Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Brno Pride

(Photo from Queer Czech)

This past weekend, my bruised ego and I took a road trip in a car full of Czech lesbians to Pride in Brno. Brno is the CR's second city--think Philly to Prague's NYC. We have all asked why Brno and not Prague. The best answer I got was that people in Brno are bolder. The experience was nothing like I had imagined it.

In high school, I went to Pride in Manhattan (Oh hey, Mom, not sure you knew that but if you ever wondered why your darling daughter had a certain affinity for The City on Sundays in June--that's why) and rejoiced in all the glittery, queen-y splendor of it all. In college, NoHo pride was all about babies and puppies, but I will never forget the Smithie brigade of "Baby-Dykes-on-Bikes" which used a greener kind of bike than the old school Dykes-on-Bikes. Finally, last year, I partook in the incredibly suburban Long Island pride which was a mix of the two, plus a lot of late '90's Oakleys. But Brno Pride was something else entirely.

There were a few hundred people in the square where the march started and ended. We listened to speakers and milled around to appropriately kitschy music. To enter, we had to go through a police blockade and have our bags checked. Pride itself was fairly typical--if lacking in drag queens (and gay boys in general--this is the first queer community outside of NoHo I've ever experienced in which dykes rule). It was the response that I had never expected. I've tried to read articles about Pride but running them through Google Translate only makes them barely comprehensible. The numbers, though, seem pretty solid. There were about 600 people at Pride and 150 protestors. That's 25% of our number. Pretty significant. They had the standard "gay men are gross" and "gays are bad for families" non-sensical posters and cheers. But they also had eggs, cherry bombs, and manure. Overhead, the whole time, was a helicopter observing the scene. The police force was incredible. It even included an anti-conflict team that essentially went up to the protestors and tried to talk them out of protesting. How very polite. The most important fact, however, is that no one was hurt. It seems silly to write about this experience in light of what happened at San Francisco Pride this weekend, but it's still a significant experience for me.

When I read last week that violence was expected, I was totally dismissive. But to see those angry, militant protestors, I was shocked. My main thought was: here? This is my safe-haven. After being told that it was okay to kiss a girl in public, I have had no fear of queer PDA. I've held hands with girlfriends in Prague as well as Kolín. I've never looked over my shoulder going to or from a gay bar. I've snogged like a teenager on those tiresome metro escalators (what else are they for, really?) and I've never had a second glance from passersby. So, if no one minds my PDA, why are they all up in my Pride?

Get ready for my complete outsider's point of view on this. The best reason I've come up with is that this is one of those sex-is-different-from-lifestyle situations. As Nicole said, it was cool to have all the gay sex you wanted in England until Oscar Wilde tried to make an identity out of it. So no one minds if I kiss girls, but when I am proud and want to talk about it, we have a problem. This seems to go along with the ban on gay adoption as well. Sex: fine. Lifestyle: 'nother story.

In the end, it wasn't all that bad. Again, no one was hurt, and we were able to pretty much laugh it off as a group. We literally laughed in the faces of individual protestors who made their way into the crowd. As a group, we were unstoppable. And then I went to the train. As I walked there alone and got stared at for my rainbow face paint, I for the first time in this country, wondered if I should be walking alone. But I blew it off and no one actually said anything.

When I got to the platform, a group of teenage boys shouted at me from another train, "Hey, lesbian!" Me? I thought. But I'm... But I'm someone who usually benefits from assumed hetero-privilege. I don't look queer so how dare you taunt me? For the first time, I thought about how I should have washed the face paint off. I should have washed off my identity! Who is this new person in my body? I have long hair and own five times as many dresses as pairs of shorts. How I have changed in five years! What would the mohawked, hairy-legged babydyke think of this new person? To even think for a second of washing off my face paint so that I could go back to passing, it's horrendous! Has this been what it's really like all along? Have I just been casually ignoring homophobia because it's not directed at me? To think that I was complaining the night before to another lesbian about how I am not respected by the queer community because I don't look queer enough, and here I was, trying to pass. Full of rage, for these boys and what they made me realize about myself, I went down the platform and stood next to some queer-looking dykes. I'm not about to change the way I look to be more gay, but maybe proximity will help. Proximity or solidarity? I thought. Eye contact. Solidarity. And ain't that what it's all about?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Second Wave Culture Shock

When you first arrive in a new country, the culture shock is almost literally a shock. It's overwhelming and makes the simplest tasks taxing. Grocery shopping makes you feel like you are from another planet. Is this an entire aisle of paté? You question how people could possibly live like this. I am supposed to take a shower... sitting down? And, of course, adjusting to a new language is never easy. That word is seven letters long without a single vowel, is there a synonym for that?

But eventually, you settle in. You develop some sort of normalcy in your life. If you spend a lot of time with expats, you begin to create a new culture combining elements of your native and adopted cultures. After a while, you can carry on a basic conversation and start to eat bread as a meal without thinking anything of it. You are no longer simply trying to survive in this strange place but have the new desire to somehow integrate yourself in it. This happened to me around my seventh or eighth month here. And that was when I found myself with a whole new host of anxieties about living here.

Socially, I felt I was doing fine. I knew the big things. Never just start eating without saying "dobrou chut!" Always bring wine to a gathering. Take off your shoes unless told to keep them on. Look everyone in the eyes when you cheers. Don't use the word "love" casually. Got it.

But it was the way I lived my daily life that started to make me wonder how much I could ever fit in. I just don't dress Czech. I don't know how I would dress to look more Czech, it's an inexplicable Czech-i-ness that I just don't have.

I find myself constantly looking at the forearms of other women. I am always trying to determine if it is true that most women shave or wax their arms--so far, I feel like the numbers are probably 50%, 50%, but they are not blessed with the coarse, dark Mediterranean hair I inherited from my paternal grandmother.

I grew up on the beach and was raised to believe that wearing socks with sandals was a crime against humanity. Meanwhile, I learned that skinny-dipping is thrilling and dangerous, not a way to avoid tan lines. A student of mine went to Florida recently and came back with stories about how in America, you can't swim naked or the police will take your baby. Part of me wanted to tell her that in America, you can't wear those shoes with socks or the police will take your baby.

I will never consider a hair-free lady region to be a matter of hygiene. And that is that.

I feel like in America, I know equal numbers of women who wear some amount of make-up daily and who don't. I know very few who think of it as any kind of necessity.

I accept, albeit grudgingly, my ever-increasing number of grey hairs. I may be salt and peppered by 30, but I'll live. Dying my hair was a rebellious youth kind of thing for me and I cannot imagine being respected as an adult with cheetah print hair. Hair color, again, is so far from a matter of hygiene to me.

All these little things start to add up, especially around election time when no one can properly explain to me, in any language, how Czech elections work nor why Czech youth is so right-wing. Add in a tiring amount of institutionalized racism and it amounts to some serious doubt about my ability to live here long-term. But this is just the second wave of culture shock, when one starts to actually become a part of the culture. And like my distaste for pork, this too shall pass.