1. “Do I look like a lesbian/gay/queer?”
What does a lesbian look like, right? Who knows. We come in all shapes, sizes, colors, tattoos, and modes of clothing. And I’ll be honest, few people ever think I’m a lesbian, except for that one time when a guy in Baltimore told me he knew I was gay because I didn’t dance like all the other girls at the club. Maybe I have a “gay dance”. The question though is relevant in terms of safety when it comes to traveling. Depending on your outward presentation and how people perceive you (as gay or straight) determines your level of comfort in new spaces, cities, and countries and acceptability in general.
2. “How “open” is the city/country/region I’m going to?”
This is probably at the very top of the list for me. Living in Minnesota, which has a fair amount of legal protections for LGBTQ identified persons, as well as the first state to defeat a constitutional amendment ban on same-sex marriage, I’m very hesitant to visit places that are not gay and lesbian-friendly. Aside from general safety concerns, money is my voice in this world and where and how I spend it, empowers the institutions and organizations I give my hard earned gay money to. Which is why, I will not be visiting Indiana anytime soon. Or Russia for that matter.
3. “I wonder if there are any lesbian bars?”
Okay, lezbehonest, the lesbian bar to lesbians ratio in this country is like 1:1,000,000. The dire state of the lesbian bar scene across the country has also been well documented, so this question plays out more like this, “I wonder what their gay bar scene is like?” Which leads me to that question that most lesbians can’t seem to find an answer to, “Why aren’t there more lesbian bars?” WHY?
4. “Where are all the lesbians/gays/queers?”
Seriously, where are you all? Home turf has its advantages; you know where your community hangs out, which coffee shops they go to, what restaurants they own or frequent, even where they prefer their art. It’s cozy, but it doesn’t let you see the world, so we venture out, packing our suitcases and buying plane tickets to cross borders and walk new streets. Once we get there, we think, “I wonder where all the lesbians are?” Which brings me to number 5…
5. “Ohemgee!! Another lesbian!”
The excitement of spotting another lesbian (or if you’re lucky, a lesbian couple or an entire gang of lesbian buds) beats none when you’re feeling all alone in a new city. Even when I’m traveling with my partner, we almost always nudge each other at the sight of other lesbians, gleefully exchanging smiles that say, “We’re not alone!”. Most spaces are heterosexual by default, and when you’re out of your element, you can feel pretty isolated in your lesbian identity, which is why seeing other lesbians is like spotting a zebra on safari; you can’t believe your eyes!
6. “Is she hitting on me, or just being nice?”
Being a lesbian is confusing at times, for you and for other people. I’ve had straight women assume I am hitting on them because I’m engaging them in conversation, and I’ve hit on straight women because my gaydar thought it had picked up on something, only to be rebuffed with an “I’m straight, also I’m still going through this thing with my ex-boyfriend…” When you’re on the road, these lines can become even more blurred, because you’re still figuring out the lay of the land, i.e. the gay and lesbian culture and what spaces are queer spaces.
7. “I should bring something “gay”?”
I’m willing to safely assume that this may be something only I do, but as a femme-presenting lesbian, there’s a comfort in bringing something on every trip that makes me feel just a little gayer and that in my own way (I think) tells the world that I am a non-heterosexual. It could be my over-sized flannel that doubles as an evening jacket and park blanket, my rainbow-colored bracelet (reserved for Pride and vacations), or even my dressed down Kristen Stewart look that moves me farther down the lesbian spectrum. Other times, just having my journal with me, filled with all my lesbian hopes and confessions, is all I need. Also, you should really always bring a journal when you travel, it’s just good form.
8. “How many people am I going to have to come out to?”
Being non-heterosexual in a heterosexual world is a life of perpetual self-outing. You make a big splashy announcement when you first come out, and then you spend the rest of your life coming out to everyone else; strangers, co-workers, new friends, dudes at bars hitting on you, chicks at bars not hitting on you, your extended family, doctors and nurses, and everyone else in between.
When traveling, I’ve found that you often have to come out to even more people than in your daily life. This is in large part because you talk to more people than you ordinarily would (one of the greatest joys of travel). Other times it is because you are seeking out the gay scene, or in less fun scenarios, you are defending the right to safe spaces for LGBTQ persons in the face of blatant bigotry. Whatever it may be, you will have to come out to more people when traveling.