First, a disclaimer. I’m not talking about sex to be perverse, offensive, or controversial. To me, sex is a part of life, necessary to continue life – like eating, drinking, or sleeping. It’s a biological function. Obviously it is one that is loaded down with taboo and tradition, but I am a notorious iconoclast when it comes to taboo and tradition, and I have personally chosen to discard any traditions that don’t actually improve my quality of life from a rational perspective. Anyway, if sex talk bothers you, read no further. Also, if you’re related to me, you might want to consider skipping this one…
As I’ve said before, one of the biggest problems that TLG members have in Georgia is conflict with their host families. A major source of conflict is that the Georgian host families tend to expect TLG volunteers to behave like good Georgian children are supposed to behave. From what I understand, Georgian families were not briefed at all about the habits of Western 20-somethings, or about the aspects of American or Western culture that might lead to misunderstandings or conflicts.
Particularly – as I’ve said before – most TLG members are sexually active adults.
Before I say more, I need to make a digression so that people understand that I’m not being culturally insensitive. When I was brought up in New York City, I was not allowed to have sex in my parents’ house. They told me that when I became an adult and moved out, I could have sex, and until then, I had to respect their house by not having sex in it.
The first girl that I had sex with came from an even more conservative background. She was not even allowed to touch members of the opposite sex until she was married. No sex, no kissing, no hugs, no hand-holding. Not to mention that she wasn’t allowed to date outside of her religion. When her parents found out that I existed, there was a huge fight in her house.
So given that we weren’t allowed to have sex in my house, and I wasn’t even allowed to be in her house, we had to get creative. We had sex in the following places, just for example:
– My house, hoping we wouldn’t get caught (we did, and I caught hell for it)
– her house, hoping we wouldn’t get caught (we didn’t, because I hid in her closet)
– her neighbor’s house
– one of her best friends’ house
– one of my best friends’ house
– Battery Park
– the women’s bathroom in the World Financial Center
– the Brooklyn-bound platform of the Avenue H stop on the Brighton line
I’m told that in Georgia, cars, hotel rooms, and public parks are the big places for amorous young couples and/or cheating spouses to have sex, although I personally know of some Georgians who have let their friends use their apartments for sex also.
So basically, my experience growing up in New York isn’t all that different from what Georgians experience here, in terms of finding a place to have sexual activity, and Georgian parents aren’t necessarily more conservative or traditional than American parents. I’m not trying to be down on Georgia, here – I grew up with the same kinds of restrictions.
What I’m trying to say is that I absolutely do not expect Georgian host families to let TLG volunteers have sex in their houses. I understand that for many Georgian families, it would be a great shame to have a member of the opposite sex come to visit a member of the family at home, especially if they stayed the night. I understand that Georgian homes are often crowded and there often isn’t any privacy to be had anyway. I get it, and other TLG members get it too.
I later dated a girl with much more liberal parents. They would let me sleep over the house any time I wanted. Their rationale was that it was better to have their daughter being sexually active in the privacy and safety of her own home than in a park or train station or public bathroom somewhere. My parents, for their part, had no complaints when I went to stay over a girl’s house. They weren’t concerned that their reputation would take a hit if I were out somewhere at night, they weren’t concerned with morality or virginity or whatever – they just warned me about safe sex, and let me go out into the world.
So the problem that a lot of TLG members are having with their host families is that Georgian society as a whole is a little more judgmental about sex than my parents were in that situation. Many Georgian host families are not okay with their TLG members going out for a night to stay with their boyfriends or girlfriends. Many TLG volunteers are worried that if they tell their host families that they are sexually active before marriage, their host families will judge them harshly, will hate them, will lecture them, or will treat them badly.
Two of my friends are dating, and when the girl left the guy’s host family’s house one day, an older Georgian woman called her “upatrono” – which literally means “unowned, without a protector” and is generally applied to women who are stepping out of the patriarchal order, stray dogs, and homeless children (no kidding – ძაღლი უპატრონო, dzaghli upatrono, means stray dog). The connotation, when applied to a woman, is whore.
Two of the TLGers from a previous group were dating, and decided to get married in Georgia just because they couldn’t get enough respect as a couple and didn’t want to be called whores or whatever.
Anyway. TLG members regularly lie to their host families about where they are going and why, in order to go have sex or be with their partners. I imagine that some host families catch on to this, but for the most part it seems like the host families are simply confused as to why their volunteers are spending so many nights sleeping over random strangers’ houses rather than at home. Many host families are insulted by the volunteers’ seeming desire to get away from them. This has caused conflict in a number of cases that I am aware of.
I also know one volunteer whose host family used to let her have her boyfriend over. Then once, I came by the house to pick them up so that I could show them where the local Liberty Bank branch is, and apparently the family’s neighbors started gossiping and the host family then banned the volunteer from having boys over anymore.
I know that I’m going to get some comments on here about how I’ve totally misrepresented Georgian culture, but the fact is, overall, the cultural milieu here – especially with the older generations – is one that discourages friendships between members of the opposite sex, and especially discourages premarital sex. Some Georgians are more liberal, but there are enough Georgians that are still traditional/conservative that TLG members almost always have to tiptoe around and keep their sex lives, and sometimes even their social lives as a whole, a secret.
I think that TLG could potentially address this problem by giving the host families some kind of orientation or informational packet explaining what to expect from Westerners. I think that TLG needs to tell the host families that the volunteers that they will be hosting are very likely to be sexually active adults.
I know that talking about sex makes many Georgians very uncomfortable. I know that telling host families the truth about Westerners will make the program look bad and will discourage families from hosting volunteers. However, right now the program is causing a lot of bad blood because this communication isn’t happening, and people don’t know what to expect, and an alarming number of volunteers end up leaving their host families over miscommunications related to sex and dating and the secrecy and resentment that come from these failures to communicate.
Again, I don’t expect Georgians to throw their traditions out the window to accommodate us. I just think that if this program is about cultural exchange, learning, and communication, TLGers and host families need to be able to communicate honestly. I don’t expect host families to approve of their volunteers’ sexual activities, or social lives, or personal choices – however, host families should know about these things in advance so they can decide for themselves whether they want to tolerate this kind of behavior before bringing volunteers into their homes.
And I think that word of mouth will spread, and eventually everyone in Georgia will have heard about how their fourth cousin had an American in their house who would disappear on weekends and show up on Sunday afternoon in the same clothes they left in on Friday night, looking disheveled and prompting all the neighbors to talk, or similar stories. And obviously everyone is different – not all TLGers are young adults, not all are sexually active, and in addition, some host families are very liberal and really don’t care what the neighbors say. I think in five years – if TLG continues – this sort of thing won’t be a problem anymore.
But for now, there’s a good chance that if you come to Georgia with TLG and are sexually active, you will either have to lie about it or be judged, gossiped about, and possibly shamed in some way for it. There’s a good chance that it will be one of the major stress points between you and your host families.
Just as a reminder, I don’t have a host family. None of this applies to me personally because I have an apartment with another American guy. So please, don’t make it personal.