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In a queer mecca like San Francisco where thousands of people mirror you, it’s hard to stand out. But when you are the only one who looks like you, it’s impossible to hide. I felt the most normal traveling in Africa and South America when my “bros” Krista (shown above) and Megan (shown left) came to visit me during the year. When I had another buddy with me who also got stared at, I felt less alone.
Returning to the town in Chile where I had spent two years volunteering after college, I visited several people who I haven’t seen in a decade. The last time they saw me, I still sported long hair and wore women’s clothing. Concerned about how my old friends might perceive me now, I made sure to wear a padded bra and my most feminine clothing to our reunion visit. But nonetheless I was offered handshakes by the men and called “Tio Lisa” instead of “Tia Lisa” when they introduced me to their partners and children. I felt a sense of shame that had surprised me. My own internal homophobia still exists, just buried deep inside.
Being a foreign traveler for a year, I’ve often felt just that… foreign. I don’t fit into the ‘norm.’ These feelings are probably the same for a black person visiting China, or a Western woman traveling through Muslim countries, or a handicapped person in any part of the world. When you don’t fit the status quo, people can sometimes get hostel or fearful and you take in their negative judgement. Other times, people just stare with curiosity with no ill intention and you are left with interpreting their reactions…
I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on how much I’ve changed in the last decade. Yes, there is now a short spikey haircut, clothes from the men’s department, and a wallet instead of a purse. There are some people who may say, “well you look like a dude, what do you expect others to think?” But ultimately when I look in the mirror I don’t see myself trying to be a man or making a statement. I see myself just trying to be Lisa. If figure if I can be myself and open people’s minds, maybe it is a small step for others in the world to feel free to be themselves also.
This piece was first published at Jenni & Lisa's website, OutandAround.com.