Coming Out in Chile
This post is a reflection on my coming out process in Chile, as a cis gay woman. It’s based solely on my experiences and opinions and is not at all intended to be a blanket statement regarding the queer community in Chile or the coming out process.
I really hate coming out, and don’t see it as something that is necessary. This might be an unpopular opinion, given the number of emotional coming out stories and videos that exist, but for me being gay is just another part of who I am and not something everyone necessarily needs to know or care about. I prefer to express myself as I want to, without having to worry about explicitly saying “I’m a lesbian!!!” in whatever situation I may find myself in. I do, however, believe that there are some situations in which people should know how I identify, like a study abroad program in which I’ll be living with a host family. I think it’s important to be out while abroad. There are some countries where it is relatively okay to be gay, some where being queer comes with scorn and disgust, and others that ban deviant sexualities altogether. Chile is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, and thanks to the stereotype I hold that links religion with a dislike of the queer community, I was ready to keep my identity on the down low. Thankfully, I’ve only had mostly positive experiences as an out queer woman and have also had my aforementioned bias challenged.
I didn’t come out to my host mom; she assumed I was gay based on the information IFSA-Butler provided her about me, probably the bit where I mentioned I was involved with a club called “Sexuality and Gender Activism”. In the Spring of my freshman year of college Carleton hosted an Out After Carleton reunion, when queer alumni returned to campus to host and attend events that reflected on their experiences post-grad. In one of the events I attended that focused on finding queer-friendly workplaces, a woman noted that many of her employers noted she was probably not straight given the list of activities she participated in while at Carleton, among them being rugby and working at the GSC (our Gender and Sexuality Center). I’m not upset that my host mom knows I’m gay, but I am slightly upset that she didn’t ask or wait for me to be comfortable enough to come out to her on my own terms. On the other hand, it was way easier to have to avoid the “I’m gay” moment, and my host mom lent me a book written by Pablo Simonetti, a gay Chilean author who now lives in the US with his partner.
Besides more or less coming out, I can’t reflect on much of the queer scene here in Santiago. Just like the US, most people keep their sexual orientation to themselves, likely because the nuclear family dominates pop culture. However, most people seem very accepting of those who are not straight; there are ads on the metro promoting adoption that target more than just families comprised of a cis man and a cis woman, lots of pro-lesbian graffiti, gay bars, and a few popular TV shows with gay/bisexual characters. La Católica, one of the universities I’ve enrolled in, allegedly has an organization for queer students, but they must have a much smaller footprint than organizations at Carleton because I have yet to hear or see anything from them. Similarly to the US language is very much related to the gender binary, with a lot of “he/she” and no “they”. In attempts to be inclusive, I’ve seen some usage of “x” instead of “o” or “a” (chicxs for example, instead of chicos/chicas/chic@s), but this is rare. Chile does seem to be taking steps in the right direction, however, as surveys of Chileans show relatively low levels of bigotry towards the LGBT community. Some things could be improved, of course, like the number of people I’ve seen wearing shirts boldly emblazoned with a slur often targeted towards gay men that’s also casually hurled at soccer games.
Like the US, and like most countries in the world, I feel that there’s definitely room for progress. I haven’t been here for very long, and there is still a lot of time to learn about the various facets of the queer community in Santiago, but as an out(ed) gay cis woman I feel lucky to have no apprehension related to my identity.