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Same, Same, but Different: The Challenges of Relocating as a Same-sex Couple

09 Feb 2020 1:55 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

Globally mobile accompanying spouses often grapple with self-identity, insecurity of legal status due to visa type, and the search for community. It’s the same for same-sex couples, says World Bank Family Network Regional Champion Scott Cowcher, but it comes with unique challenges as well.

Interview with Scott Cowcher

Note: Scott was scheduled to present at FIGT2020. This article was written before the cancellation of FIGT2020 was announced.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am an Australian who has lived in my home country for only one year out of the last 20. I didn’t plan this lifestyle — I had seen myself settled in Australia and continuing my work as the manager of a community mental health service in Melbourne.

But in 1998, an opportunity came up for my partner of 30 years and now husband to work on HIV/AIDS in Thailand at the Thai Red Cross. A break seemed to make sense with my goals and further study plans as well...and the rest is history: 20 years, two children, and four relocations — and we are now back in Bangkok. Our son is about to graduate from high school and start university in Australia and our daughter is turning 14 years old. 

It’s been quite a journey, not always smooth-sailing, with frustrations, depression, the surrendering of goals, compromises, new experiences, wonderful friendships, and the continued need to reinvent myself. 

Originally, I went to art school and majored in hot glass and ceramics, having exhibited in Europe, China, and Australia. For the sake of a more balanced lifestyle and living wage, however, I decided to pursue a career in mental health and education. I now have degrees in adult education, psychiatric nursing, and psychology, as well as master’s degrees in public health and health management.

My journey to FIGT commenced with my recent role as Regional Champion of South East Asia and Pacific for the World Bank Family Network. My role is to develop support networks for members and their families, and to support our dedicated country-based Connectors and Champions. 

How many times have you been to an FIGT conference? 

I attended the 2019 FIGT conference and immediately felt a sense of affinity with other spouses who have had to compromise their own careers and to reinvent themselves again and again. The conference was inspirational in the sharing of how families, children, and particularly spouses adapt to the challenges of living a more transient life across changing cultures. 

Is this the first time you’ll be presenting?

This is the first time I will present. I’ve identified with and shared many of the experiences spoken about by those who’ve accompanied their spouses in the pursuit of their career. I understand the experience of losing one’s professional and human identity and virtually becoming an accessory to your spouse. I felt that as a same-sex spouse with children, some of these issues presented different challenges, equally as difficult, with the added concerns of acceptance and acknowledgment of my family. 

Please tell us a little of what you’ll be talking about at FIGT2020.

Following your partner overseas presents unexpected challenges, which can be magnified if the relationship is considered “unconventional”. LGBTQ accompanying spouses experience many of the same struggles as all accompanying spouses: career sacrifice, loss of identity, loss of community, and fragmenting of family ties. 

However, when you are relocating internationally as an LGBTQ family with children, the challenges and anxieties can be amplified. Different legal and social acceptance in different geographical locations can swing the experiential pendulum from positive to negative. 

My session reflects my experiences over four relocations in three different countries with my partner/husband of 30 years. My journey began with our first relocation to Bangkok 20 years ago and the loss of professional status, identity, and friendships whilst being under a vague visa that stated I was “invaluable to my partner’s research”. 

The journey continued in Cambodia, with our then-14-month-old son; then another child joined us as we moved to Washington DC. Washington was a rollercoaster ride: I was on a tourist visa for the first five years, unable to work, renewing my visa every six months, and trying to build a new identity and community without the legal standing to even register my children in school. But Washington also gave me deep and enduring friendships, a rich community in which to raise my children, and a satisfying new challenge. 

The latest leg of the journey was a return to Bangkok, 20 years later, with a 16-year-old and a 12-year-old. The challenges remain similar: lack of legal status, connecting with a new community, and my changing professional goals and personal reflections as I move through midlife.

Why are you interested in this topic?

The topic is a story of my life — from my perspective as a same-sex spouse who chose to accompany his spouse. The unique challenges of gaining acceptance of your family, coming out in each relocation, seeking an identity as a male caregiver, dealing with a sense of failure, finding a professional role (if possible) all lead to a reflection of whether I’ve achieved my goals and am satisfied with my choices. It’s an opportunity to reflect on these issues, put a voice to my feelings, and receive feedback/validation.

What is a message that you hope to convey in your talk?

All globally mobile families experience the challenges differently and adapt in different ways. My experience is no more or less difficult than other families – it’s just (as the Thais like to say) “Same, Same but Different!”

What does “diversity and inclusion” mean to you? 

Diversity to me is about highlighting the differences between individuals and groups of people — whether it be gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or any other parameters used in our world. It’s about appreciating these differences as adding a positive value to our life experience

As Families in Global Transition, this means that we focus on embracing the experience and learning from the diversity that surrounds us, which I believe — although not always easy at the time — leads to personal growth and enrichment. 

Inclusion is the natural extension of diversity. It’s taking action to create environments where people feel respected, valued, and are encouraged to reach their potential. We achieve this through embracing difference, listening carefully to each individual’s experience, not judging or evaluating experience on a scale, and being agents of change — by seeking to understand experiences from an alternate perspective.

Equality is often enmeshed in these concepts because it’s important to strive for equal opportunities to participate in our world, whether it be through legal recognition, social acceptance, or the embracing of cultural differences. Striving for equality ensures that everybody is treated the same and social, cultural, sexual, or religious differences are not discriminated against.

After you present at FIGT, what’s next? Any plans?

We have just extended our contract and plan to stay in Bangkok for a further two years. This will see our son into his second year of university and our daughter into the start of her junior year of high school. I plan to further deepen my relationships across the East Asia and Pacific region with the World Bank Family Network.

Anything else you’d like to share?

The life of a family in global transition is like an endless roller coaster — fear, excitement, thrills, sharp turns, ups and downs, and shared experiences that make you cling to one another — but you’re never quite sure if you’ve enjoyed it completely! 

Each time you get on the roller coaster you’re terrified. But at the end of the ride, you realize you are braver than you thought you were and you’re happy that you’ve had that experience as a family.

We are focusing on “diversity and inclusion” this month. Please join us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to access more engaging stories and videos (publically available for the month and then archived to the members’ only section of this website).

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