Headed home

Tonight I will board a red eye flight for Houston, and–crossed fingers for no delays– arrive in Newark tomorrow afternoon.

I’m not sad. I’m not leaving Peru with a heavy heart. I’m not happy either. I’m just boarding a flight and ending my 11 months in Peru.

That lack of emotion concerns me. It’s largely because my emotions do not seem to have caught up to what my brain knows.

Tomorrow nearly guarantees that I will never again wake to the sounds of Isis telling Mama Luz to eat all the food on her plate. Tomorrow I stop negotiating with cab drivers for the lowest possible price, ningúna sol más que diez! Tomorrow I stop boarding combis packed shoulder to forehead with those around me. Tomorrow David and I will not talk about feminism, racism, homophobia or theology. Tomorrow I won’t work through the crossword in El Popular, Ojo, or Perú21. Tomorrow Isis won’t scold me for cracking my knuckles or else they’ll be fat when I’m old. Tomorrow I will not catalog artisans’ work for sale in the office.

Tomorrow I will be in Newark. I will greet my parents and visit cousins in New York before returning home to Scotia for the first time in nearly 48 weeks. Tomorrow will be a day of transition from the recent familiar to the distant familiar, which I’m sure have far better psychological names.

Today I don’t feel much out of the ordinary. I am considering the few errands I must complete (mostly gift purchasing) before departure, with a similar attitude to that with which I considered everyday office tasks.

That concerns me. That concerns me because I feel like a mirror of who I was 11 months ago. In August, I sat on a Lima-bound flight, I looked back at my fellow Peru YAVs, each buzzing with excitement and anxiety for the upcoming months, and I did not see myself reflected in their eyes. I feigned a calm and collected shell, lacking context for the months to come. What were 11 months of new experiences, but a blur of memories down the road?

Ignorant and cocky, I felt nothing out of the ordinary as I flew south.

If you’ve been following along, you know that this year drained me within two months. Unforeseeable roadblocks and trials of my own creation and beyond my control pushed me beyond a breaking point. Honestly, I even came up short in the face of those challenges I expected to face. I trace much of that struggle to that unpreparedness.

With all that in mind, I’m concerned to find myself in a similar emotional place as I depart. Will I be similarly drained two months into my new life in Washington, DC? What trials am I not anticipating? What roadblocks am I underestimating?

During our final retreat, Jed pointed out that it is more or less impossible to predict every challenge in re-entry. “You’ve been immersed in a different sociocultural atmosphere for months, it is difficult to know exactly how that’s affected you.”

That, more or less, is why I’m worried.

Of course, I am hopeful that I am not a mirror of the person I was 11 months ago, but someone who can handle the same situation better. Jed and Jenny also suggested that it best not to view our YAV year as a change, but a fuller realization of ourselves. Right now that is more than a nitpick at the definition, but a way for me to depart this year with a greater sense of hopefulness.

I look confidently toward the next steps I will take after this year, knowing I am more capable in ways big and small to face the expected and unexpected challenges. I trust that when I reach new limits and fail to see any reprieve, I will manage to overcome.

For now, that increased confidence is my greatest takeaway from this year of service. I have a few qualms with how self-interested that is, especially as I depart those who I met and will continue to struggle. Plus, I question how integral Peru and the resources spent in bringing me here are to my grand realizations. There is value to exploring those qualms moving forward, but they are unchangeable at this point.

Likewise, these qualms do not invalidate my more hopeful confidence, which will help me tackle new challenges, starting with the impact as my emotions catch up with my intellectual understanding of what it means to leave Peru.

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Ally Cookie Monster

Hello, my name is Kyle and I’m addicted to ally cookies.

That’s a crass way to put it, but it’s true. There’s nothing like the feeling when a marginalized member of society offers me a white privilege macadamia nut by liking a Facebook comment I wrote in solidarity. When someone mentions my support publically, I chow down on sweet, sugary social justice pie.

It’s so good in fact, I find myself diving into Facebook comments’ sections to call out folks for their racism, homophobia, sexism, or whatever other systemic hate. That act in itself is not bad. As I understand it, it’s vital that those allying with the marginalized intervene when people with privilege choose to hate. It’s why white folks are often discouraged from ending Facebook friendships with those publishing bigoted posts.

I’m disgusted by bigotry and hate to see it, but that disgust is in itself a privilege. Awareness of that privilege requires that I work to end violence against marginalized peoples and raise their voices.

Even as I write that, a small part of me is hoping that a person of color or trans friend will come along and offer me that sweet rush of a simple thank you. And that is where we get issues.

You see, that search for validation often motivates me to intervene in comments’ sections or real life conversations. I want to be seen being a good person, even while I am motivated to be a good person because it is the right thing to do.

Sometimes I tell myself that the purity of my motivation is just a philosophical issue, which is effectively irrelevant to day-to-day conversations. As long as I keep reminding myself that these conversations are about more than my own self-satisfaction, it’s just part of my own internal battle against subconscious racism.

Except this is not just a philosophical issue, it has very real consequences. I write my comments knowing that social media is a public platform and others can see what I like and support it. Specifically, I try to write messages that will attract validation instead of ones that might help bring someone posting bigotry around.

That often results in grandstanding and preaching. Establishing my moral superiority will not bring someone around to recognize that their actions are hurtful. It will inevitably end in terminated friendships and connections across social media, as someone feels hurt and judged by my pointless moral superiority. In the end what good did my intervention really do?

For that reason, it’s critical to explore new resources and keep pushing to the limits. Likewise, it’s important for those working to be an ally to support one another and suggest better strategies.

I did just that after a series of really ineffective Facebook debates and reached out to a friend, Will Dierenfield, who is far better than me at all of this. He intentionally challenges his own views and those of the people around him, and has helped me connect the dots on the many ways I could be better. In general he is far better informed on solidarity and is just the fantastic sort of person who wants to help.

He offered countless valuable suggestions such as seeking to ask questions and avoiding morality, which can easily be misconstrued as labeling someone as immoral or evil (think Facebook debates that end in comparisons to Hitler). People do not want to find out they are wrong, especially when their error lands them on the side of hate. That, he said, is part of why it takes so long to bring someone around. One back and forth on Facebook will not be enough, it’s an ongoing discussion.

Now as for my own addiction to ally cookies, I found guidance in the person who originally introduced me to the metaphor, ray(nise) cange. They run the site Awkward Trans Kid, where they share informative videos they face as members of the trans and black communities. A recent video suggested that allies avoiding putting people of color on the spot by tagging them in posts. More importantly, ray(nise) suggested using privacy settings to block people of color from seeing the awful things said in the process of educating others (i.e. white folks). As ray(nise) puts it, “The only reason I can think that you’re doing that is for ally cookies.”

That sounds a bit odd at first, but consider how social media has shaped dialogue. Ten years ago, your conversations about racism were not openly available to thousands of folks on Facebook. Now that can be extremely useful to activism, but it has a dark side.

By blocking, you are not seeking to isolate yourself from criticism, but to take away just one of the many sources of harassment or violence faced every day. It’s important to remember that this is directed at those who are already acting like an ally and constantly reading and promoting the voices of color.

ray(nise)’s advice helped me recognize my own issues with ally cookies. They and so many others have helped me grow as an ally, which is ongoing process.

As Will aptly (though I believe unoriginally), “Ally is a verb, not a noun. It’s something you do, not something you are.”

(By the way, I am incredibly lucky, even blessed, to know such exceptionally compassionate and insightful people.)

Peruvian Pride

I have to be honest, it felt really cool to march in the LGBT Pride parade in Peru the day after the Supreme Court announced the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling in favor of marriage equality. There was a sense of pride as I passed a newsstand with several front page spreads featuring with IGUALDAD in bold print over a rainbow print of Obama. Plus, it did feel good acknowledging the congratulations from each person I met in the parade.

Even so, the parade contextualized the Supreme Court decision. Specifically, it showed just how small of a drop we’d made in the overall Civil Rights bucket. A fact many friends have not been shy to point out in the aftermath of the victory. In addition to providing context, the Peruvian LGBTQIA+ community displayed a hopeful, fiery pride, rooted in the struggle.

Peruvian LGBTQIA+ did not have some great accomplishment to celebrate. The lone push for Civil Unions got shot down earlier this year following stunningly uninformed debate in the Congressional committee hearing. Peru’s LGBTQIA+ community has little going for it beyond apathetical support and far more working against it.

That apathy extends to media coverage. Consider the news spread I mentioned seeing on my way to the march. Ignoring the pseudo cult of personality (and how misplaced that is), the Obama print represented the greatest media coverage of the LGBTQIA+ movement. The Peruvian Pride Parade received spotty coverage in the newspapers without a single front page story in the popular daily papers and tabloids, which the majority of Peruvians read. When I watch the news, coverage of LGBTQIA+ issues is saved for late at night when children are likely asleep and viewership has diminished.

That gaping lack of coverage stretches well beyond ignoring a Pride parade. Neither of the more civil union-focused protests that I marched in received highly viewed coverage either. Nor did a stark Annual Report on the Human Rights of LGBT People in Peru.

A report stating that four LGBT youth committed suicide. There were 13 registered homicides and the same number of invasions of personal security between 2014 and 2015 by the police, family members, friends or strangers. Admittedly, that was a drop from the previous year overall, though the violence against transfolk increased. The few positives in the report included a push by the state against general discrimination and to start keeping better track of these incidents. Take a moment to consider the mood after the message, “Well the deaths are down from last year and now we’re going to start recording better.” Then remember that it is off the majority population’s radar.

LGBT Peruvians did not shy away from that reality at Pride. One marcher put on makeup to appear beaten and carried a sign asserting that “The state is our worst aggressor.”

In some ways, the movement within Peru feels very much like the U.S. gay rights movement. LGBTQIA+ Peruvians are fighting for recognition and attention. Affirming discotecas sponsor floats full of beautiful people dancing to upbeat pop music. Transwomen dress “fabulous,” though it’s unclear if that’s a choice or a sense of obligation. Gay marriage seems to be prioritized because it is a tangible way the state can change their policies and offer fuller personhood. Many focus on the equality of homosexual love with heterosexual love.

Peruvian Pride had a very distinct character to that in the United States. Recently, I saw an article asking when straight suburban teens took over U.S. Pride celebrations. Without evaluating that the legitimacy of that critique, it would have no traction in Peru. Peruvian Pride is not a commercial affair, but one of struggle.

I did not see any businesses seeking to profit off of the event or sell their wares. Several businesses and celebrities have expressed their support, but few attended to sell rainbow products.

Without businesses there, the messages were less obscured. A group of trans Peruvians held banners for a Gender Identity Law, which would allow Peruvians to change their identification cards to reflect their gender identity. Considering the roots of Pride in the actions of a Latina transwoman, Sylvia Rivera, it was powerful to see these Peruvian trans folks marching proudly and openly.

Peruvian Pride’s character is deeply rooted in the struggle. As one sign I saw put it, “Proud to be the shame of my country.”