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 in.Bringing 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.!Holding 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.
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 been.A 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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Thursday 10th of October 2013
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!
Friday 26th of April 2013
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! Melody