You put your left foot in…The Travel Closet | Gay Travel

dani and jess in the eno hammock

Last Updated on April 28, 2021

After months of traveling through some less than gay-friendly locations, we find that we wrestle with what has essentially become a half in, half out of the closet lifestyle. As gay travelers, are there times when we should go back inside the closet? And if we do go back in, how far is too far? Dani and I certainly haven’t crawled back in and shut the door, but we do play a bit of hokey pokey while we travel, putting one foot in, one foot out of the travel closet.After living in gay-friendly locations like London, Brighton and parts of Germany prior to shifting into full-time digital nomadism, it has been nearly a decade since either of us have ever really had to deal with this issue. Traveling through Central America for seven months this past year, however, we found that there were automatically times when we just knew it would be better not to hold hands, and to keep public displays of affection to a minimum, and other times where we were pleasantly surprised at the openness of the gay community and joined right travel closetBringing extra attention to ourselves in foreign countries where gay rights are about as low on a political agenda as cleaning up political corruption seems like it is not a smart idea. There is no question that coming out and being open are the first steps toward full acceptance within wider society, but as eternal foreigners, it is hard to be willing to take those risks in other countries, especially when homophobia seems to be increasing in some areas despite progress being made in others.

In Brazil, a country with one of the largest gay communities in Latin America and over 150 Gay Pride Parades throughout the country (including the world’s largest, Sao Paolo, with over 3.3 million partygoers each year), over 250 members of the gay community were killed in 2010. How to approach such a country as a gay traveler? Engage in the community and take that risk, or keep quiet, soak up the sun and move on without saying anything at all?While traveling in London, Munich, Milan or New York, we never hesitate to hold hands and smooch as any other couple does. Those who are shocked or stare can learn a lesson or two – yes, this is what a lesbian couple can look like, and no, us loving each other has nothing to do with anyone else’s satisfaction. In fact, even in Mexico City, we felt completely at ease touring the metropolis hand in hand, as the city was surprisingly gay-friendly. In such large cities, at least in the west, we feel that we not only have the right to show our affection for each other, but that it should not even be a consideration to hide who we are. In the case of Mexico, the country even has stronger LGBT rights than the U.S.!gay travel closetHolding hands through Honduras, or almost anywhere in Central America, was a different story entirely. With the exception of Belize (where homosexual acts are a punishable offense), gay and lesbian couples have the right to show their affection in public. However, although loved-up heterosexual Latinos engage in full-blown make out sessions throughout the region, we never once saw a gay or lesbian couple as much as hint at affection. Additionally, with the exception of Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica and a few very private (and exclusive) gay resorts in other Central American countries, gay-friendly tourism is nearly non-existent here.

Headline of a newspaper about gay adoption: Condemn gay adoption!

However, we tend to be travelers first; we would never say that regions that are not gay-friendly are off-limits. Instead, adhering to the age-old ‘When in Rome’ adage, we follow suit and keep our public affection to stolen winks and private kisses.

For a short term vacation, this would hardly be an issue for us at all. However, as long-term travelers, this half-in, half-out of the closet stance can be an incredibly difficult status to maintain. There is certainly frustration at the very thought of being closeted, even if for safety reasons, and it is emotionally straining to essentially revert back to a lifestyle of not being as ‘out’ as we have otherwise always travel closetA fellow gay travel blogger recently mentioned that in the last three months of Central American travel, he has never once come across another gay backpacker. But maybe he has. Maybe it has just been easier for gay travelers to keep that foot in the closet. 90% of people we’ve come across, locals or foreigners, have had no idea we were gay either. We certainly don’t hide it if asked, but we tend not to bring it up, either.

We want to know what you think – gay or straight, long-term traveler or  holidaymaker.

Are you a gay/lesbian traveler? Are you open all the time when you travel regardless of the consequences, or have you gone back into the gay travel closet? Do you live somewhere where a gay tourist might be in danger if they were to be open about their sexuality? We welcome any and all comments on this!

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  1. Im not sure but I think you are quoting me at the end, because yup I have been traveling through Central America & Mexico now for almost 3 months & I have yet to meet another gay backpacker. I never thought if maybe they are in the closet or what not. I just find it strange.

    I will be 100% honest. I have been traveling through Central America & Mexico being 100% me. I have not changed a bit and have not had a single problem. I would agree with you that Manuel Antonio is the most gay friendly destination in all of Central America. I was surprised when I met a drag queen in Isla de Ometepe and she informed me that on the island they are very acceptant of it, but not much so everywhere else in Nicaragua. I am going to be going to Belize in a few days in was not aware that that is how they see us. I dont think though I will change who I am. I know they are a very western travelled country so I know they should understand.

    As for putting one foot in the closet while traveling, I am not opposed to it. I understand that in some countries/cultures it is against their beliefs or even against the law. I will still be me but respect that. I know while I travel through the middle east I will have to be more careful. I know huge gay populations exist over there but because of how they are treated are not all out. If I could volunteer & help people out I will do so.

    My goal is to travel the world being me and showing people that GLBT people are just like anyone else. We wanna have fun & enjoy life.

    P.S. I miss yall so much!!!

    1. Jaime, thanks so much for saying all of this! I’m really glad you understand what we mean! We’d never lie, but we keep it down. You are definitely very open about everything, but also you respect the culture around you. I know how fascinating you found the scene in Panama City, how it was still so underground, but that gay bar was HUGE! I know you would like to discover this in every country you visit, and you should! It’s important both for you, and also to open other peoples minds and show that this exists all over the world in a big way!!! One thing I wonder is what would you do if you had a boyfriend traveling with you? Or got one on the road, and were all loved-up? Would you show your affection or keep it down? just wondering…

      1. Exactly you can be yourself but respect the culture. That is something I understand 100%! I won lie if its a big enough city I always get online & search to see if a gay bar/club is in the city. Most of the time though there is nothing for the GLBT scene & I am fine with that. I remember Panama City clearly it was crazy how underground everything was yet how big the scene was.

        I actually thought about what I would do if I did have a boyfriend after I left the comment. I honestly do not know… I know I am the romantic one & all but I think I wouldn’t feel comfortable showing PDA in random cities or towns that I know are not okay with it. Maybe in Europe I wouldn’t mind at all but in the Middle East or SEAsia (where I am planing to travel) I know I wouldn’t for sure. The other thing is I have no clue how hostel/hotel owners would react if two guys asked for a private room. I have had several travel buddies on my trip so far but they have always been women. We have never had a problem getting a private room (we get them to save money or because they are the only option). That is something I would like to see how people react too. I do hope I meet other gay backpackers but for some reason dont think I will be doing so anytime soon.

  2. Normally I don’t comment on posts but I felt compelled to add my voice to this as I too am a backpacker who happens to be gay. I’m certainly not as eloquent and thoughtful as yourselves or Jaime(my blog is really just a journal), but perhaps I should change that.

    In a way, the life I grew up in kinda prepared me in a way of traveling through communities and countries that are not exactly accepting or tolerant of LGBT* people. I was a farm kid growing up in a small town of about 3000 people at the time I was in elementary school. I blended in. No . . . that’s the wrong word. I didn’t change who I was, or how I acted. I just didn’t fit the gay stereotype that people in my town would instantly recognize.

    Like Jaime, I haven’t really run into any other queer travelers like myself. There might be one or two but they were mainly on two week vacations.

    Also, like Jaime, I don’t change how I act so much as I perhaps gauge the situation I’m in. There have been only a couple times where, while I’m in the room, fellow hostel peeps have spouted some incredibly homophobic jokes and attitudes and it was at those points I felt compelled to come out much more directly and confront them on their attitudes. Usually, I allow myself to come out naturally, if it comes up in a conversation. “My ex back home, he . . . . . ” or things like that. More often than not it registers only briefly on their faces that they caught the subtle change in pronoun use but then we go right back to the conversation. I like to think that my closet while traveling has a curtain rather than a door. I can peek around it until it’s safe to pull it back. I’m not ashamed at who I am, anyone that knows me can attest to that(hell, I defied many friends and such by continuing to be treasurer of my high schools Christian Club after coming out). If it comes up, it comes up. I don’t make a point or a big deal about it. And once people I meet add me to Facebook, then they usually find out anyways. I can’t tell you how many times someone I met in a hostel has messaged me later and said something to the effect of “Wait. . . you’re gay?!” I think that gives a much more positive example when they find out you’re gay after becoming friends.

    But your question is outside the hostel, which is a completely different environment. I haven’t fully felt comfortable or compelled to get out there and engage the local LGBT* community as, more often than not, it’s hidden very well and hard to find. I’ve taken to using websites to meet people in the cities or towns I’m in for coffee where we chat about the differences in our cultures, which are surprisingly few.

    I think the idea of cultural relativism comes into play a lot with this issue as well. But there can be a very fine line in using this as an excuse for how a society treats its marginalized communities. Yes, we should be respectful of different religions and cultures, doing as the Romans do, but I agree that one should try to quietly engage the local queer community. Even if it is simply by saying hello and letting them know that there are people out there in the world that are pulling for them.

    I think we all are, in one way or another, ambassadors. We can change attitudes just by being who we are. But, if safety requires it, perhaps one should be ready to hide behind that curtain. There is no shame in that. I don’t think so at least.

    1. Hi Corey, thanks so much for this comment, and adding your voice to the discussion. We feel remarkably similar about so many issues you bring up. The thing that stood out the most is the idea that we are all ambassadors. We feel the same way, which is why we don’t hide who we are at all….except for when we don’t feel we have a certain safety net. But it is exactly how you say – it’s a curtain, not a door, on the closet. You peek around and when you feel safe, you offer full disclosure. Since we travel together, it is often clearer sooner, because at some point people tend to get that we are not just two girls who travel together, but that we are together together. On the other hand, since we don’t happen to fit whatever that ‘lesbian’ stereotype might be for people (we have long hair, both wear dresses, make-up and jewelry, like many lesbians do), you would be amazed just how long people go without realizing we are together. Sometimes we literally would have to spell it out for people for them to understand, but then we think to ourselves, if they are that removed from the gay community, does it even make sense to go about explaining it? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But we would never lie about who we are. Also, whereas Jaime has been able to find a great gay community in a couple of places, we have found that it has been nearly impossible to find a lesbian community anywhere, there are (as always) much fewer lesbian bars/clubs and any other types of organizations have been nearly non-existent. In Central America at least.

      I hope our paths cross someday, it would be great to meet you!!!

      1. I happened to consider that during the last few days on how our traveling circumstance are different. Not just because you are lesbians, but because you are a couple. If I was traveling with a boyfriend I think my view would be completely different.

        And you are also correct in the observation that a lesbian community is much much harder to find. I’m currently in Morocco and it’s hard to discern any sort of gay community, let alone a lesbian one. It certainly makes me appreciate my university classes in Women’s and Gender Studies much more.

        I think you two are absolutely amazing and I too hope to cross paths with you! Happy trails!

        1. Amen to all of that! And thanks for the compliments 🙂 We would love to meet up with you. We are actually going to Lisbon in June and so are heading directly to your post on Lisbon right now to read up on the city!!! So, you’ve already been there? Any chance you’ll be here when we are?

    1. Hi Lauro, thanks for this! It’s great to see that Tuscany is doing its part against homophobia, and it is definitely a clever advertisement. Can’t believe how many of those places I recognize in the ad after our time in Tuscany! It was excellent to stay with you, Belmonte was one of very few travel experiences we have had that was so gay-friendly, and yet so well-balanced as a family-friendly location, rather than other places that are either one thing or the other. An excellent balance! Thanks again for everything!!!!

  3. This is a really interesting subject, which I’m glad you brought up. I think I have to agree with everything Corey said, which by the way, you did very eloquently!

    I am a gay male in a long term relationship, but I don’t think me and my partner face quite the same dilemmas as you girls as we generally do not make public shows of our affection anywhere. This is not because we aren’t out to our friends and families (we certainly are), but we are just more private with our affections, so we don’t worry about being able to hold hands or not. (Just to clarify, I think this is just an aspect of our characters rather than a product of our sexuality; I’m pretty sure that if I were straight, I still wouldn’t hold hands and kiss in public that readily).

    I’m also happy to let people not notice that we are a couple when we travel together, but at the same time, we won’t hide it if it comes up (as Corey says). There are places, however, that we are not interested in travelling to partly because of laws against homosexuality. Saudi Arabia is an example of a country where homosexuality is punishable by death, and so we are not interested in going there out of principle; we don’t want to support the economy of a country that enforces such a law, and also (among other things) does not give women the same rights as men.

    1. Hi Sam, you raise really interesting points. We totally understand about not wanting to contribute to the economy of a place that is so completely gay-unfriendly. On the other hand, it’s not something that would keep us from going. It would make me super angry the entire time (the principle) and we certainly will not be affectionate in the least. However, I do feel like you have to go and spend time in a place before you can begin to understand culturally and politically why things are a certain way. It’s never right to legislate against homosexuality, but how to make changes without understanding? When we were in Belize we had our only anti-gay comment thrown at us of our trip so far, but at the same time were able to open the eyes of a few of the island guys on Caye Caulker who began to semi-understand our relationship. We both completely respect your feelings about this too, of course, and it really is a tough line to walk,isn’t it? Thanks so much for your comments here, we really want to know more about how gay male couples who travel together relate to this, because we wonder how different it is to travel as two women vs two men!!

  4. Great article here, thanks a lot!

    I actually wrote a blog post on something similar loooong ago – the only places that my sexuality would affect me traveling to would be those countries that enforce the death penalty for homosexuality. Fortunately those countries aren’t high on my wish-list (Sudan, Mauritania, Somalia…)

    Living in S Korea, being gay is VERY taboo. Me and my (Korean) boyfriend have a lot of secret smooches in public places when nobody is around, hold hands on the bus and during a movie if we can, and here we can walk with our arms around each others shoulders (but not waist) without it being considered odd. However, we’d be a lot more affectionate in public if we were in my home country, the UK. My boyf often asks about it with curiosity, as he’s not out to his parents just yet (he’s wants to wait until he graduates and can get his own place).

    I met 3 gay travelers whilst in Turkey last summer – one couple, and one single guy. With Turkey being fairly conservative, they didn’t act “out and proud” but at the same time, I still felt they were all being themselves – with other travelers from the west, it was possible to talk openly, but again, no quick kisses or anything in public etc.

    1. Hi Tom – very interesting!! We are so curious about how this will be in Asia for us, so thanks for this information, really! It’s so great to know that we are not the only ones who see this the way that we do, that you tone it down but would be much more open if you could be. As we said, it’s hard as long term travelers, but it must be even harder when you live in one place and must remain much more incognito than you know you would in your own country. Interesting that you didn’t decide not to live there, but instead decided to adapt, despite a more frustrating lifestyle. Similar to your arms around the shoulders in South Korea, Latinos are touchy, and women hold hands or link arms while walking, so we ‘adapt’ to that too and do that where possible as well. At least something can come out of these different cultural norms! 🙂

  5. Interesting, interesting topic. I’m not lesbian but I am defending the cause everywhere I go. I had a hard time in Egypt, where homosexuality is still not accepted by the majority of people – I had several fights even with close friends about it.
    My lesbian friend in Cairo had a lot of trouble traveling across the Country with her girlfriend and felt so frustrated. And I felt very sorry for her. I just don’t accept this.
    On the other hand, even “straight” couples are not allowed to show affection, kiss or anything in the streets there, so in a weird way it feels more fair.
    I attended the Gay Pride in New York City on 2009, and while everyone else were having a lot of fun, I almost felt like crying because I thought that there shouldn’t be any need to go demonstrate for your rights in the 21st century.
    I don’t understand how nowadays there are still problems about gay couples, people should start worrying about some serious stuff. Love is never a problem. 🙂
    Not sure I was clear enough, but I hope so.
    Hey you have a supporter here! 🙂

    1. Awesome comment from you Giulia, and even more awesome that you take on a cause that is not directly related to you (not being gay yourself yet being so vocal about it!). When I started writing this article, I thought to myself, I can’t believe that I am even having to write something like this in 2011. But at the same time, as seen by some of the comments, in general these LGBT issues are still at the beginning of the long road ahead. The fact that we have said things here like ‘punishable by death’ just for who you love, that’s insane in my eyes. But at the same time, the whole point of long term travel is to learn about other cultures, and so these are also important lessons to learn for us as well. I totally know what you mean about it seeming more ‘fair’ when all couples have to limit their affection. Perhaps that’s why it felt more unfair in Latin America, where, as we said, straight couples make out like the world is ending tomorrow. Why was it so hard for your friend and her GF to travel through Egypt? Guess we should start preparing for that should we decide to travel there!! Thanks so much for your support!!!

      1. I have to say that I don’t really find it pleasant it when straight couples make out “hardcore style” in front of me, but this is another story:)

        I am always very happy when I see gay couples walking hand in hand, but at the same time I worry about them. Too many times I hear about homosexuals being beaten in the streets or just verbally offended – I wish this never happens to my gay friends in my presence or someone will get hurt:)

        To answer your question, in Egypt my lesbian friend had problems just with verbal comments, that happens all the time.

        Look, if you want to travel to Egypt just remember that ANY woman (lesbian, straight, ugly and beautiful) will get some verbal comments and a looot of sexual harassment.

        They won’t touch or do anything but they will always comment. People are curious, many people are ignorant, they just talk talk talk. You can either go on and not listen, or adopt my method “the evil look” – they will shut up.
        If you need some vocabulary, just ask;)

        The thing is, Egypt is a very conservative Country and most of the people are very narrow minded – so my friend gets comments all the time even when she’s alone, because she wears men clothes and has short hair. This is apparently hilarious to Egyptians.

        Now, straight guys walk hand in hand in Egypt – this would be considered gay in other countries but it’s perfectly ok in Egypt. Same thing about girls. So I guess in her case it’s more about the looks.

        So if you want to walk hand in hand, it’s ok, that’s not seen as “public display of affection” but rather as display of friendship.

        My friend, looking so “obviously” gay, got more comments. But that’s all. Egypt is not a violent country so you shouldn’t worry. Just, don’t kiss (this is not allowed for straight couples too) because that could cause big trouble…

        Anyway, in general, do what you feel and what makes you feel comfortable.
        To give you an example, I didn’t feel comfortable walking hand in hand with my Egyptian boyfriend, because I got the “she’s a whore” look from many people.

        So it’s not just about gays… it’s about mentality in general.

        I was once walking with a girl friend and she held my hand. And it was ok. (Here in Europe I would feel weird)

        Ops, this comment is getting too long! Sorry :p
        Ok, last thing: I believe that acceptance of gays doesn’t really depend on laws and Countries (of course I would LOVE to see every single law against homosexuality erased) – I think it’s about the people’s mentality. Everywhere you go you will always find some people who loves you and accepts you even if you’re in the most conservative place on Earth.

        I hope just this kind of people will rule the world soon.

        If you need more info, I’m on the other side of the link:)

        1. Giulia – you’re right, it’s really all about mentality…the more people who share the same mentality, the easier to pass laws which benefit those previously affected by injustice.

          Also – really interesting about the hand-holding between men – that would never – ever – happen in Europe or the US between two straight men. Ever. We noticed obviously in Central America how much more touchy the people were, too, even in a more homophobic environment. Even here in Germany, I notice how often girls hold hands who are definitely straight. When in Rome 🙂 Thanks for all the info on Egypt too, we’ll def be in touch before we go there!

  6. My husband and I are a heterosexual couple from the US traveling long-term around the world. We’ve just spent 6 months in South America and met very few “out” gay long-term travelers.

    Considering the remote locations, macho culture, and lack of a community in so many areas, I can see why a traveler would choose to be less open in many countries. It is also the reason a woman traveling alone might wear a wedding ring anyway because solo Western women travelers are thought to be “looking for it” in many areas of South America.

    It is a tough question of whether to be fully yourself or travel a bit incognito to be able to see the sights without interference. What really breaks my heart are the people who don’t have a bus/plane/train ticket to leave in a few days like we all do, the ones who have to remain in the closet or without a voice of their own forever.

    Even though you might not meet a lot of gay long-term travelers or locals, know that you have many, many friends among your ‘straight but not narrow’ fellow adventurers.

    PS – And what’s with all the PDAs among the hets in South America? In Lima they were practically having sex on park benches in the middle of the afternoon!

    1. Hey Betsy, seriously, the PDA thing is unreal…sometimes they are seriously getting down on park benches, right? 🙂 That’s a really great analogy you make, about single female travelers choosing to wear a wedding ring. I’ve heard that before and it seems like such a smart thing to do, and also really a similar sort of ‘cover story’ to deal with some of those intercultural issues. Also – what you say about being able to just get on a plane and get back to where being out is okay, that really strikes a chord with us too. We just hopped on a plane and came back to gay-friendly Europe and all is well. What about the individuals who live in places that are not gay friendly who have little to no access to any sort of community. Which then goes back around to a feeling like maybe we should in fact be more open about our sexuality, because only through this open-ness will things ever change. That’s the dilema with the hokey pokey thing. Last thing – we have found that in general, long-term travelers are so completely accepting of all cultures/differences that they are never phased by us being a couple. Thanks so much for stopping by here! See you’re in England now? If you’ll be in Spain in June, it would be great to meet up! You guys rock!

    2. Hi Betsy!
      The same is true of couples (mostly heterosexual) almost-having-sex/making out in Spain (where my partner is from and where I lived for 4 years), and the reason is that they all still live at home until an age that Americans would consider very old. A report came out in the last couple of years in Spain that said the *average* age for people to “become independent” from their parents was (I think) 32… that means there are some who are even older than that! When I told people that in America we move out of our parents’ houses (mostly) to go to university at around 19 years old, they were amazed! So, if both of the young people in a couple still live at home, they have nowhere to go to be alone. My husband has friends who own cars (+ pay insurance + pay for a private parking spot) in the city of Barcelona–where one does not need a car–just so they have somewhere to take their girlfriends!

  7. Hey GG,

    We’ve corresponded through Breakaway and I am such a huge fan of your photos. After reading this thoughtful post, I was wondering how the “one foot in, one foot out” has affected the relationship between two of you? It certainly seems like something that would take effort (i.e. remember: can’t hold hands, or something) and maybe that gets to be tiring after a while?

    At any rate, keep enjoying your travels and thank you for compelling this conversation!

    1. Hi! Thanks for complimenting the photos (Dani’s great isn’t she! 🙂 ) So, really thoughtful question. I have to say that it really didn’t affect our relationship as a couple. This could also be that through our travels we have become just super tight, loving each other and our lives. But, it certainly may have affected our trip, without us knowing. Maybe we didn’t meet as many people as we otherwise might have (by avoiding questions at times), or maybe people were not as nice and we didn’t realize it. But those are just guesses. It is honestly frustrating, not so much because we want to make out in public or something, but more so when one of us is ill, or falls down and gets hurt or something, it’s hard to hide the amount of concern we have for each other, more than ‘just friends’. Make sense?

  8. Well… as I previously mentioned in another comment on your blog, I lived in Berlin for some time (not enough!) and now I am in Istanbul. I expected it to be different, but lately it has been getting on my nerves, to be honest.

    I got pretty accustomed to the fact that it’s pretty much cool to be gay and/or different in Berlin. In Istanbul, if you stand out, it’s not a good thing. There are some hip neighborhoods that look like a lot of cities in Europe and there’s a similar feeling there, but once you go somewhere more conservative, you realize Turkey still isn’t all that liberal.

    Today I put on shorts. As simple as that. I mean it was about 28C and I felt that was a good enough excuse as if I needed one. Well, I’m not going to wear them anymore. Men, women and even children staring, cars honking and so on. Also, I was in a park with a great view reading a book and there was that older guy who kept circling me around, he looked suspicious enough to be a flasher. Frankly, all of that really pissed me off. I have a feeling if some of those people knew I was a rug muncher, they’d be throwing stones at me.

    I live with two liberal newlyweds who are fine with gay people and so on. There are others like that. But do they make out more than 20% of Istanbul’s population? Not probable. Some resort places further South in Turkey are more relaxed about such things (e.g. Izmir, Bodrum) though, but in the East of Turkey? Nope.

    Apparently a woman still can get killed by her family if she lost her virginity before marriage. Today! In 2011! In Istanbul! I mean, this has got to be some ultra-conservative family, but still, how is that justifiable? I met a lesbian for lunch yesterday who feels she can’t tell her friends she’s gay. Not cool.

    Worse, I was just browsing one of the couchsurfing forums and turns out these days in Iran the concept of blood money still exists. Namely if somebody is killed by accident or in a car crash, the “murderer” can pay the family of the deceased and won’t have to go to prison. The price for women? Half of the man’s price. I mean it’s totally wrong this concept even exists, but still…

    Hmm.. I guess this is more women-related than LGBT, but I believe it’s all interconnected. I don’t feel great in Russia because oftentimes I have to be in the closet, but Turkey is worse in this sense. I really don’t like having to hide (e.g. not mention) my sexuality, I mean it’s only a small part of who I am, so it’s even more frustrating to me why I should pretend it’s not there. I think it’s okay if you’re only visiting a certain place (for your mental health), but if you want to live somewhere, choose a gay-friendly place. I didn’t think I’d say this, but I’m glad I’m in Istanbul only for 2 months.

    1. Irina, sounds really frustrating!!! Again I have to realize in such situations, as a traveler, you can always shorten your trip and leave. But for your friend who feels she can’t tell her friends she is gay….I can’t imagine personally how it would feel to live that way. I’ve never been more comfortable than during the seven years I lived in Europe – London and Germany, and I know that neither of us at this point could imagine putting down roots somewhere where we would have to fear for our safety just for being a couple!

  9. My thoughts on this subject tend to echo the sentiments of your post and of others who have commented here. Though I live a very open life, how open I am about being gay varies greatly depending on the sentiment around me.

    One thing that’s particularly tough in Asian countries is that everyone always wants to know if you have a girlfriend, to which my answer is always no, though I don’t elaborate beyond that. If pressed, my response tends to be that I just haven’t met the right person.

    That’s not to say that I’m not myself when I travel. Hostel life is definitely a far more open place and, as you said, big cities are particularly easy (I had the best time at Bangkok Pride). It’s not that I’m hiding anything, I just tend to err on the side of caution.

    One great way I’ve discovered to get exposed to the local gay scene though is to CouchSurf. You can specifically search for people who are members of any number of various queer CS groups. It’s a great way to find gay-friendly hosts and, perhaps even better, gay-friendly locals who can tell you what LGBT life in their hometown is like.

    I also have to agree that you really don’t encounter many gay backpackers. I think I’ve met 1 other (and countless locals). Though for the rather large number of gay travel bloggers out there, you’d think you’d see more!

    1. Aaron, the couch-surfing idea is something so simple, and yet something we haven’t even thought about until you said it. That’s a great way to go about finding out more about LGBT lifestyles/stories abroad and meeting like-minded individuals. We honestly don’t actively look for a lesbian/gay-friendly community as much as other travelers might (frankly because between all the sightseeing/going out and full time work, we don’t have a lot of time left over for much else!) but I think we will definitely look into this more. Hostel life can definitely be more open, but what about when you get a bunch of people who freely and openly make stupid gay jokes….do you say something or not in those cases? I have found that while in general backpackers/travelers are usually totally open and accepting, there are those who make some pretty blunt homophobic jokes as well….

        1. Cool Aaron – we’ve really not come across anything super homophobic either. After all this discussion, it’s important to point that out as well – how we feel in terms of being out is not due to the direct result of many concrete negative experiences at all…

  10. I traveled for 5 months last year around the world. I am a lesbian. I live openly as a gay woman in Portland, OR in the US. I spent my time in Spain, Italy, Hungary, Israel, Jordan, India, Thailand and Japan. I essentially went back in the closet for some of the countries I traveled to were not exactly gay-friendly. I never denied it if asked, I just didn’t volunteer the information. I tried my darndest to meet other LGBT people as I traveled but it wasn’t until I got home and realized that the Couchsurfing Groups are a GREAT resource. I would have been able to connect with people so much easier than trying to find gay bars online and then try to find them and then go to them alone. I did find a lesbian bar in Barcelona and I stopped at Coming Out in Rome, next to the Colloseum for lunch one day. After that I didn’t really find much, though Bangkok has a great scene, I just wasn’t able to break into it very well.

    I think I spent more time explaining why I was 36 years old and still single. That was a funny thing for many people, especially those in the Middle East and India. I tried the wedding ring trick in Jordan and failed. I just can’t lie. 🙂

    As for clothing, I always dressed conservatively. I never wore shorts or tank tops. I always had long pants on, a short sleeve shirt and something to cover up with if I was getting looked at too much. I traveled through some very warm areas during June/July/August, but I knew that most of the places I was in, it was not acceptable to dress like we do in America, so out of respect for those cultures, I followed their rules. “When in Rome….” is a great rule to follow.

    I honestly don’t think I met any LGBT travelers the entire time I was traveling. None were out and if they were, then my gaydar failed miserably! It was the first time in my life where I wished I liked rainbows so I could carry a patch on my bag or something. 🙂

    Great blog post….wish you were going to be at TBEX next month! I’d love to chat.

    1. Hey thanks so much for this comment! First off, a question – for whatever reason, the When in Rome adage makes perfect sense when we talk about places that feel foreign to me – Russia, Thailand, Bolivia. But then there is the issue with the US – Akila mentioned that she knows people in the Southeastern US who feel that can’t be ‘out’ outside major cities. And I know that from personal experience as well. So why is it that in the US, where gay marriage isn’t legal, and things are changing at a slower pace than places like Mexico City or Argentina, why do we feel the right as travelers to be so out in the US? Regardless of the laws, maybe it’s more about the size of the community? In the US there is a well-developed community with deep, far-reaching roots and at least anti-homophobia/anti-hate crime laws. Don’t know. About the whole covering up issue – I am shocked at some people who travel through conservative countries in their bikinis or super short shorts….

  11. Very interesting topic!

    I think the important part of traveling is that you as guest of a country have to behave as such.

    As you said in certain countries/area you don’t even want to draw more attention to you as a foreigner. Not sure if it’s really true but two girls holding hands are more likely to get away with it than two guys.

    So for most parts in public we are buddies but if we get into conversation with people we tell them we have been together for 10 years, etc and if they keep asking we have no problems to answer.

    Bolivia is interesting – we are pretty sure that homophobia is pretty high here. But on the other hand the government is working against it and about to release same rights laws.

    In Sucre they will have a 1 month gay fest next month, so we have to check that out.

    Cutest thing… we went to a gringo cafe and there were these 2 older Bolivian guys. Holding hands, being all romantic and stuff over a bottle of wine.

    1. So, we always wonder how it is different for two men as for the two of us, but who wants to test this out! ha! Very interesting about the changes happening in Bolivia right now, definitely keep us up to date with that – and a month-long gay fest? That is definitely positive! But then you see how the two older Bolivian guys have to go to a gringo place to be open…that’s actually really smart of them, isn’t it. They don’t want to go to a nightclub or something, but they know that of all places, a gringo cafe is pretty neutral ground. You’re the only people so far that seem to have even seen two men being completely ‘out’! We saw two younger guys holding hands in Germany the other day, fascinating how almost no one seemed to look twice…

  12. Although I have not had to experience this as a straight female, I think it would be tough- I’d want to stand up for what I believe in and make people more aware, and yet take caution for my safety. I sometimes feel that way in religious areas when people ask point-blank about my religious background. I try not to lie, and I try not to insult- so I always say “I was raised…” instead of what my current beliefs are.

    1. The dilemma can also relate to religion, too, that’s a good point! When you’re on holiday, it’s easy to play a sort of role in this way, but it’s when we as long-term travelers repeatedly have to re-adjust how we express who we are, that is more of a challenge. You’re right about juggling the desire to make people aware and watching your own back, it’s a tough call a lot of the time!

  13. Jess, This is such a brilliant post because it’s something I’ve wondered about as we’ve been traveling. We met a lesbian couple in China and they shared their frustrations about essentially being “back in the closet” there. I have NEVER seen a gay couple in India in the years that I have been spent there, though I know there is a huge underground gay population. Even growing up in the southeastern United States, I know that some of my gay friends tone down the PDA when they are outside of the big cities.

    Being anything “different” is tough while traveling. I wrote a post a few weeks ago about the weird looks and attitudes my husband and I get because we are an interracial couple traveling around the world. Several travelers responded that they have stopped going to certain countries with their spouses because it’s too difficult to deal with the stares and insinuations (for example, in SE Asia, most thought that I was Patrick’s escort.)

    At the end of the day, I think it’s going to be a long, long, long time before all of us can be completely “out” and comfortable about our relationships everywhere in the world. Sadly, many countries are still of the opinion that the only proper couples are heterosexual, same race, same culture couples.

    1. Akila you bring up such interesting points here. First is that there are several different types of challenges for different types of travellers. You two as an interracial couple is sth we’d have never thought about, but can see how the escort issue must have been frustrating!!! Plus realizing the challenges single women face, single travelers in general, and something we still never talk about – travelers with physical disabilities! Also, again with gay scene, it is usually sth that unless you’re looking, you can easily miss the ‘scene’ regardless of where you are, but amazing that even someone like you, who is so aware, has not come across gay travelers or locals in India either. That’s the difference, isn’t it? Race is external, superficial, obvious. Sexuality can be masked, hidden, and in a way, this conversation is a ‘luxury’ to be able to have compared to someone frustrated by inequality related to race or gender. Thanks for your comments on this!!

  14. More reasons to come to Buenos Aires – likely because it’s a big city I’ve seen more than a few gay couples and people keep telling me there is a big queer community here that holds a lot of events.

    There seems to be less public affection here (thank you) but I have seen a lot of people holding hands.

    1. Hey great news! 🙂 We figured of course that BsAs would be a comfortable place for us in that way. Not to mention all the food to eat and wine to drink. See you there! 🙂

  15. Great post! It is definitely true that it helps to be able to ‘pass as straight’ in certain places. While it may be unfortunate that this is necessary, it’s reality in a lot of places.

    I don’t think this is exclusive to travel – it’s true everywhere, whether you’re in a public market in an exotic foreign country or a sports bar in Chicago. But it’s something to always be aware of.

    Couchsurfing does help a lot in this regard. I typically seek out gay CS hosts when I travel, as they can give me a good perspective on the vibe of the local area and sometimes will even take me out to experience the nightlife. That’s how I visited Tijuana and it was a blast.

    1. Wow the Tijuana trip sounds like it wouldve been a blast for sure! I love the idea of using Couchsurfing to get into the community more in each place. And yes, the whole ‘passing as straight’ idea (which harks back to a time of ‘passing as white’ and sounds ridiculously old-fashioned and yet completely current) is something I suppose we all do when meeting new people and in certain situations whether travel or non-travel related…

  16. You bring up some very good points. Many of us living in more liberal locations (LA, for example) tend to forget just how intolerant other places outside of our comfort zones can be. Thanks for keeping us appraised of the rest of the world.

    1. Hi Natalie – Exactly. And while it makes sense to live somewhere we feel comfortable, we don’t want to restrict where we travel – glad you enjoy the ‘report’ back – stay tuned for what it’s like in Asia!

  17. Thanks so much for your post! I often wonder what it would be like to travel long-term to locations that may not be as accepting. I am a lesbian and, so far, my girlfriend & I have only traveled to open and gay friendly destinations. Mostly in Europe. Even then, we often show less PDA than we do at home in the Western US. We live in Portland, OR, which is extremely gay friendly.

    So, I guess we are a bit less out when we travel. We really try to get the vibe of the place before we hold hands in public. We are totally open if we strike up a conversation in a pub or something, but we take a little more care when we are out & about on the streets. It’s a shame that we even need to have this conversation!

    Thanks for your blog and happy travels!

    1. Hi Daryle, thanks so much for stopping by here! We definitely understand the decision to travel mostly in Europe, that is where we also feel the most comfortable in terms of being able to be open. From the comments here it definitely seems that most people feel the way we do when traveling in terms of getting the vibe before being really ‘out’ in a new location, and even though, yes, it is really ridiculous to still be talking about this in 2011, I should also say that we really almost never came up against any problems in Central America/Mexico/US in the last year! If you ladies go somewhere outside of Europe, please report back and let us know how it was in terms of the vibe there! (and anyway how it was, we are such travel junkies 🙂 )

  18. This is a really interesting issue. I am straight so I obviously have not had to deal with this at all, but I can imagine how rough this must be on you!

    I think it sucks that you have to hide your true selves but of course, safety comes first when traveling. I would compare hiding your sexual preference to single women who wear wedding rings- it´s a lie for the sake of safety.

    1. Hi Rease, Glad that this is interesting not just for the LGBT readers, but for everyone – and you’re right, it’s just ike the wedding ring disguise for single women.

  19. Thank you for sharing this! Half-in, half-out is exactly how I feel traveling as a gay backpacker. I hardly meet any others (except for a few in Southeast Asia). And your last line “We certainly don’t hide it if asked, but we tend not to bring it up, either” sums up how a lot of people feel, I think.

    1. Hi Adam, thanks so much for commenting on this! It’s so interesting that as a single man traveling in very different places you feel roughly the same as two women who are somewhere far across the world…

  20. Hi there,

    I haven’t really travelled so much as other people here, thus I can’t say a lot as to whether or not to be better off out or in. I reckon the “one foot in, one foot out” rule is great.

    My point is that if you put it on a larger scale, talking about making it a principle to not travel to “anti-gay” counries for example, just bear in mind for a second that the violation of human rights – which homosexuality is a part of – can be observed in any country (West and East) all around the globe.
    I have witnessed my friend being molested in a fairly big city in Eastern Germany, because she didn’t speak German on the phone and you sure don’t want to live there if you are openly gay, let alone if your skin’s colour is anything else than white… Segregation between indigenous people and White Canadians is happening in Québec in 2011 and do I have to mention the social/race/immigrant issues in Southern USA, Spain, France or the Netherlands? I can go on about US death penalties or my friend getting beaten up in London (UK), because he “looks” gay. It is happening right there just a footstep away from your door.

    I know it’s kind of off-topic, but sometimes it can enhance gratefulness, if you bring to your awareness those who cannot hide themselves from who they are!


    1. Hi Stefan, thanks for the long comment! It’s unbelievable how people are still harrassed for their sexuality, religion, race, etc. Even in the more ‘liberal’ countries there are still extreme cases of harressment – like you said for looking gay, or being a foreigner… I hope that this will change one day – we are happy about every little step (acknowledgment of gay marriage, etc)

  21. I got pretty accustomed to the fact that it’s pretty much cool to be gay and/or different in Berlin. We are totally open if we strike up a conversation in a pub or something, but we take a little more care when we are out & about on the streets. I will be 100% honest.

  22. Really interesting article and comments as well. My girlfriend and I have been travelling around Europe for the past six months and for the most part it has been okay. We are currently in Morocco, which together with Turkey, are two of our favourite countries. However, because they are predominately Muslim we find that as much as we love to travel here it does put some strain on our relationship. Constantly being aware of our actions and not being affectionate when and where we would normally as well as doing the in/out dance can be very hard at times.

    1. Oh Europe! It was so much easier to travel in Europe as a lesbian couple – less funny looks at the check-in or when we were holding hands walking down the streets. The more you travel in places were homosexuality is NOT accepted in the way that Europe accepts it, the more you appreciate how LGBT-friendly Europe actually is. I can only imagine how it must feel for you two now traveling through Morocco after such a long time in tolerant Europe! Morocco is high on our list of places to visit, but it really can put a strain on your relationship. Hope you’re still able to enjoy the country 🙂

  23. I found this post interesting, but I’m not quite sure how to put this in words. My husband and I are not gay, yet we don’t show affection publicly at all. We lived in Muslim areas for a while and learned to not touch at all in public. That feels very natural to us no matter where we are now.

    It’s possible (it’s been a LONG time now) that it was uncomfortable at first. It’s possible that we had to consciously not hold hands or smooch, but I don’t remember that at all. When in Rome, do as the Romans. And truth be told, the vast majority of the world doesn’t do a lot of public displays of affection anyway.

    Yes, it is nice to know that we could hold hands in Central America and nobody would look at us funny, but we didn’t.

    But here’s where I don’t understand… I lived in Honduras as a Peace Corps Volunteer back in the 80’s. What I do remember having a hard time with was the public displays of affection my FEMALE friends showed toward me! I lived with another teacher and she always reached out and held my hand as we walked home from school. It wasn’t a sexual thing at all – just a normal thing for women to do. It wasn’t just her, it was all women. They sat in a circle in meetings at school and teachers would hold hands. We were at a party, and women danced together. There was a lot of physical touching between women, but very little in public between a man and a woman.

    So I’m not sure I understand why it’s a problem for you. If you walked along holding hands, would anybody know you’re more than casual friends? If Latin casual friends can hold hands, why can’t you?

    Am I even making sense here?

    1. Hi Nancy, thanks for your comment, and actually giving this quite a lot of thought. I definitely see your point, especially about traveling in Muslim countries, choosing not to show affection in Latin America, etc. What really gets us down, frustrates us, however, are the little things. Constantly deciding whether we are going to be given a hotel room with one bed, and when to ask for it in the event we get two twin beds. If we were just on vacation, fine, we’d get over it. But we do this day in and day out, and sleeping in twin beds like some 50s sitcom just ain’t our style. We don’t need to make out in public. But what about the times when one of us falls, or gets hurt. The other wants to immediately rush to her side. Sure, friends might do this, but lovers react differently. But instead of just being able to react, we have to constantly gauge the way that we react, intercepting instinct with an uncomfortable feeling that someone out there might have a problem with our sexuality.

      Or, what about romance. Birthdays, Valentine’s Day – what if Dani wants to show up with flowers or take me out to dinner – when we request that candlelit table for two, just for one special night, we are subjected to judgmental looks, incredulous stares or sometimes giggling. Or the guys that want to ‘change’ us. These things don’t happen (as much) at home, and also, being in a foreign country, with no support network – what if we piss off one of those guys and he decides to follow us home or be overly macho about the whole thing. That’s annoying and an invasion of our private moment. Guys would never EVER come up to flirt with one of us if we were with our boyfriend. But because we are with another girl, stupid random guys can come sit down and start trying, uninvited. Anyway, so we don’t celebrate romance in public – and that really grates on our relationship. And when other couples sit on long bus rides, cuddled up watching movies on laptops or sleeping on each other’s shoulders, we second guess ourselves. It’s fine that the two of you choose not to be affectionate in public because of your past experiences, and to be honest, it makes sense. But we didn’t, and because this is our everyday, it’s definitely very difficult to deal with, especially after living in places like London and Brighton for so long beforehand, where gay couples are entirely a normal occurrence.

      By the way, with the handholding thing…I lived in Central America for three years, and while I know that women are close, and they do hold hands with their friends, in my experience, everyone knows that Gringos don’t do that – everyone knows that two gringas holding hands are lesbianas. There are enough lesbians on TV now that they know. And I had to stay way back in the closet as a teacher because parents at the school wanted another lesbian teacher fired, and tried to ban having a student with two mommies take up at the school. So yeah, it’s the fact that we don’t make the choice to mute affection or sleep in the same bed that’s frustrating, mixed in with the (albeit slight) anxiety that someone might decide to take it upon themselves to teach us a lesson – especially in places where there is no such thing as a hate crime. My answer has gone on for awhile, but does that make sense?

      1. Very good points here ladies, especially about the falling in public or something. A wife will react differently than a friend, even a best friend and ti would be really hard to see my wife hurt without stroking her hair and giving her a kiss on the forehead for example. That is clearly not a friend thing to do. That would be the worst time to be in the closet and yet if we are in certain countries, this would be our reality.

  24. Hello ladies,
    We know EXACTLY what you’re talking about traveling with one foot in the closet. Before traveling to a new country, we always discuss it first if we plan on being out or not. We do research, looking up laws or cases of violence against lesbians and make our decision. But often this doesn’t really prepare us for what we might find there so we also use our gut feeling when we arrive. So far we have been lucky in our choices. Keeping our fingers crossed that luck continues to stay with us. 🙂
    Great post! It’s nice to know we’re not alone in this. 🙂

    1. In all honestly, we are often interviewed and asked what it’s like to travel as a lesbian couple and, just like you ladies, we have not had really any problems at all. Partially, that is because not many people even put together that we are together even when we’re all ‘We’ this and We’ that, but also because we basically make the call everywhere just how ‘out’ we are in each place. In fact, here in South America right now, we are constantly crossing between Chile and Argentina. Chile is still very conservative, while Argentina has very strong LGBT rights including marriage equality, so holding hands here in ARG feels safer and better than in Chile just over the Andes.

  25. Hi Dani & Jess
    I’m a big fan of your blog!
    I have travelled to India many times and have always chosen to stay in the closet travelling around. Looking back on it, I wonder if I was being a little too cautious as I had countless conversations with men who just couldn’t understand how I could be a single woman in my mid 30s with no children. Telling them I’m a lesbian might have shut them up and made my life a lot easier!
    On my last trip there, I stayed a longer – I was there for the whole of 2011 – and made proper friendships. I decided to test coming out with two people I liked and trusted – one was an Indian (Hindu) man and one was a Tibetan woman. The woman was great and I think it may have even strengthened our friendship (we’re still in touch regularly now and she recently emailed me to say I am welcome to share her room with her next time I’m there – and yes, she is definitely straight). The most significant thing about her reaction was she found it almost impossible to believe that at my age (older than her), I’d never had sex with a man. Me telling the Indian man however, turned into a comedy sketch. There is a culture of eunuchs in India who are basically treated as freaks and feared but whose blessings (and curses) are considered potent so they make their money this way. They are commonly thought of as ‘gay.’ So when I told my friend that I’m gay, he assumed that this meant that I am missing my female bits. Our conversation went on for about two months and every time it came up, he would point to his stomach and say, ‘So, you can’t have children, no?’ I’d say, ‘Yes, I can have children. Being gay is nothing to do with biology, I just fall in love with women, that’s all.’ To which he would usually respond that at least gay people make lots more money and that if I gave blessings at weddings and childbirths, I’d be rich.
    I’m not saying this is indicative of most of India’s reaction, but it did make me aware of how culturalised the issue can be… and remember, India is a country where you will (almost) never see PDAs between a straight couple but men regularly hold hands, walk arm-in-arm, play with each other’s hair etc. The other thing it made me realise is that although my friend never really understood what I was telling him, his attitude toward me didn’t change – and what I experienced certainly wasn’t homophobia.
    I am returning to India in August and will be there for at least another year. Being back in my home town of London for the past year or so has made me realise how important being able to be out is to me – in the past I have always accepted it’s something I just ‘put away’ when I’m travelling (easier to do when you’re single) – but this time I am going to go out there and be more honest about who I am… Like you and so many others in this conversation thread have said, we don’t have to be flag-wavers, but we do have a responsibility to be way-showers – and to prove to the world that we are just normal after all.
    Thanks for such an inspiring, thought-provoking post!

  26. hey ladies! thank you so much for your blog and this post in general. my girlfriend and I are currently researching travel for our upcoming RTW trip and I’ve noticed a complete absence of the gay/lesbian perspective where travel blogs are concerned. blog after blog of experiences that just don’t quite match up because of this critical factor.

    my question for you both is whether or not you’ve ever felt unsafe in your travels because of your relationship. my girlfriend and I have only traveled together once before (aside from state-side stuff) and that was to belize 2 years ago. I read about your experience in belize. I had a rather unpleasant conversation with a local about the “butch” woman who was walking by- about the fact that he would “hit her like a man” if she got in his face. there was more to it than that, but the sentiment rang loud and clear.

    because my gf and I have been together for over 3 years now, we’re less obvious (at least I hope so), so I know that this will make a big difference. but I’m very curious and a bit apprehensive about the “one bed or two” situation you described. do you just reach a point where you don’t care, or is it really, ultimately, not a big deal?

    also, what is your typical day like traveling together? spending 24 hrs a day with even your most favorite person on the planet can be taxing, so I have no idea what to expect! do you try to make it a point to spend time apart every so often, or even every day?

    we’ll be doing OZ and NZ, SE asia and eastern europe for the bulk of the 8-9 months we’ll be abroad- any insight you can lend would be most appreciated as I have never traveled for longer than a week…so this is going to be completely new to me.

    thanks so much for your time- and I love the site!


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