by Justin Mitzlaff
Flashback......Justin's life.....Pre-Peace Corps......GAY! Yes, you read it right, my life was gay. I worked at a gay and lesbian non-profit organization. I worked with queer youth, I helped to establish GSA's (gay straight alliance) in Kitsap and Mason County schools, a majority of my friends were gay and lesbian and if I was at an event or volunteering for one, it more and likely was for gay and lesbian people. It was a time of my life where I was very proud to be gay and everyone knew I was gay. There was nothing holding me back and I wasn't afraid to tell people who I was. It's a part of my life that I now miss very much.
Life now...hmmmm. It's of course nothing like it was before this whole crazy adventure began. It's so hidden, so unlike me. During PST, only the people in my group knew that I was gay. It was so hard, especially since I had developed a wonderful bond with my host mom. I wanted to tell her so much of who I am, the real Justin. I didn't like hiding, it wasn't me.
When I go to my site, Mentz, I told my host sister that I was gay, because we had become really good friends and she wasn't buying the whole, I don't want a girlfriend they are just trouble routine. She was very accepting of who I was and we often sat in my room and giggled and gossiped about the guys in the village. It was fun, but a part of me still didn't enjoy having to hide from the whole village of who I really was.
I did meet quite a few guys in Mentz who were straight, but like to have sex with men. They had no grasp or concept of the word bisexuality or gay. They just knew that gay was bad! Most of them were in shock when I told them that my family knew that I was gay and were just fine with it. For the few who were gay, they said they would never ever tell their family or friends. It was heartbreaking to hear and see these guys who would never be able to come to terms with themselves because of the society around them. But it wasn't all sad. I could go into many of the funny stories and phone calls that came along with meeting and befriending many of these guys. They definitely made my experience in Mentz fun and interesting.
Sadly, I had to leave Mentz and now live in the town of Barberton. Barberton is a town of many different people... White, Black, Indian, Colored and Chinese. It too is stuck in a stigma that being gay is bad bad bad. Once again, I have met a few guys who are gay, but they would never tell their parents or friends.
I know one guy in town who is openly gay and the town always isn't so nice to him because of it. All the other closeted gays think they are the only gay guy in town. They can't believe that I know so many others. Yet, they don't want to meet each other, in fear of people and family finding out. It's sad...it makes me want to do something for them. But where on earth do I even begin with starting something like that. I want the queer crown here to be open and proud!! But like the gay and lesbian movement in America, I have a feeling it’s going to be something that will take a great amount of time.
My heart hurts for these people...I understand their struggle and desire to be themselves. And no matter how hard it is for me to be somewhat closeted here, I always know that I can go back to America and be open and gay as hell again. The people here, in the villages and townships, these small towns hidden from the big cities, will probably spend most of their life hidden...a thought for me that is just so heartbreaking. I can only hope that the gay movement in South Africa becomes strong in the near future and that those who are LGBTQ can be free and open.
Justin is a CHOP (Community HIV/AIDS Outreach Project) Volunteer in the Mpumalanga Province. He is also a member of DIversity Committee.
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