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Gay in Cyprus: being pushed back into the closet

When marriage is all that matters, women must be married off quickly. Pennie Varvarides recounts the frustrations of a month spent in Cyprus.

“Have you found a nice Cypriot boy to marry, yet? Don’t worry, we’ll find you one.”

This was the first thing all new people said to me during my month in Cyprus. And sometimes was repeated each time I saw a person.

This was frustrating for a number of reasons; now, apart from the fact that a woman’s worth shouldn’t be tied up to whether or not she’s found someone to marry her, I’m also gay and have no interest in marrying a boy at all – Cypriot or not.

Coming out to an Orthodox family was as dramatic as you can imagine and included threats of (God forbid) moving to Cyprus; but years on and it’s not really an issue anymore.

Luckily, since coming out to my parents seven years ago, the TV has occasionally starting showing that gays exist, which I think helped them realise it wasn’t actually a big deal.

Cyprus hasn’t quite come this far, however. Marriage is everything. The whole game is about getting hitched and reproducing, and nothing else much matters.

This quote from an article on Red Cactus says it perfectly: “My parents would never be able to recover from the shame of having a lesbian as a daughter, I know this for a fact. I also have two younger (straight) sisters, they would also be affected by me coming out; the family would be gossiped about and lose respect. Also, my sisters will lose the chance to marry well. It’s a mess, but it’s a mess that’s not going to change for us here.”

Pushed back into the closet

The first time the neighbour said it, the thing about finding me a husband, I let it go. It didn’t bother me, I didn’t care.

The second time she said it, I let it go again. My Greek isn’t great and I couldn’t be bothered to try and explain gay. I shouldn’t have to explain myself to strangers. Besides, I tick all those blasted stereotypes: vegetarian, Doc Martens, shaved head. You know what I’m talking about. The next step would be walking around with a sign, for clarity.

But here I am, in a tiny village in Cyprus, somehow pushed back into the closet.

The next time the neighbour joked about finding me a husband, my gran laughed. This made me feel particularly uncomfortable, because my gran knows I’m gay. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to embarrass her, but I think me not saying anything fuelled the joke a little.

I told my cousin about this first sentence phenomenon and she laughed at me. Soon after, I met her (our) uncle. Guess what the very first thing he said to me was when I was introduced…

Being young and gay in Cyprus

The thing is, I’m a fairly strong individual who can generally shrug most things off, but as the month went by the “find Pennie a husband” theme really started to grate. And to be honest, dramatically less stable teenage Pennie wouldn’t have been able to handle it at all. Which leaves me wondering about Cyprus’ teen gays. How on Earth do they cope?

I went to investigate a gay club in Limassol recommended to me by one of my cousins. I was surprised that such athing existed, to be honest, and I wanted to meet some gays and ask them some questions. But when I got there I felt way too uncomfortable. There were only two other people in there, sitting on stools having a silent drink against a backdrop of loud disco music. I couldn’t do it – I ran away.

As the month drew to a close, my gran took me to see some of her friends in the mountains. Again, the very first thing the husband said to me was about finding a Cypriot to marry, so I could move to Cyprus. I politely told them I didn’t want to marry a Cypriot boy or move to Cyprus, and his wife quickly responded with: “What you need is to marry a Greek man. A real Greek, from Greece.”

I snapped and told them I had an English girl waiting for me back home.

This comment really offended me. Mostly because it implied that Greeks are better than Cypriots, but also because in reinforced this confused idea of Greece’s ownership and herodom that I’d learnt so much about on my trip.

So I snapped. I told them I had an English girl waiting for me back home. They corrected my Greek and said “English boy”.

“No,” I said. “English girl.”

This exchange looped about three of four times, before I cut her off. “Girl, female, woman,” I said.

There was this awkward pause, broken moments later by my gran saying: “This one hasn’t wanted to get married since she was a little girl.”

The conversation then switched to how the youth of today don’t want to get married anymore and how they don’t know what they’re doing.

I took myself for a walk.

Interestingly, it wasn’t all bad. In Dali, my dad’s village, I sat in my aunt’s house having a coffee and showing them pictures of my sister and her baby on my laptop. I scrolled past a picture of my girlfriend sitting on my bed holding up a book.

She stopped me and asked me to show her a photo of my girlfriend. I looked at her, a little confused, and then complied.

Me and my aunt have never had the gay chat before, because it hasn’t really come up. What she did next was very cute. She gave me a little speech about how things are changing in Cyprus. How nobody really cares if you’re gay anymore, that there is actually a lesbian couple living in the village and people are a lot more relaxed. She told me not to worry what people think and that so long as you’re happy then nothing else matters.

That said, same-sex couples still don’t have the same legal rights as straight couples. Luckily, the island’s membership in the EU meant it had to update its human rights legislation, which included laws regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, so it’s not as bad as it used to be.

Fear not, though, readers. At least I managed to escape unmarried.

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