The Queer Identity and International Aid Work

When I voiced my concern to a colleague about being gay and traveling abroad, I was basically told I shouldn’t make everything about my sexuality. I really struggled with this… was I applying my international work and travel through an unnecessary queer lens?

Luckily one of my mentors in all things LGBT ( and one of the loveliest woman I know, hands down) guided me to the crux of the issue- it wasn’t about applying my lesbian-ness all over the place; the true issue is that I am afraid of stripping my identity in order to be successful at my job and in my long term career.

When I think about identity, my head honestly starts to spin. I only came out 5 years ago. My queer circle hasn’t expanded much in those years, the large majority of my friends are heterosexual. Do I “act” and “look” more gay than 5 years ago? Probably. Some ‘friends’ have given me crap for it, but I see nothing wrong with buying into different identities and changing how you want to present your identity. If I never changed, I’d still be wearing Hot Topic shirts and thinking that Dashboard Confessional got their lyrics from my diary.

*Shudder*

People change, identities change. I really hope that I’m not the same kind of gay 10 years from now. Everyone grows, everyone evolves (cue Pokemon reference..?)

My identity never comes into question in my domestic work, and luckily hasn’t caused conflict or disturbance internationally. I know everyone has their “work” self, their “family” self, etc. But straight people get to be straight in all of these scenarios if they choose to.

I don’t want to tattoo ‘Lesbian’ on my forehead , but at the same time, I don’t want to worry about if my hair looks too gay, if I shouldn’t wear plaid of my marriage equality ring. Or purposely not talk about my amazing girlfriend.

I am a gay woman. Yes I have other identities, but this one is pretty central to who I am. Because I want it be, and at least for now, that works.

International Update (Sorry you’re only getting one…)

The country I have been working in has waxing and waning internet access, so I figured I would dedicate myself to one longer post versus two shorter ones. And I have also, you know been doing work for my non-profit, so I haven’t given myself much time during the day hours to process .

Warning: the following post will be rambly, highly emotional,  and only mildly edited.

I’m not going to give you a play by play of each daily experience, because most of the time throughout each day there wasn’t really an issue 95% of the time. And honestly, I haven’t actively thought about the issue from day to day. Which sounds great yes? This lesbian is definitely not stressed out about being in _____ as a gay women?

Nope.

As many of my gay peers know, it really only takes one incident to rattle you. We were at a local market, and being the good girlfriend that I am, I was looking for something to get her. As we were walking through stalls with one of our hosts (who I am out to), she mentioned (in the language of ____) that it was for my girlfriend, and quickly changed it to ‘friend’. I was not looking at who our host was talking to, but I know a flash of horror passed across my face.

And the moment was gone in an instant. In reality I felt no danger, and mild panic. Nothing out of the ordinary in my daily life honestly. But I just couldn’t settle it… until a colleague of mine had said that in the future I could use the ‘foreign language excuse’  when referring to my girlfriend.

Aaaaand then my righteous anger set in. Not at my colleague, she was right after all. I was angry at everything: the world, this country, my country, social inequality, prejudice… and the list just goes on. Why should I have play silly games of mispronunciation? Why in meetings should I have to feel concerned that I’m giving off to much “gay”?

WHY SHOULD MY SEXUAL ORIENTATION HINDER MY ABILITY TO TRY TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE?

I should be leaving this trip feeling accomplished, satisfied, and happy. We have so much to work towards, and I want to focus all of my energy towards the future of my organization. But what does that mean as I continue to stay in the closet for the sake of success and funding?

I guess I’ll have to find out.