Thursday, November 10, 2005

Homophobia

Earlier this week, one of Daniel’s Timorese colleagues expressed such virulent homophobic comments that upon Daniel telling me, I sunk further into a depression. She is young, supposedly well educated and from a very well to do family and works for a Human Rights NGO (exactly whose Human Rights is she working for I wonder?). However, her comments, in particular about gay men were outrageous. She said that there were no gay people in Timor before Indonesia invaded and that gay men were responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS. Not true on all counts. Granted, given the nature of Timorese societies it would make it practically impossible to live life in a same sex relationship, but like all societies at all periods, there is and always will be same sex relations. Concerning the spread of HIV/AIDS, migrant heterosexual men engaged in work away from their homes that have unprotected sex with female prostitutes and then upon return to their village infect their wives and subsequent children, are the main culprits. Homosexual sex and injecting drug use are secondary and much less significant causes for the spread of HIV/AIDS around the world. Her ignorance and prejudice was astounding but again just demonstrates the appalling education the Timorese received under the Indonesians and now under their own tutelage. Daniel was so upset that he emailed his homophobic colleague a brief fact sheet from the WHO (which he translated into Tetun) about what the greatest risk factor is for the spread of HIV/AIDS.

A recent chapter in my Tetun language book I covered with my Tetun tutor was called “Kuidadu an” (Taking care of yourself). Under the sub section called Extramarital Sex were included the following words for me to learn: prostitute (three different words), cross dresser, man who acts or dresses like a woman; homosexual (all one word); effeminate heterosexual male; tomboy, woman who acts like a man; homosexual; lesbian; cheap (easy to get; mainly applied to women); mistress (in addition to the wife); take a mistress. I was seriously mortified! What the hell did gay and lesbian have to do with prostitute and mistress? To make matters worse, the woman who wrote the book is a Dutch Australian academic and in her country of origin (The Netherlands), same sex marriage is legal! Was she, I wondered, just putting all the words that the Timorese themselves would consider “disgusting” together? I vowed to ask her when I next saw her, which at the latest will be early next year when AVI pay for us to do an intermediate Tetun language course taught by this very woman.

Then, more was to come. My Tetun tutor told me that he didn’t like any of “this”. When I questioned him as to what “this” was, he said, “all these people”. I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked as this young man has expressed so many views concerning women (eg there is no such thing as rape in marriage because of course, if I want sex with my wife, she must give it to me!), gender and children that adding homosexuality to the bag covers thoroughly the whole issue of sex and gender. However, at times like this, I simply cannot shut my mouth and say nothing. I explained to him that being homosexual is a human right and that in countries such as my own, such people are (generally speaking) accepted and protected from discrimination in law (mostly). I also told him that homosexual couples could marry in four countries including two that are Catholic and that perhaps one day, this too will happen in Timor. He just tut tutted and shook his head in disbelief that this was so and was probably thinking how strange and appalling we Westerners are. Little did he know that in my mind, I was thinking how bloody lucky I was to be born in the West and not in Timor.
Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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