Please bear with me as I reluctantly have to use the word “faggot.” I’m infuriated. Why, you might ask? Because, someone wants to stop the “gyots” in Armenia. “Gyot” translated to English, for a lack of a better term means “faggot” and it is often written in shorthand as G7, because the number 7 in Armenian is pronounced yot. It was a letter and number combination I avoided having written over my folders in High School, so I made sure to act not so “gyot.” In fact, I hated hearing it, because I knew I was one. It made me cringe and I just waited until the conversation would come to a halt. I succeeded though. I think only a few people suspected that I might have been gay in the Armenian private school I attended, but I never got the honor of that label firmly certified as part of my identity until I came out and even then some people questioned it because, you know, I wasn’t “acting gay.” “Gyot” is obviously a very derogatory word, not an uncommon soundwave in most Armenian households. It is harsh to the ears, just like the word “faggot,” and I wish for its linguistic extinction.
It is one thing to travel to Armenia as a gay man and it is another to consider moving there. I initially wrote this post during my last week in the country. I’m back in LA and have had these past few weeks to really assess my time there, but also to critically analyze my consideration to move there in 2017. The burning question is whether or not I will be able to freely exercise my rights as a member of a community that is spotlighted, marginalized, and degraded. Many in the community, including myself, can under the cover of “straight-acting” or “discreet” consider taking that trip back to the deep abyss of the Armenian closet. It has been suggested that I do this for my own safety by some “open-minded” allies and even closeted gays who wanted to take me out, but were too fearful that they’d be identified as gay if they were seen with me. Yes, you read it right. They would say, “you look straight, you don’t really have anything to worry about.” Well, lucky me, right? Sure, I’ll likely not wave my rainbow flag and walk around the main drag in my stereotypically tight jeans, but hell if I’ll shut up and go back to a place where I was more than a decade ago — a dark place of uncertainty and mental and emotional pain. Undoubtedly, I will not resort to a life of shame, guilt or self-hate again. In fact, I see some great examples of LGBT leaders in this country who are not of that mindset and are committed to protecting the rights of marginalized individuals, helping them move past the shame and stigma of being gay. These are brave souls who I admire and look up to, especially in a country where being so open can be detrimental in multiple regards.
Visit www.pinkarmenia.org/en to learn about the full scope of work being done in terms of LGBTQ advocacy and education in Armenia
The concept of shame is deeply engrained in Armenian society, which intensifies for LGBTQ individuals, especially as it is reinforced with state-supported anti-gay policy and lack of societal awareness. Various manipulations over the concepts of “nation,” “family,” and “honor” are often supported internally by conservative groups, as well as, externally by the state’s allies like Russia. This applies not only to LGBTQ individuals, but also women, people with disabilities and anyone really who does not fit within the status quo may easily become the victim of community shaming.
My LGBTQ friends in Armenia, who also happen to be outspoken human rights activists, have selflessly taken on the mission of fighting for their rights and their fellow communities. To a great extent they have moved past this shame and fear. But, they are also the ones who are continuously publicly highlighted, shamed, ridiculed and made victims of slander (with no legal protection) and hate speech, both “off-line” and on-line. They are still out there, collectively and fearlessly fighting the good fight against bigotry and ignorance. The unfortunate reality is that most of these homophobic outbursts online are being perpetrated with the aid of policy, lack of legal protection and the proliferation of hate groups on social media misinforming the already misinformed general public. So, how can you help?
For me, the most difficult to fathom are Facebook groups geared towards bashing with hateful comments. Human rights defenders are constantly putting their safety at risk as they go against hate groups such as the most recent one called “Stop G7 in Armenia.” What I’d like to do is bring exposure to the hate language I’ve encountered, which has gotten me furious and has been the impetus for this very post. The fact that this is the reality is deeply troubling, but I believe there is something we can all do about it.
In this Facebook group, there are various blog posts reinforcing stereotypes of LGBTQ individuals with unfounded and illogical arguments.
With so many facebook groups being shut down, I am still surprised this one is functioning. Here’s some of the language I’ve encountered:
Alvard Amirian Hacopian Ես զզվում եմ ձեզանից – “I am disgusted of you all.”
Nune Harutunyan Տականքներ աստված ձեզ կպատժի. – “You filths, god will punish you.”
Anahit Asatryan Hayastan@ Evropayi het mi hamematek.Mez petk chen aylaservacneric vochinch. – “Don’t compare Armenia with Europe. We don’t need any of these homosexuals.”
David Grigoryan Es orenqi orinakanacnoxin piti brnel ev ayrel lselov hajeli jjtoci dzayner@ – We need to catch and burn those in charge of this (EU) policy, and listen to the pleasant crackling of the fire.
Although this above forum was what ignited my anger and my need to address this issue, it is the overall state of ignorance about anything that deviates from the status-quo and the hateful language and actions that are developing in this beautiful country, which my parents left in 1982 and I am repatriating to 35 years later.
With constant shaming and negativity directed at the LGBTQ individual by groups such as the one above, a gay man of course would rather take the cover of “straight-acting” and “masculine,” which gives him the false pretense to exert power over what is “feminine” or in this case “gay.” These power dynamics in gay communities are not limited to Armenia, and this topic deserves its own post in the future. However, since I’m not used to being in an environment of such outspoken hate, I was taken aback by some of the messages I read while I was in Armenia on gay social media apps like Grinder, which to me reveal the levels of fear and anxieties of society as a whole, regardless of sexual identification. In other words, anyone — including homosexuals — can participate in belittling, shaming, and attempting to exert control over another via language or otherwise. I observed a lot of this in the community, especially among those men who stand guarded behind the cover of virtual anonymity and suffer from various levels of discomfort about their own homosexuality.
Why do I even care? Well, for one, it is a life that I wish to create for myself as a gay man and considering doing so in a hostile environment is a very risky move and what some would consider irresponsible on my end. A lot of my friends do not understand why I even consider living in Armenia. Secondly, I genuinely care for the progression of human society as it relates to reducing and hopefully eliminating prejudice and hate towards any marginalized group, anywhere in this world. This is a global issue and quite frankly, a personal one for me.
Meanwhile, I can continue to show love and care for those who need that closet door shut for now. I had to take a critical distance from the latent homophobic comments coming my way from gay men on these apps. There was nothing healthy and constructive about these conversations. Even though the future looks dire at times, I know there is always a climate for change. With that, I have to accept that by moving to Armenia, it becomes my prerogative to be a part of a movement of creating healthy dialogue, education and ongoing compassion until certain rights are guaranteed to us. For now, yes, I guess I do have to tolerate individuals who wholeheartedly want the Armenian “faggots” stopped. Because guess what, me tolerating it is not going to make them successful. Confronting them violently and aggressively might. What’s really needed is a societal paradigm shift and this is not an easy task. This is my first step towards that and I hope you will join me.
So, here is how you can help
- Please report and block the above mentioned Facebook group by clicking here: “Stop faggots in Armenia”. Once you enter, click on “More” then “Report Page.”
- Be more cautious and careful with the language you use. Even if you do not mean it, it can be easily misconstrued and will only add to the negative social climate of intolerance.
- Educate someone who just doesn’t know better. And try to do so compassionately. Listen and then find a well thought out response.
- Like, Comment and Share this on your networks so we get rid of this group immediately.
For daily and weekly inspiration, please follow me on www.instagram.com/packyourmat and subscribe to my blog as more ideas flourish regarding Armenian LGBTQ related topics, I will post them.