Gay and lesbian citizens tread every continent, infuse every culture and appear in all societies on the planet. They are no longer isolated as a fringe demographic footnote unique to large cities. The ‘gay nineties’ changed the world’s awareness of homosexuality through insistent activism, playful celebrations and unfortunately through HIV. Political and civil recognition of gay couples since the turn of the millennium extends wider and deeper than a mere shrug or silly characterization or an angry pointed finger. The 90’s and beyond have been a difficult period of reckoning as well as a victorious one for our worldwide minority.
The victories and the defeats have not been equal among nations. In countries such as South Africa, New Zealand, Greenland, Holland, Germany, Scandinavia, and fitfully the USA, gay culture and gay love have been recognized and validated by federal or state laws and celebrated with colorful festivals and solemn ceremonies. In other repressed countries such as Iran, Egypt, Arabia and most of Africa the wrong sexual orientation can lead to one’s imprisonment or demise.
Between these two polarities is the rest of the world. There is a wide range of countries, vast and populous, small and isolated, in which homosexuality is viewed as enigma (Mongolia), a quirk of nature that merits indifference (Thailand), denial (Peru), ambivalence (Uruguay and Morocco), cautious hope (China) or cautious restraint (Sri Lanka) or as a safe but delicate stage for daring gender-bending (Philippines).
Over the past twenty years I have visited these and other lands as a social observer, psychological analyst, curious sensualist and pensive writer. I have sought out willing native gay and lesbian individuals to share their experiences and feelings about living in their countries; each person derives from their particular family, government, cultural traditions, affections and night life.
In these worldwide lives, I’ve sought to understand and value the daily concerns and long range hopes. I’ve tried to discern their differences and similarities, and to identify the opportunities and constrictions that frame their desires. Encouraged sometime, by my listening these familiar strangers have unloaded their stealth feelings or silly encounters, parsing their way through passions and fears, delights and dilemmas, triumphs and defeat, mystery and misery, resilience and fatigue. Each individual unfolds a poignant tapestry of sentient flesh and ephemeral feelings.
Originally my motivation for story writing didn’t precede takeoff from an airport. Rather, it filtered its way to conscious intention slowly over my first years of travel. As a young Shakespeare enthusiast I went to England to study and found myself coming out; not unusual, confusing sexual experiences preceded my understanding of them. I moved to California and matured as a gay man and lover. My new partner, then, also loved long distances and we started taking far-away excursions to unusual places.
Our first, somewhat blinkered, trip to ‘Far East’ as a couple was to Australia in 1991. This pleasant venture revealed nothing to me about the imminent tidal wave of gay culture there, mostly because I was not looking. We gawked at the opera house, went to a gay bar, snorkeled on the reef and petted a koala–and left. In my simple view, everyone seemed to live well there. Never mind the lives of gay and lesbian Aboriginals.
A few months later I discovered Neil Miller’s pioneering book about the international gay scene ‘Out in the World’ (published 1991) which opened my eyes and mind to deeper truths about our brothers and sisters around the globe. I started to take notice of our universal ‘community’; not everyone lived well. Very soon I too wanted to explore the personal lives of gay people abroad.
When we visited Bangkok for the first time we were confronted with the daunting in-your-face sex trade and learned about the pale reality behind the glittery erotic scene; sex and money glossed over complex enigmatic lives. As a gay man, I was titillated by that seductive commerce, but my psychologist self tuned to curiosity about the inner lives there and I wanted to know more. I wanted to turn sex objects into human subjects by asking questions about their lives offstage and out of bed.
Since then, I have nurtured numerous friendships in countries around the world as a result of these inquiries. Their passions and anxieties are similar in nature and circumstance to my own–indeed, to all others whose affections and love are thwarted and constrained in a heterosexist world.
The Internet is today’s Gutenberg press, a second genesis of communication that now provides gay and lesbian users with virtual accessibility to nearly every nation on earth. On-line chat has become as common as off-line gossip. Millions of once-isolated gays and lesbians now have virtual families and friends offering support and caring where birth families have failed to understand the nature of same-gender feelings.
For me, using the Net to make pre-departure acquaintance with far-off strangers has become simple; it then expands on arrival into friendship over dinner or long cafe talks and listening. These are stories of the heart, of sex and discos, of lost long-distance love, of mature long-term relationships, furtive quickies and denied pleasures. For all the anonymity of the Internet, it also provides deep inroads into the intimate affairs of the mind and heart. Despite many varieties of national cultures and local traditions, the more I listened and watched, the more I saw common themes of life. love and loss emerge from the individual dramas and histories. We are more similar than different.
The logical next step was to put my stories online for others to share and GlobalGayz.com was born.
Sentient beings move toward light and warmth. Gay, straight, in between, unlabeled, furtive, denied or celebrated–human nature craves social and personal contact from like-minded others, from one’s tribe. It’s a primary condition of life. Unfortunately, politics, social traditions and organized religion have warped modern culture as well as its laws and institutions as they relate to homosexual love and desire. Subsequently, this has forced ever-insistent gay romance and friendship to adapt discrete, clever and creative guises to meet inherently powerful needs. These forces of sentient nature may be bent by civil circumstances, but their fundamental expression cannot ever be suppressed. Humans need physical and emotional contact; gay love and gay sex are instinctual and eternal.
We psychologists know well the emotional toll that thwarted drives and desires have on the long-term well being of any individual. Our western tradition of valuing individual rights and dignity, albeit imperfect, is far from equaled in many distant lands where intolerant religions and governments still attempt to suppress–or decapitate–the authentic temper of human yearning.
The stories here are also about the burden of facing such adverse conditions. They are also about the adaptive and diverse solutions lesbigay folks have devised to survive and prevail over ignorance and dark authority. On occasion my interviews have slipped into gentle therapeutic exchange in an effort to unravel perplexing family knots. Hopefully the ‘session’ helped a bit.
My generation spans a world war and the silent pre-Stonewall 50’s to today’s flamboyant Mardi Gras, Gay and Out Games, Trans rights and gay marriage; from my secret pubescent fantasies of men to the most recent daring Latvian and Turkey gay festivals and right up to the cutting edge of Irish gay marriage vote, I have been delighted, stunned, hurt and awed by gay life on our little planet floating in space.
I’ve trekked (by foot, tuk-tuk, Mongolian jeep and Aeroflot planes, bullet-trains and boxcars, floorless Haitian taxis, Thai elephants and desert camels) across all continents except Antarctica, usually with my husband Michael. My life has occasionally changed careers from carpenter to college professor to nurse to psychologist–always with camera or notebook in hand. For 27 years, my life partner–now husband–and I have unraveled our share of knots and pleasures. I’m proud to be a Gay Games and OutGames medalist in swimming as well as an author of many articles about gay travel and lesbigay relationships. My journey now continues into the age of cyberspace and this web site. I invite you into the real and virtual lesbigay community I have found around the globe. Life is, among many other things, an intricate journey of serendipity and curiosity, of travel and transcendence. It is gazing at our global selves.
Enjoy the site. Please contact me if you have any comments or questions.
Richard Ammon, PhD.
Laguna Beach, CA