We’re Lobke and Inge, two women from Belgium who love to wander the world. We met each other at the perfect time in our lives. We were both ready to make drastic changes. We both wanted to escape the routine of our daily work lives and discover the world. So that is what we did.
How we felt about traveling while queer
Of course, being queer was something we took in account from the beginning. We knew that it could be an issue and we had little knowledge about gay culture in the countries we were about to visit. That’s why we did a regular LGBT check per country and discovered the quite interesting LGBT rights pages on wikipedia. They had all the information about laws, public opinion and discrimination measures. The pages are a little bit cluttered, but everything we needed to know was there. Based on this information, we canceled out a few tropical destinations right away. We didn’t want to be harassed, discriminated or arrested, so the unfriendly places were scratched off our list. We only focused on the countries that had at least the “same-sex sexual activity is legal” sign, as if we needed permission to have sex.
The actual travel
During our travels, we experienced no major issues at all for being queer. There was never an issue in sharing a room or walking down the street. We were never holding hands, because we didn’t want to jinx it. Knowing that we wouldn’t be showing too much affection in public, we enjoyed our secret private hugs and cuddles even more. I don’t have a need to walk hand in hand all the time or kiss in public. I wouldn’t do that if I were straight either. This doesn’t mean that we were not kind and loving for each other along the way. We just behaved in the same way we do in Belgium; the way we think is appropriate to behave in public. I’m not a big fan of couples who are French kissing in the middle of a big shopping street. So, in short: we acted the same way in Central America, South America, China, … as we do in our home country, Belgium.
Not being discriminated as a queer traveler doesn’t mean we didn’t run into trouble at all. These issues had more to do with my appearance rather than with our fabulous queerness. The only issues we had were too small to make a fuss about it and they usually had something to do with gendering and misgendering. If you read our blog, you’ll notice that the bathroom is the biggest issue I have ever had in my life. The same thing is true all over the world. So this misgendering isn’t actually a travel issue. Although it may be enforced by cultural differences and I tried even more to match my original gender, it’s basically the same all over the world. It’s always a surprise to find out if I will be a sir or a ma’m.
Misgendering: what am I talking about?
Misgendering is the act of assigning the wrong gender to a person. This usually isn’t something you do on purpose. You just mistake the gender of someone who doesn’t match the guidelines that fit the birth gender of a person. I face this problem quite a lot since I am a woman that looks a lot like a man. I have all the female parts and I even have pretty big boobs, but my short hair, broad shoulders and masculine walk is confusing to a lot of people. In Belgium, I feel more confident to tell people that they are mistaking and they shouldn’t bother me. When traveling to a far away country, things are slightly different, because you can never be sure about the cultural background of people. It could easily go wrong when someone gets offended or sees me as a possible aggressor. That’s why I try to be extra careful when we travel abroad. It’s also the reason for doing research. It’s a good thing to know the law before getting in trouble.
With this thought always in the back of my mind, you can imagine I’m always a little on edge. I’m always checking my surroundings to see if anyone is eying me hatefully. It’s not necessary, but it’s in my nature and I do it anyway. Being used to this routine makes it part of my daily existence and I actually do it constantly when I’m around people. I’m always measuring and scaling the people around me to anticipate on things before they happen. This results in the fact that I get the vibe of a place pretty quick. The vibe I get can be very different from the vibe other people get, because I’m looking for different things than they are. Going to crowded places, like clubs or parties, can be quite exhausting for this reason.
Finding an ally
Finding an ally while traveling is amongst the best experiences to have on the road. And we found quite of few of these on our path. One of the allies I remember vividly is one we met in Krakow, Poland. Due to the lack of space in a bar, we were being elbowed by a group of guys who were clearly out to conquer our space. A young couple smiled at us and invited us to their table. We laughed about us having to run away to avoid being punched in the eye. After a few beers they told us they wanted to go to a Communist themed bar not far away. It was located in a basement and had an ancient look and feel. It truly was an awesome location to have an unforgettable party. But I had a very bad feeling about the place. There was no real reason for it. My gut was nagging me to get out of there. I was the only one with this feeling, I guess, because the others were already going wild dancing. Until our new friend saw me being uncomfortable and asked what was up. So I told him I was uncomfortable and I had the idea that people were eye-ing me. He didn’t ask me why I felt this way. He just smiled at me and said that he would keep an eye on me. He reassured me that I wasn’t being watched and that if anything would happen, he would be by my side. Then he wrapped up his speech saying: “You’re perfect as you are! Don’t worry!”
This guy made my day! I was very happy that I didn’t have to explain why I was worried and he didn’t even mention it. That’s how to be a great ally! Nothing weird happened in the bar that night except having an awesome time and the worst hangover in history. Although we only met them that one night, I would love to meet them again somewhere, sometime.
Being an ally is all about acceptance and friendship. It’s not too difficult to be one. Just using common sense and being a good friend is all it takes. Whether I’m feeling anxious about my presence or we’re having concerns about being two female travelers doesn’t really matter. We found allies in every corner of the world and have felt the support of other travelers in so many places before. I can only encourage everyone to be that friend and ally for people you meet. Being there, being supportive, and letting someone know that you care for them can make the sun shine brighter for that person.
Follow Inge and Lobke on their LGBT blog Only Once Today.