B is from the Balkans.
I know you know it’s not a proper country. But who needs an exact location? Is this about geography? Anyway, B. belongs to an ethnic minority in the country his country. And you wouldn’t feel satisfied if I started explaining the linguistic and religious mosaic this region happens to be. Again, it is not about geography.
But B. knows this world better than you and I do. Cause he’s been places.
He’s stayed with people coming from places. Many different places.
He’s helped some others of the seven seas to find a new place, putting them at ease. B. does know too well, that some wanderers are not hard to please.
When you leave a place, for a better one, what you seek is peace.
For his current job, B. is often asked to go places. Giving other places necessary spaces, at times in palaces, to address their claims.
B., who represents one place, at a frenetic pace, of those mighty places, always tries to be in the bestest graces.
Always on the move. A damn lot to see. And nothing to prove.
Since B.’s clever moves at any place are goddamn ready. I will take this back. From the beginning, it sure is about geography.
It all seems like exploration has been the focus point of B.’s young existence. Doesn’t mean he’s an obsessed traveller. But as I was telling you before. B.’s very diverse native landscape, both culturally and linguistically, shaped a sharp outward leaning. So sharp it helped B. make the cut.
High schooler B. partook in an exchange program in the USA. From the old world to a new one. Freshman, sophomore, junior, senior B. all happened in Wisconsin. The more the Midwest gives you, the more likely you are to win.
And winning meant somewhat and somehow applying for immigration. So B. found a way to stay. A safety cushion. And because the Midwest can’t fail you, a providential wind brought B. the right thing. In the windy city, B. settled down with a newly earned seat at the table.
And what a table. B., an immigrant himself, started working for an immigration advocacy agency. Dealing with big tech companies. I see innovation. You hear irony. Core of the question is geography.
If it takes a migrant to address migrants’ rights. Will it take a trans, a gay, a lesbian to save all from their plight?
Every year, more than 150000 foreigners apply for a work visa in the USA. The acceptance threshold is set at 65000 individuals. The reality is that the government very seldom issues more than 50000 permits. Not everybody asks for asylum. The latter means no turning back. Immigration, on a work basis, allows more flexibility. This is why and how the LGBTI migration topic remains a hot one. Plenty of stakeholders. No single answer.
Now this takes me to B’s B side. The side he didn’t know he could show until he knew he was.
B loves men. He doesn’t love them all. But of them he loves some. And this can be… burdensome. Before, B wasn’t dating girls, nor was he dating boys. But in his opinion, he was lying by omission. By closing himself off from love and affection.
A friend of his who was openly gay pushily dared B. to give it a try. The wry “gaydar”, well-intentioned. Watching America, step by step, state by state, putting all its efforts into easing gay life. New York, Hawaii, Illinois. Ruling marriage legal. Ended up having B. giving men a try.
Though B. now knows how to be with men. He considers himself halfway into his love path. Coming out is for him an ongoing process. For this to change some day, it’d take fixing a mess. The biggest, the most contagious mess. The one in people’s mind.
B. is right. People slow the motion. At the end of the day, coming out is something that becomes a habit. You assume gays are straight, closing off your spirit. Heteronormativity. This is how, with a weary, too often worried smile, your gay counterpart, “announcing” who he loves, tirelessly, ends up playing their part.
B.’s wisdom stings my soul. How come someone who claims to be halfway seems to have it all seen?
B. is self-protective. And why wouldn’t he be? In a world that harass, physically attacks people for being gay. Being in the closet, even halfway in, assures one protection. For when you go out of the closet, fully, successfully, your world starts shrinking. You’re no longer a clandestine. Your world shrinks so bad you start to realize that the only safe spots are lightyears away. And if you got one handy, well, you lucky.
This sixth sense, the one queer people have, is about reading places. Recognizing the good from the bad, the cool from the harmful. All this, reading faces.
B. says that for queer people, holding hands in public. Or any kind of public display of affection. Anywhere in the world. No matter what. It’s a political action.
I agree with B.. LGBTI people, publicly showing love, are unwillingly claiming their identity. Facing consequences you should feel sorry for.
Further down the line, there are consequences that you wouldn’t expect. That fucks gay people’s minds.
Community internal lack of respect. Internalized homophobia. Certain, yet too many, homosexual men have a hard time accepting those seen as “flamboyant”. For flamboyants are gays, they’re the most blatant ones. They act effeminate, their very way to be, is seen as a display. They represent one fear. A fear aforementioned.
The fear of being spotted, noticed, exposed to people’s conclusions.
I don’t mind if B. is right.
I don’t care if he hides.
In the most humble way, B. makes things move forward. His job, his friends, his claims, his every right to be. I dare you dear people to call B. a coward.
Biren is from India.
377. The reason why Biren wants to leave India.
377. The section of Indian Penal Code that criminalizes sexual behaviors against the order of nature. Friendly reminder: homosexuality is for many, and many legal systems, against such order.
Section 377 has led to an intense legal battle for the past 3 years. 377 is like a hot coal that bounces around. Between coward institutions. From the Supreme Court to the Parliament. Now, 377’s status is pending. Either a re-approval or a repeal.
But such a battle, threatening to freeze for ages anew, is already a victory. A solemn win for those who fight for LGBTI rights in India. Biren is part of them. He’s participated in several protests. He’s marched in the young Delhi Pride Parade. You would say that Biren is an activist. And you’d be right. Cause that’s what he is.
For many LGBTI people. Being an activist, actively addressing LGBTI issues, is a double challenge. First, you have to come to terms with your own identity. And it’s not easy in an oppressive context. Next, you have to collect the pieces of your angst and anger, and turn them into a saving power. Further than this, into a scaping power.
When you figure that you probably will have to hide in order to survive, strategies of comfort face off against thoughts of fight. Some might choose to decorate their den. Bittersweet compromise. Others might decide to stand in the light. And in the light, they fight.
Biren is from a small city. Where gay people still have no chance to catch a glimpse of that light.
But thanks to our millenary, in the shadow of society, gay people turned on their screen. And the light they would find there was a community. From Yahoo Messenger to modern day Grindr, chat rooms are the only safe space for too many users.
And you can judge millennials for abusing their use. But question your judgment when it deals with this youth.
Gay youth forced to hide. Always on the down low.
When Biren moved to Delhi, he would hide differently. Tuesday. The gay night. Throwing soothing parties.
Wait, how can a party soothe? Well, it must be a gay thing. When they dive in a bar or dance at a party where other gay kids are. Unravel the cliché. Gay men. Party addicts. Promiscuous drunks in tight shorts. On the counter, some fairy dust to snort.
Again, in the shadow of society, gay flies, or rather butterflies, know where to find the light. When you turn off that light. When you close down a gay bar. It’s not less margarita for the fags. It’s the murder of a community. Stonewall riots baby.
But Delhi’s gay parties aren’t like NYC’s. Even there, surrounded by gay men, you need to be cautious. And cautious means silent, wary of one another. Dare to build a community whose members you hinder. Biren ain’t deluded. You can’t fool gay people. “It gets better over time.” Duh! “Give ‘em hope!” Those catchy slogans… What a slippery slope…
Of course it gets better! And it ought to do so! But you have to think fast when your world goes too slow. Biren knows India well. And he can see some change. He mentions that movie. Kapoor & Sons. Starring a gay character. Proof that it gets better. A better movie-plot. A bigger acceptance. But outside the movies, you still fear a sentence.
Though Biren has it all. He’s willing to move on. His house, his friends, his job. It all comes down to one. One simple little thing he’s hardly ever known.
Biren’s choice sure is tough, but tougher’s the vision. The idea of him in today’s condition. A full-on straight-oriented workplace. What is there to regret when this is what you face? A secretive love life juggling with standards.
Double standards. A movie, a modern group of friends. Feeling comfy with them. But still the same sentence.
Now it won’t be Sydney. It can’t be Singapore. Consider NYC? No further thinking, no more. Biren’s plane will take off. And Biren will trade off. A king bed against a mat. A big house against a flat. A cautious yet comfy existence in Delhi against a painstaking routine fighting off the city. Fighting off NYC. Fighting? Yes, but fighting free. And free from a burden, Biren will fall in love.
Pride and honor will come. Pride and honor and love.
Najeary is from Jamaica.
Jamaica is sadly known for being one of the most homophobic countries of our world. Killing its batty boys. Throwing its queens to the gully. Enforcing laws against buggery.
Jamaica is also known for being a very religious country. Where priests and pastors are influential leaders to the community. Like Najeary’s dad. Who is a pastor.
Najeary respects his father’s role although it compelled him to suppress the very idea of being openly gay. Najeary loves his island. This tropical gem he felt forced to leave after 23 years. 23 years with a lid over his true self.
Cause in Jamaica. His beloved place. Najeary has always felt out of place.
And it’s hard for people to understand why Najeary left. Cause Najeary’s life in Jamaica was full of privileges. A strong and tight family. Respect from the community. A valuable network. Friends. Sweet existence. At least on the surface.
On the surface, no one could see that Najeary had one desire. A strong and ruthless desire. For an authentic life. For the finding of his true self.
And meeting, and dating, and breathing the same air as other gay men and gay women. This. This would turn such a desire into a reality, wouldn’t it?
Then two things would be on the surface. Two things that don’t go together.
Because in Jamaica. When you’re a man. Loving God and loving another man doesn’t quite go together.
This is when Najeary went through dark times. And it’s always darker behind the surface. Najeary felt stifled. Coming out to the surface meant danger. Living and loving the way he would. The only way he could. It undoubtedly meant being harmed.
Why would he surrender his body to hatred when all he wanted was to save it for love?
Running out of air. Najeary broke out of the surface.
Cause for many gay people. That coming-of-age story is not about coming out. It’s about breaking free.
2014. Najeary has left Jamaica, which yet remains to visit.
2014. 2015. 2016. New York City has offered Najeary a new life. Something Najeary is fearlessly taking. One step at a time.
Working for a home. Living on his own. Loving freely. Singing truly. Being.
And it’s a blessing.
To just be able to be.
No surface. No fear. No nothing. Being. And being happy.
Summer Cyrus is from Nigeria.
Cyrus is a lucky number. He’s the youngest member of his family. The 11th kid of his mother. The 45th kid of his father.
In some way, Cyrus is a spoiled child. He’s the babiest baby in a large family. His mother, his siblings, his half-brothers and sisters’s mothers, his father, the money of his father, his father’s fame and power. They provided him the best care.
With everybody under the same roof, there sure was no way to remain aloof. As a matter of fact, Cyrus had the most community-oriented upbringing. Family values shaping all types of interactions. Heavily and heavenly reinforced by Christian religion. Prayers, masses, first and solemn communion.
His father’s status would just give it more cohesion. Living in a street named after the latter. Receiving the best of Nigerian education. Cyrus always knew who to owe it to. But as you owe things to such a figure, your subtle duty is to honor it. Respect the surname, family honor.
But lucky Cyrus did play with fire. At an early age, his girlfriend, who was more of a girl than a friend, got pregnant. Lucky number. Young father jeopardizing his own father’s honor. Love and affliction.
Cyrus was young and what he took time in figuring out was what could have had him cast aside. No honor, no pride. Because having a baby when you’re a teenager, unmarried. It sucks big time. Draws judgment from the others.
But goofing around with other boys, when your priest, your father, every authority around you fiercely calls it a sin, a dishonor. This. This is real trouble.
Trouble was already there. It’d even started long ago. Cyrus had been playing with other boys for years. But it was just a game. Wasn’t it? Although it meant more, way more, in these other’s boys minds. Cyrus wasn’t like them. He wasn’t like that. He wasn’t a sagba.
And it’s funny how Cyrus, who wasn’t a sagba, slowly, unintendedly started making sagba friends. He would hang out with them all the time. And how surprising it is to hear that Cyrus had feelings. What a dizzying thought. Realizing one of your friends, ends up being more than a boy, more than a friend. In a nutshell, Cyrus was confused.
Cyrus graduated, he became a man. And as it is expected from young male Nigerians, he did a civilian service for a year. He went to the North of Nigeria. Where homosexuality ain’t the best thing to do, nor the safest thing to be. But love has no borders, love has no patterns. Despite the fear of exposure, if someone comes to you, hits on you, and might as well make you feel good. When it’s dark out. When people sleep tight. You surrender love to the night. Cause in such places, night is your most reliable ally.
And since Cyrus was far from home, as night would fall, he’d sneak into Paul’s house. For a soft kiss. For a nice ass.
Then Cyrus came back home. He couldn’t afford being troubled anymore. Real trouble was ahead, and was already taking some of his friends. Homosexuals in Nigeria face high risks of being harmed. We’re not talking about insults, we’re dealing with physical attacks.
It seems like civilians choose gay people, sagbas, to be the most perfect outlet for their violence. So gay people are mugged, stabbed, beaten up, burned alive. And if your attacker is lenient, he’ll eventually keep you intact.
But at what price?
An attractive one.
Kidnapping gay people gives you many options. You can call their family, for extortion. Or you can call their friends, make up a list of names, give it to the police, make it a master piece. In a country where homosexuality is a crime, capturing and blackmailing homosexuals to get more names, put more in jail, is a common practice for both crooks and police.
So Cyrus took a decision. He would fly, and he would fly away. He would make his way to a city where being gay is easy. But family pressure, and peer pressure in general, also made it to NYC. Still feeling observed, across a full ocean, Cyrus keeps some silence.
That same silence he’s preserved for years. That same silence way too many LGBTI people are able to feed, making it a castle resilient to the years.
Nobody knows he likes men. His family doesn’t know. His friends don’t know either. Even those who happen to be gay, wouldn’t get an answer. Call it a secret if you wish. But even well-kept, a secret is swished.
Henry is from Colombia.
They say Colombia is quite ok with LGBTI people. Same-sex marriage was lately legalized there. So yeah. It should be okay to be gay there. But wait, doesn’t the Roman catholic church still have a strong hold on the shaping of Colombian values? And isn’t Colombia one of the countries where evangelist churches mercilessly try to reconquer the unfaithful spirits? I don’t know. Henry does though.
Henry was the punk kid. Dressed in black. Banging chains. Crazy hairdos.
Being gay did only add up to that queer look of his.
So when family gatherings brought cousins in suits, sisters in dresses, and uncles wearing ties, not only did Henry stand out, but he’d also show off.
Because he had to. Cause queer kids always have to. Glowing ensures survival when others force you into denial. Their own denial. Now this unveils the roots of the most beautiful stereotype. Gay people acting all unapologetic. Slaying. Being their true self against all odds.
Again, this is survival. Especially when your youth was spent apologizing. For who you are. For who you love.
Your very personality becomes a claim. Every single feature of your body and soul becomes a tool. A sharp tool.
Outfits, hair and nails. Loudest armory making up for a silent misery.
Henry isn’t here to be a cliché. But his narrative is a striking example of one need. The need for suppressed individuals to claim ownership on what is theirs. Turning the insult into an award.
* “ we’re here, we’re queer, we’re fabulous, don’t fuck with us ” chanting in the back *
Same way Black people seized the n-word from their oppressors. Fags, and dykes, and queers of all types. They want their word back.
Of course it all sounds like minorities’ basics. Showing that pride too often comes from shame. Let’s restart the blame game.
Don’t call gay people out for marching in the streets once a year. Saying it’s a provocation. Who did provoke them first? Answer the question.
But let’s get back to Henry. That same Henry who one day came out to his family. Telling them “I’m gay” instead of “I’m sorry”.
Mother said okay. Father said no.
Wait. Henry didn’t ask for permission. How come one may say no? It is not a question.
Huh. Got it. “No” stands for denial. The most genuine denial. Put it on Jesus. Put it on your mind’s rust.
Now father cuts short on the money. Money comes straight when you’re straight enough.
For crooked minds, being gay isn’t straight. Low-key suggesting being gay is a choice.
Then Henry had no choice but working his ass off. For his photography studies.
Now out of the closet, and out of straight resources. Henry sailed away. He really did sail away.
First he did it for love. To follow a lover. He moved to Argentina at the age of 20. Became the photographer he wanted to be.
Then he did it for the sea. And for the sake of discovery. He worked as a photographer on cruises. Shooting wealthy old couples on this world’s oceans. Smiling with the captain.
Henry fell in love. With the guy from New York City. And while traveling had become his way of living. His way of loving compelled him to settle down. On the ground. "The guy" proposed Henry. They married. They moved in together. Nearby New York City. In f*cking New Jersey.
Later and lately. Henry sedentary. Henry married freshly. Henry in New Jersey. Grew tired of it all. He broke up with the guy. They’re no longer in love but they live together. And quite obviously, they’re still married. Now Henry makes the best of the situation. Makes the best of being gay without great illusions.
And it’s funny, ain’t it?
When you expect gay people to be weak and patiently waiting for this world’s crumbs. Straight crumbs.
Well Henry outsmarts the system. Henry kills the game.
Mischievously, Henry hints at me: “In the United States, since the gays can marry, for immigration, same-sex couples have a priority”.
Xavier is from Mexico.
No. Xavier is from the US. No kidding. He’s lived in St.Paul, Minnesota and New York City for so long. But he’s also lived in London for 10 years. Is he European? Latin American? Mexican American all too diligent in having teatime? Who cares? Not me.
What I do care about though is that this man has seen things. And had he come up with silly ideas, I still would respect his perspective. For he’s seen a lot. Got it? Imma have you look through his eyes. Cause I got his words. And he’s got my word.
Xavier is the elder of a family of 6 children. When his dad left them, as he was the older son, he should have taken responsibility of his family. But he didn’t. Cause he didn’t have to. Instead, 19 years old Xavier flew to Minnesota for his studies.
Leaving the nest. Taking the world.
He hustled big time to get by. Working, studying, sending money to his family. Didn’t let much time for thinking. About his own life. About how to love. But Xavier didn’t need no thinking. He played it by ear. And year after year, Xavier got it clear.
Clear that life is love. And that love means wait.
Xavier is a late-bloomer. That’s what he calls himself. He sure could have known sooner, but that's why he's late.
Xavier moved to NYC. It felt right away like home. And at home he felt comfy. So why be comfy alone? He met a man. They fell in love. In Canada they married. No darkness above.
But darkness was around.
Although New York sparkled so bright, and brought Xavier new fields to reap. Around, harvesting day and night, was a reaper, a dreadful creep.
Cut the poetry. Get real. This is serious. Early 90’s. HIV has wiped off the ground many gay souls. Too many. New York was still gay, and always will be. But back then, New York felt empty.
Mourn your gay fellows. Mourn them one by one. In Chelsea, watch the sarcoma-dotted skins morbidly parading. Now there is no space left for fear and for loathing.
Xavier found a job as a psychiatrist counselor in the LGBT drug abuse unit of an hospital. While he was getting to know his own sexuality, the people around him, people like him, were real sick or dying. What a bleak insight… How not to take fright?
How are you supposed to embrace who you are when who you are means death? Cause back in those days, and thanks to our media, gay too often rhymed with AIDS. And for prejudiced fools, it still does.
Having some rest. Taking the sword.
Following his husband, Xavier moved to London for ten years. There he renewed his oath. Helping the helpless. Homeless, drug addicts. Xavier took classes. He’s a therapist.
Since the Supreme Court ruled all love legal, Xavier has come back home, in New York City.
And here again, his cause is worthy. He’s the director of a psychiatric and housing help unit for young runaways. Needless to precise, that in such programs, LGBTI minorities happen to form a majority.
Runaways from home run for salvation. From anywhere, to a safer somewhere, there are people like Xavier to solve their question. The million questions they’ve been asking themselves. Mindful answerers made it a mission. Full of devotion, patience and wit. Social workers, healthcare attenders, people in the know got the statistics.
And when you got these. Dear righteous mind. I dare you to stay static.
In America, 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as Transgender, Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual.
LGBT kids are vulnerable. Got it? They are more exposed to sexual and physical abuse. Got it? Fleeing corrective rapes. Drawn into prostitution. Fragile mental health. Drugs as the option.
Doing your best. Sharing the word.
Xavier is the kindest. And his words are wise. Now please do listen. Listen through his eyes. Gay people are like jews. Places like New York City are their Israel. They don’t need no map, no address. There they can belong. There, many long to be.
For human spirit can’t be tamed, since borders only matter for the selfish ones, gays and lesbians, queers, bisex or trans, who value freedom, they’ll do what it takes to find the right home. “Give’ em hope” Harvey said. Well, hope is a self-imposed duty. When you are in danger, how well do you know what safer could be?
For the blind to see, and for the deaf to know, it will take people to show them the way. People who might have flown away, but who took a greater burden later in building shelters for those who fly helplessly. Gay runaways. Love refugees.
Well, for them, stands Xavier.
Building a nest. Freeing the bird.
Salma is from India.
For centuries now, India has recognized the existence of a third gender, embodied by individuals named hijras. Hijras are male-born people who dress and behave in society as female. Neither men, nor women, hijras are a third gender symbolically and legally recognized as such. An in between status.
But Salma is not a hijra.
While hijras benefit from a relative safety, Indian gender non-conforming people go through an even harsher treatment in society. They often are mugged by civilians. And calling upon the police is useless. The latter harass transgender people too. This is what Salma went through. This is why Salma left India.
In Salma’s mind, New York City was the only option. Leaving India meant going there.
Is it because this city inspires safety and anonymity for LGBTI people? Or is it just because America is the land of new beginnings? Nobody knows. But this is where Salma landed. And there’s no other land she’s stepped on since then.
That was 13 years ago. And 13 years ago, Salma’s project was clear. Transition. Gender transition. Leading to a potential gender transition.
But when you move to another country on a working visa, the gap between bold and broke tends to shrink. And going broke would mean being sent back to India.
It took Salma 5 years. The longest wait. To finally consider transitioning as a feasible journey. A bold journey.
And Salma put all her efforts into it. For it takes social courage and mental energy. Becoming a woman when you know you are a woman but no one sees you as such. But rather as a man. That’s a hell of a journey.
So for two years, it was all about transitioning. And it’s a long process. And there is no tutorial for that. What are the steps to follow?
This is when your calendar becomes an agenda. One day a week becoming Salma. Two days a week introducing Salma. Seven days a week being Salma. Bold schedule. Goals scheduled. In New York City, to become Salma was easier. Doesn’t mean it was easy. And it hasn’t been.
When Salma lost her job, being Salma became a problem. Employers want employees.
And though this word has no gender. For an employer. When you are blurring the lines between he and she, you are not an ideal employee.
Financial stress and migration issues popped back up. It was all a matter of time. And time is money. Especially here, in NYC.
Salma stepped back. Back to dressing and appearing in society as male.
Salma eventually found a new job. But she lost it. And it’s been 6 years of an endless struggle. Swinging from employed to unemployed. Either staying as legal or illegal. And as your situation goes back and forth, you can’t really move forward. So she postponed the gender topic. And she keeps postponing it to this day.
Now, as she’s relentlessly been seeking stability, Salma has built a most terrifying wisdom.
Life is choices. Salma’s day-to-day concern comes down to choosing. Or rather not choosing. Not choosing to be a woman and unwillingly being a man.
Further down this logic comes Salma’s double experience, as a man and as a woman, to prove a tragic but basic point.
She is convinced that in the US, in India, and anywhere, being a man is anyhow more convenient. So when looking for a steady income, for a secure migratory status, to be a man is a choice that is not one.
And as Salma forcefully solves a dilemma, time slowly brings new ones. Salma wants a family. With children of her own blood. In her opinion, having a family is a cisgender and heterosexual privilege. And gay or transgender elders. They all look so lonely because of that.
So Salma has a plan. An ubiquitous plan. Cause there’s nothing you can’t do. She wants to build one family. Have several biological children. With two partners. One man. One woman. Two households. You don’t need to do the maths. And you don’t need to find labels. At least not for Salma. She insists. Don’t box her. Don’t box people into gender or relationship categories.
Why is it such a pervasive leaning?
On the picture you probably see a man. Through these words, you most likely hear a woman. A woman? A transgender woman? A male-to-female transgender woman? An untransitioned male-to-female transgender woman? A bisexual untransitioned male-to-female transgender woman?
This is how and why Salma doesn’t fit in the queer community. Nor can she fit in society. No matter what amount of labels India or America have been able to produce and accept. Labels are labels. You think they’re useful until you meet someone whose life has been ruined by them.
Salma wants a job. She wants papers. She wants a reliable and secure environment in a city that has yet to give it to her. She wants love. She wants a family.
At the end of the day, Salma wants what she needs.
And she doesn’t need your sympathy.