Dispatch: Salamanca, Spain

Claire Szabo

My host madre asks if I’ve found a boyfriend yet. I smile and tell her no, not yet, although truthfully I never will. An important part of my life I can’t tell my madre. The crosses and framed prayers in the hallway make me cautious. They celebrate the day of my madre’s saint in October. They have friends over and her family in Valencia calls to wish her felicitaciones. I get pastries and a bowl of chocolate left over from the party for dinner, and it makes me feel at home.

I wish that when my madre asked me if I’d found un novio espanola that I could tell her I already have una novia americana. I have the urge to tell her that I’m in love, and left half of me across the Atlantic for three months, but I don’t know what consequences this information would have on our relationship. I keep it to myself and wonder, would my padres stop calling me hija or cariña if they knew? Would they stop trying to make me feel at home? Would they hate me? It’s a strange, silent kind of oppression, having to omit such an important part of my life, having to censor myself.

Outside of my apartment, I don’t censor myself. Instead I find myself arguing with men in bars about why I will not kiss them. Here, when men engage me in conversation I let them. At home I would brush them off because any conversation we have isn’t going to lead them to my bed so I see it as a waste of time for everyone. But in Spain I take advantage to practice my Spanish. My Spanish is better when I’ve been drinking, cuando tengo el puntillo, cuando estoy borracha.

The conversations always start with the same questions: ¿Cómo te llamas? ¿De dónde eres? ¿Por qué estás en Salamanca? After the basic introductions some sort of advance is made, and I turn them down with the truth.

“Tengo novia.”

Each time they assume I’ve made a mistake and they try to correct me. “Tienes novio.”

“No, tengo novia.”

A look of surprise and slight betrayal crosses their faces, as if I have misled, “¿Eres lesbiana?

“No.” I suppose they’ve never heard of the concept of sexuality as a spectrum. I clarify, “Soy pansexual.”

Now they’re really confused, and I can understand why. Pansexuality isn’t something you hear about, even within the LGBTIQA+ community. You hear about heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality, but pansexuality is an alien concept to many, even my word processor doesn’t recognize it. I could make things easier on myself by lying and just saying I am a lesbian. That would most likely end the conversation because I would be seen as a lost cause. But for the sake of honesty and practicing my Spanish I explain the truth to them as best I can.

“No me importa el género ni el sexo. Me gustan los hombres, las mujeres, y las personas que tienen unas identidades de géneros diferentes.” The most interesting reaction I get is when men decide to continue their advances because of the phrase “Me gustan los hombres.” They aren’t deterred by my having a girlfriend or by my unconventional sexual orientation. Instead they see my stating that I am also attracted to men as an invitation to continue.

Some men are relentless. They won’t take a hint or even a straight up no as an answer. They continue to move closer, think it’s okay to touch. I keep repeating, “Tengo novia. Tengo novia. Tengo novia,” but they continue trying to persuade me. They tell me it’s only one night, that if I cheat on my girlfriend she doesn’t need to know, “No pasa nada. No pasa nada.” I tell them they should go find another girl to talk to, they say they only want me. I tell them that I don’t like them, that I’m not attracted to them, that I want them to go away, and they laugh it off. Mary Spears crosses my mind, so does a girl who was stabbed for turning down a boy for prom. I wonder if the man I’m talking to feels entitled to women up to that point. I wonder if he’ll try to hurt me, if he’ll follow me home in the shadows, if he wants to kill me for saying no.

When these thoughts start to cross my mind it’s time to end the conversation. I don’t trust men who are so persistent. Such persistence shows a dark sense of entitlement that has taken women’s lives. I grab some friends, and excuse myself to go to the bathroom.

When I get out, the man I was talking to is gone. On the walk home I still feel paranoid that someone is following me, but when I look there is no one. Every time I close the door to my apartment building behind me after the walk home through the darkened city I feel relief. I always think of my mom telling me that I should take a taxi home if I’ve been drinking because nowhere is safe for women at night. I know she’s right, but taxis are too expensive, and I’ve convinced myself the walk isn’t that far in reality.