“A desert wasteland next to the beach.” That is how my guidebook described Arica, a small city in the middle of nowhere Chile. It was 2001, and I [Lisa] was looking up the place where I would spend the next two and a half years with the Jesuit Volunteers Corps (JVC). Fresh out of college, I agreed to live anywhere in the world. They sent me to Arica, Chile.
While JVC and everyone at home knew I was gay, I could tell right away that I would not be able to come out to my Chilean colleagues. At the time in 2001, divorce was not even legal in Chile due to the overwhelming influence of the Catholic church. There was certainly no open conversation about sexual orientation.
My host family was a typical blue-collar Arica household where traditional family values were taken seriously. My Chilean papa, a retired military officer, ruled the household. When I entered their family, he told me “You are my daughter now. I don’t want you having any boyfriends until you bring them to meet me first, ok?” My Chilean papa is a man not to be messed with. Think Robert De Niro in Meet the Parents.
My first assignment was in a girl’s residential home for a Chilean Catholic non-profit. We had a volunteer program where I spotted two women who I thought could be lesbians. Their short hair, baggy jeans, and (of course) bad clunky shoes showed the signs of my people. After a couple of visits, the Director asked these two androgynous women to no longer volunteer with our program, saying that we already had too many volunteers.
But knowing that we needed all the help we could get, I pressed the Director on her decision. She ultimately admitted that she worried these “marimacho” women could have a negative influence on the girls. I was shocked by this response. Still with long hair at the time, I tried to blend in and not appear too masculine. I knew that I would likely lose my job if someone found out that I was a lesbian.
For the next two and a half years, I lived like a nun. Now there are plenty of benefits to the virtues of a spiritual life, but for an out-of-the-closet 22-year-old from San Francisco I struggled. My other American collegues dated their way through Chile. Why couldn’t I also have a