Editor’s note: When exploring the issues of gender, sexuality plays a significant role, and we wanted to share three different perspectives of what it is like to live as a future professional and graduate student in the field of diplomacy and international organizations. We would like to thank our authors for sharing their experiences with Polemics and the DA community. These are the perspectives and real lives of colleagues and friends who deserve respect for sharing their story to help promote understanding. Polemics hopes to provide a way for a constructive discussion to take place. The views expressed are the author’s, and do not reflect those of the Diplomatic Academy, nor its faculty, administration and our sponsors.
by Flora Kwong
I had my first crush in kindergarten. Times were tough for me then, because he was a boy and boys have cooties. As much as I was teased by classmates, I never questioned whether I was liking the wrong sex.
Crushes turned into relationships in high school, but I did not have to hide them. When my parents found out I was dating a boy, arguments ensued. I should have been focusing on school. But I did not have any bags packed, ready for my family to disown me. No one ever wondered why I chose a boy. I never worried about boys being just a “phase” and that I would eventually learn to like the right sex.
My family remained my family, my friends remained my friends and I continued to date boys. I grew more sure of myself in adulthood, more confident in my identity, and not once did I question this identity. Not once did I have to come to terms with who I am and who I am attracted to. I began a serious relationship with a man without any pretenses of choosing the right gender for a normal life. He was him and I was her.
My decision to come to the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna was a fairly unhampered one. I never wondered whether a field in diplomacy would be accepting of my sexual orientation. I never wondered whether, in Vienna, I’d be able to hide my relationship with a man from new colleagues and professors.
My life has thus been generally unfettered. My parents love me and accept me for who I am. I never tried convincing myself of being someone I was not, I never spent any years living a lie. I have never had to sit myself down and tell myself I am straight. I have never had to come to terms with this fact. I have not had any fears of having to disclose my real identity and to restart my life, living finally as my true self. My family accepted me, my friends accepted me, my employers have accepted me, and the DA has accepted me.
So I have decided it is time to come out and tell you once and for all that I’m straight. But I don’t worry about your reaction now to me coming out. I don’t wonder whether you are feeling uncomfortable, awkward, supportive or disgusted with me. This is not a huge relief or weight off my shoulders. I feel the same freedoms as I felt before. I am still the Flora that you know, and you probably think no differently of me now than you did before reading this article. Life as a straight person has been shameless and easy. I have simply been able to be.
by Faa McDonald
When I was asked to write a short vignette about my experiences coming out, I struggled to keep what I have to say short. Of course I can fill a novel full of experiences of discrimination, hate, and rejection. My teenage years are some of the most difficult to think back on because, as for every gay teenager, it was very difficult growing up. There are times when I felt completely alone, walking through the hallways wearing a giant, flashing neon sign above my head. There are times when I came back from school crying and hating myself for being different and hating the awful things my peers said in the classroom or in the lunchroom. As the only out lesbian in high school, I became the ‘token’ gay kid. But how it all began was not because I was influenced by someone. I grew up in a community with straight parents, straight teachers, straight friends, straight peers, and straight pet fish. I tried to be an example when I came out as lesbian at fifteen, but instead of becoming a confident trailblazer, I became a social pariah, and at around that same time, I experienced the realities of rejection; my Model UN partner refused to room with me during a conference because she was uncomfortable at the thought of taking a shower in the same hotel room. She thought I would touch her inappropriately at night, against her will. After this experience, I learned that some members of our society would equate me to that of a rapist or a child-molester.
I saw the DA as an opportunity to surround myself with well-educated, open-minded individuals. Luckily, for the most part, my hopes and expectations were fulfilled, but of course there are exceptions, and what I found was that negative social perceptions about the gay community are still burrowed in institutions of higher-level education. Starting a sentence with “I have a lot of gay friends but…” is utilized under false pretenses, masking intolerance with association. Not only do I question the credibility of the argument, but using friends, family, and acquaintances, belonging to a minority group, to spread an ultimately hateful message is unacceptable. Winston Churchill once stated, “the truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” LGBT individuals do not decide who they are via media propaganda or the influence of others. They choose to be honest and consequently experience persistent hate, violence, isolation, and discrimination. Who would ever willingly choose that kind of a fate? The answer is, no one would. The people who come out are courageous and are honest with themselves and with others, and they are not acting as individuals spreading any kind of “gay-agenda.” In the end, I became stronger, and when I received a message from a former high school peer stating that my courageousness motivated her to come out as well in university, I realized that all of my difficulties and experiences had made one person’s life a little easier. And to me, that’s what coming out is all about.
It’s a Secret
by John Doe
I like men; I believe this makes me “gay” according to the mundane norm. Being a secret gay, homosexual — whatever you call it — is torture. Where I come from, homosexuality is a taboo and is regarded as unnatural. I practically have no one to talk to at home, neither family nor friends. I can’t even tell my older sister, who has been my best friend from the very beginning. My parents are extremely conservative and homophobic. How disappointing it was when I first realized at a young age that I am actually not a girl, but a guy. I am male, but I know that my spirit is female; this is something I am certainly not proud of and is the fundamental reason of my hatred towards myself. Every night before I sleep, I pray that my body will miraculously turn into a girl’s the next day. And every morning when I wake up to find that nothing has changed, the disappointment crushes me. This has been going on for years. I don’t know what I am.
The decision of leaving home and coming to Vienna was an impulsive one. At the beginning I considered it as a getaway. I felt like I could finally leave all my burdens at home and somehow start over in a new place. Yet, I’ve come to realize that I have to deal with similar challenges here as I dealt with back home. I don’t know how to face some of my colleagues and teachers. Fortunately, I’ve met real friends here at the DA, who are open-minded and considerate. Despite the fact that I am kind of a coward, friends at the DA have accepted me for who I am. I have become more open to talk about my sexuality to some of my close friends here.
Nevertheless, although I know European society is generally more accepting of gays, I believe my sexuality still casts certain negative impacts on my future career opportunities in the field of diplomacy. “Coming out of the closet” simply does not seem to be an option for me. While I have been able to disclose my sexuality to a trustworthy few, I don’t intend on “publicizing” it. If my family ever found out their only son is gay, there would be no possibilities of reconciliation. Considering the pressure and constraints I have been facing, I have necessarily become a master of disguise. I am still surviving though — I guess I’ve done a pretty great job with that. The consequences of coming out would be too devastating for my family’s reputation and my possible future job opportunities.