Wednesday, June 30, 2010

GLBTQ Belize

Today is the last day of June. Another month of “gay pride” has gone by and I’ve passed the time here in Belize. I did not go to any parades. I did not go to any “gay events”. I didn’t cloth myself in a rainbow flag for all to see. No, not this year…or the year before…or the year before that. Instead, I went to a place of paradox to rest in a world of unknowing. I left home to be home. And as complicated as that statement is, it too is a paradox. And so, I come to Belize for many reasons…reasons all my own, and I know well how privileged I am.

You see, I come to Belize to reconcile pieces of reality that don’t fit for me. I come to Belize to slow down and simply be. I come to Belize to see good people, eat good food and sweat it out. And I come to Belize to put things back together again. It’s a self-serving journey with moments of relational atunement and today Belize is a part of me.

Now I say all of this to help you understand that as much as Belize brings me to life, she also makes me pause in sadness and fear. And because of who I am, I look inward to find understanding. Sometimes I look to God hoping that she too will help me sort and feel all I need to hold.

So, back to the month of June.

I first came to Belize in June of 2002. I volunteered and did some stuff but mostly I tried not to get in the way of my inner transformation. I’ve come back several times since and almost always in June. Each time, I weigh my dual realities and call to mind all the pieces of the puzzle…some that fit and others that don’t. And because it’s June, I do a lot of reflecting on what it means to be gay.

I’ve been out of the closet for 11 years now. My family has know my whole life. At this point, all my friends know, even those here in Belize (or anywhere else for that matter). At school, being gay is a piece of me to add to the conversation, and at work, I don’t have to hide who I am or who I am in relationship with. I have loved women and some have loved me and I am a better person for those moments of care and struggle. And all the while, over the years, I have shared many conversations over cups of tea and caramel lattes….conversations to explore and enlighten and others that reveal and grieve. I have come into my own in so many ways and the process has been so very emotional. And yet, if you were to take the “gay” out of me, I would be less of who I am today. I know this to be true and so I try my best not to compromise my integrity or my identity in the process of living. But, there are times…

There have been times that I have chosen a path contrary to who I am as an out gay woman. And I say the word “choose” because I fully realize my freedom in making decisions, while also knowing the consequences. I try to embrace those moments as best as I can in an effort of self-preservation but a little piece of me hates to compromise in such a way. Nevertheless, I chose.

In the U.S. I don’t have to make these choices a lot, but sometimes I do. Here in Belize, I make these choices all the time, telling myself it’s temporary and wondering how true that really is.

I have chosen to be silent to hide relationships. I have chosen to avoid certain topics and overt the spotlight away from a person who is not out. I have chosen to hold hands with a man to pass as straight and I have chosen to dress in frilly lace to pass as feminine. I chosen to hold back my joy when in a relationship with someone and I have chosen to take deep breaths to hold back tears when I have been in the midst of breakups, lest I want to talk about it. I have chosen to speak of someone as my “friend” instead of my girlfriend and I have also chosen to “play it cool” so that no one suspects. And sometimes I have chosen to let people believe what they want to believe.

Each time I make a choice like this I feel stuck. It feels like I’m being dishonest even by omitting the truth. And I wonder how much of myself I can give away like this until I am a series of half-truths. You see, it’s not that I stop being gay, it’s more that I hide who I really am…to some people and in some circumstances.
Again, it doesn’t happen all the time…but enough for me to know and realize. It happens enough that the moments stay with me. And it happens enough that when I see someone else omitting their own truth, I feel pain for them too.

However, I do think things are getting better at least a little bit. In the US, my life is pretty protected relatively speaking. I have even been known to hold hands in church with the woman I may be dating. In Belize things are a bit different.
We get US television stations here. I watched my first episode of “The Real L Word” (or something like that). I also bought a lesbian themed movie the other day from our DVD guy. I walked into a women’s organization the other day and saw a poster for lesbian sexual health. One friend just asked his first boy out while another is “exploring the continuum”. I’m probably going to a bar in the next couple of days and although it’s not a “gay bar” it is a bar where you might see more gay people than straight ones. In the short time that I’ve been here, the topic of homosexuality has come up a great deal and I wasn’t the one who started the conversation. And sometimes I still catch a glimpse of a woman checking me out. These are all little things that add up.

I can’t say that I am fully comfortable here and I do worry about safety of self and heart. And as much as I feel more free in the US, there are other realities that tug at the strings of my being there as well. But at the end of the day, I know that I made a choice to come here and be for a little while because I know it’s good for me. I miss things like pot luck BBQs and gay pride marches back at home but I’m kind of ok with that. Because as much as I love being gay (and actually I really do) I would rather celebrate who I am in the context of relationships and in the context of working on the road less traveled than only using the excuse of a parade to really live who I am meant to be.

Today, on this last day of June I celebrate being gay with my friends and family. I celebrate with those who are working to muster up enough courage to come out to their family. I celebrate with those who lose loved ones to suicide, depression and substances to numb the pain of being dishonest. I celebrate with those remain silent to protect identities and reputations. And I celebrate with all our advocates who stand beside us in love and support as we fight the disease of homophobia.

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