In Escaping Venezuela, I Found My Queerness & Latinidad as an Expat in the Persian Gulf
My family escaped Venezuela’s ruthless economic downturn by moving to Qatar on a one-way ticket in 2008. Growing up in Doha gave me geographical distance that could finally match the emotional distance I felt from my Venezuelan culture at an early age. The decision to move was as difficult as it was necessary, but what we found on the other side of that journey was remarkable: space to breathe.
Living in Qatar was as if we were an island of Latinidad in a sea of Arabian cultures. We weren’t the only ones, several Indian, Filipino, American and English expats felt the same way. The advantage here was that, for the first time, we got to decide what being Latinx meant for us. For our family, it meant spending time together, getting to know each other, and learning about the Venezuela my parents experienced in their youth. For me that meant replacing all traces of my Latinidad with something that tasted more like home.
Living in a majority Muslim country brought a new set of perspectives to our lives that I now see as further leeway for me as a young gay person. Entering the mall there were stickers on the entrance glass wall: no pets, no smoking, wear modest clothing, and no public displays of affection. In Qatar these rules weren’t enforced by any kind of religious police, they were just codes of conduct for the public to enforce themselves and as foreigners we were too grateful to ever blatantly disrespect these. With these new rules, however, I felt the intense line of questioning about finding/having a girlfriend disappear. I know I avoided many awkward questions, speculation and bullying in the hands of people back home because of this.
I also reveled in learning English and studying in an international school, as they were both the immersion I sought to further distance myself from my background. To be a ‘citizen of the world’ was part of our curriculum, to wash away our nationalities and become ‘global citizens’ wasn’t necessarily required but it wasn’t condemned either. I became a ‘third culture kid’ like many of my friends, not having grown up in the same place my parents did. My primary identity became separate to the identity my parents envisioned for me and finally, somehow, I found space for my queerness to live isolated from the pressures of Latinidad.
Granted, finding this space did not mean I found a community along to celebrate my queerness. I have found identities akin to mine because of social media and the internet, and I see a lot of my struggles reflected in the Queer Latinx community in the US. Living in a borderline and performing that balancing act between American and Latinx is something I could relate to being Venezuelan and a ‘citizen of the world’. From these communities I gradually learned that there was space for my identities to co-exist without contradicting each other; finding these networks however wasn’t an overnight discovery.
I found a variety of online spaces that spoke to my Latinx identity. YouTube channels like Pero Like and Flama, the news site Remezcla, even the Latin Grammys introduced me to alternative artists fighting for causes I felt passionate about. I’m cautious to speculate what having these networks in real life would have contributed to my life because I know that, one way or another, the internet would’ve been my first point of access to them. The sense of eternal digital distance is sure to fan feelings of isolation and yearning for a tangible community; however, in my case, it served as a coping mechanism that developed my sense of home.
Perhaps, I will never belong to just one place. The nature of my citizenship, as a Venezuelan, keeps me in a state of limbo; unable to simply return. So, these days, the traditional concept of home has evolved and it has very little to do with my geographical standing. Paired with being gay, this can be wildly isolating. But, perspective has taught me to see it as a powerful and unique privilege. Being detached from the mainstream has given me courage to explore, and move, and see, without the fear of losing any one thing and with all the prospect of gaining a new experience. I have found a home in myself without an immediate community, and any pride I feel for my identity as a Queer Latinx person, I owe a great deal to that.
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