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

 

 

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.

2018 Membership Drive and Fundraiser

Last year we had such a successful run with fundraising via our t-shirt sales and also sending out postcards to all of our valuable members. So, we want to do it again!!

CLICK HERE to order the 2018 Peace Corps PRIDE t-shirt that we are selling to help us raise funds. Many thanks to our Steering Committee and Members who contributed to this design, we’re really excited for it.

CLICK on the image to buy yours now!

Additionally, we want to continue offering small tokens of appreciation for our members this year. As such, please be sure to make sure you are officially affiliated with us through the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA). CLICK HERE to review and update your membership. PLEASE NOTE: NPCA membership and LGBT RPCV membership are both FREE! Donations are always welcome, but general membership is at no cost.

CLICK on the image to confirm your NPCA affiliation

Why Peace Corps Pride celebrations are essential: thoughts of an openly gay Peace Corps Volunteer

Reposted with permission

My husband and I serve together as Peace Corps volunteers. We’re happy to work in our tiny community on the rice plains. We’re glad we could choose the country we serve in. One of the really nice things the Peace Corps has done over the past few years is to allow applicants to choose their country of service.

For openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender volunteers, this means we can avoid being invited to serve in countries where, because of religious or cultural influences, the people we serve could be motivated to attack and even kill us. Or, at the least, we can more easily avoid service where people would suspect in some way that we are worthy of condemnation and therefore decline to work productively with us.

It’s great to be able to avoid heightened risk of attack and murder. However, other lgbt-related pressures still confront us soon after arrival in our host country.

The usual dynamic of any American volunteer immersed in host country culture — looking, sounding, and feeling out-of-place — is magnified for openly lgbt volunteers. Our extra level of minority status, defined by differences in gender roles and sexual orientation, at times leaves many lgbt volunteers feeling like a super-aliens. Much of this distance may be because of host country unfamiliarity with American-style lgbt relationships.

Marriage and personal relationships are a fundamental element in every culture, and are a ubiquitous area of curiosity and discussion. Related conversational exchanges are part of forming personal relationships and are a natural part of bonding with host country friends. Yet openly lgbt volunteers often find these exchanges are unavailable, and such absence can cause loss of opportunity to build close friendships.

It seems to me that the missing conversations likely begin something like this:

  • I have a cousin I think you’d like to meet …
  • What kind of women are you like to date?
  • Are you dating someone?
  • How long have you and your husband been together?
  • What first attracted you to your wife?

It’s difficult for me to describe dynamics that result from the absence of something. But the dynamics are distancing. Lgbt volunteers describe how such distance creates a steeper climb for them as they work to integrate with their coworkers, neighbors and community. Openly lgbt volunteers of color or with disabilities have an even steeper climb. The volunteer may ask herself:

  • Is it just me, or are my colleagues keeping their distance?
  • Is the lack of connection because I’m lgbt, or is it because my language skills are inadequate?
  • Am I the first lgbt person this guy has met? Does he think I’m strange because I’m lgbt?

In other words, part of the steeper climb involves self-doubt. Self-doubt and feeling negatively about yourself is in no way an unusual dynamic in the history of lgbt people. Historically and even in the present day we have been marginalized, have been treated as criminals, we’ve been brutalized and executed, diagnosed as mentally ill, and regarded as sinners by the majority culture.

We have long felt like super-aliens, even at home. Cumulatively this is quite tiring and when added to the rigors of Peace Corps service, it becomes overwhelming at times.

Thank goodness for Pride! In June 1969 gay men in New York fought back against gay-hating police and lgbt people have celebrated Pride Day annually ever since. During one celebration each year, we show each other our solidarity and support. We feel the safety of our numbers, and the warmth and love of our non-lgbt friends, families and co-workers.

But Pride celebrations aren’t easily found in areas where Peace Corps volunteers work. So when a Pride celebration is available, it’s a big deal for lgbt PCVs. It’s great to feel the support of Peace Corps staff and of US officials at the local Embassy. To those Peace Corps and consular staff who make an extra effort to help lbgt volunteers feel affirmed, supported and loved: thank you.