News By Date 01.04.2016 30.03.2016 29.02.2016 11.01.2016 19.12.2015 16.11.2015 01.10.2015 25.09.2015 01.08.2015 01.07.2015 10.06.2015 23.05.2015

No, Not the LGBT Part of Town: Ogden on Foreign (Mis)Perceptions

If memory serves, I recently accused the reverence of family values in Georgian culture as being laced with hypocrisy; if I recall correctly, I was pondering the circumstances of wives who are beaten by their husbands and subsequently find no help from their families. In many cases, the families of the victim insist they should be 'better wives' to avoid repeat incidents, which I thought was rather at odds with how things are in the West. It does not take much to imagine a wrathful Manchester father banging on the door of an abusive son-in-law, or a Texan daddy loading up his truck with rifles and hooch to blow the brains out of the man who done hurt his little princess. Not that either of those courses of action are condonable, but they are at least more understandable. Putting the family first in Georgia does not (always) seem to extend to when family members need help the most, as in cases of domestic violence or unplanned pre-marital pregnancy.

A sight that I saw yesterday reminded me of another baffling Georgian cultural phenomenon. It is common in this country for men to kiss with a handshake when they meet (and this is not always a European-style peck, but a heartfelt slurp that once landed on my neck after I tried to evade it), and linking arms – while not as prevalent – is considered nothing out of the ordinary. Georgian homophobia has become infamous after the violent dispersal of an equal rights rally several years ago, but the sight of Georgian men kissing and walking around with arms linked would suggest to any ignorant foreigner that this is, in fact, a gay haven. This is not pure speculation; an Australian friend of mine visited Georgia in 2012, and on seeing the sight of so many men walking in tandem, kissing each other and generally looking as though they couldn't wait to get home together, remarked “Is this the LGBT part of town, or what?”

I uploaded a picture of three Georgian men walking arm-in-arm to Facebook yesterday, and although my poor photography failed to capture the sly grins (and whatever their smiles might have suggested; let your imagination do the rest), they were awfully close together...had any foreigner new to the country seen them, they could have been forgiven for coming to the same conclusion as my Australian friend. The reaction on Facebook, of course, was mixed; most foreigners and Georgian women saw the humorous side of my post (and, I'm happy to say, a good number of liberal Georgian gentlemen), while a select group of Georgian males took the time to point out that they weren't gay, despite the fact that I did not accuse anyone of being homosexual or even remotely curious.

In a moment of idleness, I had a look on the Facebook pages of some of the most traditionally-minded Georgian men I know – or am at least acquainted with – and I confess to being staggered by the amount of shirtless photos they have with other males. Their lives are their own, of course, and who am I to judge? Yet I do not think I am being overly unjust when I write that although these men did not participate in the attacks on the equal rights rallies of 2012 and 2013 (as far as I know), they would also be the last people to criticise those who did. I had the misfortune to go to lunch with one of these men at a fine Western-style gourmet restaurant, and he refused to eat a thing because he 'only eats Georgian food'.

A few Georgian men were at pains to point out that linking arms and kissing cheeks are not gay practices in Georgia, to which I replied – I know. They were preaching to the converted, rather; having heard from gay Georgians the awful treatment they have experienced at the hands of close-minded (or should that be 'traditionally-minded'?) Georgian males, I know that the men linking arms or kissing cheeks are the least likely to roll around the bedsheets with another man...but that is not the point. My point was how it looks to foreign eyes, not what it is.

Even more bizarrely has been some of the anti-gay rhetoric I've heard from particularly religious people, who hold that the LGBT crowd are trying to 'corrupt' and 'tempt' Georgian people into adopting gay lifestyles. I think the fact that these people believe Georgian youth can be tempted is something that speaks volumes. Since the word count has crept up on me, I shall conclude by simply saying that I cannot abide fish, neither the taste nor the smell. I could have the finest seafood dishes in the world paraded before me and be utterly disinterested. This makes me wonder if Georgian aggression towards the gay community perhaps stems from some underlying interest...probably not, of course, but if they don't want people to assume that, then they should think more carefully before holding hands and kissing in public.

Tim Ogden

16 February 2017 18:33