This is for all the stones who wish to settle and gather moss, but are forced to keep rolling.
Setting: Summer of 2017. Chimaltenango, Guatemala. In a courtyard near sundown.
It was my second week in the highland town and I was already bonding quite well with the women with whom I would spend another month and a half. I was in Chimaltenango, a town comprised of mostly Kaqchikel Maya residents, to gather data for my thesis project. As a cultural anthropologist I was there to learn as much as possible about these women and their culture. Naturally, they were just as interested in learning about me.
So, we sat at a long table amid piles of yet-to-be-finished woven goods and took turns asking and answering questions about ourselves. As always, the infamous “tienes un novio?” (do you have a boyfriend) question was flung at me. And as always, I tried to toss an answer back with subtle clarity. “Si, tengo una novia…” (yes, I have a girlfriend). When dealing with new people, I strive to bring up my queerness only as naturally as conversation will allow it. My hope is that they will catch on and continue the conversation as casually as if I were the straight person they initially presumed me to be. However, this time, my wish did not come true. The room went painfully silent. “Tienes una noviA…como una chica?!” one woman exclaimed. Everyone had a concerned look on their face.
It was apparent that I needed to save face, and fast. Luckily, I always pack a closet with me when I travel… just in case. I explained that I made a classic Spanish noun gendering slip-up because we don’t gender nouns in English. I meant to say “novio” instead of “novia.” This, of course, was a lie, but not an unbelievable one considering I had made several slips in my previous attempts to converse in my second language (such as saying “huevos” – eggs, instead of “huesos” – bones, when explaining the various things that I study). I began to laugh out loud at my “mistake,” and a few other women began to follow suit. Pretty soon, everyone was laughing except the older woman across from me who had first pressed the issue. She could see right through me. Even after the conversation had moved on and others had silently agreed to chalk the entire situation up to a misunderstanding, she continued to scowl and throw skeptical looks.
It was there in that tranquil courtyard – surrounded by beautiful flowers and fruits and smiling brown faces that reminded me of my own – that the tangerine sunset I’d hoped would gently kiss my cheek, instead leaned down into my ear and whispered “you don’t belong here.”
When I returned to my room later that night, I didn’t cry immediately. The tears came only after I thought about how cowardly I felt for denying my sexuality in order to fit in better, for how hurt and betrayed I felt that a group of marginalized people that I connected with so well would so easily marginalize me in return. While the pain felt fresh, this was by no means the first time I had experienced such.
See, as a person with a number of persecuted identities (Black, queer, femme, non-binary), I don’t always fit in with other Americans in the United States, despite the fact that I was born and raised here. I use my ventures abroad to scope out potential new homelands. Finding a new home isn’t just about economics and nice vistas; it’s also about your new neighbors, whether they would be pleasant to live near and whether they would accept you. Although I have personally never experienced physical violence or grave danger while abroad, I have had bigotry lobbed at me in every country I have visited. From racial slurs in Poland, to negative comments about being an outspoken femme in Morocco, someone in every part of the world has found something to hate about me.
The question of the locus of home resounds loudly through the LGBTQ+ community – many of us have been forcefully shunned by and ejected from the ones into which we were born. This has made the search for home quite exhausting and turned metaphorical question “where in the world can I go to be myself?” into a literal one which begs for a real answer. I sometimes think that finding home is more of a temporal issue. All things considered, it’s probably in my best interest to just keep traveling, keep moving through space and time, delighting in the temporary shelters I find on the journey to a permanent, more utopian refuge.
Edited by Carmen.