Shamefully, my wife and I never really felt connected to the LGBTQ community. We have no ‘lesbian’ music in our playlist, we don’t watch lesbian movies unless they are really good (unfortunately a lot of them are tragic so please let me know if you know any good ones) and we don’t go to gay bars or events. In fact, on a personal level, I can’t recall a time I’ve ever been to one. I have no lesbian friends, apart from my sister and her girlfriend and some lovely supportive people I’ve met on social media recently.
It’s not that I reject the lifestyle or that I’m ashamed of who I am. I’ve just never felt the need to turn to a particular community because I’ve always able to be who I am in any situation or setting, at work as well as in my private life. This also means that I haven’t witnessed the struggles that the LGBTQ community deals with around the world every single day. And I guess that that sometimes made me take for granted how easy it’s been for me. I never questioned it until recently, after reading true-life stories of people who haven’t been as fortunate as me, and I realised I’ve been incredibly lucky.
My easy life started in the Netherlands where I grew up and spent the majority of my adolescent life. I lived in Amsterdam for many years, a city that doesn’t judge and where a lot of people refuse to define themselves as being anything in particular. Straight people hang out in gay clubs and the other way around. Occasionally they feel like fishing from another pond and that’s not a big deal. It was then, when I met my current wife, that I discovered I liked women. Yay! Needless to say, being gay was never an issue where I lived. I can honestly state that I’ve never been subjected to a single bad joke or negative comment about the fact that I’m gay. For me, coming out wasn’t a process. I simply told my friends and family I had a girlfriend and that was that. I had no doubts or fears about what they would think of me because I knew it wouldn’t be an issue and I didn’t feel uncomfortable with myself holding a woman’s hand on the street for the first time. Most of my friends had experimented with women in their past. They just shrugged and told me they’d love to meet her. I was secretly hoping for a bit of drama and commotion but nothing like that.
To my mother, it was exciting. I’ll never forget the day I took my wife to the small village where my mother and stepfather lived for the first time. We were celebrating his fiftieth birthday and all their friends and family were present. We weren’t quite sure how they would react but you’ve never seen a dancing bear admired like my wife was from the moment we walked in. My mother is still gloating about it.
You see, her life evolves around having dinner parties with well off, bored middle class women. Occasionally, they throw a game of bridge or tennis in the mix to spice it up a bit. Nothing much happens in their lives and they’re always on the lookout for gossip. When I told her we were coming, she grabbed the chance with both hands and introduced my wife to every man and his dog in the village. I sometimes wonder if part of the reason my mother never objected was, that she finally had something her friends couldn’t compete with. A lesbian daughter-in-law. Not only that, she was a foreigner too. Most of her friends had only ever seen foreigners on TV, so this was pretty exotic for their standards.
A couple of years later when we lived in the UK, we had no issues getting married and the Catholic community in Andalucia where we had our ceremony did not object to us using their chapel to exchange our vows. The village musicians even showed up unannounced at the party to play some Spanish wedding music for us.
It wasn’t until we moved to Hong Kong, that we were confronted with an issue that affected us directly and it got me thinking of how blind I’ve always been to LGBTQ issues. Although Hong Kong is a very open minded place to live, our marriage wasn’t recognised there. My wife couldn’t get a working visa and even basic education or attending a course was not an option. Living in our happy bubble, we hadn’t even thought of the fact that our same sex marriage could cause any disadvantages. Sadly, she had to settle for being an expat wife with nothing much to do but go to the gym and explore the city on her own for six months while I was at work. Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m well aware that that’s not exactly suffering and I’m not claiming in any way that we had a rough time but we met people who had been living there for over twenty years with their long-term partners, unable to work or to educate themselves in any way.
Now that I’ve finally started writing, I would love to voice some of the issues that people in our community are going through but it’s very hard for me to relate. I’m ashamed that I’ve never given the extent of violence, unemployment, homelessness, discrimination and of course general equality issues like marriage, adoption and other legal matters much thought but I’ve made a promise to myself to do that now. We all grow through knowledge and knowledge makes us stronger. I’m well aware that all my blessings have been won for me by the previous generations of courageous women fighting for my rights and I’ll do my best to pay it forward and not only reap the benefits of other people’s sacrifices.