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05_02

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LGB RPCV NewsLetter - May 2002 
1
NewsLetter
May 2002In This Issue
u
HIV Makes the Job Tougher
uu
Gender in Ecuador
uu
Drag in Mongolia
uu
A Story from the Pacific
uu
Peace Corps Applicants andHIV Status
uu
LGB RPCVs Meet withDirector Vasquez
HIV/AIDS Makes the Toughest Job Tougher
“Yes!” screamed thehost as he danced acrossthe stage tossing free‘Generations withoutAIDS’ t-shirts to theaudience.
W
e begin our May issue with a report from Suzanne Marks on HIV/AIDSeducation and prevention programs in Cote d’Ivoire.
q
A volunteer inEcuador writes about gender issues and sexuality in the Andes.
q
Rick Smith is pleasantly surprised to find cross-dressing in Mongolia.
q
An RPCV from thesixties tells his story from the Pacific.
q
We report on Peace Corps’ on-going poli-cies related to HIV status and volunteer application.
q
John Finn describes a recentmeeting with the new Peace Corps Director.
- Suzanne Marks, RPCV Togo 1983-85
Bleeeeep, sounded the buzzer, at awrong answer to the question posedby the game show host. He turnedand quizzed the other team, “What aretwo ways to help prevent transmis-sion of the HIV virus?” “Condom useduring sex and infant formula use asan alternative to breast-feeding by thechild of an HIV-infected mother,”came the rapid response from theeventual winning team. “Correct!”shouted the host. Thunderousapplause rewarded the victoriouscontestants, as the host selectedstudents in the audience to ask thenext question: “What is the bestresponse to a lover who wants tohave sex without using a condom?”Two audience members conferred andannounced their response: “No glove,no love.” “Yes!” screamed the host ashe danced across the stage tossingfree ‘Generations without AIDS’t-shirts to the audience.This interaction continued forthree hours as finalist teams of teenage boys and then girls, alongwith their classmates in the audience,competed to give correct responsesto HIV/AIDS prevention questions.This was a new spin on College Bowl,adapted to the realities of life and of AIDS in Cote d’Ivoire, a country withthe highest HIV prevalence in WestAfrica where over eleven percent of adults are HIV infected and over100,000 AIDS orphans now live. Theshow was videotaped for televisionand was shown in segments duringthe year to viewers throughout thecountry.I sat in the third row where Iattempted to catch and understandthe fast flying French words andphrases coming out of the host’smouth. It was just my first week in afrancophone country since my PeaceCorps service in Togo in the 80’s. Inthe intermission between matches, Imet a woman, Celestine Navigate,who headed a group of HIV/AIDSprevention non-governmentalorganizations (NGOs). Her namesounded suspiciously phony, like shewas a celestial navigator or angel,which I soon discovered was close tothe truth. She explained that she wasproviding young girls with scholar-ships to fund their educations andteaching commercial sex workersalternative income-generating skills toget them off the streets. She explainedthat women’s empowerment was keyto reducing the HIV pandemic. I wasquite impressed with both the showand with Celestine’s activities.I was sent to Cote d’Ivoire on atwo-month temporary duty for theCenters for Disease Control andPrevention (CDC). While I wasassigned various tasks to accomplish,one that I quickly added was to makeconnections between the Peace Corpscommunity, their activities, and theCDC office in Abidjan to ensure
Continued on page 6
 
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - May 2002 
2
Gender Roles in Andean Society
- Health Education Volunteer, Ecuador 
I imagine that mostpeople in my rural, fairlyisolated town have notcontemplated lesbianismand would never imagineknowing lesbians.
Gender roles in Latin America tendto be rigidly defined and Ecuador isnot an exception. Cultural expecta-tions of feminine and masculine roles,traditional to my North Americaneyes, are the fabric of rural Andeansociety. Marriage prevails. Men arethe breadwinners and women are thecaregivers. A man’s place is is outsideof the home whereas a woman’s isstrictly within it. While there are manyexceptions, this basic framework dominates the region in which I live.As a bisexual woman venturinginto this new environment, I realizedvery early on to proceed with caution.My first personal experience withhomosexuality happened when I hadrecently arrived at my site. As a ruralpublic health volunteer, my assignedcounterparts were staff at the town’shealth clinic. Upon meeting thedentist, I quickly surmised he was gaybased on his mannerisms, interests,and dialogue, as well as my Americanstandards. I quickly learned thoughthat Ecuadorian standards vastlydiffer.Along the lines of defined genderroles, ideas of sexual orientation arestrictly outlined. In Ecuador, beinggay adheres to a norm, based on thenotion of passive versus activeparticipation. Between two men whoare partners, the male who is thepassive receiver is considered gaywhereas the active giver is not. Menare equated to women in many ways,and the stereotypical gay man isextremely feminine in appearance andmannerisms. The only open men Ihave met in Ecuador have beentransvestites, literally dressing aswomen. Much to my surprise, thisseems to be the predominant under-standing of homosexuality, neatlypackaged in these exaggerated genderterms.My counterpart, who quicklybecame a friend, does not fall into thisstereotype. He is not a cross dresser,does not wear makeup, and thereforeblends in. He leads a double life thatis fairly common in this intolerantenvironment. My friend has childrenand has had several long-termrelationships with women. We havenever addressed the issue of sexualorientation with each other andprobably never will.While among men homosexuality isa repressed issue in Ecuador, amongwomen it is incomprehensible. I havenever met an openly lesbian womanand have not even heard muchmention of it. Being that sex isassociated strongly with dominanceand passivity, be it a straight or amale relationship, the idea of twowomen together does not fit into thisscheme. I imagine that most people inmy rural, fairly isolated town have notcontemplated lesbianism and wouldnever imagine knowing lesbians. Thelevel of awareness in large cities isundoubtedly higher, but is an issueonly beginning to emerge.I have been able to blend in withinmy town and haven’t faced muchscrutiny of my personal life, largelybecause I have had a serious relation-ship with a man and I happen to be awoman, hence I raise no majorsuspicions. I do not reveal myorientation in order to simplify my life.Other gay volunteers have similarlychosen to hide their sexual orientationin an effort to be accepted andrespected by their communities.Unfortunately after being out of thecloset in the United States for manyyears, it has been difficult to feel thiskind of overt homophobia. At thesame time, it has made all of usappreciate the freedoms we took forgranted at home.Eventually Ecuador will open up toissues of sexual orientation andbroaden its defined ideas of genderroles. The closet will no longer be anecessary hiding place for so many of its citizens. I have to remind myself that social change happens one stepat a time.
We frequently do not identifyPeace Corps Volunteers by name for reasons of security. You can contact the author by emailing her in care of the editor 
103571.2317@compuserve.com
. We’ll forward your message to her in Ecuador.
We are always looking for articlesfrom both volunteers and those nowback home. We’re looking for storiesof your experiences. Many lesbianand gay Peace Corps applicants areeager for information about what it’slike for gay and lesbian volunteersworking in the developing world. Thearticles in our newsletter (also up onour web site) are invaluable sourcesfor this kind of information. We oftenpublish anonymously to protect theprivacy of volunteers in the field. Weexercise a light editorial touch andwe’re anxious to hear from those whohave a story to tell. You can write usor email us using the contact informa-tion on the last page of the newsletteror email the editor, Mike Learned,direct
103571.2317@compuserve.com
.
Looking for aFew GoodStories
 
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - May 2002 
3
The Best Little Drag Show in Outer Mongolia
- Richard Smith, RPCV, Mongolia 1995-96 
As the best dressedyoung women in EasternMongolia got ready fortheir debut, the Stalin-erapower plant cut off theelectricity and cancelledthe show. The femalesquickly changed back into males. They didn’teven wait for a photo-graph.
When my two Mongolian languagetrainers play-acted a Buddhistwedding in drag, I realized that inPeace Corps you’d never know whatto expect. Tsetsgee, a woman, playeda Buddhist monk - like her real lifebrother, and Monkherdene, a man,played the bride. As an out gay malein the United States who had beentold that gender bending didn’thappen in Mongolia, watching andlearning about some Mongolian campmade me feel at home.Monkherdene had been inspiredby a real life transgendered personliving in his hometown near the Gobidesert who lives his life as a woman.He wears make up, a Mongolianwoman’s silk gown, and dances withmen at parties - all without anynegative repercussions. In theMongolian Buddhist world view, atransgendered person is simply onewho had been another gender in aprevious life and has had troubleadjusting to the new gender in hiscurrent incarnation. The Mongolianword for such a person is
maning
,which can also be used to describethe intersex, transgendered, gay orlesbian.
Not just for city folks
Peace Corps assigned me to aneducation college in Choibalsan in theeastern steppe. The area is flatgrassland and the last refuge of theAsian gazelle. At first I thought thatmy pre-service training drag showwas going to be an isolated incident:something instigated by city Mongo-lians used to American culture and itswacky ideas about gender. I waswrong. At my site I met another crossdresser, but he only did it for money.Buyan was a mult-talented youngman who played all the traditionalMongolian instruments: the horseviolin, dulcimer and casino keyboard.He played music at parties and alsodressed as a clown or a woman,whichever the crowd thought funnier.I never saw him play dress up, but hedid show me the pictures. He worelots of make up and looked like across between a Geisha girl and Bozothe Clown.His hero was Elton John, not onlyfor hits like “Sacrifice,” but also forthe elaborate costumes he madefamous in the 70s. Buyan wasshocked when I told him that EltonJohn was gay. It took him awhile tounderstand what I was talking about,but he knew the Russian word. Iasked him if he knew anyone like thatin Choibalsan. At first he said no, buthe thought about for a few days andtold me that his high school foreignlanguage teacher had been gay. Thepolice found out, took him out in themiddle of the night and shot him.
School dances
My college, like all schools, put onmany dances. Every week, girls wouldwear white lacy dresses and black pumps and the guys wore theirpolyester Soviet era suits. During fastpop songs, each class danced in acircle. During slow dances, theyperformed the traditional Mongolianwaltz. I tried explaining to my stu-dents that the waltz was Europeanand received looks of horror.Towards the end of my service, mycollege co-sponsored a dance withsome of the other schools in the city.I expected to see some unfamiliarfaces, but some of the young women Isaw looked familiar but I couldn’tquite place them. For some reasonthey all had short hair and lots of make-up. One had a mustache. Whenthe tallest one started blowing kissesat me, I recognized him as Ganzorig,one of the male first-year students. Infact, all the first-year men werewearing dresses. They were gettingready for my college’s first drag show.It made sense in a twisted sort of way. My college had 350 studentsand only about 20 were young men.The young women - who were usedto dancing with each other - appar-ently found some way to blackmail allthe freshmen men into being womenfor the evening. The men were soexcited they wanted me to take theirpicture, except a few shy ones. One,however, chickened out and changedback into his manly clothing. Buyantook the others backstage and taughtthem how to walk in heels and sashay.I stood in the audience waiting forthe show to begin. For a warm up,students from the agricultural schoolsat on each others laps and mademock marriage proposals. As the bestdressed young women in EasternMongolia got ready for their debut,the Stalin-era power plant cut off theelectricity and cancelled the show.The females quickly changed back into males. They didn’t even wait fora photograph.
New professional opportunities inMongolia
Today, Ganbush, a gay choreogra-pher, has become rich by doingprofessional “Super Erotic Show” atthe capital city’s nightclubs. Inaddition to choreographing striptease and erotic dance, he does anoccasional female impersonation.
Continued on page 7

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