Carol Bontekoe

This blog has been keeping track of my adventures since 2004. The stories and the adventures have come from my college dorm room to Uganda, Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan, learning Dutch in the Netherlands to living in the wilds of Homer, Alaska. I went back to school in Amsterdam to study Theaterwetenschap (Theatre Science) at University of Amsterdam. And now my adventures as a Fruit Fly, a Sexy Unicorn, and creating a movement with Team Sparkle in Chicago.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Reverse Culture Shock: after a year amongst The Gays.

The World Traveler, Vagabond, the Best Friend you never see. That’s been me for the better part of my adult life. Running, flying, biking around the world. Always someone new to meet, a new language to learn, a new site to see. Most comfortable when out of my element, at ease when stressed about a flight, peaceful when crammed into a bus seat.
This past (almost) year I have been living in the capital of the Midwest: Chicago. Close to home, and seen to be wholly without adventure. Not exotic the way my previous adoptive homes were. I was saddened as I wore out my travelers boots walking the streets of Chicago last winter. I hid them away in my closest not strong enough to throw them away and say good-bye to my wanderlust ways.
My favorite part of traveling and the part I assumed was gone, at least while I remained in Chicago, is immersing myself in a culture that is not my own. I enjoy learning the holidays and customs of another culture. I read history books about their past to better understand how they came to be the way I find them now. Being the chatter box that I am I will quickly start learning the language of my new community in order to better connect with those around me.
The move to Chicago was a spur of the moment decision. A place that wasn’t suppose to have that weird adjustment period that comes with moving to a new country. With no money, no job, no friends, no family and no place to stay; Chicago actually proved one of the most difficult adjustment I had ever made. I had nothing and I knew it. I didn’t even have the benefit of enjoying my passion for learning about new cultures, for I was in the midst of a culture that I already knew.
Midwestern Mentality: Check. I’m the daughter of a Midwestern Dairy Farmer. My Midwesterness is undeniable.
Big City Living: Check. Already lived in that crazy, wonderful, international city of Amsterdam.
Extremely Corrupt Government: Child please. Let’s just say Kyrgyzstan and Uganda. Double check.
Only recently while experiencing reverse culture shock did I realize that I had found and become apart of a culture not my own. Without realizing it I had immersed myself in Gay Culture. I now speak fluent Fabulous. I have read numerous books and articles this past year about the Gay Rights movement in the United States and around the world. I have even participated in the Gay High Holy Days: Pride, Market Days, and Halloween.
This reverse culture shock came when I returned to a familiar place: the sports bar, a straight sports bar. A bar filled with hetero-normative behavior ...eerrrr… in a way guys in that bar would understand it was filled with Dudes.
Beer guzzling, whiskey shot taking, high fiving, chest bumping, backwards hat wearing Dudes. My people. My Dudes. Someone chest bump me now! I was in a room full of Lions fans(my favorite sports team) most of them Michigan State alumni (I myself am an alumna of that fine institution). Regular Dudes from Michigan have always been my specialty.
I can talk sports, especially Michigan sports. I LOVE beer. I’ll do as many shots as you do and when you pass out in the corner I’ll still be standing and suggesting that you buy me another one. These kind of guys have always loved me. They have been the ones I call to move my couch when I move. They are the ones who have helped me steal beer from the party next door when the party I’m at has run out. I have shot guns at cans with these guys. I know them.
Or so I thought.
Last Sunday I experienced the same feeling I had my first time back in an American grocery store after Kyrgyzstan, a bath after Uganda, or the first time I saw my friends sneak off to smoke a joint after coming back from Amsterdam. I was experiencing reverse culture shock. Being thrown back into the deep end of your own culture after an extended period away can sometimes be just as jarring as being ripped from your native culture and put into one you have never heard of. I suddenly found myself sitting back and observing instead of fully participating in the rituals of the sports bar. Dudes still high five, get aggressive for no reason, and the ubiquitous shot of whiskey was ever present.
It was me that was no longer present. I was in a daze trying to re-learn social patterns that I know I know. Then I found myself playing a new game in my mind. Spot the gay. Who is on the DL (Down Low) in the Sea of Dudes? This is similar to a game I play in Europe: spot the American. Not the obvious ones, not the ones like me that cannot blend in no matter how hard they try. No I like to find the ones that are trying their darndest to wear the right shoes, coat, and jaunty scarf but some how still read as American.
My bench on the side wall gave me a great panoramic view of the Sea of Dudes. My year of adventures amongst the Gays have trained my eyes to spot them even in the dimmest of lights. The way a lighthouse keeper’s eye are trained to spot a ship in the distant horizon. Unsure if I was really spotting Gays in the Sea of Dudes or if they were just mirages I was relieved when a back up pair of eyes came in. My best friend here in Chicago, who happens to be gay, showed up. He picked off my potential targets immediately: chic scarf to the left of us, tight gray sweater at the bar, The over compensating dude at my table who when the Lions won in an amazing 98 yard run at the end of the game celebrated by rubbing the back of his “buddy.” Sure Dude. Keep lifting weights, no one will ever think you’re gay.
This reverse culture shock happened to me by going no further than walking distance from my apartment. The traveler mentality, my passion for people, and adventure aren’t based on how far away from home I go. My return to hanging out with Dudes reminds me that I might need to start making time to occasionally Bro It Up so I don’t have that shock again. Like all great travelers, even if I am staying in one city, I need connect with my ability to slide in and out of cultures with ease. Especially between my native culture and my adopted culture.
As I approach the year mark of me living in Chicago I get nervous. Should I make a run for it? I have enough money to get to… Wyoming. Maybe Idaho.
I don’t stay places.
I leave before I can get left behind. Yet, something is keeping me here. I want to stay here. I want to develop very real and long term friendships. Not the surface friendships the constant traveler develops, the ones that keep you from being overtly lonely but are not intimate, deep, and lasting.
There in that straight Dude Bar, that I didn’t know anymore, I felt like a traveler again but it also put in to perspective that I have some very real friendships here. I embraced by a community of people that are not my own but I have grown to love them and care about them, and gosh I hope they feel the same way. Right now I’m happy where I’m at, amongst the Gays. And if I ever need a jolt of culture shock and the travelers rush, Wrigleyville and bars full of Dudes are a short train ride away.


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