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What can it mean to be a same-sex couple
who is living the diplomatic life?
It's an honour to introduce this post to you.
This post continues the exploration of the topic of what being a diplomat and living the diplomatic life can do to our relationships with significant others. It's important to note that there are as many stories to tell and experiences to share as there are diplomats and people living the diplomatic life.
I maintain that the job demands much of us and our relationships. This topic is worthy of extensive discussion as we must discuss the unique demands that the job puts on relationships. The quality of our relationships and the stories we tell ourselves about them can impact on how we view and approach the work. Of course, these discussions must happen with an abundance of kindness and honesty. There's a link to the other posts and podcasts below.
The words you're about to read were written by my friend, Kevin Huntting. Kevin started the site The Proud Diplomat in 2016 as he saw a need for LGBTQ diplomats to connect through sharing authentic stories and other information affecting the global LGBTQ community.
I have had the privilege of speaking regularly with Kevin for the past few months as we find more and more ways to support and collaborate with each other and to introduce our work to each other's audiences. This collaboration with experts in their fields is critical in my support for you in my work here at The Lonely Diplomat as you live your diplomatic life wherever you lead it and however you lead it.
It's a joy to bring Kevin's wisdom and insight shared through his experience to you in this post.
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What does it mean to be a same-sex couple who is living the diplomatic life?
Well, for starters being a man married to a man presents some interesting dynamics when it comes to challenging traditional gender norms and roles both professionally and domestically.
Secondly, as much as there are amazing opportunities to interact with foreign dignitaries and interact and learn from other international players, there are SOMETIMES those awkward moments when you feel as “other” as it creates discomfort when being introduced as the same-sex spouse.
Lastly, and this is common for anyone regardless of sexual identity or sexuality, there are startling moments of loneliness and solitude, which can tear marriages and relationships apart. And, is a constant reminder of how fragile we are, and how challenging this life can be for a tandem/accompanying spouse in terms of personal fulfillment and happiness.
Hello, my name is Kevin Huntting, and I am an accompanying spouse. My husband is a Mexican diplomat, having spent over 20 years with the Mexican Foreign Service as a career diplomat. Our journey together began in San Francisco in 2006 when we met, and where our first post saw us relocating to Dallas in 2011. The move was a shock to me on so many levels as I didn’t have a job, nor did I have any close friends or family members there. The first three months in Dallas were filled with anxiety, sleeplessness, whirling thoughts of fear of the unknown, and for the first time in my life, having to rely on another person to be the financial provider.
By far, this was one of the hardest concepts for me to wrap my head around as what would happen if things didn’t work out? What would I be left with and where would I go? The Mexican Foreign Service did not provide any career counseling or job placement services, so I was left to figure it out alone, which meant putting myself out there.
After my spouse had already relocated to Dallas, I spent two more months in San Francisco getting clarity around what this move meant for me, and most importantly, to come to a decision of either joining him or staying in San Francisco. It was time filled with long days and even longer nights of tossing and turning, with a constant tug of war happening inside between love and logic.
Logic would have me staying, continuing with the career path I was on, and enjoying a city that I adored. While love had me crying constantly thinking about how less beautiful life would be without sharing it with the man I loved. In the end, love won so I moved. This was just the beginning of many personal challenges.
As I mentioned before, I had never relied on someone else to financially provide for me. I was conditioned at a young age to know the value of work and money to support myself. Little did I know, that this would also leave me feeling quite inadequate when I didn’t have a job as it began to negatively affect my self-esteem. Work provided me with a sense of purpose and belonging. And, when I lacked that purpose, I was left feeling very small. This smallness infiltrated my self-confidence in all aspects of my life like interviewing, trying to meet new people, and it left me second guessing myself. Not the life I had imagined.
The positive side of this experience is it allowed me to re-evaluate how I defined my self-worth and challenged me to examine what success means to me. I constantly reminded myself that there is real worth in being an honest, kind, and compassionate person instead of constantly comparing myself to others who were progressing in their career. And, unlike most other people, these big life transitions to new cities & countries allowed me time to explore bigger questions in my life like “What was my purpose and how could I best accomplish it?” Lesson learned: never allow yourself to be only defined by your profession or money and take time every so often to make sure your living in integrity with your personal values. Your real value is evident in how you behave towards yourself and others. Hopefully this is with kindness and compassion. And, know that you are beautiful for who you ARE today and who you will become.
The second dynamic I mentioned is that of the OTHER. Being categorized as 'other', which as a gay man, has a rich history in American society and the negative views many people have towards members of the LGBTQ community. Before I share my personal experience, I think it’s important to lay the foundation of current global perceptions towards LGBTQ people.
According to a recent study called Polarized Progress, from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, they found 80 countries (57 per cent) experienced increases in LGBTQ acceptance, 46 countries (33 per cent) experienced a decline and 15 countries (11 per cent) experienced no change. Countries that experienced an increase are Sweden, Iceland, Netherlands, and Denmark while countries like Ghana and Saudi Arabia have seen a decline in acceptance. As much as there has been positive movement towards acceptance there are still those unique day-to-day experiences that force me to question what impact and acceptance my sexuality has when it is shared with heterosexual diplomats and their spouses/partners.
I say this as, there have been several occasions where upon being introduced as “my husband” at events, the responses can range from 1) silence and a pronounced sense of discomfort, almost a “I don’t know what to do or say” response, 2) a rebuttal asking to clarify that what was said was husband?, as if my spouse was speaking a foreign language, and 3) pure acceptance and understanding leading to an engaging conversation.
Furthermore, gender plays heavily into the individual’s overall positive or negative response with women being much more comfortable with it than men. The very act of being gay challenges their own definitions of acceptable masculinity. Though these experiences are few and far between, they do occur. And as a gay couple we must deal with it all the time, which can be taxing.
Moreover, my spouse and I are forced to repeatedly come out, which requires a constant understanding of the context and situation and thinking about how people will respond. But at the end of it all, regardless of sexuality or gender identity we are more alike than we are different.
The third dynamic, and this is not exclusive to being gay, is loneliness. The one exception to mention here is that the rates of loneliness among LGBTQ members are much higher than the general public. “Gay people are now, depending on the study, between 2 and 10 times more likely than straight people to take their own lives (Huffington Post).” Gay men have fewer close friends than straight people or gay women, and we are twice as likely to have a major depressive episode. One of the darkest periods of my life was when we first moved to Dallas, and to a lesser extent, when we recently moved from DC to Miami.
It’s this constant state of stress on your system, with your thoughts being consumed by a feeling that you don’t belong, yet you know you have to find a way to belong for your own sanity. This includes finding meaningful and authentic human connection apart from your spouse, a job/career that challenges and inspires you, and dealing with feelings of resentment and sometimes anger towards your spouse for being in the situation in the first place. You give everything for the career of your spouse.
The most telling part of the experience is that you realize no one, not even your spouse, can truly relate to the feelings and experiences you are going through so you are left to manage your overall state of being with sporadic calls to close friends who live in different time zones, through long conversations with close family members (thanks Mom!) who try and fill the void, and through many emotional filled conversations with your spouse trying to make sense of it all. It’s a contact cycle of imbalance, discovery, re-evaluation, and then equilibrium before the cycle starts anew once you move again. You may be saying to yourself as you read this that “You chose this path with your spouse knowing this would be the case.” And my response is: Yes, I have heard this before from fellow diplomats and their spouses. But I think this response is naïve and overly simplified as once you are experiencing the cycle for yourself it is much more emotionally complex and nuanced and different for everyone.
The feelings of isolation and loneliness are always there, and from my personal experience, the topic is rarely talked about openly among other diplomatic spouses [I’m nodding my head furiously here]. You are expected to be strong and manage the change accordingly. The flip side to these feelings of loneliness is that you do get stronger and smarter about managing the change. There are opportunities to constantly rediscover who you are and who you want to be and to establish new goals for yourself, but this takes strong initiative and self-motivation, which many people struggle.
In closing, this piece doesn’t speak to many of the other factors affecting same-sex couples like visa status issues and reciprocity, legal issues, and the overall violence and discrimination still experienced by many members of this global community. I hope what you do take away from this piece is to continue to build alliances and support your fellow LGBTQ diplomats and their spouses around the globe.
How can you do this? By educating yourself, confronting homophobia and transphobia, and listening, learning and supporting us. More than 70 nations still criminalize same-sex relationships, and many still uphold the death penalty as is reflected in many African and Asian countries.
Lastly, it is imperative that within the LGBTQ community we create forums and spaces where we support each other and lift each other up whenever possible. There is nothing more rewarding and beautiful than being there for someone with no strings attached. If you are full of love you can give it away knowing there is an abundance of it to keep giving.
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Kevin Huntting resides in Miami with his husband who is a member of Mexico’s Foreign Service. He and his husband met in San Francisco in 2006, and have had posts in Dallas, Mexico City, and Washington DC. Kevin began his career with General Electric and has spent 12 years working in various marketing areas like Customer Relationship Management (CRM), E-commerce, and Digital Marketing for Fortune 500 brands like GE, Gap Inc., Fossil Group, and the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, DC.
It was through these various life transitions that Kevin recognized there was little information focused on the needs of the global LGBTQ diplomatic and expat community. In 2016, he launched The Proud Diplomat (www.theprouddiplomat.com) a website, and social media channels dedicated to sharing the authentic stories of the LGBTQ expat community as well as insightful information impacting this community. He is currently pursuing his certification as a Professional/Personal Coach through the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC).
You can reach him at email@example.com.
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Thank you, most sincerely, for sharing your thoughts and wisdom with us. This is never an easy thing to do and I'm very appreciative of your willingness to share your experience of being a diplomatic spouse through my site.
I look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts to support diplomats and those living the diplomatic life wherever they are and however they live it.
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I have three challenges for you:
First, I want to pick up Kevin's challenge of how all LGBTQ diplomats and their significant others can be supported. Kevin's suggestions about educating yourself, confronting homophobia and transphobia, and listening, learning and supporting are great places to start. Many of our employing agencies are LGBTQ-friendly and supportive workplaces, but many aren't.
Secondly, if you are an LGBTQ diplomat, or a diplomat struggling with your sexuality, know that there are resources available to you online - like The Proud Diplomat - for you to get support as you live life. Reaching out and getting support requires bravery and courage, but you're not alone. Please, reach out.
Thirdly, and as I always do when the topic of relationships and diplomacy is discussed, I challenge you to have a kind and honest conversation with yourself and - if applicable - your significant other about how living this diplomatic life affects your relationship.
Remember, every difficult conversation can be made better when we approach it with an abundance of kindness and honesty. This approach serves me well.
Want to know more?
Love and Diplomacy
The Lonely Diplomat: on loneliness
Diplomatic spouses of the world, unite!
On being a male diplomatic spouse
Loneliness and the absence of real connection
Ep. 2 - Diplomatic spouses of the world, unite! with Georgie Ryan
Ep. 10 - On the price of diplomacy
Ep. 12 - On being a male diplomatic spouse with Simon
Ep. 14 - Thoughts on loneliness (released soon)
Andrew R. Flores, Andrew Park and M.V. Lee Badgett, 'New Measures of LGBT Acceptance and Inclusion Worldwide', Williams Institute of Law, April 2018
Michael Hobbes, 'The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness', Huffington Post, March 2017.
The Proud Diplomat (including an interview with me about authenticity)
This post covered the central themes of diplomacy, resilience, loneliness and connection.
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