A native Paraguayan offers a brief overview of Paraguay and the modest lesbigay life there. This is preceded by a first person commentary of a gay Peace Corps volunteer about finding a community there.
Building My Own Closet in Paraguay
January 28, 2012
From a Current Peace Corps Volunteer
I am very lucky. Until now, I have never lived in a community where I have felt uncomfortable being out. Paraguay is different. I have all the support and respect I could ask for in the Peace Corps office, and from fellow volunteers.
But, self-imposed closeting in my own community is taking a toll. Part of it is my inability to read the subtle cultural signs, which as a foreigner I frequently miss. I worry about small comments from people in my community. I second guess conversations, searching for a sign that they have figured me out. Maybe I don’t need to be so scared. Maybe if they knew, it wouldn’t make any difference. Maybe, like my Grandma back home, they know without me saying a thing.
I am a horrible liar. But, unlike many queer volunteers, I am attracted to and have dated both men and women. This allows me to ride the wave of hetero-normativity when answering questions about my personal life, with minimal falsehoods. But, by sidestepping such questions, I wonder if I am giving up the chance to make a difference. What about the unmarried 28 year old woman who regularly makes time to talk with me? What about when my (closeted but almost defiantly gay) host brother asks me questions about my love life? How am I supposed to answer?
Do I maintain my lie of a fake and absent boyfriend? Do I explain how close I am to my “cousin” who visited? I worry that by telling anyone in my community that I am not straight, even someone I suspect would be sympathetic, I would be potentially putting myself (or at least my ability to work with people) in danger. After all, a common way to deflect suspicion of ones own sexuality is to act bigoted towards others (examples: Ted Haggard, George Rekers, Larry Craig, need I go on?).
Perhaps it is different in other sectors. Logically enough, agriculture volunteers find themselves in rural, usually conservative, areas. Comparatively, my site is not super conservative, but I imagine it would still severely hinder my cultural integration and work effectiveness to be too open. When I worked in the Boot Heel of Missouri (also rural and conservative), at least I was able to interpret the cultural signals.
One of my greatest skills was being able to read what put a stranger at ease after just a short conversation. Even if I wasn’t originally from the Ozarks, queer people can often find a way of letting each other know that they are talking to someone who understands; someone who is in the “family.” How do I do that here? I am still struggling to speak Spanish, never mind Guarani, and the cultural intricacies are still far beyond me.
In any new work situation, I prefer to let my coworkers get to know me before I mention my sexuality. And when I do mention it, it is usually in a context where several people are sharing aspects of their romantic lives. When a guy friend complains about a crazy ex-girlfriend, I complain about my crazy ex-girlfriend too. I thus out myself in the not-a-big-freaking-deal way that I prefer. I don’t feel like that is an option here. I would like to casually mention an old flame while sipping mate with my neighbors, but I’m suspect it would first be viewed as a language error, and then as something that would irrevocably estrange me from the community.
Recently, I have gotten to know a little bit of the queer community in a large town in my department. Discovering that such a network existed, and being allowed into it was wonderful. However it was disheartening to see the secrecy and fear that many queer people in the campo (country) experience. The most exhausting part of being closeted is constant monitoring of comments and conversations to see if anyone has guessed “the secret.” But even having some limited contact with this underground queer community, has eased some of the stress that my self-closeting at my site produced.
I have seen very little homophobia at site… but maybe that’s just because no one is out. So even though there is very little evidence that would make me fear for my safety, I have, along with a lindo (good looking) garden, fuerte (strong) tacuara (bamboo) fence, and scraggly abonos verdes (green manure) demo plot, constructed a large impenetrable closet in which to hide an important part of myself. I just hope after two years in such a space, I will come out strong and confident, not cramped and anemic, deprived of sunlight.
You can contact this volunteer at email@example.com.
Old and New Ways in Paraguay
Paraguay offers a different world for the gay traveler. Gay society here has progressed in the past 15 years, but it’s still closeted and discrete, even compared with neighbors such as Brazil and Argentina.
Information about gay life in Paraguay is hard to come by. The Paraboi Web Page hopes to be your best source for information about this fascinating, often neglected country.
Most of the information available on Gay Paraguay from outside sources is outdated and invalid. For example, the Spartacus Gay Guide, which prides itself as the leading authority for international gay travel, until recently listed a handful of gay clubs and bars which for the most part, have ceased to exist long ago. Yet they publish the same dated listings year after year. The 2005/ 2006 Edition now [we proudly note] incorporates information taken directly from this web page, although it’s puzzling why they continued to add the old nonexistent listings alongside the new updated information from our site.
The country is emerging from its shell after the overthrow of the Stroessner dictatorship in 1989. Gays here, though still closeted and discrete, have begun to emerge from the shadows. The situation might be parallel to the emergence of gay society in the USA in the 1970s and 80s.
The internet and the advent of cellular phones have revolutionized how gays find each other in this isolated, landlocked country. Very few people have or can afford computers or internet connections in their home, so they connect to the internet at “Cibers” or Cyber Cafes, many of them located in the main Shopping Center [referred to here as the “shopping”].
Just about everyone here utilizes a Hotmail address and MSN Messenger, in contrast to the USA where AOL and AOL Instant Messenger is king. [ a tiny majority also use Yahoo Argentina or Yahoo Spain, but AOL is nonexistent here]. So if you want to make contact from the outside, it helps to have Hotmail and MSN Messenger.
Cell phones vastly outnumber land lines here, and are used as much for text messages and email as they are for voice calls. Given the low income levels here, few people have unlimited or package cell phone plans as in the US, so they buy prepaid cards that have to be recharged when the minutes on the card are used up. If you hear a Paraguayan say “no tengo saldo“, that means his minutes have expired and he needs to buy a new card to recharge his phone.
Since renting time at internet cafes is expensive and most of them close in the evening, emails and text messages sent via cell phones are the preferred means of communication. Companies such as Vox, Personal, and Skynet even have web sites you can go to from which you can send text messages to their cell phone customers.
One other popular method for gays to find each other is through El Quincho, a mIRC chat site found on http://www.pla.net.py You will need to have the mIRC program installed on your computer to partake in these chats. In El Quincho you will find gay and curious Paraguayans cyber cruising.
Keep in mind that few Paraguayans speak or understand English. As a matter of fact, Spanish may not even be the principal language of some locals. Guarani, the native dialect spoken before the Spanish landed in South America, is the language spoken in many Paraguayan homes, but Spanish is most commonly the language used in business and official channels. You should have no problems in the major cities if you know Spanish, but in the countryside, Guarani is prevalent. Most Paraguayans speak both languages [or a mixture referred to as “guarañol”].
A common question when gays cruise each other here is whether one is “activo” [a top] or “pasivo” [a bottom]. Roles here are less flexible than in the US and Europe. “Straight” guys who partake in gay sex don’t usually consider themselves as “bi” or “gay”- as long as they are “activo” [the top] they feel they aren’t “crossing the line”.
A Paraguayan tradition you will likely partake in if you mix with the locals is drinking Yerba Mate. Yerba Mate comes from a tree, “Ilex Paraguariensis”, cultivated in South America. The yerba is the leaves; dried and crushed to make a tea-like herb. The “matero” carries his gourd (mate) containing the yerba and the bombilla in one hand, while carrying a thermos of water under his arm. Mate drinking is often a shared ritual spirited with friends and family. The matero prepares and tries the mate.
Then, he passes the mate to another group member who drinks his prepared drink. Some people prefer to prepare and drink from their own mate. The liquid is ingested from a metal straw with a filter at the bottom called a bombilla. These filter the leaves out of your mate drink. Bombillas are typically bronze-based and plated with other durable metals. It is common to see Paraguayans walking around in public places carrying their mate gourds and thermoses of water. People who drink yerba mate do it as an entertainment form. Mate drinkers drink it while going for walks, while at sporting events, picnics, and it’s popular among many student activities. Yerba mate contains many vitamins and minerals.
One group of investigators from the Pasteur Institute and the Paris Scientific Society concluded that mate contains practically all of the vitamins necessary to sustain life. In addition, mate contains a xanthine alkaloid called mateine. Xanthines draw a lot of attention because they number among them some traditional nasties, chief of which is caffeine. For many years, and even now, in some sectors, yerba mate was (is) thought to contain caffeine; but it differs from caffeine in some rather dramatic ways Mateine has a unique pharmacology and appears to possess the best combination of xanthine properties possible. For example, like other xanthines, it stimulates the central nervous system, but unlike most, it is not habituating or addicting. Likewise, unlike caffeine it induces better, not worse, attributes of sleep. It is a mild, not a strong, diuretic, as are many xanthines…
Summarizing the clinical studies of France, Germany, Argentina and other countries, it appears that we may be dealing here with a very powerful rejuvenator! An article in “The Society Arts Journal” noted, ‘Mate has an amazing power to sustain strength neither tea nor chocolate can pretend to have. Hikers using mate are able to walk six to seven hours without the necessity of eating.’ Mate has long been known to prevent and reduce fatigue. Dieters use mate to suppress the appetite, while providing necessary nutrition, energy and improved elimination to compensate for a reduction in ingested calories…
Mate also belongs to the class of herbal medicines called alternatives. That is, it seems to be continually striving to rid the blood of waste materials and miscellaneous toxins. Many people report that they require less sleep when using mate; usually such an experience is accompanied by a deeper, more relaxing sleep.” Although North Americans are only now beginning to discover and acknowledge the “unequaled natural nutritional value” yerbamate offers, the Paraguayan have used it and reaped health benefits for centuries by drinking it daily. While not reported in clinical studies, some who drink yerba mate attest to experiencing increased sexual vigor and staying power. Liquid viagra? Some say so!
At the beginning of Summer 2003 [Summer in Paraguay runs from December to March!] about a half dozen gay clubs and bars existed in the capital city. Due to a strict zoning law intended to cut down on drunk drivers, which cut the operating hours of bars and clubs in Asunción, a majority of them have shut down. The recent night club fire in nearby Buenos Aires, Argentina has also instigated a crackdown on fire code violations, making it harder for the establishments to operate.
What few remain are listed below, but don’t expect South Beach style revelry in Asunción:
=La Gran Mansión [formerly Infierno Pub]
address: calle Cerro Cora esquina Pai Perez, Asunción [exclusively gay]
mainly transvestite/ drag queen scene here
address: 25 de Mayo 760 casi Antequera, Asunción
address: Oliva 899 esquina Montevideo
located in central part of Asunción away from the gay avenue [25 de Mayo]
Most of these clubs admit age 21; few admit age 18 and/or all ages. Drinking age laws aren’t strictly enforced as in the US, so minors get in to clubs easily.
You must remember that open displays of affection between gay men are still not tolerated in public here.
As far as the legal situation in Paraguay, there are laws against sodomy when it concerns minors under the age of 18, and when prostitution and/or commercial exploitation is involved. The age of consent is 12, but can be punishable in certain circumstances when charges are brought for “corruption of minors” and “offenses against public morals”. Consult the Spanish legal page “Derechos y la Ley” for more detailed information.
Those looking for vibrant nightlife and a festive atmosphere would do well to stick with locations such as Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro.The gay traveler who comes to Paraguay with an open mind will find a more tranquil world, a strangely exotic one due to its unique mixture of Spanish and Guarani influences. Paraguay and her people offer a rewarding experience you will likely never forget!
Abortion, gay union bill defeated in Paraguay
From Catholic World News
June 01, 2004
Paraguay’s House of Representatives overwhelmingly defeated a bill last Thursday aimed at legalizing abortion and homosexual unions.
The South American country’s legislators rejected the bill by a margin of 57 to 6. There was no debate and only Carlos Filizzola, the bill’s sponsor, spoke in favor. There were 3 abstentions.
Religious and pro-life leaders, who had voiced their opposition to the bill, congratulated the representatives on their decision.
Father Juan Claudio Sanahuja, director of the Noticias Globales news agency, issued the following statement on the agency’s web site: “Today’s results, unthinkable just a few days ago, show once again that when all the social forces unite and exercise pressure on their representatives with a resounding ‘no’ without compromise or consensus in favor an illegitimate lesser evil, it’s possible to block the social re-engineering of the culture of death.”