Friday, October 5, 2012

The China closet

Peace Corps is gay-friendly.

Peace Corps is realistic.

A plethora of gay men and women have served and continue to serve in the Peace Corps and in other U.S. government organizations. At the same time, effective service in a host country requires integration into said host country's culture. In rural and small-city China, there is no gay subculture to speak of, and, one must admit, the notion of such a subculture is a product of the West. (If Blogger had a footnote function, I would add one here about issues in terminology, e.g., "gay," "homosexual," "GLBTQ," etc.)

As a man who has been devoted to civil rights regardless of sexual orientation for some time, this sublimation of identity for the greater good has been a challenge. Even during pre-service training, I was quite critical of the lack of orientation-specific training and information. But, as training progressed, I realized the Corps has bigger fish to fry and that only so much can be addressed in two months of training--i.e., it's more important that you can speak Chinese and teach English as a foreign language than it is for you to feel comfortable as a gay person in China. Volunteers are wide-minded people; we can figure it out for ourselves. Indeed, we are expected to do so; this is integration.

Fast-forward through training, arrival at my college, questions about my marital status, sighs of consolation that I do not have a wife or children yet, to Friday, September 28, Zunyi #4 Middle School gate.

I have arrived for the wonderful weekly family meal with my teaching counterpart and his parents and extended family. I've been here before, but only with guidance, so I am not sure how to get to their home. As I wait for my counterpart to come and fetch me, I am approached by six or so Chinese students, most of whom are in military garb.

"Hello," they say.

"Ni hao," I say.

"Where are you from?" they ask.

"Wo shi Meiguo ren. Ni ne?" I answer.

"We are students at this school. Can you answer a few questions for our survey?" they say.

I take a look at the questions. They're all in Chinese, which I cannot yet read without a pinyin transliteration.

"How do you feel about the gay?", they ask.

"Mei guanxi," I say. "In America it's no problem. Most Americans think gay people should have the same rights as everyone else."

They are very excited. They ask my age. Someone takes a photo. I'm pretty sure another is recording our conversation on his smartphone. One of the students eagerly jots down my answers and information.

I'm getting a little paranoid. There is only one 38 year-old white dude in Zunyi, I'm fairly certain. Will my answers be reported to the authorities? Will I be asked to make account for them by the Chinese government? Unlikely, I know, but...

I avert further questions by asking my own. What do they think about "the gay"? They say they feel the same way. "The gay" should have the same rights as other people.

"Okay," I reply. I'm disappointed in myself for not being more forthright, but also pleased that I've been cautious as the Corps recommends.

And so, the China closet. Out and in. In and out.

A welcome phone call comes from my counter part. "Where are you? I'm waiting for you on Red Army Street." So, I can go. "Bye, bye; Zaijian," I say. "Thank you," they say. "See you at Red Army Street English Corner tonight?" they ask. "Maybe," I say, knowing that I've had enough such integration for one day. Some home cooking with a Chinese family will have to do.

No comments:

Post a Comment