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.

The obligatory Introduction…. of sorts….

Normally introductions would involve: “Hi! My name is ——“, and all of the other details like where I live or where I work. Unfortunately I am unable to disclose that information, because I’m gay AND I work in the national non-profit sector. I can tell you that I’m a 20 something lesbian who helped found an international non-profit. Outing myself could lead to denied entrance into countries I work in, my organization could possibly be banned from certain countries… you get the idea- it wouldn’t be good.

I really wanted to find resources on being LGBT and working in the non-profit / international aid realm; how have other people coped with putting themselves back in the closet for the sake of their work?. But I really couldn’t find anything. I know I’m not the only LGBT person working in a non-profit that isn’t LGBT related. Where is everyone at? I figured that starting this blog would help me (and whomever comes across my humble little blog) understand and work through what it means to be queer working in the international arena.

I understand the irony surrounding a blog about struggling with the idea of the closest as a means of protection (for me and my organization)… while keeping myself in the blogger’s closet. I would love to share stories with you about the inspiration and the creation of my non-profit, what it has accomplished. I would love to tell you about my amazing, supportive, and beautiful girlfriend. But at this point in my career, it’s honestly not worth the risk.

I’m going to delve into this more in-depth as time goes on. My goal is to update at least once a week, talking about my international journeys, various themes surrounding identity, worrying, language,etc. and any articles I can find discussing the LGBT experience in the non-profit world.

My goal is to create a space where people can discuss best practices, safe(ish) locations when traveling, and vent frustrations about maneuvering in a sector that defaults to heteronormative.

Fingers crossed, next week I will be traveling to —- for 2 weeks. This is the first time going abroad whilst being out AND in a relationship. I hope that the next couple of updates will focus on my thoughts and adventures in a mildly to moderately discriminating country.

Till next time- best wishes and safe travels!