When my ex-partner and I planned our honeymoon 20 years ago we didn’t put too much thought into where we would feel safe as a couple because people often assumed we were just friends and we used that lie to protect ourselves. Friends can travel anywhere together, so we picked an all-inclusive resort in Aruba to enjoy a mix of beach and island excursions and readily available food and drink. It’s not that we weren’t concerned about our safety, it’s that we weren’t presenting ourselves as an openly queer couple.
Even after being joined in a Civil Union in Vermont—our new home and the first state to recognize same-sex unions—we were still more in the closet than out because we knew it wasn’t safe or ideal to be queer unless you were in a space specifically designed for queer folks. If we had travel fears, they were more because we were traveling as women (I hadn’t transitioned yet) than as a lesbian couple. Even if we thought we were physically safe, the stress and emotional sting of hiding was still there. All-inclusive vacations are not created for equality.
At home, I was more vocal and out than my ex and had a stronger desire to be more authentic in my identity. But while on vacation in Aruba, after being told gay couples were not allowed to be a part of any of the cheesy, nightly entertainment activities that encouraged newlyweds to join, I was silent but angry. I saw and hated the hypocrisy of the people happily taking my queer money as long as I didn’t let my queer self get in the way of anyone’s comfort, bigotry, or “right” to discriminate. My meals may have been included in the price of my vacation, but all of who I am was not being included. Actual inclusivity for queer individuals, couples, and families isn’t easily found on vacation. I know progress has been made but even if “allowed,” it’s not always safe or comfortable to be out when traveling.
Trying to figure out how many pairs of shoes or nice outfits to pack for a trip out of town can be tough. Add kids to the mix and knowing how many diapers or pull ups will be needed, remembering to pack the night lights, sound machine, lovies, or actual child becomes a situation that will end up being carried into a 24-hour store upon arrival at your destination. Add $75 in snacks to whatever you bought because those were gone two states ago.
If you are queer, transgender, have queer or transgender kids, or are queer or transgender and have kids (some who may also be queer or transgender), your travel prep becomes significantly more complicated, exhausting, and higher risk. Snacks are still needed, but so is a plan if someone needs to see a doctor while out of town.
Paperwork indicating marriage, parental rights, legal gender marker changes, and proof of identity that may conflict with name and/gender expression need to be packed and readily available too. When my ex and I traveled out of the country for the first time, we packed our marriage certificate, paperwork indicating that I was my daughter’s legal guardian, and her birth certificate that listed I was the second parent. We also brought along documents that legally stated we were allowed to make medical decisions for each other if necessary.
I need to be prepared to use bathrooms that are gendered if a family bathroom or gender neutral one isn’t available, and I need to be prepared for stares, comments, or threats.
When I go through TSA security in airports, I’m often asked to step aside because my parts don’t match my gender marker on my license or what the machine assumes to be my gender.
I leave certain shirts at home that declare my queerness in words or pictures. I’m already a walking billboard of gender nonconformity; adding validation to people’s assumptions can be dangerous.
Sometimes I can’t avoid stopping in towns or states that aren’t queer-friendly, but when finding a place for my long-distance partner and I to stay, we look for rentals that are LGBTQIA+ inclusive or ask the owner directly if they and the neighborhood are queer friendly. I out myself before someone else does. And if my kids are with me, us, and/or my ex-partner, we put extra energy and thought into everyone’s safety and comfort. It’s not until then that we can think about all of the cool stuff we get to do while on vacation because cool and safe are not always guaranteed.
While there are more destinations today that welcome queer travelers, they can still be hard to find. A study done by Orbitz found that 58% of queer travelers spend more time researching travel spots and accommodations than cisgender heterosexual travelers. Six out of ten queer responders in their survey said they have cancelled a trip or changed plans because of feeling unsafe due to gender identity or sexuality. Keyword searches on the internet, word of mouth, queer business owners, and the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA), and companies that team with IGLTA make it easier and safer for queer folks to plan and enjoy their next getaway and business trip.
Even though some places aren’t ideal for us, we still deserve to occupy any space we desire; however, for queer folks, safety and comfort are priorities when it comes to travel. I’m also all set putting my money into bigotry’s hands. Thankfully there are more places for me and other LGBTQIA+ folks to explore.
In several articles, I’m going to highlight queer friendly beaches, all-inclusive vacation spots for your queer family, getaways for queer couples, and tips and tricks to consider when traveling as a transgender person. Get ready to pack your bags and your favorite queerly marked t-shirts. We’re going on vacation.
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