The meaning of equality


I got into a slightly heated discussion with a new friend of mine the other day. He is Mexican, and just arrived here with his partner a couple of months ago. They will be living in NYC for the foreseeable future, as his partner got some posh job here. My friend, like me, is freelance and we meet about once a week for lunch. We were talking about comparisons between gay life here and there and he was remarking that he thought people were really uptight here about public displays of affection. Having lived in both cultures, I could see his point on one level (as there were many times I saw young lovers really going at it in the parks in Mexico City). But on another, I never saw gay people doing much PDA in Mexico, it seemed to me to be definitely something reserved for the straights. And even then, it seemed to me this was because so many young people lived with their parents and had no place to go. And on the subject of gay rights, he (rightly) pointed out that Mexico has country-wide marriage rights, something we still lack in the US. And my protestations to the contrary, he honestly believes that culturally, Mexico (and other Latin American countries) are far more accepting of gay people. Again, having lived there and traveled extensively in Latin America, I can only speak to my experience, but let’s just say it ran contrary to his impressions. He noted how much stronger the family unit and connections were in those countries, and that is something that (notwithstanding my own close-knit family) I granted was true.  But I asked him if he was out to his family, and he replied that “they knew” about him and his partner, but that he didn’t bring it up or throw it in their faces. To which I replied that for me, equality means living as openly as any straight person, and having my life and relationships treated with the same respect and openness. He replied that he didn’t need that, and he honestly believes that things are better for gay people there.  It was striking to me how different were the notions of equality that we each had. And how different our experience of each place was. I have no illusions about the United States, and I divide the country into regions or bubbles of equality. New York is a very different place than Omaha, and my daily experience is of course local, and very much equal on a societal level. I will not rest until we have full legal equality under the law, but I believe that is coming soon (although not soon enough obviously). And further, I am under no illusions that the Republican party will soon turn over a new leaf and let go of their disgusting hatred of us, but I am hopeful that they will have less and less sway over the culture. I think that our biggest point of divergence is over openness, and that is something that I will never relinquish– to me, that is the mark of equality. And that is probably why I think that the most powerful thing anyone can do to advance the cause of equality is to live openly, and refuse to be treated as a second class citizen. Coming out, and living openly is not “throwing anything in anyone’s face”, any more than living an openly heterosexual life is. It is all part of our human condition, and equally deserving of dignity and respect.


  1. Arthur says:

    I, too, have lived in both Latin America and Gringolandia, and I have to agree with you. While it is different and maybe not as virolent in LatAm, homophobia definitely exists. In some places people expect gay men and women to keep their traditional gender roles (i.e. marry a person of the opposite sex, have kids with them, etc) and live their other, homosexual life as a somewhat open, but unspoken, secret. Tolerance isn’t the same as acceptance, and it seems your friend has confused the two. However, Latin American isn’t a monolith and there are different views on social mores and sexuality throughout the region. Mexico is a great example; DF grants marriage equality, but other states do not (though they must recognize all marriages from other states – no DOMA there). Argentina started out that way, with only the capital region recognizing same-sex marriage, and now the entire country has marriage equality. Hopefully, Mexico is next.

  2. Gabe says:

    Really interesting observation – the notion of equality as relative concept. I tend to be on your side of the equation. But generational differences certainly exist. My gay dad will tell you – his expectations of equality are really similar to your friend’s description of that in Mexico – no need to “flaunt’ it, just tacit acceptance. I suspect the same generational pressure for open equality will follow in LatAm as time advances. Young Mexicans will not be satisfied with the same limitations their parents’ were.

  3. Stephen says:

    One other interesting data point in all this is how young my friend is (27), and how unseemly he seemed to think my demands for equality were. His argument was that he didn’t have to have his gayness be the most important thing about him or what defined him. But I pointed out that as soon as you are self-censoring (in a way that straight people need not), it does in fact define you, whether you admit it or not.