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Personal stories


Here are some of the personal stories we received. Through theses stories you might be able to get an impression of varying experiences.

Please keep in mind that all of theses stories are very personal experiences and can only offer a very selective glimpse of each country or culture.

Additionalley - there are some more stories. Feel free to read them (in German) on our German webiste: Erfahrungsberichte auf queertausch.de

Here's a list of our English stories:

Lukas, Germany to India, 2017/2018

1. When and where were you abroad?
In 2017/18 I was in India through the ?weltwaerts? program.

2. Did you already know that you were bisexual, transgender or homosexual when you applied?
I knew that I identify myself as homosexual for quite some time before my application.

3. Was your sexual orientation or sexual identity a topic for you during your time abroad?
Yes, in many ways. In India, Homosexuality is really tabooed in most parts of the society, even more than sexuality itself, with which it is quite similar. Homosexual couples e.g. aren?t recognized at all or allowed to adopt children; neither are they allowed to join the army. There are no anti-discrimination-laws, but section 377 in the penal code, which penalizes same-sex sexual activities with 10 years up to life imprisonment. Normally people aren?t penalized through section 377 anymore, but the sheer possibility to do so, is misused to oppress homosexuals. Even with the discussions, whether homosexuality is a part of society in India, slowly starting in the more liberal parts of society (e.g. metropolitan areas or Bollywood), I was confronted with the possibility of being considered as ?illegal? for some time before leaving Germany for my voluntary service. With the constant thought of this in the back of my head, it was sometimes challenging to stay open-minded and unencumbered in new situations, without being influenced by that in a negative way.
In daily life in India, Homosexuality normally stands out by being absent. Through being such a taboo topic, no one would think of two boys or girls cuddling or holding hands in public ? which is quite common compared to Germany ? as a problem, as gay or lesbian. Therefore, also homophobia is rarely seen, but the methods and arguments, which oppress homosexuals alike, are quite similar and perfidious.
In different conversations or encounters it came clear to me fast, how difficult it must be for people in India, who identify themselves as homosexual, in their daily life. It is embossed by the fight for acceptance and the ability to express oneself. They are often exposed to mental, physical, emotional and/or economical violence, from their families, the local community, as well as the police; so, help is hard to expect. Furthermore, it is difficult for them, to have an exchange about their situation with like-minded people, due to the lack of an official space or opportunity, even in the big cities. To avoid this legal and social repression, prevent local problems, harassment or the loss of reputation and place in the hierarchy, most of the people live without a coming-out till the end. Some even marry and/or try to simulate an image of a happy and intact family, to not attract attention.
All this didn?t only make me sad, helpless and angry, but also reminded me repeatedly, that I as well had to be careful with talking about my own sexual orientation. That?s why I tried to avoid most of the uncomfortable situations, by relying on my intuition.
In my project, which was Christian itself, but also in church I never broached the issue of my sexual orientation. First, to stay safe of possible consequences, but also because I didn?t have the feeling, that it would have been fundamental relevant. I think, the boys I worked with, wouldn?t have been able to understand or classify it and further I didn?t want to mention it in front of my contact person, who was like a host-dad to me but also an ultraconservative Christian. But e.g. during my travelling I was in contact with students and young adults most of the time, with whom I had many interesting conversations, constructive discussions and some funny moments as well.
When in late August 2017 the LGBT-rights and -movement were strengthened by law and a review on section 377 was announced in the beginning of January 2018, it wasn?t only a major and controversial topic in the media and therefore easy to observe, but also an encouragement to consequentially go my own way and try to speak up for this.  

4. If you had a "coming out," how did the people in your surroundings react (host family, friends, fellow AFSers, AFS volunteers, school or other activity groups)?
I didn?t have a coming-out in India itself, because I don?t like the necessity of coming-outs (and norms in general; what is typical hetero? What is typical homo?) ? we are all humans.
My fellow volunteers all reacted positively and interested, also neither one of my two roommates in my voluntary year had a problem with me. Even my organization was almost empathic about it and supported me to some extent. My few Indian friends I met there were more interested than shocked as well and we always had a fair and constructive discourse.

5. How did the people in your home country react?

At home, almost everyone knew about my sexual orientation already, so I rather got concern and well-meant advices on how to behave in India as a homosexual than any negative comments or feedback.

6. What helped you? What did you wish you had had?
What helped me the most was, that in the moments, when I was insecure or needed someone to talk with, I always had good friends in some of the other volunteers from my batch, which made it much easier to endure these situations and come out strengthened. In addition to that, it was helpful for me, that I had often thought about my own sexual orientation and that this topic also was part of the preparation seminars before going abroad; so, it was easier, to talk more authentically and coherent about what I think, feel, etc.
Of course, I would have wished for the social discourse in India to be different already, so that a conscious handling with that topic wouldn?t be as negative as it still is ? something like better timing, I guess. But I?m confident, that the public discourse will change that way in future.

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George G. from Puerto Rico to Switzerland, 87/88

We are interested in the following questions:

1. When and where were you abroad?

1987-1988 from AFS Puerto Rico to AFS Switzerland.

2. Did you already know that you were bisexual, transgender or homosexual when you applied?

No. I, and the bullies and the girls I fancied (who always loved me as "brother") knew I was "different" but I could not put a name to it. Also, the image in those days of homosexuality (the less-of-man ridicule or effeminate man) was not one I recognized myself. What I did know is that I did not treat girls or boys with any difference; i.e. if I cursed in front of boys, why not in front of girls; or I found boys and girls attractive, but never shared it with anyone.

3. Was your sexual orientation or sexual identity a topic for you during your time abroad?

Yes and no.  My exchange year was in the spirit of cultural awareness and achievement of a peaceful world after being a teenager during the awful days of the Reagan years!  However, when I saw the Aids "MOMOL" Campaign in Gymansium and posters on the SBB in Zürich, and the lack of sexual repression and honesty of the Swiss in dealing with HIV/AIDS prompted my curiosity of topics of sexuality.  Living under the systematic puritanical attitude of the USAmerican society towards homosexuality and HIV/AIDS---and the obscene obfuscation and denial of this crisis by the Reagan administration!---and being in a country like Switzerland that was not taking any chances of assuming that only homosexual men were in peril of acquiring he disease opened my eyes to an exploration that I had not taken seriously because the exploited stereotypes of what a homosexual man was in the eyes of the USA media, which was incompatible with my social attitudes and personal demeanor of how I saw myself as a man that just happened to be homosexual.

4. If you had a "coming out," how did the people in your surroundings react (host family, friends, fellow AFSers, AFS volunteers, school or other activity groups)?

I did not come out to myself during my exchange year. I still fancied girls, but went out to Zürich and had "experimental adventures" but did not have the courage to pursue further staying in contact with these "mentors". However, a fellow AFSer, who told me his brother was homosexual, had proposed to have sex on our last night before our departure. I was very conflicted, because I did want to be "that close" to him, but thought it was a trap. His offer was as a way to culminate how close we had been as friends, and this was the ultimate demonstration of that closeness. Why then I thought it was a trap? Because I was not sure if he wanted me to find out if I was homosexual like his brother and then reveal to others, or what.

5. How did the people in your home country react?

I came back with more liberal ideas about sexuality, but resumed being in the closet as the same masculine images I saw in Europe were not present back home, or I did not know how to further my understanding of who I was and how to escape societal conditioning of who I was supposed to be. It was not until I left my homeland  for post-graduate studies in the USA that I finally was able to "sort myself out" at least four years after I left my graduate-school program.

I never made my sexuality a topic, let alone with AFS USA. The first thing I did once I moved from my university town to my work city was all AFS and volunteer. The local teams that welcomed me regarded me as young man that fancied blondes Scandinavian women - because I did. Then slowly I was growing up out of my social conditioning of marriage, and the perfect delay to this were my studies and fancying a group of women not easily accessible in Puerto Rico, let alone the places in the USA where I lived.

6. What helped you? What did you wish you had had?

That is hard to answer; I am Gen-X AFSer. I have never introduced myself to AFS students as: "My name is José, and I am homosexual." However, through my years of volunteering in the USA, in reading interview questions that asked about relationships I would say "...if your girlfriend/boyfriend?" whether they were boys or girls; which I had learned from a younger returnee that would do interviews with me of prospective candidates. Thereafter, I would always include in my local team and Outbound Orientations language to make all aware, straight or not-straight, of the fact that they could encounter homosexuals and lesbians that were not the stereotype they have been exposed to by the media; or to not assume that because men kissed or women held hands in public that these were signs of homosexuality, etc. I also added to the old "10% of you will marry each other ..." popular legend within AFS, the "... and 5% will discover you are homosexual". Maybe language like that in our forms, interviews and orientations would have helped me. Now I make sure I do for others.

One thing I have to say, is that the USA is a bit far from this... After I finally came out, which was not too big fanfare, as again I never made an issue or use my sexuality as a political banner; a student used my relationship to demonize me being homosexual and hosting him as a temporary-host parent in order to allow the student - whom I was his liaison to - avoid being sent back home for "fucking up" (is the only term appropriate to what he did) relationships with his host family in just 3-weeks of arriving to the AFS local team I had volunteered for AFS USA for more than 10 years at the time. My then bf - a YFU alumni -was part of the volunteers for two years when this happened and as I introduced this YFU alumni, everyone "figured" out who and what I was, and no one showed any contempt Personal storiesfor us. It was the AFS management and members the area team my local team was part of, who allowed that to happen. No apologies have ever been said. I still volunteer, but not at the local level; only on D-Day and Outbound Orientations for AFS USA students going to AFS Switzerland.

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Flavia, from Germany to Guatemala 2000/2001

"I spent 00/01 in Guatemala as an exchange student, and am still in touch with my host family, mainly through Facebook. I recently chatted with my host brother, and after some dithering, and cautious questions and hinting, we finally dared to come out to each other. What a sign of trust - I'm so grateful for my AFS family!

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Julia, hostsister in Germany

"I spent 00/01 in Guatemala as an exchange student, and am still in touch with my host family, mainly through Facebook. My American hostsister visited us again after graduating high school and brought her boyfriend as well. I got along with him really well and we stayed friends even when they broke up. This year he visited me with his boyfriend. My hostsister became a mother last year - with her girlfriend.

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Julia, exchange student in Thailand

"When I lived in Thailand as an exchange student, my hostfamily did not really talk about my hostbrother who went to a military academy in the US at that time. When I asked "What's he like?" I only got one answer: "You will see". He came home for christmas break - and he was an extroverted gay and very camp young man. My hostfather had hoped that the military academy would turn him into a "real man". Well.. that did not work out."

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