The Truth About Traveling as a Gay Man

LGBT Pride Flag, Brussels

Last week I had lunch with some friends who are also gay and the topic of travel and the LGBT community arose. We talked about countries we wouldn’t visit due to their abysmal record of human rights as they relate to the LGBT community (I’m looking at you Uganda) and we shared stories of the realities of traveling as an openly gay man in certain corners of the world. On the drive home I thought about the topic a lot and realized that most people probably don’t have a clue what it really is like to travel as a gay person. I’ve been asked that question before, but haven’t truly gotten into the heart of the matter so I wanted to share some points with you today. It’s not all boas and half naked men; traveling as a gay man can be difficult and even dangerous at times.

 The Djemaa el Fna Marrakech

Dangerous – During that lunch my friends shared a shocking story about friends of theirs who had been beaten up on a beach. It’s not important to give the country, the fact is that it wasn’t a robbery or a random act of violence, it was a malicious attack by a gang of men who obviously didn’t want gay people hanging around. Many of us of a certain age had difficult experiences coming out. Years of repression, self-hatred and God knows what else has bred into us a certain hesitation I think when it comes to being open about who we are. If we live in a welcoming community, have friends and acquaintances who don’t care that we’re gay, we forget that some people consider it to be an issue. We enter new counties and situations behaving just as we would at home, which can be downright dangerous at times. It shouldn’t be this way and it’s not fair that it is, but it’s a hard truth.

Wherever we choose to travel and if we are open about who we are as human beings, we expose ourselves to danger. Don’t get me wrong, this could happen as easily in Los Angeles as it could Rio de Janeiro or Rome. It can happen everywhere and at any time and it’s frankly a risk we take when we leave our cocoon of acceptance. Does the potential for random acts of violence exist for every traveler? You bet and sadly they do occur. But we in the LGBT community are at a heightened level of risk I believe and it can be downright frightening at times. That is why when I travel I do so mindfully, always recognizing the local attitudes. I wish I didn’t have to, I wish I could give my partner a random peck on the check, but it’s frankly not a smart way to travel in certain parts of the world.

 InterContinental Bangkok

Awkward – It’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle once you come out. In a very unscientific way, I’ve noticed certain phases amongst some peers who have come out. The first is obviously repression, then after coming out many people turn into super gays. After years of keeping those feelings bottled inside, the individual wants nothing more than to show how very gay they are. Psychologically it makes sense, it’s a form of healing for the individual and sets the stage hopefully for true acceptance of one’s self. I went through this stage myself, down to the pink vanity eyeglasses and glitter chap stick. Thank God those days are over. After the super-homo phase, the individual starts to settle into acceptance and peace with their life. They hopefully find someone to love and live a pretty normal life really. These are broad generalizations of course, but it’s a fairly common chain of events. This can be awkward though when traveling.

A friend told me that in Africa he and his partner were advised to not share a bed for fear of police raids. Apparently the hotel staff had a habit of tipping off the local gendarmes. If you are straight, could you imagine being put in that same situation with your wife? In that one instant, all of those prepubescent fears come rushing back and it’s as if nothing had really changed. There you are, being forced to lie AGAIN, to pretend AGAIN, to be someone you aren’t AGAIN. It’s painful and it’s not fair, but that is ultimately the world in which we live. There are also certain countries where being gay is not only frowned upon, but actually illegal. I had some concerns when my partner and I traveled to North Africa for this very reason. After doing some research I knew that acceptance in certain areas was high and we weren’t likely to be targeted, but we were careful. We didn’t do anything that would raise any flags or seem out of place. Once again, it’s a very awkward thing to have to think about; something most people don’t even have to consider at all. I’m envious of those straight couples that can stand in a scenic location, watch the sunset and give each other a kiss. In many parts of the world that’s a luxury not afforded to me.

 LGBT Mural, Brussels

Respect – When it comes down to it, ultimately LGBT travelers explore the world the same way anyone else does. When I go to Paris I visit the Louvre and the Eiffel Tour, not an all-male revue. If I find myself in Bangkok I love to explore the city’s canals and ancient temples, not the Ladyboy District. There are exceptions to every rule of course, and I know many in the LGBT community enjoy connecting with like-minded people in local communities, they enjoy seeing what the ‘gay scene’ is like, and that’s fine. That’s no different than a straight couple exploring the nightlife on their own terms. But the actual act of travel itself is no different; we don’t need special opportunities all we need is simple respect.

I’ve used this example before, but I think it proves a point. It is not at all unusual for my partner and I to be asked when we check into a hotel, “Oh I’m sorry, we have you and your friend in a king size bed, let me change that to two doubles for you.” That has happened in some of the best hotels in the world and it’s horribly embarrassing. I have to correct them, deal with the raised eyebrows and once again feel like a second-class citizen. It’s not right and it shouldn’t happen when all I’m asking for is a little respect. I’m not asking anyone to like me, agree with me or join me in a high heel race. I’m asking for a little dignity and respect and that shouldn’t be an impossible request.

The travel industry does some things right when it comes to reaching out to the gay and lesbian community, but it makes a lot of mistakes as well. It’s all well and good for a company to launch a ‘gay-friendly’ ad but what I want is their staff to go through sensitivity training. I don’t gay travel any more than I gay eat or gay park my car. I don’t need special extras when I hit the road, all I want are some assurances that I won’t be arrested, harassed or embarrassed. Ultimately that’s not a hard ask, but we’re not there yet. Not even close.

And that, that is the truth of what it’s like to travel as a gay man.

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

50 Responses

  1. Brad @ guyswhotravel.com

    Great blog entry. I find at most major hotel chains around the world, no one blinks an eye when my husband and I request a King sized bed. But certainly there are (unfortunately) still certain countries where I would not attempt that (e.g.we booked separate beds for our upcoming trip to Dubai).

    Reply
  2. Gio

    Excellent post Matt. As a gay man I felt identified with most of its content, since I like to travel a lot with my husband of course. Here in Spain we feel protected by the law. Unfortunately my original homeland (Venezuela) does not fulfill our needs regarding LGBT rigths and respect, so when we go visiting my family there we must live inside the love bubble my relatives build up for us. Thanks a lot for your posts, I enjoy just all of them!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thanks Gio for that great point of view and comments!

      Reply
  3. Talon

    As you know from what I posted recently, I’m going to give you a loud AMEN!

    Reply
  4. Alouise

    Really interesting post. I can only imagine how stressful it must be to travel as a gay man, especially in countries/areas where it’s illegal or even just looked down upon. I used to work at a hotel, and several times we’d have two men check into a room. There were a lot people who stayed at our hotel with work, or on conferences. I never wanted to assume whether two men checking into a room were gay or not, so I’d usually just say something like “and we have you two checked into our deluxe suite with a king sized bed” and wait to see if one of them would mention that they’d need two beds and not one. Honestly I don’t remember this ever being an issue when I approached things this way.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      And that is exactly the right way to handle it and is what we encounter most of the time.But it’s those rare times that spoil it for everyone.

      Reply
  5. Julia

    Thank you so much for writing this, it’s exactly the sort of travel writing I’m always looking for! I want to add (though this is from a female perspective), it is often the most homophobic places that have allowed me to be freest in my sexuality – in places where a same-sex coupling is never even thought of, two women holding hands, hugging, sharing a hotel room is totally normal. It’s when men and women spend time together that people get suspicious… just a thought to add to the conversation.

    PS – If you ever want to write a guest post for my site, you’d be most welcome!

    Reply
  6. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    I have a gay couple that I treat in my clinic and last week they specifically asked if I knew of any travel blogs that were gay friendly for an upcoming trip they wanted to book. I passed along your blog’s info. Perfect timing with this post! I can’t imagine what it must be like to face that discrimination and hatred on a regular basis. I think I’d go crazy! I hope the world changes in my lifetime.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thanks so much Andi, I really appreciate that.

      Reply
  7. Jill

    Incredibly well written and thought provoking. So many points that I had never considered before (especially about the bed situation).

    Reply
  8. OCDemon

    I feel like in some places most people behave as though homosexuality is imaginary, or it’s a weird thing you hear about in hushed tones and that’s it. People ask why a guy has no girlfriend, without thinking about whether he’d want one or not, which I can imagine makes gay people feel like they don’t even exist.

    Reply
  9. Flashpackatfory - Craig

    Very good article, the bit about not being able to share a hug or a kiss at those very special moments on your travel certainly resonated with me. There are many time during these special travel highlights when we have had to substitute a loving look in each others eyes instead of sharing that important physical moment together. Sad but a reality.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      And you know, we could probably go ahead an share that kiss, but there is just that underlying fear. What if a bad guy is watching, what if, what if, what if….

      Reply
  10. Amy Scott

    Thanks for adding this important voice to the conversation, Matt! There are places that are very conservative about *any* PDA, or about unmarried couples sharing a room/bed, so I have felt twinges of some of this myself in a hetero relationship, but your post shows all the subtle ways it can show up for the gay community.

    Reply
  11. Sam

    Such a great article, Matt. Thanks for writing this. I agree with you 100%.

    “I don’t gay travel any more than I gay eat or gay park my car.”

    Amen.

    It makes me so angry when that happens in hotels where they think they must have made a ‘mistake’ by putting me and my male partner in a double room. This even happened to us in Austria once, a developed, western country which has civil partnership available to same sex couples. I found it absolutely shocking.

    The question of there being countries we would or would not visit based on their record of human rights is a tricky one for me. While I am certainly concerned about how they relate to the LGBT community, I’m also interested in human rights generally, for everyone. Is it hypocritical, then, for me to say I won’t visit a country that punishes people for being homo- or bisexual, but then to visit countries which doesn’t allow its citizens other basic human rights, like women the right to vote?

    Off the top of my head, I’m not sure there are any countries that, for example, don’t allow women to vote but are fine with people being gay, so maybe those two things really do go hand in hand and we don’t truly have equality until there is equality for all.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      I agree, but I drew the line when Uganda started legal efforts to make being gay a capital offense. There’s no way I can give them any of my money right now.

      Reply
  12. E

    This was a really great post.
    I had never really thought about how travelling would be different for a gay person or couple to what it is like for someone like me, a 15 year old straight female.
    Truthfully, I don’t see why you should be treated any differently. We all go overseas for the same reason. To have a good time.

    Anyway, much respect for you and another gay travellers who have these problems. One day, I hope you won’t have to put up with this crap.
    - E

    Reply
  13. Sofie

    Striking post.
    I don’t even know if I could handle having to be so cautious in some places.
    Hopefully this post will raise awareness and make people think.
    Heck, hopefully it will make some people come tot their senses

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thanks Sofie, just wanted to share with people since I don’t think a lot of folks think about it.

      Reply
  14. Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this with the various blog posts that have been written about gay travel lately and, as much as I’d like to say that my sexuality isn’t really a concern, that just isn’t true. Sure, I have the benefit of traveling solo so there are no awkward moments about beds (though I did travel with an ex in Thailand once…no problems there). But most people out there ask a very basic set of questions:

    “Where are you from?”
    “Are you married?” (or “Do you have girlfriend?”)

    And then when the answer to that second question is no, there’s usually a follow up question as to why. You know what I usually say when I’m on the road? “Well it’s hard to meet someone when I’m traveling.”

    Guess I jump back into that travel closet a lot more often that I thought I did!

    Reply
  15. Clint @ Triphackr

    Excellent post, Matt. I can only imagine the additional stress when it comes to making seemingly simple travel plans like checking into a hotel room.

    What really struck me was the simplicity of watching the sunset and not being able to share the moment without a thought in the back of you mind. Some of these things hadn’t crossed my mind that I take them for granted. Thanks for sharing this.

    Reply
  16. Greg

    Excellent article. Me and my partner experienced the king size vs. single beds scenario at the Le Meridien in Stuttgart, of all places. We were embarrassed and shocked at how our request for a king bed (as reserved) was questioned by the check in staff and then we were told they weren’t used to two men sharing a bed. To their credit the management was quite apologetic, but just goes to show that this can happen anywhere.

    Reply
  17. Claus G

    Great post Matt!

    I’ve experienced my fair share of discrimination / harassment when traveling, but it all comes with the territory. It is important to respect local cultures and customs when traveling, and yes, sometimes even take up extra precautions to ensure our safety (being called a name is one thing, but it’s best to keep away from physical violence!).

    Even more progressive places still need to work on sensitivity training of the people who work in hospitality. While I wouldn’t ask for a one-bed room for a boyfriend and I at a hotel in a country where being gay is illegal, I do it in counties where it is not… even then, 90% of the time, the check-in agents are visually agitated by the request… and we’re talking about countries from Mexico, to Japan, and even in Australia!

    Sad as it is, half the time I am on the road, I spent it in a semi-closeted environment in which only certain people in certain situations will know I am gay… it does save a lot of trouble.

    Reply
  18. Becky M

    Great post Matt, I found it really interesting! Not being gay myself I had never even thought about the issues you would face and it really opened my eyes. I really hope attitudes can be changed, and fast, although that is a big ask :(

    Reply
  19. Alli Campbell

    This is a great article Matt. I’ve often thought about this on our travels – how frustrating to even have to think about it, still. I hope in our lifetime, we can get past the need for ‘sensitivity training’ to not even giving it a second thought. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  20. Isabel Crouch

    Very interesting post. It can be a real struggle to have to hide who you are for fear of violence. One day the world will catch up, but until then it’s best to make sure you’ve done your research and understand local customs and expectations. And go armed with a whole load of comebacks for staff in hotels who should know better…..Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  21. Jamie

    Just a comment on the ‘double bed’ situation – I work for a diving company, we sell liveaboard dive trips, that’s boats where you stay on board for some days and sleep in cabins. I normally do double check with people about the cabin they request – 2 men may request a double, or a male-female couple may request a twin – sometimes people don’t understand the terminology we use, and request the wrong cabin type, and several times have thanked me for the follow up, or it could have been 2 male “buddies” with a big double bed, or a happy couple ending up with bunk beds. It’s nothing to do with questioning peoples sexual preferences .. just making sure they do get what they want.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      That’s a pretty unique situation, talking more about hotels

      Reply
  22. Abi

    “I don’t gay travel any more than I gay eat or gay park my car.” A really good article, Matt, thank you. To a lesser extent, I expect, I feel the same way about “being a woman” with a number of “women friendly” travel sites and systems. I even hesitated about typing that out because of all the women parking jokes! Then there’s the covering up, being ignored and hiding behind screens in so many parts of the world. The not being able to drive in certain areas or travel without a letter from my husband. Here’s to dignity and respect to all human beings. What a revolutionary idea!

    Reply
  23. Jenny Andersson

    Matt, this was such a moving post. I’ve worked most of my life in PR and a lot of that in fashion, apparel etc, so its been a long time since I’ve even noticed or thought about whether colleagues were gay or not. Its part of the fabric of society and long-since accepted.
    But your blogpost reminded me that even though things have come such a long way, that’s not true everywhere. I had never thought that travelling as a gay man could be so frightening and intimidating. I’ve hiked through Africa solo as a single girl, and knew the dangers around which I would have to work, but hadn’t thought through this issue.
    Thanks for a timely reminder that we should all still support our gay friends when it comes to continuing discrimination. x

    Reply
  24. Liz

    Love the pictures of the Saint Jaques gay area in Brussels – recognized them right away! ( I live there :) )

    Even here, despite being a very gay-friendly country, there are regularly news reports of gay men being harassed and assaulted in the evenings by gangs of men. So I do believe what you say in that it can happen to you anywhere in the world. Fortunately, the pride here is very strong and I hope that it helps to change people’s attitudes, particularly those who of grown up in unfamiliar cultures and still cannot accept homosexuality.

    Glad you are keeping safe. You should not be denied your right to public affection but safety always comes first, no matter what.

    Reply
  25. Anna

    Matt, Come to Cape Town in December, our summer. Your freedom is written into our constitution. We even have a huge queer party, (google MCQP) to which everyone goes. We have to worry about violence against women and children, but the gay tourist and pink dollar are very welcome.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      I’ve been to South Africa twice, but sadly never in December. Would love to see it in the summer some time!

      Reply
  26. Simon

    I recently left Cambodia where I had been working for 18 months. Gay tourism is very much an accepted – in fact welcomed – part of life. But for locals, being gay is still something which is very stigmatised and gay people are still ostracised by their families and marginalised by society. This is something I find very sad.

    Reply
  27. David

    Thanks for this post. I am gay and have traveled to many places, most of them outside North America and Western Europe. As I travel alone, I haven’t had to deal with the the hotel room issue. But I’ve notices that as I’m getting older (40), the question of ‘why aren’t you married’ [to a woman] or ‘do you have a family’ is commonly asked, particularly in non-Western cultures where family-life, heterosexual marriage and procreation is considered essential for a meaningful existence. I’ve actually lied in India and Northern Africa about this question and said I was a widow, and I felt like I was 17 again and in the closet. Why lie? Well at the time it just was easier – I was a guest there for a few weeks and didn’t feel like I had the time or energy to ‘explain’ or deal with the potentially negative consequences. Still it makes you feel grateful for being able to live in a tolerant society.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      It’s true and I think many of us have stretched the truth when it comes to this. It isn’t easy and hopefully one day we’ll be able to travel the world as ourselves.

      Reply
  28. JW

    What a nice piece!!
    My husband and I have decided that we won’t travel to countries where acts of kindness between two man are illegal. Sure the list of those countries seems to be getting longer instead of shorter, but I for one don’t want to be constantly looking behind my back. The county at the top of our favourite list is Bangkok. The people are so open minded and the staff at the hotels we stay don’t even wink and eye when we want a single bed.
    Great post!!!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Bangkok is a wonderful place, I love it there and the Thai are so very friendly and welcoming.

      Reply
    • markus

      You should also try to visit the Philippines. Although predominantly Catholic, It is also a haven for acceptance and love to LGBT individuals.

      Reply
  29. Derrell

    Stumbled upon your blog by mistake while searching for a movie…

    Must comment as a straight female who travels with female friends…the same thing happens to us…even tho we’re old ladies.

    Hold your head high and don’t worry about what others think..including me & other Christians. We all are created in God’s image…not society!

    Safe travels and if you run into a couple of old women traveling together…wave & laugh!

    Reply
  30. Christophe

    Hello Matt,
    Great article, lived that, done that!
    That said I’m confused? Quoting you ” It’s not important to give the country”?
    I do want to know the country!
    Does it take such an extreme move as what happened in Uganda for you to say:”I drew the line when Uganda started legal efforts to make being gay a capital offense. There’s no way I can give them any of my money right now”
    I wouldn’t want to give my money in some parts of the US either.
    Why protecting a country where I could get hurt?
    Would appreciate your comments :))

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      I don’t follow, is there a question here?

      Reply
    • markus

      Matt’s point is that he would not appreciate a country or a city or a people who do not appreciate him as a gay person in general. And if you feel the same then do so. I am curious though which part of the USA has prompted you not to give your money as well? I hope you are sure you are in the USA not Russia!!

      Reply
  31. markus

    I am a gay man but is always conscious of my actions when I am in public, whether in the US or outside the country. Because I know that there will always be people who will not take me as I am. Sad but true. Bottom line, I do not like to be in a position where in I will be physically or verbally insulted or abused by another human being.

    Reply
  32. Glenn

    Hi Matt,
    Really good article, I just happen by it while looking for a travel companion site for gay men.
    I am a single gay man and hate travelling alone, love to from any one who knows of a web site to help out. Planning a short get away down south this summer and a month long trip over sea’s this fall.

    Cheers

    Reply

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