LGBT in Guatemala PCV Land
October 3, 2008
-A Returned Peace Corps Volunteer
What is it like to be a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (or Questioning) Peace Corps Volunteer you ask? Well, in just the same way that every heterosexual volunteer’s experience is different, so are the experience of us volunteers who identify as queer, or to be politically inclusive, us volunteers who are not 100% straight.
Keeping this in mind, I can only honestly and respectfully answer this question by describing my own personal story. To speak on behalf of all gay volunteers out there in this “Think Global, Act Local” Peace Corps world that we live in would impede the diverse collection of experiences and unique identities of other gay volunteers.
All in all, my hope is that this story helps shed light on what exactly is the experience of the elusive, endangered species we call the Gay Peace Corps Volunteer. So here’s my story. My big-fat-I’m-a-gay-peace-corps-volunteer…er… trainee, story:
Three years ago I moved to New York City. Two years, 8 months ago I “came out” to myself and to my friends. One year ago, after the sudden death of my mother, the final walls came down and I told my family I was gay, learning the hard way that life is too short to hide your true identity from those you love. However, I still think of myself as blessed, for not only have I been accepted for sharing my sexual identity with those around me, but embraced, celebrated even!
So now I find myself in the present tense, some few months into my 27 months of Peace Corps Service and because “Culture Matters” so very much, I have been forced in many real ways, back “into the closet” I fought so long to escape. Imagine coming from Chelsea NYC to Guatemala. In my neighborhood in the states, arguably the gays outnumber heterosexuals compared to Guatemala, a country where machismo reigns supreme and the marginalization of gay culture approaches a national pastime status. It has been quite the adjustment.
This sudden loss of the emotional, cultural and sexual freedoms I was privy to in the United States has exacerbated many feelings of loneliness, homesickness, and the difficulties of cultural adjustments. For example, the LGBT advocate inside of me winces each time I feign an “oh yeah my novia (girlfriend) in the states” sentence to a host country national for the sake of my successful cultural assimilation and safety. Yes, I often feel that if my sexual identity were to slip into any host country community, my reputation and personal safety would be jeopardized. All for no better reason then I like to lie next to another man in bed.
Additionally, I have struggled, unable to find a gay friend(s) to run to when I need, well… a gay friend – somebody to 100% understand what it is that I need to tell them. On the bright side, my PC family is chalk full of uber-allies. This helps, but let’s be real here – allies are not the real thing and I suspect I will struggle with this nuanced dimension of loneliness for the entirety of my service.
So why you ask, after so many years of self repression, why would I, a gay individual, choose to give up the euphoric and intoxicated thrill of living “out and proud” to live as a “born again closeted” Peace Corps Volunteer? For me, there really was never a question about it. Being gay is only part of my complete identity and making compromises to some part of our respective identities to become a PCV is something I imagine we all endure. Thus, despite the struggles I face living under the guise of gay PCV concerns, it seems so far, vale la pena (worth the trouble).
Addendum: Since I first wrote this, my eyes have been opened a bit wider in terms of gay life in Guatemala. So, yes, there is a gay scene. Yes I have met gay Guatemalans. Is this group suppressed and marginalized? Incredibly so. Is it difficult to find? Very. Is there still tremendous work to do? Por supuesto (of course)! But is there hope? Absolutely!
This PCV can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org