Editors note: Meg Cale shares with Matador Network some of her travel experiences and questions she has asked herself before planning a trip.
1. Do you feel comfortable closeting yourself when it’s necessary?
I had moral questions for myself when I made the choice to leave the United States. I often thought: How could I live a lie and justify it to myself after so many years of discussing the importance of openness?
I justify being closeted to myself because I’ve learned that it is possible to lie about my identity for the sake of self-preservation, while still having conversations with the people around me about difference, stigma, and prejudice. This dialogue creates teachable moments while allowing me to feel safe at the same time.
Many straight people view “coming out” as a one-time thing — usually resulting in tears at Thanksgiving dinner — but the reality is that LGBTQ+ people come out over and over and over again. Because of heteronormativity, or the idea that someone is straight until proven gay, we have to make the choice to come out to every single person we meet.
I think Lindsay King Miller said it best in her article My Life As An Invisible Queer: “I wouldn’t necessarily mind people not knowing I’m gay, but I don’t like being thought of as straight — in the same way that I don’t mind people not knowing I’m a writer, but it would be awkward if they assumed I was an extreme skateboarder because that’s so far removed from the reality of my life.”
Queer travelers have to make this choice for themselves, and there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s what feels most comfortable for you in your travels.
2. Do you pass?
It’s shitty that I even have to go here, but passing as straight and cisgender can be a huge privilege when you’re traveling through one of the 71 countries that have anti-LGBTQ+ laws. The simple, obvious solution is to avoid traveling to these countries. But if you did that, you’d be missing out on Kenya, Maldives, Barbados, Malaysia, and Morocco just to name a few.
Limiting yourself to countries that have anti-discrimination laws in place and are supportive of LGBTQ+ identity can be a safer solution while traveling, but this solution results in LGBTQ+ people missing out on so much of the world. And that’s not right, these places are rich in culture and everyone should be able to learn from and enjoy them.
3. What are the laws and public opinions of the country you’re visiting?
Knowing the laws and policies of the area you’re visiting can help in an emergency. It also helps you make informed decisions regarding where you want to travel. Do they have marriage equality? What kind of anti-discrimination laws do they have in place? Has their government or national leadership made any statements about LGBTQ+ people? Check with IGLHRC to start your research, but keep in mind that a lack of laws or policies doesn’t necessarily mean the city or country should be crossed off your bucket list.
Take New York City for example. It’s one of the most LGBTQ+-friendly cities in the world and is considered the birthplace of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, but most of its policy advances have only happened in the last few years. We all know laws don’t necessarily change society and keep in mind that the city you are visiting could be more welcoming than the country. Knowing this information can help you tailor your visit to areas that are more affirming of your identity. Knowing some common thoughts or ideas about LGBTQ+ people in the area may also help you decide how open to be with the people you meet along the road.
4. How can you reach out to the local LGBTQ+ community there?
The internet connects people. Don’t be afraid to use it. Ask around. Is there an active community? Where do people hang out? Which areas should you avoid? Using Facebook, Instagram and other social networks can make this a lot easier. Also, apps like Tinder and Grindr can help, but play safe. Follow basic internet safety when meeting people, especially in countries that are more hostile towards LGBTQ+ people.
5. Are you traveling as a couple?
Have a conversation with your love about the area you are visiting. Take into account how PDA is viewed in that country. In some countries, holding hands between people of the same sex is a regular occurrence, but kissing or other displays between anyone is considered inappropriate. Have this conversation before you decide to make the trip in an effort to prevent hurt feelings.
6. What about bathrooms?
Weirdly, this has turned out to be the biggest obstacle for my partner Lindsay and me while traveling. Lindsay is six feet tall and has short hair. To anyone in a western country, Lindsay is obviously an androgynous woman. However, in Thailand, Abu Dhabi, Korea and the Philippines we ran into some very awkward situations. Lindsay would be minding her own business washing her hands at the bathroom sink and all of a sudden, some woman would start screaming at her to get out. This would be funny if it only happened once or twice, but having it happen every time, she tried to use a public restroom got old fast. In one extreme case, she was even hit by an old cleaning lady with a mop while she screamed at her in Korean. After that incident, she decided to just use the men’s restrooms in order to avoid this situation but soon realized there were enough foreigners in Seoul who knew she wasn’t a man to make the interactions awkward and potentially dangerous. It got to the point that she didn’t feel safe or comfortable using the bathroom in public unless I served as a bouncer at the door for her.
7. Can you use explicitly LGBTQ+ friendly products and services?
Many international hotel chains and airlines have policies stating their position on the LGBT movement. Booking one of these hotels can be more expensive, but it gives you peace of mind that you’re supporting companies that support you. Hilton, Carlton, Marriott, and Wynn resorts all ranked with high marks on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.
For products you need to buy before your trip, download Buycott. It’s an app for the socially conscious consumer. You use it to scan bar codes on products and then the app cross-checks the affiliated companies and brands to tell you if they conflict with one of your political commitments. Using this app can help you choose products that will support LGBTQ+ people over other brands that do not.
8. Are you planning to travel with condoms, sex toys, or other sexually explicit materials?
Bringing condoms, lube, and other forms of protection with you while traveling is smart practice. If you plan to buy condoms in other countries, be aware there are some differences. International condom companies have varying levels of safety standards; try to find brands that are approved by the FDA. The packaging could be in another language and you may not be able to discern specifics of the products you are buying. Bring them with you in advance or make sure you do your homework on the products available in the country you are visiting well before the heat of the moment. It’s always a good idea to be cautious and do your homework before crossing borders with anything you think could be questionable.
A version of this article was previously published on October 13, 2014, and was updated on March 21, 2022.