Language can be a tricky thing. When I came out to my great-aunt several years ago, I could see her struggling to find the right words throughout our conversation. She was an extremely progressive woman, but she wasn’t equipped with the resources that we who have an internet connection have so readily available. I realized that I’d taken for granted the access to a LGBT-centric vocabulary that I’ve found on the internet.
Now, when I came out to my aunt she didn’t seem to get it at first. I kept saying “my girlfriend” but she definitely thought I was referring to a girl who was also my friend. Which is sort of funny in a strange way, because now that she knows I’m a lesbian with a girlfriend, she constantly asks how my ‘friend’ is doing.
This is the same aunt that I had nightmares of her chasing me around the house with holy water. So I see it as a victory that she actually asks how my girlfriend is doing. Of course it would be nice if she actually referred to my girlfriend as ‘my girlfriend’, but I think there is a language barrier stopping her. I don’t know for sure, but this might be the first time that she had to talk about a non-heterosexual relationship.
I’ve had many opportunities to correct her, but honestly, sometimes I just don’t have the energy. I don’t want to be the walking encyclopedia of queer language, especially for my family. Is it terrible that I want people to just get it? Or if not get it automatically, teach themselves?
I just had Uber driver who had only known me for 10 minutes refer to a possible romantic partner as a ‘significant other’, because he didn’t want to assume either way. If this random guy can take a couple of extra steps to be inclusive without knowing my sexual orientation why can’t a family member who knows that I’m a lesbian put forth the same effort?
Really I just want straight people to try. You aren’t going to get it right all of the time. And for me, that’s okay. Because I would rather see you struggle to find the right word than stay comfortably ignorant.
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!