Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Lengthy Absence

As is quite clear, I am an incredibly lazy blogger. I've always found it difficult to keep any sort of lengthy record of my life, whether in an electronic format or on paper. I've let my private, paper journal lapse as well during this time and I think that's a shame. To tell the truth, this inability to keep a regular journal is not an isolated phenomenon; I have found it difficult to keep up anything regularly in the last 6 months. I've not been going to the gym; I've not been studying Armenian; I've not been studying for the GRE. The list could probably go on for a while of the things I've not been doing regularly that I should be. So, I'm going to make a commitment here to being more regular and dedicated to things, beginning with this blog. I'll be updating it at least once a week, if all goes well. That will probably mean a bit of inanity here and there if there's not much to tell about, but at least I will be keeping it up.

 
 

There have been so many things that have happened in the last 4 months since I've written a journal, so I'm just going to throw out a list of some of them and not go into any really in depth, because I have something else I want to talk about:

 
 

--Finally made my way down south and visited a friend in his incredibly beautiful area around Halidzor

--Ended my debate club for the summer break

--Stopped working with my primary NGO because things just weren't working out well

--Planned several projects with the peace NGO I work with

--Searched endlessly for funding for the projects; applied for a number of grants; received none

--Participated in the International Student Forum in Armenia and had a blast (my team was 1 point away from winning the weeklong competition we were having)

--Went on vacation to the UK, Spain, and France for 3 weeks (which was glorious and necessary and I got to see my good Tiger friend)

--Acquired a banjo from a departing volunteer and have begun learning

 
 

So those are just some of the bigger things I can think of right now. As you see, there's a lot in there that--had I been keeping a regular journal--I could have expanded on. C'est la vie.

 
 

Now to the thing I really want to talk about.

 
 

While I was in the UK and visiting my friend Tim we had a conversation--short though it was--about being closeted or not displaying affection out of fear because of where you are (in a really rural area or in a developing country, for instance). He made the case that for him it was an absolute necessity that whoever he's with would have to be willing to hold hands with him in public, wherever they are (though I'm certain he'd make some exceptions if he was, for instance, in Iran or somewhere; but I'm not entirely sure). I made the case that in the developed world I would completely agree with that; I could not be with someone who wasn't comfortable being out or showing affection wherever we were, even if that's in some rural American community. Living in a developing country, however, would be a totally different story. I argued that I can understand why one would be closeted while living in an incredibly conservative country like Armenia, for instance; social exclusion is practically a guarantee for the openly gay here.

 
 

But the more I've thought about it, the less I can justify it.

 
 

I really couldn't get it out of my head while I was on vacation, because I realized how easy it had become for me to keep myself closeted, and how my first instinct even in Europe was to not say anything that could reveal my sexuality. I find that to be incredibly damaging to my sense of self, because I consider my sexuality to be so important to me and to have given me a great deal of perspective on life that I possibly wouldn't have had otherwise. Both my willingness and ability to "pass" or to be "discreet" bother the hell out of me, because that's not the way I used to live. I used to express my sexuality and myself as I saw fit regardless of any sort of homophobia or discrimination I might encounter; that served me quite well, because I've always been able to be comfortable with myself that way. But here it just presses on me sometimes; it's tied very strongly into the feeling I get that I need to conform or worry about my "reputation" in my community, even though I think people should be more bold here and stop worry so much about what others think of them.

 
 

And that comes to another major problem with closeting myself. I often want to tell queer Armenians that their continuing status in the closet is incredibly damaging to themselves and to the queer population at large in Armenia. LGBTQ populations wherever they are are stripped of power when they are forced to closet themselves or when they choose to not stand up and be out; a queer population simply can not move forward and demand its place in society until people know that it's there and know of individual queers around them. I constantly want to tell LGBTQ Armenians that things are never going to change for the better for them until they start to stand up and be counted and refuse to live in the closet anymore; but how hypocritical is that? How can I make the argument that queer Armenians need to be courageous and accept the possible consequences that come with being out when I myself am living a closeted life in my community?

 
 

I've made the excuse that because I'm foreign and only living here for 2 years that it doesn't make sense for me to endanger the work I'm doing by being out; that I'm somehow an exception and that my living in the closet is reasonably given my circumstances. I've also made the excuse that because I live in Vanadzor--which is a much smaller place at 100,000 than Yerevan at 1.5 million--it makes it unwise for me to be out. But really, these are poorly justified excuses, which is why I had yet to make the case to Armenians that they need to be out and accept the consequences if they ever have any shot of moving forward in acceptance.

 
 

I've decided that I'm just not going to do it anymore--I'm not going to live in the closet in Armenia anymore. Starting from now (actually, starting for a couple weeks ago when I made this decision) I'm not longer going to closet myself and am going to live openly here, consequences be damned. I accept that this puts me at a greater risk of social exclusion; I accept that this puts me potentially in greater physical danger; I accept that this may make my work more difficult. But I accept all of these things in America, and it's too damaging to my sense of self to not accept these things in Armenia. If I think that queer Armenians should accept the risks, then I will too. While I am not going to get out my hotpants (damnit; I left those back in America! :-P) I'm also not going to let people think I'm straight if the topic comes up. If somebody asks me why I don't have a girlfriend or am not married I'm going to tell them exactly the reason why; when someone at work makes a comment or asks a question about attraction to women to me I'm going to tell them why it's pretty irrelevant to me; I'm not going to hide pictures of past boyfriends or pictures from queer events. Essentially, I'm just going to live my life as I did back in the states and ensure that people don't have misconceptions about me, including my sexuality.

 
 

I'm still working through questions in my head about how this is going to play out. I've been doing the closet thing for so long now (a year) that I've frankly forgotten how I would react to the US in certain situations: if a taxi driver asks why I'm not married, do I tell him? If some random person that I'm talking about asks whether I like Armenian women, do I tell him? Do I break it to my host family back in my training village (actually, that one seems an obvious yes to me, but you get the picture). Regardless, it's an incredibly liberating feeling to realize that I'm done hiding anymore. Maybe my out status can give someone else the impetus to out themselves to their family and community; it's got to happen more often in this country, of that I'm certain.

4 comments:

Mex said...

When I was in Argentina, I tried to do the same thing by keeping a blog. I think I managed to make it a couple of months before I ended up not posting anymore. I've always been a particularly private person and sharing stuff with others just isn't my forte. I hope you have better luck than I did.

As regards to what you really wanted to talk about, I tried to find a way to say something without sounding like I was advocating being in the closet, but I kept having to delete it as I simply couldn't find a decent way to say it.

Suffice to say, simply beware that you don't let one aspect of yourself control who you are. While you should by no means be ashamed or even secretive of that aspect, you have a variety of other aspects that also make up who you are. Don't let one overshadow all the rest of them.

Hopefully that gets across the point I mean to say.

John said...

Mex,

I remember reading your blog and then seeing how many months you went without writing in it; I eventually gave up checking. :-)

Regarding your point, you're one of the last people I'm going to be offended by, so no worries there.

I do understand what you're getting at, I really do; but when I say that my sexuality is an incredibly important part of who I am I really do mean it. My sexuality informs a great deal about who I am because the perspective that it allows me is the one that I view the world through.

That has nothing necessarily to do with heteronormativity or anything like that; when I say that it informs my perspective it's because my sexuality has allowed me to see and understand the artificiality of all social constructions and to be able to judge them within that context. It allows me to understand my own identity in the world and in my community and to see what needs to be changed and what I can accept. By closeting myself, I now realize how much that perspective has slipped away and how it changes my behavior in all circumstances; it essentially makes me less dedicated to change, to and I feel myself constantly giving in to social norms that I find damaging for myself and for this society.

So I just am not going to do it anymore. To live my life honestly and openly is really the goal, and the less that I live that way regarding my sexuality the less I live it in all areas.

Michele (Razzy) said...

After reading the last part of your blog, I'm glad to know you're going to be making the effort to update more often. If it helps you to stick with it, please consider blog updates as a way of letting us here know at regular intervals that you're safe.

While you may be beating yourself up over having gone an entire year in Armenia "in the closet", my opinion is that this is a good thing because if you had decided to be "out" from day one, you may have had difficulty in reaching the people you want to help because you'd have to first break through their preconceptions. The way this has played out has let Armenians get to know you, work with you, decide they like you as a person ... without their prejudices getting in the way before they would even give you a chance. Isn't it so much better for you to come out to the Armenian people you know NOW so they can realize that they've known "a gay person" all along and that you're not some evil "other" or bogeyman.

And based on your past blogs about your host family at the other village, I vote very definitely YES on telling them.

Good luck.

J. G. said...

Good luck.