I’ve been having a conversation with a fellow expat in Georgia. Something tells me “Britishvili” is not his real name, but I feel it might be rude to level such an accusation at a perfect stranger, so “Britishvili” it is. The story so far:
“Hey, Neal, why do you talk so much shit about Georgia?”
I’m going to loosely summarize the most recent points Mr. Britishvili has made and then address them individually:
1. I talk about the bad things in Georgia but not the good things.
2. American culture and Georgian culture are pulling Georgians in opposite directions and I am on the wrong side of that tug-of-war.
3. I am unconcerned about the impact that my words and actions will have on Georgia in the long run.
1. This is clearly not true. If you just look at my posts about sex and gender issues, then I can see how you might get the impression that I think Georgia is a terrible, terrible place. Georgia has a long way to go in this respect (but let’s face it – the whole world has a long way to go in terms of human rights as they apply to sex, gender, and sexuality). However, if you look at the pages that I’ve written specifically for new visitors to my blog and for people looking for information about Georgia – the About, FAQ, and Really Useful Information pages – they are very positive and they link to more information posts than social issues posts.
I know that the social issues stuff is the big selling point of my blog for most people – it’s where most of my traffic comes from – but I really do write about lots of other stuff. Go to “Sex in Georgia” and it’s about how dating here is weird and different. Go one post before that and it’s about how I made reasonably good french toast without maple syrup (which, by the way, is now sold in Goodwill – but two years ago when I wrote the post it was not). Go back another post and it’s about getting supra’ed, and drunk under the table, by my police officer students. The whole blog is like that – some posts are happy, some are sad, and some are just information. But people are much more interested in the ranty social issues posts than the recipe posts or the “I had a great weekend” posts, which is why “Sex in Georgia” continues to by my highest-trafficked post while my glowing review of Keto and Kote gets no love at all.
2. Mr. Britishvili portrays the issue of sex in Georgia as a sort of tug-of-war between traditional Georgian abstinence and modern American promiscuity. This is not how I see the intersection of American and Georgian sexual culture at all. Many readers interpret “Sex in Georgia” as a lament that people in Georgia do not have enough sex, but this could not be further from the truth and I have tried to dispel this notion over and over again.
I am not trying to encourage Georgians to have sex more freely – I’m trying to encourage them to have sex more intelligently. I would like to see Georgians educated about their sexual health and about their family planning options – not so they can be promiscuous, but so they can be safe and happy. Statistical and anecdotal data show that Georgians are very ignorant about things like how STDs spread, which can be very dangerous.
Sex in Georgia is not rare at all – but it is burdened by traditions that have real, negative consequences on people’s lives. High divorce rates, high abortion rates, the existence of hymen restoration surgery, the shame and ignorance surrounding various sexual acts – these things can be psychologically and physically dangerous to people.
Communication, openness, honesty, education – these are the values that I bring to Georgia and espouse on my blog. I don’t want to influence people’s decisions so they’ll be more like me – I want to inform people’s decisions so they can be themselves.
3. I was invited to speak at a conference in Tbilisi in February. Its theme was “the long view.” In this conference, I spoke for about fourteen minutes about the long-term impact that our being here would have on Georgia. I talked about how the interactions that foreigners have with Georgians create new pieces of cultural knowledge – how we learn to navigate each others’ cultures so we can better cooperate. One role of this blog is to document this process, to spread the cultural information that is generated by the interaction of Georgians and foreigners.
Mr. Britishvili would like to raise a family in Georgia. I would too. If we take a look at what the next generation will face, we have to ask ourselves: do we want our children to grow up in a society that has a deep understanding of multiculturalism, or a society that is so insulated from the rest of the world that anything foreign seems strange and inscrutable? Do we want to raise children to be so ashamed to talk about sex that they go through life feeling alone and confused, or do we want to give them an environment in which they can become educated and fulfilled without bearing the burden of antiquated and outmoded social stigma? Do we want our children to have more information, or less?
I know that for some people, the answer is less. I know that censorship exists, that various religions ban various works of art or literature because of so-called “dangerous” ideas. Some people think that shame and guilt are good and proper and that foreigners are a corrupting influence that should be kept at arm’s length. There are people like that in Georgia and there are people like that in the US. I fundamentally disagree with this position. I believe, with great conviction, that knowledge, understanding, and the free and open exchange of ideas (yes, even about sex) are good, empowering, and desirable – not just for me personally, but for future generations too.