Category Archives: LGBTQ

Playing It Straight

Check out my latest published article! Last year, I pitched an article to Canada’s Verge Magazine, about “travelling while gay.” It was published online earlier this year, for subscribers, and has just been made public. Check it out!

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For the average cisgender white lesbian tourist like me, I’m not likely to experience those kinds of harassment, but it’s not impossible. For example, in 2014 a British tourist was jailed for four months in Morocco for committing “homosexual acts.” Luckily, he was able to fly home early after being released on appeal.

Before I left, I knew that for most of my trip I’d have to “play it straight,” to avoid endangering myself (but mainly just to avoid negative remarks or rejection from new “friends”). But I don’t think I realized how frustrating and disheartening it would be.

Read the full article here

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A Traveller’s Journey of Justice and Identity

Yesterday I preached this sermon at St. Paul’s United and Grace United churches in Brampton, ON. My first time preaching about my 18 month adventure! Hope you like it.

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Good morning. My name is Kaitlin Bardswich and I’m a member of the United Church of Canada. I worked for the national office for 3 years before spending the last 18 months travelling and doing freelance journalism, including interviewing United Church partners around the world. I’d like to begin by painting a scene for you.

It’s early afternoon in Gaza City on December 3 of last year.

I’m accompanied by two Muslim employees of a Christian NGO working in the Strip, the Near East Council of Churches.

Sitting in the back of a white van as it cruises through the narrow streets, a bullet hole in the windshield a stark reminder of the last war, I’m desperately trying to get my cell phone to connect to an Israeli service provider so that I can set my blog to “private” and not risk outing myself as a lesbian while I’m there.

It’s been an interesting day and I only crossed the border a few hours earlier.

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This journey into Gaza was one of many incredible experiences I’ve had over the last couple of years. I’ve recently returned from a year and a half of travelling the world, starting in Pakistan and ending in Colombia, taking in parts of South Asia, Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America along the way.

It was a personal journey as well as a professional one, as I worked as a freelance writer, photographer, and videographer along the way, documenting stories of human rights and social justice.

While I interviewed human rights activists working for peace, gender equality, indigenous rights, and food security, among others, my theme across every country was LGBTQ rights. I interviewed lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer people around the world, as well as their straight allies. It was a privilege to get a glimpse into the lives of these people who face real struggles that I can only imagine.

I’d like you to take out your bulletins and take a look at the cover photo. That man is Xulhaz Mannon, an LGBT activist in Bangladesh. I interviewed him in May last year in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, along with two other activists.

We met in his apartment, where he lived with his parents. Sitting cross-legged on the floor of his bedroom, he served us tea and cookies as his cat walked from lap to lap.

We spoke about the ongoing persecution the LGBT community faced in Bangladesh, as well as the ongoing killing of secular bloggers. At the time, there was a rumour that there was a list of gay rights activists to be killed circulating in extremist circles.

“I asked if my name was there,” Xulhaz told me with a laugh. “If there is a list, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

And now to refer to the quote in your bulletin. He then said, “These people, I always say, if they came to me and talked to me I would have a chance to explain, this is why I do this. But they will not do that. They will just come and kill you.”

Unfortunately, Xulhaz was right.

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Less than a year later, on April 25, 2016, Xulhaz and fellow LGBT activist Mahbub Tonoy were killed in that same apartment — hacked to death by at least five machete-wielding intruders.

Ansar al-Islam, a Bangladeshi affiliate of al-Qaeda, later claimed responsibility.

In the aftermath of the attacks, the LGBT community in the country quickly went underground.

I’ve interviewed dozens of LGBT people in my travels, across the continents. After awhile, the stories they told became unsurprising in their similarity.

They talked about growing up and thinking they were the only gay person in the world, about hiding their sexuality from their families, and about getting kicked out of their home when they did come out. They’ve had to worry about things like blackmail, sexual assault, police harassment, mob violence, jail time, and even death.

Why is this? One of the reasons I chose to focus on LGBT rights throughout my 18 month long adventure was because this facet of a person’s identity is the one thing that unites the world in hatred and discrimination.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you can find at least one person in every nation on Earth with a prejudice against LGBT people, ranging from believing we don’t have the same rights as straight people when it comes to marriage, to believing that we don’t deserve to live.

Yet, as the readings today tell us, we are all fearfully and wonderfully made. God made us just as we are – there is nothing wrong with any part of our identity.

As the Lord says to Jeremiah – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

We are all appointed to be prophetic. We are all called to seek justice and love mercy.

God does not differentiate between his children. As Paul writes, there is neither Jew not Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor male and female. No one is better than another; no one worse. We are all one, with equal rights.

Following that logic, there is neither straight nor gay. Neither trans nor cis gender.

(I’d just like to make an aside note that the passages about God creating us in His image, or being fearfully and wonderfully made, should not be misconstrued as being anti-trans. Some people use these passages to say that if we are made the way God intended, we should not change our bodies. But if we took these passages literally, rather than figuratively as I believe they are intended, than anyone here who has their ears pierced or hair highlighted, been tattooed, or has ever taken an Advil let alone had surgery would also not pass that litmus test.)

I see Jesus as a radical rebel of his time. He didn’t accept the status quo, or what religious and political leaders decreed as right. He ate and drank with those with identities that were considered sub-human. The prostitutes and the tax collectors. Probably the LGBTQ community as well, since we existed then as we did before then and as we do now.

This concept of identity was one that I really struggled with while I was travelling. It was the first time in my life that I felt the need to hide any aspect of my identity. While I came out a bit later in life, in my mid-20s, I’ve never felt the need to be closeted.

But when I was travelling in certain countries, “playing it straight” was a smart if not protective move. Some of these countries had laws making homosexual acts illegal, while in others it was still a taboo and dangerous topic.

As an example, when I was in Jordan, a country that does not outlaw homosexuality, I mentioned to someone who was fairly progressive that I was working on LGBT rights.

“Don’t talk about that here. People get killed for that,” he warned me.

I’ve had some people tell me that this shouldn’t bother me, needing to be closeted, that my sexuality does not define me, and that I don’t have to go around proclaiming that I’m gay.

But the funny thing is, it’s usually straight people who tell me that. And they don’t always realize that, while it’s true I don’t need to proclaim my sexuality wherever I go, when I’m travelling in homophobic countries – where the punishment of being who I am is jail, harassment, or even death – it’s still horrible to have to constantly deny a part of who I am.

What if it was something else? What if I was Jewish and everywhere I went people assumed I was Christian? Or what if I was mixed race but had such pale skin that everybody assumed I was White? It’s not just about sexual orientation or gender identity – having to hide any aspect of your identity because of fear, frankly, sucks.

No one wants to be invisible – we want to be seen for who we truly are.

For me, those constant reminders of hiding a part of who I am were the times when fellow female travellers want to bond over the cuteness of a nearby man, and I don’t know if it’s wise to say that actually I’m not attracted to him or to any man. Or having to constantly invent a husband in some countries to make men stop following me and talking to me. Or the fact that it’s really, really difficult to have any holiday romances for fear of outing myself to an unaccepting person.

Or even just the simple knowledge that a lot of the people I’m meeting, who are kind to me or invite me in for tea or give me directions, would probably feel very differently about me should they know this one piece of information about who I am.

It’s also the times when I get tired of pretending or denying a part of my identity, and I do come out, in places where I feel safe to do so, and then having to deal with a nosy Argentinean taxi driver, for example, who says it doesn’t matter to him, that love is love, but wouldn’t I still want to sleep with him? Just him? Because I’m really his type, with the blonde hair and everything.

That can all be really difficult to live with, day to day, if you think about it too much.

But of course, that’s nothing compared to what the local LGBT communities live with.

Sometimes I wonder if most of the tourists who visit some of the places I went ever think about any of these things. When walking through the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, which according to Tripadvisor is the #1 thing to do in that city, do they think about the fact that it was created by a couple who were criminals here for loving each other? (That couple would be Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Bergé).

When they go to see the famous Hassan Tower in Rabat, do they know that two Moroccan men were arrested there last June for standing too close together while posing for a photo? They were a gay couple and were each sentenced to four months in prison. They were still imprisoned when I took this photo.

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I was in rural Colombia when the massacre at The Pulse nightclub in Orlando occurred, which was only the latest in a long history of fatal violence in LGBT clubs in North America, I would learn. And being in the small village where I was, I felt completely alone – not able to tell anyone why I was so upset if anyone asked.

It’s been an interesting journey. While I love being able to experience so many new cultures and meet many interesting people, there are times when I reach a point of feeling completely and emotionally exhausted with having to pretend I’m straight.

It’s not the pretending to be straight specifically that is tiring, but the pretending to be something that I’m not. And knowing that if I didn’t do that, my experiences would likely be much different.

Being so exhausted by this near constant pretending has made me realize two very important things: I have immense privilege in that I can (1) pass as straight and (2) that I usually don’t have to.

Last August in Cork, Ireland, I got my first tattoo. I have the gaelic word samhlaigh, which means “imagine,” tattooed on my foot. It’s mainly for my grandmother, who would exclaim “Imagine!” whenever she heard something interesting or exciting. But it’s also partly to celebrate the fact that I can now legally get married in both countries where I hold citizenship – Ireland and Canada (Imagine!).

And perhaps, subconsciously, this declaration tattooed onto my often exposed skin is my way of claiming my entire identity, no matter where I travel.

I only wish it didn’t have to be so cryptic, for me or for anyone.

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At the end, I mentioned some of these points about being an LGBTQ ally:

1.Don’t make assumptions. Instead of “Do you have a boyfriend?” ask “So are you seeing anyone?”
2.Ask what gender pronoun or gender neutral pronoun someone would like to be referred to as. (she/he/they)
3.Talk positively about LGBT people, especially around young people. Let them know that they can talk to you if they ever need to.
4.Tell your kids you’ll love them no matter who they love.
5.Consider donating to an international LGBT charity or rights organization.
6.Attend a PRIDE parade or another LGBT event to show your support.
7.Don’t judge us; just love us.
8.Acknowledge that we didn’t choose to be LGBT, but we are choosing to be happy.

*Parts of this sermon originally appeared in an article for Verge Magazine

Notes on a Love Affair

Check out my friend’s blog – she’s started reblogging some of her friend’s work which I think is a really cool idea, and she decided to share my memoir piece “Notes on a Love Affair”

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December 6 – Love Letter

You are perfect to me. I want to hold you, wrap my arms around you. Caress you and kiss you. Sleep beside you, curled up, the big spoon spooning the smaller spoon.

Mould my body to your body. Hug you close. Become one with you.

I want to know that I can proudly walk with you hand in hand. I want to love you and to be loved by you.

And while I partly hate feeling this way – the anxiety, the wondering, the yearning to see you again – at the same time, I love feeling this way. Because it means that you’re special to me.

And I hope you feel the same way.

And I can’t wait to see you tomorrow.

February 17

I want to be numb. To not feel the pain.

But I also want to phone you. To hear your…

View original post 633 more words

Just Give Us One Day: A Response to Orlando

Four days after I wrote a post about why I’m doing what I’m doing (travelling around the world for 1.5 years interviewing LGBTQ activists), a shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, has left 50 people dead and 53 people injured.

I know this might not be a very popular opinion, but can we please just have 24 hours to mourn without things getting political?

I don’t need to hear pro-gun arguments about how if there were more guns this wouldn’t have happened. Nor do I need pro-regulation arguments about how this wouldn’t have happened if there were restrictions on gun ownership.

I don’t need to see debates about whether or not prayer is actually useful in these situations or not.

I don’t need to hear the arguments about people only caring because it happened in the USA/the West. That’s not true. At least in the LGBTQ community, I’ve seen a higher awareness of the struggles of our LGBTQ siblings around the world than in the general population. This response is so big because of the magnitude of violence, and yes because it happened in a place that is supposed to be a safe space, in a country that (albeit only recently) grants LGBTQ people the same rights as straight people.

I don’t need to hear the bigoted arguments about this being an inherently Islamic terrorism problem or how the USA needs to ban Muslims. And I also don’t need to hear the “unapologetically Muslim” comments at the moment, about how this isn’t about Islam and no one blamed Christians for Hitler or the KKK, though I understand why people are feeling to need to defend themselves and their religion.

Let’s just talk about us today. 

(And by us I mean all who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community – whatever race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, etc)

About how gay men in Orlando can’t give blood to their wounded brothers. About how the same is true if this happened in Canada.

About how even little inborn prejudices build a culture where these atrocities are not unbelievable. A culture where many religious people – Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, etc – believe that LGBTQ people are sinners and non-religious people just can’t stand that “ick” factor.

About how I still feel the need to disclose that a movie has “gay themes” before I suggest it for viewing among friends, when no one does that when I watch a “straight” movie.

About how we are constantly coming out, and unsure if it’s always safe, because of the heteronormative assumptions that we have partners of the opposite sex, or identify as the gender you perceive us to be, or identify with a gender at all.

About how this is just the horrific peak of violence that too many LGBTQ people experience daily around the world.

About how many LGBTQ people around the world are mourning alone, afraid of outing themselves to a hostile environment.

And worst of all is the knowledge that there are many people celebrating this atrocity, or at least excusing it. In our own countries and those around the world.

Please, for just one day. For just 24 hours, let this be about us. About homophobia. About hatred because of who we love.

Let our community mourn. Let us mourn the loss of lives, the loss of innocence, the loss of a general feeling of safety among our “safe spaces.”

Yes, it may take this tragedy to “wake people up” to the horrors and effects of guns, homophobia, ignorance, and apathy. But let’s talk about that tomorrow.

Just give us a day. A day of rest on this Sunday. You can restart the political mudslinging tomorrow.

Why I’ve Been Doing What I’m Doing

Often when I meet people in the course of my travels and tell them about the work I am doing, they ask me why. Even people in my “home” life ask me why I make LGBT rights such a big issue. Surely there are more important things, they say. Surely being gay myself is not an integral part of my identity – I’m much more than that, so why do I need to tell people? I can pretend to be straight, can’t I?

Five and a half weeks ago, on 25 April 2016, Xulhaz Mannan, a Bangladeshi LGBT activist I interviewed last year, was hacked to death along with fellow activist Mahbub Tonoy. Since then, here are just some other things that have happened in the world of LGBT news:

28 April – Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila banned from playing in Amman, Jordan, because of their music’s themes of gender equality, tolerance, and LGBT rights. Source: Gino’s Blog

29 April – In Egypt, eleven men jailed for up to 12 years for being gay. Source: Pink News

1 May – Woman who travels to all 50 US states in “Fagbug” to promote LGBT pride is attacked. Source: Pink News

2 May – Arson attack on Canada’s only sex reassignment surgery. Source: Rabble

3 May: Bahamian MP suggests exiling trans people to an island. (Week later, says he was joking). Source: Tribune 242

4 May – Trans woman verbally attacked on NYC subway for riding while trans. Source: Mic

10 May – A Chinese trans man vows to keep fighting for equality. Source: BBC News

24 May – Six men taken to court in Nigeria for committing homosexual acts. Source: 76 Crimes

24 May: Jamaican gay couple reportedly killed. Source: 76 Crimes

2 June – A gay couple in Morocco jailed for having sex in a car. Source: The Independent

4 June – A 17-year-old girl is sent to a “pray away the gay” camp in Texas against her will. Source: Go Fund Me

And all over the world, LGBT people who didn’t make the news came out and were rejected, disowned, kicked out of their homes, forced into opposite sex marriage, beaten up, and killed.

This is why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Xulhaz Mannan, LGBT Bangladeshi Activist, Murdered

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Last year around this time, I interviewed LGBT activist Xulhaz Mannan in his apartment in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Less than a year later, on 25 April 2016, Mannan and fellow activist Mahbub Tonoy were hacked to death by assailants who broke into that same apartment.

When I woke up that morning in my cozy bed in Santiago, Chile, hosted by a lovely gay couple, I saw the news on my BBC app – all it said was “LGBT activist hacked to death in Bangladesh” and I immediately felt sick to my stomach. Was it someone I interviewed? What happened? How was the rest of the community feeling and dealing with it?

Later that night, I found out it was Xulhaz. My heart sank. I emailed the two other activists I’d interviewed with him that day last year, as well as a few others, to express my condolences and ask if there was anything I can do.

But there’s not much I can do, at least not much concrete. It just saddens and angers and horrifies me that there are people who do this – especially people who profess to do this for their God.

I had nightmares for days afterwards, and felt guilty about that because how was I really, personally, affected? I was safe and sound in South America, not a death threat in sight. If I was having nightmares, what were the people in the LGBT community in Bangladesh experiencing?

In the end, I wrote an article for Daily Xtra using some of the words from those in the community who feel forced to go underground. I suppose, one of the ways we can fight this hatred and horror is through our words.

I’m Number 1!

So I don’t often get a chance to brag, but today I found out something quite fabulous, if I do say so myself. My story on gay men in Pakistan – Is Pakistan a gay man’s paradise? – was Daily Xtra‘s number one most read world story of 2015.

Pakistan is a world of contrasts: a land of fundamentalist Islam, Osama bin Laden’s hideout, and terrorist attacks, where children are gunned down going to school or accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Yet it’s also a land where secular, liberal, young adults socialize by drinking whisky and smoking weed, where you can find used lesbian erotica or buy a dildo on the black market.

Check out all the other stories here.

It’s a pretty awesome way to set off on my next leg of this incredible journey on Saturday – LGBT rights and issues in Latin America!

A Lesbian in Morocco

“I’m writing articles about LGBT rights, and the situation for LGBT people, in the countries I visit,” I tell the British woman squeezed in beside me in the back of a grand taxi on the way from Tangiers to the small coastal town of Assilah. There are four passengers in the back seat of a normal-sized car, and two passengers in the front along with the driver.

“So are you a lesbian?” she asks me.

“Does that matter?” I retort back, perhaps slightly rudely.

She protests that of course it doesn’t matter to her, she has lots of gay friends, the other people in the car don’t speak English, etc, etc.

But the problem is, in Morocco, as in many countries, it really does matter.

As some of you know, I’ve been travelling to different parts of the world since January, meeting with and interviewing members of the local LGBT communities. I’m slowly pitching and publishing articles to various publications, such as Canada’s Daily Xtra.

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Riding camels in the Sahara

I spent nearly the entire month of September in Morocco. It’s a beautiful country, one that I ended up staying in longer than anticipated because I loved it so much.

Morocco is an amazing place to travel, and relatively safe as a solo woman traveller. I’ve had incredible experiences riding a camel in the Sahara and sleeping under the stars. I’ve visited the surreally beautiful blue town of Chefchaouen, and gotten deliciously lost in the souks of Fez medina. I even celebrated Eid in a not so fantastic way when a goat with its throat slit staggered towards me and splattered blood on my feet.

It’s been quite the adventure!

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Gorgeous Chefchaouen

But Morocco is also a country where I’m a criminal for who I’m attracted to. In Morocco, as in over 75 other countries, several of which I’ve visited or will be visiting, homosexuality is illegal.

It’s a bit ironic in that Morocco was a kind of Mecca for gay men in the 1950s.

This has been a really interesting journey for me, as it’s the first time in my life I’ve felt the need to be closeted. I’ve had some people tell me that this shouldn’t bother me, that my sexuality does not define me, and that I don’t have to go around proclaiming that I’m gay.

But the funny thing is, it’s usually straight people who tell me that. And they don’t always realize that, while it’s true I don’t need to proclaim my sexuality wherever I go, when I’m travelling in homophobic countries – where the punishment of being who I am is jail, harassment, or even death – I have to constantly deny a part of my identity.

It’s the times when fellow female travellers want to bond over the cuteness of a nearby man. Or having to constantly invent a husband in some countries to make men stop following me and talking to me (fun fact: this works really well. As soon as I mention a husband, they just leave. Usually without even saying goodbye). Or the fact that it’s really, really difficult to have any holiday romances for fear of outing myself to an unaccepting person.

Or even just the simple knowledge that a lot of the people I’m meeting, who are kind to me or invite me in for tea or give me directions, would feel very differently about me should they know this one piece of information about who I am.

That can be really difficult to live with, day to day, if you think about it too much.

But of course, that’s nothing compared to what the Moroccan LGBT community lives with.

In Morocco, I’ve spoken with about a dozen queer people, as well as a couple of straight allies. The stories they tell are unfortunately not surprising, or really that different from the stories I’ve heard in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Zambia, and Sri Lanka.

They talk about growing up and thinking they were the only gay person in the world, about hiding their sexuality from their families, and about getting kicked out of their home when they did come out. They have to worry about things like blackmail, sexual assault, police harassment, mob violence, and jail time. One young man met up with a man he met on a gay dating app, only to have that man say he wasn’t gay, he hated gays, and then stole his phone, which contains personal and possibly incriminating information on it.

Sometimes I wonder if most of the tourists who come here even think about any of this. When walking through the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, which according to Tripadvisor is the #1 thing to do in that city, do they think about the fact that it was created by a couple who were criminals for loving each other? (That couple would be Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Bergé).

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The Love Gallery at Jardin Majorelle

When they go to see the famous Hassan Tower in Rabat, do they know that two Moroccan men were arrested there in June for standing too close together while posing for a photo? They happened to be a gay couple and were each sentenced to four months in prison. Two topless women from the French feminist group Femen had been arrested and immediately deported the day before, after kissing each other at the same tourist attraction. The Moroccan couple deny they were copying that protest.

Now that I’ve left Morocco, I can publicly say these things and share a photo I took of myself at the Hassan Tower in Rabat. I’ve shared this selfie on social media with the hastags #HumanRightsSelfie and #LGBTatHassanTower.

Hopefully, eventually, we will live in a world where no one is criminalized or discriminated against for who they love.

(Originally shared in TSP Times, a congregational newsletter of Trinity St. Paul’s United Church in Toronto)

#HumanRightsSelfie

#HumanRightsSelfie #LGBTatHassanTower

Kaitlin Gets a Tattoo

I got my first tattoo today!! I can totally see how people get addicted. I would SO do it again! (also, I’m kinda proud that my tattoo artist, London-based tattoo artist Alex Wilkey – check out her work here – said I did “really well.” To be fair, it didn’t hurt that much actually). Here are some photos of the experience:

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The Tattoo Parlour in Cork City where the incident occurred 😉

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Before going to get the tattoo, my cousin Deirdre and I stopped at Clancy’s for a shot of liquid courage

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The shots of liquid courage (aka Jameson whisky) at 10:45am. Deirdre had one too, for moral support of course

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Outside the tattoo parlour, still a tattoo virgin

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One of the tattoo artists’ dog, who was super cute and definitely therapeutically calmed any residual nerves

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Post tattoo, with a celebratory Murphy’s on the unusually warm and sunny streets of Cork

So what did I get tattooed? I got the word samhlaigh (pronounced sow-lig), an Irish gaelic word meaning “Imagine” or “Imagination.” There are multiple reasons for this tattoo:

1) My grandmother, whenever she’d hear a good story, would say “Imagine!”

2) I always dreamed/imagined I would go around the world, doing my writing and photography, and I’m living that dream this year

3) As my grandmother would say, “Imagine!” that I can now legally get married in both countries where I hold citizenship.

That was one of the reasons I go the tattoo in Ireland. I got it in Cork as that’s where both my grandparents were born and raised, and a lot of family still lives. And I got it during this week, as it’s the week of the 11th anniversary of my grandmother’s death and also the week I turn 29!

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The finished product!

The celtic knot design at the beginning is a trinity knot or triskelion and also has many interpretations besides the obvious Christian one. The Celts saw it as a representation of earth, air, and water. Others say it means life, death, and rebirth. Another interpretation is the three elements of a person: mind, body, and spirit. And I’ve also heard that it represents the different stages of life – childhood, adulthood, and old age. And still another meaning is the three promises of a relationship: to love, honour, and protect. One of my favourite meanings is that of a person running (e.g. it looks like three legs) – so it’s as though a person is in constant motion, or always moving forward.

Oh, also it’s on my left foot because your heart leans a bit to the left.

And that’s the story behind my awesome tattoo! (Don’t worry, I won’t say all of that whenever someone asks me about it! ;-))

Why You No Married?

Subtitle: And other questions it’s apparently appropriate to ask within 5 minutes of meeting someone

This proposed book title could work for both India and Sri Lanka, and likely a lot of other countries I just haven’t experienced yet.

It’s taken some getting used to, the cultural differences here. Here’s an example of the type of questions I regularly get asked, basically the first or second thing someone says to me after “hello”:

Are you married?

How many children? (note – I was not asked IF I have children or if I was married. This was literally the first question, which kinda made me feel old…)

How many kgs? 70? (This is one I refused to answer by saying I don’t know, because I actually don’t know my weight in kg)

Where’s husband? (Ugh, like I need to be supervised while travelling)

Do you have a boyfriend? (I usually just say yes to this to get people off my back)

You travelling alone? (to which, for safety’s sake, I invent some friends I’m about to meet up with)

This is usually the regular sequence of events:

“You married?”
“No.”
“You how old?” or “What age?”
“28.”
Followed alternately by “Oh…….” And an implication that that is too old to not be married and there’s something wrong with me. Although, sometimes people have said, “Oh, you’re still young.” Other times, like yesterday, these questions are followed by, “Why you no married?”

And then I’m left feeling like I need to justify my life choices to total strangers.

I know, I know, there are cultural differences here and the people asking me these questions (usually) do not mean to offend. They are merely curious about me, a foreign visitor in their country.

And I often respond by asking them the same questions, to at least even things out a little bit.

But it can’t help but make me feel a bit vulnerable. Because, for me, there’s another element to these questions. I’m a <gasp!> lesbian and that is not always a safe thing to admit. Sometimes I feel like this journey is putting me into the closet, for the first time, really, in my life. Which is why I SO love when I can be around fellow LGBT people! I enter that space being myself, not needing to come out or feel like I’m hiding anything.

Of course, I don’t have to come out when someone asks if I’m married. I can just say no. Even if they ask me about a boyfriend or husband, I can just say no. But the thing is, being gay is a part of my identity. It’s not my whole identity. But it’s there. And denying it or consciously thinking, “Ok, I can’t tell them I’m gay,” hurts for two reasons:

(1) I don’t want to have to deny any part of who I am, especially a part of which I’m not ashamed.
(2) It’s quite hurtful to know that, in all likelihood, the same people who might be friendly with me and enjoying my company at the moment would feel very differently if they knew that one aspect of my identity.

I interviewed one Sri Lankan woman the other day, who identifies as bisexual, and she put it quite well: “Being queer is a big part of who I am. I don’t want people to assume I’m straight.” She’s currently in a relationship with a man and therefore people believe that she’s now straight, that her former same-sex relationships were just a phase.

I have a lot more thoughts about TWG – or “travelling while gay” as I put it. That will be in another blog post, likely entitled “That Time I Accidentally Came Out to a Minister and Then He Felt Comfortable Enough to Tell Me He Wanted to Experiment with Viagra and Vibrators.””

For now, I think I’m just going to start saying my husband cheated on me and I don’t want to talk about it. Then everyone can feel uncomfortable. 😉

Or, better yet, this could be a good conversation:
“Why you no married?”
“Drat, I knew I forgot something!!”

Next up in the Book Titles Series (a positive one, I promise):

Another temple?!?!
Subtitle: Yes please!