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By The Way

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I thought pilgrims only existed as characters with funny hats in Thanksgiving storybooks. But I’m a pilgrim too. I don’t wear a cross. I don’t believe in saints or in Biblical miracles. I’m definitely not Catholic. I don’t believe the remains of Saint James are actually buried beneath the cathedral in Santiago de Compastela. But I made a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago (the Way), walking 120 miles (195 km) from Ribadeo, Spain, to the cathedral at Santiago de Compastela.

I was soaked with rain and muddy as I entered the medieval Cathedral with its gaudy alter drenched in gold. I lined up behind other soggy pilgrims to walk the few stairs up behind the alter to hug the statue of Saint James, and as I put my arms around his cold bronze neck and felt the inlaid jewels that decorated his shoulders, I knew my pilgrimage was complete.

I find it hard to explain why I, and thousands of unreligious people like me, do this pilgrimage. It’s not for Jesus, but when I heard the organ playing at the daily pilgrim’s mass and looked up at that towering alter, I couldn’t help but feel emotional. In modern life, we are challenged in so many ways — to endure an hour without a cell phone when we run out of battery, to find jalapeño stuffed olives in the supermarket, to pay our credit card bills on time. Walking the Camino de Santiago, I had one task for the day — walk to the next pilgrim refuge without major injuries. I forgot the stress of packing for our move to the States, searching for a job in D.C., meeting my girlfriend’s family, adjusting to an American life… Walking an average of about 15 miles per day while carrying everything you need to survive on your back gives you a simplicity of life that is impossible to find, especially, I fear, in the States where the pace of life is much faster than in Spain.

Walking across the region of Galicia left me with a calm mind, a physical satisfaction and will also leave me with memories of Spain — of friends made along the Way, of café con leche on wet days, of magnificent cathedrals and of my uncomplicated life as a pilgrim in Spain.



La Mala Educación

This last week I’ve been trying to see the rainbow at the end of the shitstorm. Support has been key. Last Monday a woman from the now infamous summer camp company which fired us for being gay called me screaming, threatening to sue me for my last blog entry. The company had been bombarded with a flood of e-mails and calls from our friends and strangers, telling them that what they had done was illegal and repulsive.

“You’re a liar! You have no proof. Take down your blog or we will take legal action,” the camp director’s wife yelled at me. I, of course, haven’t done anything illegal. The fact that she was so angry, so rude and so unapologetic was at first bothersome, but then I was proud that we had received such support and happy that the company had heard the messages from people around the world.

It’s incredible that adults in a professional setting resort to screaming, threatening and lying to cover up their mistakes. Their hypocrisy is overwhelming. Why wasn’t the straight couple at the camp fired? They claim religion and high moral standards cause them to disapprove of our lifestyle, but they have broken the law and lied about it. What does the Bible have to say about that?

Why wasn’t the straight couple fired?

Their reaction post-firing us for being lesbians reminds me of teaching 4-year-olds. When little Irene cut off chunks of her curls a few weeks ago and shoved them under a table, she at first claimed it wasn’t her hair. Similarly, the camp director claimed he didn’t care we were gay; it was someone else who had a problem with us. When Irene couldn’t deny any longer that the curls came from her frizzy head, she said Macarena was the one who gave her the scissors and told her to cut. When the camp director couldn’t deny his reason for firing us, he said the conservative “señor” from Barcelona was the one who told him to fire us. Macarena denied wrongdoing and Irene screamed, “You’re a liar!” The camp director’s wife screamed those very same words to me.

Even children, however, act in a more responsible way than these adults. Preschoolers usually end up admitting their faults, perhaps teary-eyed, apologizing and accepting their punishments, after all we remind them that they are “big kids” and they don’t want to return to the baby class.

Maybe the education system failed the directors of this summer camp. Maybe they missed out on having a teacher to teach them kindness, responsibility and honesty. Maybe, just maybe, they would have had a teacher like that if she hadn’t been fired for being gay.

Get Out

Amie and I get fired for being gay.Last summer I drew a line down the middle of a page and wrote “USA” on one side and “Spain” on the other. I listed the pros for each to decide whether to stay in Madrid, as if I was considering cheating on Spain with the United States. “Gay rights and acceptance” went on the Spain side. I never thought what happened this week would be happening to us, not in this country.

My girlfriend called me at work Wednesday. Something was wrong. Maybe her tax appointment that morning had gone sour for the fifth time. “I wish I had more time to tell you this,” she said. I had to rush downstairs in two minutes to teach 7-year-olds. “What happened? Tell me.”

We had been fired. For being gay.

Amie cried as she told me that Tino, our boss at an English summer camp, had called her and said he found out we were gay and because someone had a problem with our “lifestyle,” we could not work for his camp. He even agreed it was discrimination.

Amie is not usually the crier, but this time I was the one to say, “It’ll be okay. We’ll figure this out together.” I was shocked, hurt, angry.

That night, when she got home from her classes, her T-shirt full of dried tears, Amie cried again and I did too. But more than sad I felt motivated to fight for our rights.

Living in a place that is usually so non-judgmental can make you take acceptance for granted. After working for the same school for three years, which happens to be Catholic, Amie is out to most of her co-workers.

I, on the other hand, have always been cautious. Moving from school to school without knowing how conservative my coworkers could be, I feared that there would be one Religion teacher who would have a problem with me. So I’ve kept my private life to myself, but secrecy can do damage.

If bosses have dozens of workers pass through their company and never notice a gay person or never have an out employee, they won’t build their tolerance and eventual acceptance of their fellow humans. When they do encounter one of us, they might think it’s as easy as firing the person to rid themselves of any potential gayness in their place of business.

Ironically, in our case, the job was at a mountain adventure camp. Statistically speaking, some Teva-toting lesbians were bound to be attracted to this job. If they think they’ve gotten rid of the homos, surely they’re wrong. Among hundreds of monitors and teenage campers, there are bound to be more.

Yes, we got burned this time, but instead of being quiet about my sexuality, I hope this will make me more out than ever. If we all are, we can bring more awareness that we exist, that it’s impossible to get rid of all of us, to silence us, and to force us to sit home unemployed with our teary-eyed partners.

Don’t be silent. Leave your comments here. And take action to advance gay rights here.

Mañana Never Comes

In Latin culture and in Spain too, they have a special concept of “mañana.” If you don’t take out the trash today, no worries, you can do it mañana. If you don’t write your blog post today, you’ll do it tomorrow.

My first year in Spain, I had a bit of anxiety making the choice to stay another year or go back to the States. I sang to myself, “Should I stay or should I go now? If I stay…” I hadn’t acquired the Spanish skill to relax the American plan-happy part of my brain into going with the flow. But as one year turned into two, and then into three, four, and now five, at some point I gained the power of postponing my return to America until mañana.

For a while, I was even using the F word — “forever.” “I think I could stay here forever,” I would say on a typically sunny day while sitting on a terrace.

Now, with one month left in Madrid and two left in Spain, it seems that “mañana” is sneaking up on me.

Riding Solo

I frequently say that I love public transportation, that I could go the rest of my life without a car. Sometimes I happily list the benefits of Madrid’s great public transportation system: it’s cheap, it’s green, it’s efficient… But some days this list is quickly forgotten, and I can’t wait to be winding through D.C. traffic in Amie’s Jeep.

The other day, at 7:45 a.m., I boarded the metro, so happy to find a seat, until the respectable-looking lady sitting next to me reached in her purse and pulled out a nail clipper. I glared her way, hoping she would just use the pointy part to pick something out of her nail or maybe use it to trim a stray thread from her clothing. But no. She began clipping her yellowed fingernails. They flew through the air, landing close to my bare toes and whizzing past my face. I stared, rolled my eyes, squinted my eyes in her direction and, finally, changed seats. More disturbing is that she isn’t the only public transportation nail offender out there.

The next day, on my 40-minute bus ride to work, I strategically chose who I would sit next to. That person looks stinky. That one is drinking mate tea that could potentially spill on me. This middle-aged lady looks normal enough. I sat down. Within 10 minutes, the bus had lulled the lady to sleep. Her mouth hung open, drool threatening to slide down her face. Her head seemed to fall on my shoulder every few seconds, searching for a resting place. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the mood to be a stranger’s siesta drool rag.

I might be ready to just forget saving the environment and money with public transportation. I might just be ready to ride solo in D.C., my to-go coffee mug in a cup holder, windows down as I emit my share of greenhouse gases. It’s time I ride like a real American.

Madrid is Gay





Last year, D.C. had one of its biggest Capital Prides ever — 250,000 people. That sounds pretty gay, until you realize that 2 million people were waving rainbows at Madrid’s Orgullo.

There’s a reason why Madrid’s pride is so big — the city is really gay. The whole neighborhood of Chueca is dedicated to gays, and a little to lesbians. Gays and lesbians have been getting married here since 2005. And society in general seems to accept, or at least not reject, the big homo population (66 percent supported the same-sex law, and that was 7 years ago).

Maybe, after Obama, I will be the next gay superhero.

A couple days ago, Obama said he supported gay marriage. Two steps forward. But a few days ago North Carolina prohibited gay civil unions and marriage. One step back. I can’t help thinking that moving to the States is like taking a step back in terms of my acceptance and rights.

I came out of the armario here, and I now take it for granted that I have the right and won’t be harassed walking hand-in-hand down the street with my girlfriend. That’s just one more thing I won’t know what to expect of in my own country.

I will expect my rights to be few, however. I’ll just have to keep hoping that there will be more days that will feel as good as Obama’s “coming out” day and fewer like North Carolina’s amendment day.

From the Land of Jeans

Our closets are filled with plaid button-down shirts, jeans, wife-beaters, stripes and T-shirts: to sum it up, a lesbian wardrobe. In Spain, this isn’t a problem. My girlfriend goes to work everyday as a teacher in a nice Catholic school in the same uniform — jeans, T-shirt, beanie, hoodie and Converse. I dress up, making sure I choose the jeans without holes in the knees, but I stopped ironing months ago.

Professional (and conservative) American culture would never allow this, of course. So, we have to make some changes. Less plaid, and more stripes. No jeans. Dandy shoes instead of Converse. Remove facial piercings. My girlfriend Amie has her first Skype interview in a few minutes, and she is looking more professional than I have ever seen her, at least from the waist up.

Sweaty Feet

“You’re not getting cold feet, are you?”

“No, just sweaty feet.”

And then we clasped hands and I clenched my sweaty toes as we clicked “Purchase” on Aer Lingus.

I don’t think I’ll regret buying my one-way ticket to D.C. last night, but I am scared. And sweaty.

So many questions loom, a completely uncertain future. Where will I work? Where will I live? Will I be able to find Spanish ham there? What do D.C. and Maryland look like and feel like? I don’t know what to expect.

I’m scared to leave Spain after adjusting to a routine here — eating lunch at 2 p.m., doing nothing on Sundays, drinking tintos de verano at anytime of day without judgement. How will I behave in “my own” country when it seems like a foreign land itself?