It took me a while to figure myself out. No, that’s not quite right. It took me a long time to accept who I am as a person. Growing up in an era and community that didn’t exactly embrace gays and lesbians, I was a hot mess of personal issues when I finally came out at the late age of 23. It’s late in modern terms, but at the time was normal, if not early. When I was in high school, which really wasn’t THAT long ago, no one was out, although we all knew of course. That’s how life was as recently as the 1990s – it’s still amazing to see how far we’ve come and I admit to being more than a little jealous of the youngsters today. But I digress; what I want to say is that I’ve been out for a long time, I’m never shy about expressing who I am inherently as a person and should anyone have an issue with it, I just don’t care. Since this site is a reflection of who I am, some people have wondered why I don’t highlight gay and lesbian travel more on LandLopers, so I thought I’d share with you my thoughts on gay travel in the 2010s. (What do we even call this decade?!)
For Me, Gay Travel Doesn’t Exist
My posts in the past on this subject were brief rants and raves against companies and destinations I believe to be ignorant when it comes to the topic of LGBT travel; but that admittedly hasn’t done a lot to explain my own stance on the topic. What I have shared before is that I personally don’t believe there is any such thing as gay travel. As I wrote a few years ago, I don’t Gay Eat, Gay Walk The Dog or Gay Grocery Shop so why would anyone assume that I Gay Travel? In fact, I’ve always seen the LGBT promos on booking and destination web sites to be offensive and highly dependent on stereotypes. The worst offenders always, ALWAYS include shirtless guys sunbathing, go-go dancing or drinking. The ones who do honestly care about LGBT issues still offend, although I believe it to be inadvertently. One of my favorite booking sites, for example, has a LGBT page and guess what the Top Destinations are? San Francisco, New Orleans and Amsterdam – each based on deep-rooted stereotypes.
Personally speaking, I travel to places not where there are parties, hot guys or plenty of boutiques to browse through. I travel to places that hold interest for me, destinations that speak to my travel soul. But as an out gay guy, I’m always Gay Traveling, so how does my sexuality impact my travel decisions? What many of us in the LGBT community want, crave really, is ease of travel. We don’t want confusion, we don’t want to be harassed, we just want to be left alone. I’ve been in hotels with my partner where the front desk called us brothers. I was at a five-star property last year that kept saying Mr. and Mrs. Long whenever they called the room – and they KNEW me! It’s these moments of uncomfortable corrections and generic pronouns that many LGBT travelers want to avoid. Personally speaking, I also refuse to travel to certain destinations based on their stance regarding the LGBT community. Uganda, for example, is a place I won’t go to until they stop trying to kill us all. In 2014 that sentence shouldn’t even make sense, but sadly it does. We’ve made a lot of strides in recent decades, but ghosts of the past and present still haunt us, and anything a destination or company to do to assure us a safe and hassle free trip will forever win our loyalty.
But I’m Not The Archetype
When I first tackled this issue I was typically Matt, which means to say that I was indignant about how other people travel and self-assured in my own moral rectitude. I tend to be like that though, once I form an opinion there is very little the universe can do to alter it – part of my charm I guess. But in the three years since I first wrote about LGBT travel, I’ve watched a lot of other out travelers and taken mental notes of what they see and do. You know what, many of them, to my surprise, do in fact conform to the stereotypes. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it surprised me. I was surprised that a community as diverse as the LGBT community (there’s a reason why the rainbow is our symbol) could be pigeonholed when it comes to travel planning. I continued to ponder this issue and further evolved my thinking to realize that they weren’t necessarily the typical gay traveler either. They were just another form of it, and then I finally realized that there is no such thing as the archetypal Gay Traveler, and that’s why the travel industry can never succeed in reaching us as a collective.
The LGBT community is far too large and diverse to successfully target with a single message or ad campaign. I appreciate those rainbow flags and cute guys on the cover of your brochures, but that campaign is necessarily limited in what it can achieve. No, for travel companies and destinations to be really effective in how they reach us, they have to create variety of messaging that is dramatically diverse – just like we are.
Back To Me
But this post isn’t meant to be a primer for the travel industry; it’s to explain why you don’t see posts written by me about Gay London or Gay Berlin. While there are certainly typical LGBT experiences you can have in those places, it’s not how I travel. When I visit a new place I go for the sights, the culture, the food and the general feeling of just being in a new destination. I don’t go to visit gay bars or nightclubs, to attend Pride festivals or to only be around other gay people. That’s not who I am as an individual and so it’s not reflected in my writing.
That being said because I am gay, every trip of mine is necessarily Gay Travel and it does impact my writing to a degree, especially when my partner is with me. For example, one reason why I personally avoid B&Bs and Inns is because I’m worried about how we will be treated. Since they’re independent and small, all it takes is for one homophobic owner to kick us out; an experience I’d like to avoid if at all possible. For me though, that sums up my own personal gay travel story. I want to visit new places and be left alone to be who I am. I don’t want to be bothered or harassed, just catered to like any other traveler would be. Seems pretty simple, no?
So it doesn’t make sense for me to run a site that screams GAY from the rafters, because it doesn’t reflect who I am. This site is about me and my travel style, so that’s why I don’t really write about gay travel. But I’m only one type of traveler. There are others in the LGBT family who DO seek out parties and parades, they SEEK OUT every opportunity to connect with people with whom they can relate. That’s great too because it reflects who they are on a very personal level and at the end of the day that’s what a good blog should be. You should get to know the person on a deeper level, how they travel and then decide whether or not you can relate in some way to them.
Hopefully there’s some coherence here and I’ve accomplished my mission of getting my points across. I wrote this post though to emphasize the fact that I’m very proud of who I am and very proud of the global LGBT community, a remarkably diverse group of individuals who have accomplished a great deal in the past decade. But that pride doesn’t have to necessarily define who I am as a person. Every day we as a group tell the world that being gay is just one aspect of who we are as individuals while simultaneously conforming to rigid stereotypes. That bothers me, but it’s not my place to tell others how to live. Instead I can only be who I am, and ask that others respect that. But I will say one last thing to the travel and tourism industry – you MUST do a better job of reaching out to the LGBT community. Some do well, albeit in fits and starts, while others fail miserably. It’s partly our own fault though. We do not do a good enough job of telling the world who we are. We are husbands, fathers, professionals, athletes but we’re also dancers, drag queens and young twinks who only want to party. We are too diverse to categorize into one type of messaging and the more we come out and show how boring and normal we really are, the better the world will be.