Life Georgia on My Mind
posted by August 22 at 16:09 PMon
As you’ve probably heard, the country of Georgia has been going through some rough shit in the South Ossetian War.
I cover some basic facts of the war in this week’s Last Days (see Monday) but none of that gets at why I’m semi-personally concerned about the citizens of Georgia, which is this: Georgia is the only non-North American locale I’ve ever spent time in.
I went to Georgia for the same reason most people go to Georgia: To perform in a production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Here’s a photo, and before you get too dazzled, you should know that this was a student production from the North Carolina School of the Arts, and the entire cast consisted of people in their early 20s (yes, even the elderly Big Daddy and Big Mama.) I played the role of Gooper (that’s me to the left of the bed) and in Georgia, each cast member was handed over to a Georgian host family in the city of Tbilisi. (We flew into the Tbilisi airport, which was recently hit by a Russian air strike.)
This was in early 1991, right after Georgia had achieved its independence from the Soviet Union, and the people of Georgia were all lit up with national pride. They’d reclaimed Georgian as the official language (making the handful of Russian phrases we’d learned not only useless but insulting) and they were thrilled to have Americans around to show off their reclaimed country to.
For the week and a half of our visit, I stayed with the family of a Georgian drama student named Uri. Living in a small-ish apartment were Uri, his fiance, his mother, and his sister, all of whom were so incredibly sweet I could hardly stand it. After dinner, they’d sing at the table. Russia had somehow cut off Georgia’s access to hot water, so when I needed to bathe, the mother would fill the bathtub with water heated in pots on the stove. I’d offer to help, and she’d never let me: I was their guest, and behind every bit of generous fussing was the hope that we’d be friends forever. “We’re brothers now!” Uri exclaimed on at least three (drunken) occasions, and when I had to leave they cried and insisted I come back again before long.
Which brings me to the great underlying problem of my trip to Georgia: The country’s deep and proud homophobia. “Blue boys” was the term used for male gays, who were treated with unapologetic scorn. “If someone is gay, they are banished from society and their families,” said the cousin to the left of Uri in this picture, as translated for me by the cousin on the right. Violence against blue boys was presented as comedy, or an act of valor.
Of course, they had no idea I was gay (happily involved in a relationship with the guy playing Brick) but of course I never forgot it. Through all of the Georgians’ proclamations of love and gestures of kindness, I could only think, “If you only knew…”
During the teary goodbye at the airport, the family made me promise to stay in touch, come back soon, write when I could, and they’d do the same. I never called, I never wrote, and I disposed of the family’s contact info soon after I got back to the states. I have no idea how Uri and his family are doing with the recent troubles. I hope they’re okay.