Thursday, February 11, 2010

Email from a reader who lives in a developing country

A few days ago, a reader sent me the email which I've posted below. I also saw the film Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire recently. Both that film and this reader's email made me realise how lucky I am.

Hi GB,

First of all, a heartfelt "Thank you" for your blog. For middle-aged gay men like me residing on the other side of the world, your blog and that of many others serve as a reminder that it is indeed possible to have a real life beyond the shores. A life lived in a way that I can only dream of – without bigotry, constraints, duplicity, or prejudice.

I live in a Third World country. You may not have heard of my country and it does not matter; we are simply one of the many dozens of inconsequential sovereignties in the United Nations. It is unfortunate that one cannot choose where he is born. If we could, I have no doubt that everyone would have picked a First World country to be born in. I've never been out of the country myself (except once, too many years ago, as a last-minute "just because" replacement when a close friend to went to Singapore). My passport has since expired without any additional immigration stamp.

It is very hard for guys like me to travel overseas. With a low salary, I am having trouble making the most basic needs meet. In a society where "who you know" counts most, men without the "dynamic" connections are consigned to the most menial of tasks. Twiddling thumbs, pushing paper, watching grass grow, seat warming, and pencil sharpening remain in the exclusive domains of Pay Grade 3 and above. Single men and women who do not have the right connections seek those who have. It pretty much sets them for life. When your wife's second cousin's husband's uncle holds a high government position, it pays to name him as a work reference even though you have never met him. Just don't forget his birthday and Christmas gifts. A much closeted unmarried gay man in the midst of a life crisis? I thank all my patron saints and lucky stars I even have a decent job.

I have seen many of my countrymen who have been able to travel overseas. Most of them return with an attitude that I like to call as being pseudo-Western. I call them that because, in their travels, they pick up the bugs and germs responsible for the Western attitude of nonchalance, detachment, or indifference. Unwarranted generalization? So, sue me.

Call it my "colonial mentality" but I have yet to encounter a Western guy (real or pseudo) who will meet with a Third World gay man and genuinely accord him with esteem, homage, and high regard. I am aware that these traits are not to be taken so lightly, may take time, and have to be earned, like honesty and sincerity, but, when one comes into a game with the odds stacked against him, he has to work extra hard and vigilantly to even merit the attention that might be languorously granted to him.

I dislike it how most people (gay pseudo-Westerners especially) take for granted the ease and liberty by which they can readily travel. We of the common lot, however, go through all sorts of trials and tribulations in search of the potent visa. It is no wonder that there are many of us who knowingly and even actively participate in nefarious scams, schemes, and swindles in order to procure the much revered entry visa. Blessed are those with ten-year multiple entry visas.

I also dislike it how these pseudo-Westerners who, upon their return from their overseas jaunts, show off with contempt and disdain. Setting aside the manner by which they acquired their visas, they attempt to dazzle us mere locals with their glitzy blings, counterfeit Louis Vuittons, lurid photos, and flamboyant stories of their forged credit card funded sprees. Crime pays top dollars, you see; the meek and the honest happily settle for loose change.

Compounding all these internal furies is my inability to be the real me. The real me as being a gay man. I'm gay, yes. Am I happy? You have got to be kidding. Feeling proud? Are you out of your mind? Contented? Get out of here! Ever had a fulfilling relationship? Yes, with my pet turtles. Have friends? Too many. All with their own closets to carry and as clueless as me.

In a draining effort for some gratifying male company, I find myself furtively trawling Internet ads for guys, bi or gay, local or expat, white/black/brown/red/yellow, living or visiting my country and, importantly, seeking "fun". No strings, even.

I have had very little success in that regard. After all, 98.7% of these men want young men only. Who wants a man well past his "use by" date? Further tainted by the fact that we are well-known for fleecing gullible tourists, what chance did I have? I was quite lucky with the 1.3% because all the young men will have been snatched already, or live in a remote island, or the guy is simply too horny to care.

On the rare occasions that I get to be intimate with another man, I relish every moment spent with him. Once, many moons ago, when I was in the arms of a generous mature Scot, I remember wishing that time would stop and the world be still so that this extraordinary feeling of being "loved" will not end. I also remember thinking that the arms around me were to embrace and hold me, not strangle me. I did not care that he was almost old enough to be my father. (Sorry, but I just could not resist adding this: Speaking of fathers, my own dear father was not meant to be. Sperm donors will have had achieved nobler estates and carried out worthier causes.)

So far, all my male/male intimacies have been fleeting and temporary. As much as I'd like to form a stable relationship with most of my sexdates, I know it is just not possible, given the environment I'm in. I'd sell my soul to Devil in exchange for a continuing companionship with someone I'm really fond of but I think the Devil easily realizes he'll be getting a bad deal. Truth be told, I am seething with jealousy and incensed with envy when I read about successful and enduring gay partnerships, especially an East and West union. A mainly internal resentment, I agree, and, most will say, with dubious rationalization.

If being gay is a "choice", then I must have been really stupid. It is so not easy to be happy and gay and live a half-decent life in the bottom third of the Third World. However, having said this, I suppose I should consider myself very lucky I wasn't born in Mongolia.... or Zimbabwe.... or in places where they use minced cat meat in steamed Chinese buns.

Enough of this "woe is me" rant. In spite of (or maybe because of) this, I still hold some hope for my own future. No matter how faint the glimmer may be. It feels like the dying embers of a neglected bonfire... but, still, a burning fire nevertheless.

I look forward to a future where I can be where I want to be, holding hands with the man who will sail with me, through calm waters and rough seas... That dream may be so distant, unattainable, well beyond my reach but this is what is keeping me alive. Life is too high a value to give up without a fight.

"Bulls**t! Get real!" Did I hear you say? Yes, that is clichéd and passé. But what does one do in the face of adversity? I simply refuse to concede defeat. Not if I can help it.

By the way, I am 42. Does it make me a lot more pathetic? I know most will say I'm just angry. Maybe. But the only time I was irrefutably angry was when the dog chewed my Best of Playgirl. All 128 pages of it. I'm glad RSPCA has no office here.

As for readers who may have the irresistible urge to put in their two cents' worth: Please do not hold back. Sock it to me. I enjoy rejection and spite with my breakfast. With spoonfuls of second-class sugar to make the swallowing more palatable. Charity? Don't bother: the Salvation Army is three doors away from me. The Sisters of Mercy only a block away. Contempt? Water off a duck's back.

Many thanks for your patience in reading this rancorous diatribe. Life must go on for every one of us in this planet.

Take care and look after yourself. And more power to you, GB, and all your loved ones – past, present, and future.

I sincerely hope that you will keep your blog ongoing.



Brad said...

"A bad workman always blames his tools"!

(especially if he's a bitter and twisted old queen)

Jeff said...

Incredible insensitivity Brad. Look beyond the bitterness to a heart aching for love; what is more human than that?

Jason Carwin said...

That was an incredibly raw and passionate description of the human condition: The search for love, success, and most of all, happiness.

Dave said...

Your emailer is 42.. the same age I was when I first met a guy and realised this is who I am.. and it's been heaven since then.. so there is hope for a 42 year old guy, even if in a disadvantaged nation.

Anonymous said...

When you're 58 like me, being 42 isn't pathetic - it's just the right age for someone who can see past the superficiality of feckless youth and into the aching heart of someone who, like all of us, wants to be loved. You're not past your use by date - given the opportunity, you'd blossom. And believe it or not, it's possible for first worlders to be just as unhappy and as lonely as you railing against an uncaring world. Don't give up hope. - Ian

PS Do these pseudo-westerners on their return home refuse to speak their own language but insist on speaking English with an annoying American accent? Like some Pinoys I met a long time ago. Don't they give you the shits?

Soul Seared Dreamer said...

Whilst it was discomforting to read of someone longing for a heart aching for something we generally take for granted. I'm actually with Brad on this one despite how insensitive it may come across.

I can only seek to say.. if life sucks.. make amends to change it.. you only live once.. don't live a half life.. go make it count and do whatever it takes to be happy. No-one is gonna come along and make that happen if you aren't willing to do what it takes yourself. You owe it to yourself to stop feeling sorry for yourself and do something about getting the life you want and deserve.

Anonymous said...

Dear Reader,
There was a fascinating research done a while ago: at every point in time, everywhere in the world, two thirds of people are happy and one third are unhappy. In the UK a third is unhappy, in Germany, the US, everywhere in the developed world in spite of all the development. And two thirds of people in Thailand, in China, in the Philippines, in Laos, in a Brazilian favela are happy. A rich guy might sit lonely in a 300 sqm apartment in London Mayfair and be unhappy. A poor citizen of Laos might sit on the street, enjoy the sun, a cool beer, and the view of some gorgeous guys playing soccer, and feel happy. There are always people who are richer, younger, and more beautiful than you and me. And there are always people who are poorer, older and uglier. It really depends on whether you consider the glass half full or empty!
I am 37 but there are still many guys who find me attractive - and I don't think that this will go away in the next 5 years! Especially if you look for someone in a similar age. I don't think that attraction is just driven by age. I think personality is much more important. To be honest, if I imagine I was dating you, I wouldn't think your age would be the problem. I think your attitude would be the problem! If I want to date someone, I look for someone full of energy, with a big smile in his face, somebody who makes me laugh. I imagine you as someone with a grumpy face, full of anger, and if I imagine that I came from the same country as you, I would imagine you discounting everything I love about our shared country. To be honest, I don't think I would want to date such a person!
Most people who write to GB ask for advice. When they ask for advice, they still have a dream, a desire to change their life and achieve something. It struck me that you don't ask for advice how to change your life - you just accept it this way!!! That way it never will change. It's as if you didn't want it to change.
I felt very touched by your email, so I still would like to offer you my advice. I had periods in my life when I was very unhappy as well, so I think I have some experience. I also had periods in my life when I had very little money - in fact I lived on a third of what in my country is considered the "minimum" one needs for living. My home was so small that my bed was under my table because there wasn't enough space for both!
I think you first need to like yourself, find yourself attractive. Look into the mirror: do you like the person you see? do you like the haircut? does the face look friendly? is the style of your clothing fresh and with a personality? if you don't like the person, it's time for changing it!! try a new hair style - maybe try a shorter cut, it will make you look younger! try new clothes - something smart, try something fashionable. Smile!! What about sports - do you do sports? It will make you look stronger and more muscular, and sports by itself makes one feel happier and more balanced. Find your favorite sport - maybe swimming, hiking, running, or running a bike. Or try going to a gym!
Then try once more the dating. An old Greek myth says that humans used to be twice their size. Once they caused the wreath of a God, and that God then cut them in half for revenge. Ever since humans are only half of their former self, and now look for their missing half, their "soul mate". But nothing was wasted, everyone still has his missing half somewhere!! Funnily enough, the Greek specified already thousands of years ago that some humans consist of two male halfs, other of two females, and yet others (in fact, the most...) of one male and one female.
I sincerely hope that you can find your other half - and I trust that you can find him if you seriously search. I always believed it, and I did find him, in a foreign country! All the best.

GB said...

The guy who sent me the email read all seven comments above, and then sent me the following points, which I've posted in two comments due to blogger's size constraints on comments. GB xxx

To those who have found time to put in their comments, I know you have nothing but your best intentions and I thank you for that. It is much appreciated. Whether it is supportive or surly, I’ve taken all your comments on board in my attempt to re-assess of what I wrote to GB.

1. ["A bad workman always blames his tools"! (especially if he's a bitter and twisted old queen)] OUCH!!! Did you forget the salt, Brad? However, given the stringent and sparse parameters from where Brad is coming, he is pretty much correct (much as I loathe the “bitter and twisted old queen” tag). Within the confines of what was written, he has given a frank and candid assessment of the situation. What else can he do? Look the other way? I’m very glad he didn’t. So, folks, go easy on him.

2. To Soul Seared Dreamer, I plead “nolo contendre”. You have articulated the same exact words that I’ve been telling myself over and over but, I don’t know, this is just the way things are for now. This is not a lame excuse, not even a feeble justification, not a shabby cop out. Sometimes, however, even the best efforts are just not quite enough. A gust of wind may be enough to cause me to fall over the parapet. But I’m still standing at the edge and looking for that rope to hold on to. I know I will find it in due time.

continued below ...

GB said...

... continued from above

3. To Anonymous, I don’t give a rat’s ass for research. Happiness is a state of mind. There are people happy with their Manolos and there are people happy with their worn out Taiwanese sneakers. I am happy with my mismatched flip-flops because I don’t have to go barefoot. That, however, does not mean I’ll leave it at that – I’ll buy myself a better pair when I can. For the moment, an empty stomach takes precedence over everything else.

“If I want to date someone, I look for someone full of energy, with a big smile in his face, somebody who makes me laugh. I imagine you as someone with a grumpy face, full of anger, and if I imagine that I came from the same country as you, I would imagine you discounting everything I love about our shared country. To be honest, I don't think I would want to date such a person!” Hey, neither would I. But have you genuinely smiled while you worry about your next meal? If so, you have my utmost admiration and deepest respect for your eternal optimism. On the other hand, I’m the sort of guy who’s unable to hum “It’s a beautiful day...” while my tummy is rumbling. Without meaning to, that makes me grumpy and angry.

Also, I wrote NOT to seek advice from GB. He was well aware of that – he told me it was not for his “Dear GB” column; we had a series of email exchanges before publishing my story in his blog. I wrote to tell a story. A story that may have been forgotten in this age of terabytes, cable TV, and apathy. Further, with all my respect to GB, he is a gazillion miles away from me and he can only do as much. It’s not like he is a miracle worker, is he? (Or, are you, GB? And being a banker is just a Clark Kent/Bruce Wayne disguise?)

“Look into the mirror: do you like the person you see?” As a matter of fact, I do. And I would not change a thing in the reflection, half-priced Botox or discounted, out-of-date hair dye notwithstanding. The mirror is fine, if you must know.

“Then try once more the dating.” Believe it or not, I am dating other guys. At least one of the following ALWAYS happens: (a) guy realizes I’m not an ATM machine; (b) guy really wants a mother (or, at the very least, one who will cook and do his washing), not a boyfriend; (c) guy is just going through a crisis in his libido and/or experimenting; or (d) guy needs a space to dump his baggage then runs away with his bimbo when the larger bills start coming in and/or the loan shark knocks. Sorry, but the Salvation Army is three doors down and the whorehouse one block away.

Finally, you ended your message with “I sincerely hope that you can find your other half - and I trust that you can find him if you seriously search. I always believed it, and I did find him, in a foreign country!” My emphasis. Need I say more?

4. To those who have offered kind words, I can offer nothing but my deepest gratitude and my best wishes. You have made the fire burn more intensely.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I'm impressed with the quality of education, especially English teaching, provided by the third world country the reader lives in.

WA said...

I'm in the same situation, but a bit younger ;-)

It's easy to judge based on someone being self-indulgent and wallowing in self-pity. The sad thing is, after a certain point in time, it begins to get difficult to be optimistic. I can relate to pretty much everything this person wrote.

I too come from a 3rd world country, I too face the hypocrisies and hardships. It's easy to say, "oh just suck it up and DO something". It's not so easy to actually do something though, not when your options seem non-existent. Unless you've been in the situation (natively rather than as an observer) you really have no concrete frame of reference for something like this.

To Brad: care to ask yourself about the circumstances that can turn someone into a "bitter and twisted old queen"?

I've just applied to do a PhD outside my country. I don't know where the money is coming from, but I'm going to do everything in my power to get it. This is one of the few ways we can legitimately escape the confines of our restrictive, homophobic cultures (us in the third world I mean). I don't necessarily WANT to do a PhD. I'm going to do it as a means of escape. If this is not desperation I don't know what is.

To the commenter before me: I am an English teacher in a third world country. The people of my country are native English speakers with a non-Standard Creole. We code switch. Our English education is a remnant of the days when we were a British colony, plus our government has invested much in the training of teachers. I don't know where the letter-writer is from, but education level and ease of use of the English language are not definitive markers of someone being from the third world.

Sorry for hijacking your blog Gay Banker. But this resonated with me, and reminded me of my own situation so much - right down to finding myself (quite recently) in the arms of a 'Scot' and wishing time would stand still.

the immigayrant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the immigayrant said...

Wow, I'm feeling really grateful after reading this post.

I guess my blog nickname says it all... Immigayrant (Gay Immigrant).

I'm also from a 3rd world country. However, I'm so much luckier to be born to prosperous parents who have been able to sent three of their children for overseas education, and I guess my younger brother will too have it.

I didn't waste the opportunity. I selected a study course that would make me eligible to become a permanent resident in Australia (Accounting).

I really think I'd be screwed if I had to spend the rest of my life in my home country. Not only the attitude towards gay is much more negative, there is little support group and my family would play much more intervention in my life.

I can only wish that writer all the best he can ever have. I empathize with him deeply.

At first, I could really relate with this guy so much that I thought we were from the same country (I'm from Indonesia).

Then he drew references to RSPCA, Salvation Army, and The Sisters of Mercy which I think there's none yet in Indonesia.

And yeah! His English is really good. He uses a lot of vocabularies that a non-native speaker like me would rarely use, even though I know what they mean (eg: duplicity, countrymen, the most menial of tasks, languorously, tribulations, nefarious, swindles, procure, revered, jaunts, contempt, disdain, lurid, furtively trawling, fleecing, nobler estates, seething, woe, dying embers of a neglected bonfire, clichéd and passé, concede defeat, rancorous diatribe).

I guess he must be from a third world country of past English colony. Wondering which one it is.

Eric Whitney said...

man. I don't know which made me feel worse: the original posting or the comments. a guy expresses - in an entertaining and compelling way - his frustration at a life that sounds, well, abundantly frustrating. other guys respond with 'cheer up you bitter old queen.'


i'm going to go take a walk now, and count some of my blessings - starting with the amazing good luck to have been born in a prosperous country of prosperous parents, with plenty of friends to cheer me up when I'm feeling low.

Potteryogi said...

I can understand your "diatribe" dear writer. However, we do disagree on one point. You do not need someone to complete your life. If that is your attitude, then am afraid you'd past this life bitter and depressed. The clichè from one famous movie where the damsel proclaims "you complete me" to his beau is a phrase as moot and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. I believe that we can not love another and form meaningful relationships without vanquishing our inner devils of insecurity and lack pf self worth. My advice, heeded or not is to try and see the beauty in your life first. You sure have a talent for writing. I understand only too well the needs of the body, the needed intimacy but unless you resolve your own feelings of self-lack, am afraid that you doom yourself to a fate of meaningless encounters, asking for left overs when you deserve a lot better. Start with yourself and love yourself first and as passe as it sounds, everything comes at the right time.

To people who do not understand his reality, uhm, I don't know if you can be considered lucky. I come from a developing nation althougj I wouldn't say I caughy the germs that infect the Western cultures. If anything else, I have evolved to a meta-Eastern-Western guy who loves to see and have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of both worlds.

Truly, I have seen gorgeous men akin to Greek gods living in their stately homes and pwning some of the world's coveted properties but lookih in their eyes, I know that they'd swap fortunes to the simple gay guy surrounded by poverty but loved by family and friends in the slums. I cringe to the insensitivities that some of the 'more fortunate' in here has expressed. May your fortune serve you well but wary, for the fortune is a fickle friend.

Mr. Writer, we do not despair because we lack the material things in life. We can not choose where pr to whom we are born but we can choose to be happy regardless of pur condition. i say happy for as a sage once said, true happiness is an internal phenomena that is unconditional. Try looking for peace and true happiness instead and look no further, the answer lies inside you. Its the connections that we make that make our life meaningful. So even though we live in poverty, riches comes in many form and love comes in weird wonderful ways. Love yourself and someone, someday will come along.