Life As A Same-Sex Expat Partner

Every LGBT couple has a unique experience as they make their way through the nuances of diplomatic life. Clara Wiggins explores these experiences in her interview with a married couple Juan and Michael.  She explores themes like: prejudice, Visa status issues, and life as a trailing spouse.

Welcome Michael and thank you for being part of this blog. First can you tell me a bit about yourself and your partner

I am from Los Angeles and Juan, my spouse is an Argentine diplomat born in Buenos Aires. We have lived together since 2009 and married in 2011. Prior to Beijing we were based in Tel Aviv for 3 years.

I am a TV producer having worked as an Executive Producer for networks such as ABC/DISNEY, NBC, MSNBC, MTV/Vh1, Spike, Bravo among others. I came to Beijing on a diplomatic visa (unofficially as the Chinese government would not issue me an ID card but “in their system” I am listed as the spouse with full rights and privileges) which meant I could not work and after a year (we weren’t sure we would stay given the ID issue) I took a position with CCTV which meant me changing from a diplomatic passport to an unofficial one.

I always loved traveling and exploring — I went to Israel as a teenager, lived in Italy and traveled much of Europe in my third year of university and enjoyed living abroad in Tel Aviv on account of having a boyfriend in Israel while I was beginning grad school in NYC. I consider meeting my husband a double blessing as his work takes us literally all over the globe and he’s a great guy!

Juan and Michael

Juan and Michael

Please tell me a bit about your current location and how you have felt moving here as a same-sex couple. Have you been welcomed? Experienced prejudice? Felt no different from other, non-same-sex couples?

Tel Aviv was the best. Despite the political situation for 30% of the population there (Arab-Israelis/Palestinians) which is sad to say the least, being a gay couple is widely accepted and appreciated there so our life in Israel was amazing. Beijing is a bit more complicated.

Our feeling was that China is not homophobic per say, it’s more of an ignorance issue…however, upon receiving my job offer at CCTV (I was the 2nd foreign producer they ever hired in the English language news channel FEATURES department), my immediate boss, who is a thoughtful worldly person, told me not to “tell anyone you are gay…they won’t understand and therefore may lose “face” for you…they won’t respect you…”

As it turns out they hired me as a “single person” which was a big lie and surprising since CCTV is the mouthpiece of the government and my husband works for our Embassy and apparently there is a Chinese law that forbids foreign diplomatic spouses taking work at CCTV. Oops.

Have there been any special considerations you have had to make to get a work visa? Is same-sex marriage recognized by your host country?

We heard same-sex couples can get VISAs in China, just not diplomats which is normally the reverse! Both the US and Argentina recognize same-sex marriage. We are legally married in Argentina and I have the same rights and privileges of straight spouses.

We spent nearly a year and a half with the Foreign Ministry here and our government trying to find a solution which was exhausting. Our legal reps at the Embassy demanded full recognition referencing the Vienna Convention and China balked saying “we never offer that” but apparently just this past September, their Ambassador in Buenos Aires asked our government to allow parents of Chinese diplomats to receive diplomatic immunity in Argentina so our Team asked for my recognition here which went unanswered.

We think eventually they will grant this status as it’s only a matter of time, and given the global social politics, being on team GAY is not only a smart political decision but also an economic one!

Do you think it has been harder for you as the “trailing spouse” than for your partner especially if they applied for and were appointed to their role before leaving your home country?

Absolutely. I gave up a very interesting, high-paying and successful career that only exists for me in the US. My spouse always said he would give up his career and try something else if we decided to go back to the US for my career which definitely softens the blow of working at a reduced capacity abroad!

This interview originally appeared in Clara Wiggins's The Expat Partner's Survival Guide.        

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