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GAY AND GRAY: Traveling While Gay

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif One of the things I like about aging is that it makes "traveling while gay" more comfortable. What's that mean? Happily, after a certain point in life, the fact that two women might prefer each other's company to that of men they encounter ceases to act as a slightly dangerous affront. Some of us may regret that gray hair can make us apparently invisible to young things, but I'm sure lesbians are not the only women who rather like not receiving unwanted attention.

No, I don't think this works quite the same way for gay men: perhaps more of them might like to be noticed by younger men. Certainly I know older gay men who bemoan their age-acquired invisibility.

In the present United States, it is somewhat unusual for more or less visible LGBT people to encounter trouble when we leave our usual haunts, but this has not always been true. All of us over a certain age instinctively watch our backs in new settings.

Nonetheless we've often wanted to travel; in consequence since the 1960s, there have been many gay travel guides that pointed to bars and other public venues where being gay was okay. In the early 1990s, I remember one aimed at lesbians called Are You Two Together? That title catches the flavor of the mild caution that still goes with traveling.

Since some gay travelers feel safer with their own kind, there is a good-sized market niche for gay travel agents, package tour providers, even a lesbian cruise line. These trips aren't my idea of a good time, but I have known people who loved them.

I've enjoyed some wonderful benefits of "traveling while gay." When you go someplace where being gay is harder, if you do manage to make contact with the local LGBT community, you can find yourself quickly admitted to aspects of the local life you would not have seen otherwise.

Sometimes people don't announce that they also are gay, but they take you under their wings. I've experienced this in South Africa, Lebanon, and Mexico among other places. Sometimes your welcome is very explicit.

In Cuba in 1988, when gays were just beginning to get out from under serious state repression, we spent a lovely afternoon hearing tales from two gay Havanans. Some years later we saw the Cuban film Strawberry and Chocolate and realized the central gay character might well have been modeled on one of our Cuban acquaintances.

Traveling while gay leads to "the bed question." It's pretty normal in U.S. hotels for a single room to include two double beds but most of the world gets by with less excess. Recently in Patagonian Chile, my partner and I were asked, in a rural hosteria, did we want (single) beds or a "cama de matrimonio" (double bed)? The innkeeper didn't blink when we chose the latter.

One feature of traveling while gay that our straight friends might not be aware of is the high proportion of LGBT people who seem to work in the "hospitality industry" all over the world. I don't know why this is - maybe dealing with tourists is considered a little adventurous or perhaps sleazy in traditional societies, just the spot to park a weird uncle or aunt.

Anyway, the result is that occasionally, gay travelers get what we think of as "family" benefits. Last summer I was part of a gay group who enjoyed this kind of special welcome in Anaheim. But my partner and I have also encounter this in places as different from each other as El Calafate, Argentina and Amman, Jordan.

In the latter location, the sprightly young male hotel staff took one look at us, explained they wanted to offer us a choice of two different rooms, and successively showed us a dark one with single beds and a large, well-lighted one with a double bed. They also gave us exceptional service when we later herded a group of Americans around in that unfamiliar place, all with big, knowing smiles.

Historically, one of the more painful features of traveling while gay has been crossing borders. After all, my partner of thirty years and I are just "unrelated adults" when it comes to dealing with immigration and customs authorities. Sometimes, signs at borders advise us that "individuals" and "families" must present themselves separately. This seems to be easing. On a recent trip, we had no trouble approaching authorities together in either Chile or Argentina and were stunned to be told at U.S. Customs: "Same address? -- you only need one form."

This was new to us, and sensible, and the kind of thing that feels huge if you've never had it. I don't know if this is a policy change or just an individual agent's adaptation, but I expect it is policy. Bravo.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: A Priceless Gift

Comments

For years, for business and pleasure I have traveled with my single, divorced and also married gal pals. It is our common interests that binds us, not our sexual orientation. I cannot recall any side ways looks or assumptions conerning our sexual orientation when checking into hotels etc. Perhaps it is our presentation of ourselves that counters others perceptions: just two American women traveling with no personal agendas other than enjoying what a new country offers for any tourist. I don't travel with a label, I am just an American straight married woman who totally enjoys traveling with her gal pals....guess that's a label if we need to have one. I appreciate your input Jan from a gay woman's perspective and have not exxperienced what you have..........perhaps all defining labels should be dropped.....self imposed labels and societies biased labels.

"One feature of traveling while gay that our straight friends might not be aware of is the high proportion of LGBT people who seem to work in the "hospitality industry" all over the world. I don't know why this is -"

I think I may know why that is, Jan.
In my travels I have also noticed the
Front Desk people,the Concierage and often the waiters are Gay. In my opinion this is because they are nice and genteel and interested in your enjoying your stay at the hotel or resort. They are perfect for the job.

LGBT people have often made the difference in whether or not I enjoyed my stay;and most of the time I was very happy they were there.

Well, that explains why I never had any luck picking up the desk clerk ;)

It never occurred to me that two people of the same sex would be looked at any differently than couples. Why should anyone assume anything about the sexuality of a traveler?

I only traveled with one woman on one of my many trips. It happened to be a cruise. She made the reservations and asked for a cabin with twin beds. Much to our surprise were given one with a double bed. We two straight women slept together with no glance from anyone.

I simply can't understand why it is anyone's business what goes on in anyone else's bedroom.

Ah, and then there are sub catagories. LGBT AA does not always welcome straight folks, but they are here as are LGBT NA, CA, and other specialties. And they let you in the door when you are traveling. That's good.

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