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Friday, August 22, 2008

Georgia on My Mind

posted by on August 22 at 16:09 PM


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.

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i know there are a few nitwits on Slog, but do you really have to tell us that college age students played all the roles in a college theater production?

There's not that many good roles written for 18-24 year can only do "Hair" so often...

and we need a better, (bigger) picture...we want to see what a young strapping Schmader looks like...AND your Brick.

Posted by michael strangeways | August 22, 2008 4:07 PM

Well, the bright side is that gays in occupied Georgia will enjoy Russian standards of respect and protection.

Posted by elenchos | August 22, 2008 4:11 PM

Ouch. You actually threw away their contact info? Jeez. They seemed to be very hospitable. You could have at least written a letter saying you returned home safe if not more. It is hard to believe you flat out disregarded them after they opened their home to you, just because of their homophobia. How dangerous would it have been if you told them that you were banging "brick".

Posted by anthony | August 22, 2008 4:13 PM

@3 - sometimes people get killed for that there. So, in that respect, yes, it's slightly dangerous.

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 22, 2008 4:15 PM

"You musn't be gay, Blue Boy, but please to enjoy the giant black Georgian Caterpillar stapled to my forehead for your pleasure."

Posted by wino | August 22, 2008 4:22 PM

3: Yeah, I'm not proud of doing it, but I did it. I was just out of my teens, and had grown up in Texas, and the idea of someone hurting someone else for being gay was not foreign to me. For what it's worth, I left a big wad of (American) money for the family when I left, and Uri's English-speaking cousin wrote to say this allowed Uri's mom to take a trip she wouldn't have been able to otherwise. (The dollar was strong at this time.) That was our one post-Georgia interaction, and the return address on that letter was my second chance at keeping their contact info. But I lost it.

Posted by David Schmader | August 22, 2008 4:26 PM

Blue boy
that's what they call me
cause I'm so lonely
since I lost you
Blue boy
I'm known as blue boy
you found the new boy
and now we're through
I had a twinkle in my eye
when our sweet love was new
Now all I do is moan and cry
and hunger after you
Blue boy
I'll be a blue boy
until you need me as I need you
(Jim Reeves)

Posted by Fnarf | August 22, 2008 4:33 PM

Georgian guys are smolderingly hot. But yes, homophobia is a *big* problem there, as it is throughout the Caucasus. It's a very macho, very traditional region.

Incidentally "blue boys" is borrowed from Russian (goluboi singular, golubye plural). It's not really a pejorative. Lesbians are "pink" (rozovye). "Gei", borrowed from English is becoming more common, at least in Russia. But if someone calls you pidor or pidarast, well, them's fightin' words.

Posted by rb | August 22, 2008 4:38 PM

If you don't want to get beaten for being gay, simply don't be gay or at least stop talking nelly.

This seems to be the attitude Dan Savage has towards things he disagrees with. To paraphrase; "If you don't want to be on my shitlist do these things different than you are, situation be damned."

Posted by Bellevue Ave | August 22, 2008 4:48 PM

@3: I totally understand his reaction. Before I came out, and without really making a conscious decision to do so, I drifted away from a best high-school friend, and a best college friend and wife and kids, all of whom had been sucked into fundy gay-hating Christian churches--even though they had other gay friends and had sporadically expressed soft support/understanding for gays. To the point where I haven't talked to them in 5-10 years and they no longer know where I live. In David's case, these superficially nice and considerate people also abetted physical violence and ostracism.

Posted by rob | August 22, 2008 4:52 PM

Bellevue @ 9) Being gay isn't like being an asshole. Gay people can't stop being gay, but you can stop being an asshole.

Posted by Dominic Holden | August 22, 2008 4:57 PM

@11, I see no evidence to support your last assertion.

Posted by Fnarf | August 22, 2008 5:20 PM

dominic, you and savage are resorting to a blackmnail campaign to advance an issue you feel is portrayed as one sided. my point is that coercive means like blackmail don't change the stories that get written, the fact you're gay, and only serves to undermine the message they're trying to push.

I just don't understand why you're resorting to methods that are s far beneath your integrity to lean on people to write stories that you could be writing.

this legalization mccarthyism towards other local papers deligitimizes your POV

Posted by Bellevue Ave | August 22, 2008 5:21 PM

...h'mmm...if your very life is in peril, I think butching it up a lot is just fine

play it right to save your nuts and butter for another day

Flame Hill here in Seattle gives us Queerer than Queer men a lot of room ... but the real world of rank and deadly killer homophobia is still out there ...

Remember Mica painter who was attacked here in Seattle by Bellevue Ukranian thug boys with a broken Vodka bottle - he was cut up badly, walking home from the now defunct Timberline

just sayin'

The Russian Army is famous for pairing up as in ancient Greece, they just never call it gay and do not talk much about it ... classic MSM, that crappy term which is quite accurate in some ways

Posted by Rudy Ich in Ballard | August 22, 2008 5:28 PM

To be chastised.
To be forced to another sexual orientation.
To be ostracised.

Yes, it is horrible, but now at least you know, what it's like to be a straight man in the Puget Sound.

It's a little like this series:

Posted by John Bailo | August 22, 2008 5:43 PM

A lot of otherwise kind people espouse some truly unkind beliefs. It is an age-old problem.

Posted by flamingbanjo | August 22, 2008 5:46 PM

There's an increasing problem with gay-bashing (including murder) in the U.S. by homophobic Russian/Slavic emigrants with ties to the "Watchmen on the Wall" group and fundamentalist/evangelical churches. Don't want to paint with a broad brush, but it can be a little nerve-wracking to be in a Costco or Wal-Mart in, say, Sacramento and hear Russian or another Slavic language being spoken all around you, often by skinhead-looking people. There are tens of thousands of expats from the former Soviet Union in many large metropolitan areas. Those who are non-homophobic, if any, should make a greater effort to speak out and differentiate themselves from those who are.

Posted by rob | August 22, 2008 6:10 PM

@17: "...and differentiate themselves from those who are homophobic."

Posted by rob | August 22, 2008 6:15 PM

@4 I am living in texas. Born and raised in katy. What used to be a small town outside of houston. I haven't encountered any anti gay violence or anything... yet. I am not denying it exists. I guess I've just been lucky. I do understand why you didn't tell them. From the way you describe the family I find it hard to believe they would suddenly turn on you though. And leaving that money was nice of you.

Posted by anthony | August 22, 2008 6:28 PM

Unfortunately that's not only Georgia, it's all post Soviet Union countries, like Ukraine, Poland, Baltic states, even Czech republic. Communism was very anti gay. Anti sex for that matter. So that's one of the things people never thought about. Being gay was counter culture, which was too American.

Posted by lenin ghost | August 22, 2008 11:31 PM

Sometimes I have little hope for mankind.

Posted by Vince | August 23, 2008 6:50 AM

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