Unlike in cases of economic or political exile, the shift from gay expat to gay exile is rarely the result of a single, identity-defining experience. Rather, it's a collection of experiences—coming out, falling in love, professional success—that causes gay refugees to remain in the United States permanently. "You reach a tipping point, where you feel more like a foreigner in your own country than you do in New York," says Martin, whose own tipping point came when he could no longer fake straight during his annual visits to Lima, where he was expected to hide aspects of his gay U.S. identity. For Alberto, too, the holiday trips home began to feel strained: "I would play straight, drinking champagne at clubs with high-school friends while slutty girls danced on my lap." Avner, a 33-year-old Israeli financial planner who has lived in the United States for the past seven years, says his tipping point was more existential than literal. "I don't know how to be gay in Israel—just the words Avner is gay now sound foreign to me in Hebrew," he says.

For Giorgio, a 34-year-old Italian executive who lives in Brussels, the inability to marry his partner of two years in Italy is a key reason he would never return to Milan. "In Italy things remain very, very conservative," he says.

For 38-year-old Roberto—an Austin, Texas, systems engineer originally from Colombia—a literal fear for his safety back home is much of the reason he and his boyfriend of nine years are still living in the Lone Star State. "Sure, there are laws protecting us from violence in Colombia," he says. "But come on—who would really enforce them?"

Still, most gay exiles agree that no matter how great their adopted homeland's appeal—openness, tolerance, hefty bonuses, sexual freedom—being a refugee could eventually wear thin and they'll somehow, someday, return home. For Alberto, a Panamanian homecoming is inevitable. "I am the oldest son in my family, so I will have to go and run our businesses one day," he says. "But there is no way I will return single." For the rest, fears of loneliness, isolation, or simply the unknown push their return from exile further into the future. "I can't imagine a gay life back in Israel, but I also can't imagine myself being buried in America," says Avner, who has not visited Tel Aviv for almost two years. "So I will probably go back one day," he adds, "even if it is just to die."

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