory set of traits. Growing up in the conservative town of Lubbock, Texas in a loving, Christian family – Terrace had to struggle with people in her Church and family not accepting her androgynous tendencies and homosexuality. With her youth group critiquing her walk and her parents putting her in Christian conversion therapy, Terrace had to wrestle with her own identity of loving God and loving women.

Terrace speaks so beautifully about her process during these times, the evolution of herself and her family, and gives some really terrific advice regarding any family member who does not accept you for who you are (whether it has to do with sexuality or not).

An eloquent and insightful interview about how to rise above pressures from outside and look within to find what is true for you.

My Peace Corps Story: Pride Edition

 

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Originally posted on the My Peace Corps Story website, CLICK HERE

Homosexuality is illegal in Senegal. When Patrick Driscoll found this out before he departed for his Peace Corps service, he was immediately a bit nervous about the next 2 years of his life. Patrick had come out during his senior year of college and was generally accepted by everyone and was quite content. Then, he was moving halfway around the world to essentially “jump back in.”

Above and below are excerpts from a recent My Peace Corps Story podcast with Patrick Driscoll (RPCV, Senegal 2014-2016), click on the link above to read the full transcript, see pictures from Patrick’s service, and listen to the podcast.

In Senegal, we live with host families. Mine was truly wonderful. They accepted me, helped me with language, and treated me as part of the family (as much as they could). They were Muslim, as is 92% of the country and the topic of homosexuality was rarely discussed in the household. My host brother, Malick was around my age and we quickly bonded. He was the only local person I ever thought about telling about my sexuality. However, my mind changed right after marriage became legal in the States. Malick made a comment about goor-djigeens (man-woman), the derogatory term for homosexuals, and how the states could ever let this happen. In this moment my mind raced as I tried to come up with a response that would dispel his negative viewpoints. I thought about coming out to him, but quickly remembered that another volunteer had just been evacuated due to his community finding out that he was gay. The Peace Corps deemed it a threat to his safety.

I decided to ask him how he would feel about one of his family members or closest friends telling him that they were gay and in love with another man or woman. He told me that was impossible as that did not exist in Senegal. I asked him, then why was it illegal in Senegal if it does not exist? He responded that it probably does exist, but only in the large cities. We went back and forth for a while and I do feel like I normalized the concept a bit for him, but I was concerned that the second I left at the end of my service he would revert back to his prior thinking about homosexuality.

A few months before this conversation with Malick, my boyfriend, Manuel, came to visit. In Senegal, it is very common for people of the same sex to share a bed. This worked in our favor throughout our cross-country travels and our stay with my host family. Hand-holding is also normal between two men or two women. I spent many evenings walking hand-in-hand around town with the mayor of our small community and with Malick. Unfortunately, I was far too nervous to hold hands with my boyfriend while we were there. I was too terrified of being found out and jeopardizing the town’s perception of me. I was just beginning to make good friends and earn the trust of my neighbors.

My Senegalese family loved Manuel during his visit. After he left, he was the only one that they continued to ask about throughout the rest of my service. It was almost as if they knew how important he was to me, but the topic of our true relationship was never broached. I had several other friends and other volunteers visit me over the two years in my town, but my family still only ever asked about Manuel.

My Peace Corps Story

About My Peace Corps Story:
Since the establishment of the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961, more than 230,000 Americans have served 141 countries. The My Peace Corps Story Podcast aims to tell some of the many diverse and rich stories of volunteers, in their own words. This podcast will create an oral history of the varied experiences had by generations of Americans when they devoted two or more years of their life to national service abroad.

While often cited as a positive, life-changing experience, service in the Peace Corps is not easy. This show strives to portray Peace Corps service as it is, both the good and the bad. The host of the show, Tyler Lloyd, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer and would “gladly and proudly do it all again.” The difficulties and risks of serving abroad, however, should not be understated or taken lightly.

The My Peace Corps Story Podcast will captivate you with the personal stories of Americans working and living abroad. Each episode, we explore the cultures, communities, and people that make the Peace Corps an unparalleled experience, filled with stories worth telling.

OUTspoken – Jim Kelly

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Click on this image to listen to Jim’s story, roughly 12 minutes.

OUTspoken is a monthly LGBTQ storytelling event at Chicago’s Sidetrack video bar, CLICK here to learn more. In August of this year, RPCV Jim Kelly spoke about his time in the Peace Corps.

From the OUTspoken Facebook page
“August storyteller Jim Kelly recently celebrated 70 years on this earth. Born and raised in rural Minnesota, Jim entered the U.S. Peace Corps in 1969 as a recent college graduate with a big heart and no skills. After his 3 ½ year Peace Corps service in El Salvador, he joined a non-profit organization focused on community leadership development and helped initiate projects in small villages in Venezuela (1 year) and Chile (4 years). He returned permanently to the U.S. in 1981, and shortly thereafter joined Oak Park-based CHP International, a private training company that, under contract to the Peace Corps, staffed and managed pre-service training programs for in-coming Peace Corps Volunteers in many countries in Central and South America, the Caribbean and Africa. As an Associate Director, Jim supervised the CHP training centers in Central and South America, traveling often to conduct performance reviews and provide staff training focused on Adult Non-Formal Education. He retired in 2007, and continues to live with his husband, Bruce Broerman. They’ve been together for over 29 years and married since August 3, 2014. Jim is “stepdad” to Bruce’s two adult children, and is “Papa Jim” to their five grandchildren ages 14 to 3 ½. “

From Jim’s words: 
“On August 1, 2017, I told a story about how my Peace Corps Volunteer service led to the 1991 publication of my Master’s thesis on the experiences of Gay and Lesbian Peace Corps volunteers during the first 30 years of the agency. My recommendations about how Peace Corps could improve its training and support systems for us were shared with Peace Corps country offices around the world. “

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