“It must be so hard; I can only imagine,” said often by many of my comforting volunteer friends, and while I completely appreciate their sentiments and feelings, the truth of the matter is sometimes it is but that’s only sometimes. Only a few times in my life have I had the conversation about the Pride Parade and march with friends, in some cases gay friends but more so with heterosexual friends. The general argument is why do we even need a Pride Parade. My gay friend had said that he didn’t choose to be gay so he hasn’t accomplished anything to be proud of while some of my heterosexual friends don’t really see the point in the parade at all. I, on the other hand, think that this open and free parade is completely necessary to LGBTQ+ individuals, because that’s how it can feel sometimes: like we’re individual and alone. The parade allows us the chance to see others like us and be seen by others like us, to smile in the streets about who we are and know that just for that moment, and maybe that day, everything is okay. That’s exactly how I imagined it being for the Nicaraguans when the Pride Parade took place in Managua last June. In a culture so sexually strained and being LGBTQ+ still being a rather taboo aspect of society, I felt the energy of the parade that I normally felt, but this time with more courage and more resolve. I saw the faces of transgender women covered in glitter and a look of resolve as if saying silently “here I am and here I’ll stay.” There were spectators that looked at the people marching in the parade with surprise and interest. You could see that they weren’t exactly okay with what was happening, but they couldn’t figure out how to do anything about it, because for once we weren’t alone, we were together, we were organized, and we were safe.
I was having a conversation with a host country national over snapchat and he was talking about another volunteer and how he thought the other volunteer was very feminine and trying to act like a girl, so in relationships he must take on the role of the girl. While you could say this triggered me, I didn’t let it show, and responded with the at this point rehearsed lines of “well, in a relationship with two gay men no one is trying to be a girl because they are two men.” I followed with saying if I was worried about repressing my every emotion, feeling, and energy just to look like what I think a man is, I would be crushing my personality down for the sake of others. I finished with the resolute closer “no one, stranger or otherwise, is worth me pushing down my feelings and natural energy.” While the conversation didn’t end with a perfect understanding on his part, I think he understood that what we refer to as gender expression shouldn’t force us into roles that we don’t want to take on.
It is that very idea that a man must be a man that has plagued gay men over time. I am even willing to admit that when I was first coming into my identity as gay, I had a loathing of the stereotypical feminine gay. My loathing wasn’t directed at them really, but more to the stereotype that people think we are all like that. While I have long moved on from that phase of my identity, it will never excuse my thoughts and ideas at that time. Now, when I hear that same rhetoric from other gay men, I am quick to comment about the acceptance of each other no matter how we express ourselves.
When you open any dating application, you’ll see people writing in their profiles the infamous line “no fems, no fats, not into asians/blacks”. While there are a lot more conversations going on about that statement recently, you still see a lot of people on the Nicaraguan dating app scene that are trying to present themselves as masculine and as in shape as they can possibly be. It’s almost to the point where there is an overflow of illegitimate profiles being used because those people don’t have the hope to be the ideal man everyone is looking for. This is all just the tip of the iceberg for what it has been like living life as a gay man in Nicaragua.
While in my town, I had a quick and childish relationship with a host country national, from him I learned about at least 5 other gay men in the town. After that, I had met another guy and went out for a few drinks with him as well. When reflecting on those interactions, everything to me just seemed reminiscent of high school and the first few years of college and it makes sense. My town is small and everyone knows each other, there isn’t much opportunity to date anyone here without worrying that everyone will find out and you will be turned into a pariah with no friends and no support left. The network of who’s gay and who can know is small and secret and secrets here whether they have been gay or not need to be kept but most likely won’t be.
While attending national camps as a counselor, I was often tempted to reveal who I was to the campers just to give them an image for someone gay and in a mentor position, someone who doesn’t mean any harm and never has. When I would hear the anti-gay statements I would purse my lips and hold it all in, because there were a few campers from my town who would definitely return and tell everyone what I said and who I really was. At times I had to come very close to lying, something which is exceptionally hard for me to do due to my grandfather telling us early on that no matter the subject never disrespect your character with a lie. When people in town would ask why I wasn’t married and why I didn’t have a girlfriend I skirted the line with the simple phrase “I don’t want one; I’m here to work.” For there’s always the unknown threat lurking in the towns, the drunk man that isn’t okay with gay people just waiting to fight them or the backlash I could potentially receive working in the elementary schools when the first thing the people here think about gay men is that they are sexual criminals who prey on the small. I do have plans though to leave this town on my last day in a blaze of revelation for its citizens with a widespread reveal of who I am and who I’ve been and how no one is worse off for me being me and hoping that some people were left perplexed thinking, “he was gay?” because I am still a man and I like to be a man, contrary to what they may have thought before, I have no desire of becoming a woman. Then from there I leave the town safely in the distance understanding that this is a privilege that not many locals have yet, still relishing in my victory.
And it’s not all bad despite what you may have heard or read even here, I am a proud person and I am happy to be gay, I have been given a chance to see things differently, to work with interesting souls that have had to endure so much struggle, yet still smile as if it’s second nature. I can be the one to challenge the ignorance here without worrying about my third cousin in town telling my mother. I have been able to go to Managua and dance with whomever I want without worrying because I have met wonderful people and they have raised me up. I am lucky and I am fortunate and I take the good times with the bad in Nicaragua as well. While sometimes the times are hard and I am glad that my fellow volunteers are empathetic for me I will say that there should never be any large tears shed for me, I’m a gay Peace Corps volunteer serving in Nicaragua and I couldn’t be happier with who I am.
– CJ Sanchez
Peace Corps Nicaragua Env 66
GAD Committee Member