“Don’t be surprised or stare if you see gay couples walking around.” One of the warnings the program sees necessary to tell students coming from various private Christian colleges across the United States. I was not surprised that my peers need to be forewarned about public displays of queerness, but it is isolating to hear a warning against a group of people you are a part of. While feeling like an outsider in the room, I felt safe in the country I had just arrived in. I had researched Spain’s view on the LGBTQ+ community prior to coming, (as most queer people do before traveling to a foreign country for safety reasons) but to hear the program emphasize Spain’s acceptance and openness towards LGBTQ+ people was a relief. Whenever I enter new spaces, especially new Christian spaces, I hesitate to come out, and I carry a lot of fear and anxiety for how people may respond. The more I try to be open about my sexuality, the easier it can be to come out in new spaces, but the hesitation and distrust remains.
As I have been living in Spain for a month now, I have come out to many Spaniards and I am consistently surprised by how much they couldn’t care less. I don’t feel judgement, I’m not looked at as a “sinner”, I don’t have to worry about people perceiving me differently. It is the mundanity, the normalcy of being queer that is the most liberating.
Another uniquely Spanish experience is seeing a lot more openly queer relationships, of all ages and genders. Every single time I see a queer couple, it sparks joy. It is reassuring, I experience feelings of safety, acceptance, and even hope. When I see queer women my age the feelings of joy intensify. To see myself reflected in others brings a deep sense of comfort, of solidarity, of community. It has allowed me to reflect on how much shame I have carried about my identity, because these feelings of self-acceptance I am having are new. While I always tried to tell myself that I am comfortable with my identity, there is a reason I haven’t fully come out to my family yet. Living in Spain it seems my (heterosexual) shell I have been in is slowly breaking away. I deserve a space where my shell can be broken. I hope the U.S. can evolve to a safer space for queer people like Spain. In Spain queerness is normal, it is accepted…I am normal, I am accepted.
P.S. For any queer students considering this program: do it. The program staff are very affirming. I have only felt support and love from them, which has been a breath of fresh air compared to how faculty can be in the USA. As I have said before, Spanish culture is very open and accepting. Through conversations with queer American students, we have all agreed that this experience has been liberating compared to life in America.