Traveling around the world puts me in some interesting situations and I like to offer up the things I learn to make your travels a bit smoother. Basically, my goal is to encourage all of you to travel more and help you understand the best ways you can do this. Another part of what I do is, through my own participation in the travel world, try to increase LGBT representation within the travel industry. I believe our community is vastly underrepresented and it needs to change. Oftentimes people ask me what is gay travel because they want to understand what that entails. I always explain gay travel is no different from any other type of travel, really. We want adventure, new experiences, cultural immersion, and great food just like anyone else. But there’s an element to traveling while LGBT that doesn’t really factor in for heterosexual travelers. We have to really consider how we are perceived and understand whether or not our safety is at risk in a given situation. One could argue that everyone needs to do this, however, everyone does not need to worry about their safety and comfort due to the person they love. That’s a HUGE difference. Luckily, there are open, accepting, and wonderful people all over the world that help make gay travel a thing and .
So gay travel is the same as any other type of travel…but different.
Gay Travel: The Power of Stories
Traveling offers us many things including the opportunity to have fulfilling experiences and getting to know new people and cultures. When I head to a new country, I like to hang out in local restaurants, shop at street markets, and go to local bars so I can gain a better understanding of the place itself. While shopping for some souvenirs is always a fun part of travel, it’s the stories I’m really after. That’s why I try to go where the people hang out. Stories are the greatest souvenir because, unlike a wooden trinket or what have you, they can really have an impact on you as a person and even change your life.
When someone tells me a story or when I learn something via experience, I cling to it tightly. I try my best to remember it or even write it down so I won’t forget. I believe every person we meet comes into our life for a reason and we have a lot to learn from all the people we interact with on daily basis. When it comes to gay travel, stories are even more important. For the longest time, LGBT people have lived in the shadows. In some ways, we were an invisible portion of society because we were forced to be discreet and keep quiet. Our heteronormative society succeeded for the longest time in keeping our fabulousness suppressed with fear of retribution. Fortunately, times have changed. The LGBT community in many parts of the world is empowered and we’ve let our flags fly proudly. I feel lucky because I am from a country where I can be myself. But this isn’t always the case. Homosexuality is a punishable crime in 72 countries today. Even in countries where it is not illegal, LGBT people can still face discrimination, hate, and retribution simply for being LGBT. The United States happens to be one of these countries and even at home I find myself being cautious at time.
And this is why stories matter…especially LGBT stories. When I learn someone’s story, I see it as an opportunity to share it with the world (with their permission of course) and help create a more open and understanding global society. Stories can give voice to those who feel virtually voiceless and help us learn more about a culture and a place we are visiting. Sure, this might sound like a dream of grandeur but in a small way these stories have an impact. So I plan to share as many of those stories as possible.
Gay Travel: Ahmed’s Story
During my trip to Israel, I spent a great deal of time in Jerusalem and decided to stay in a hostel because it was affordable and because I knew I would easily meet people in the more social atmosphere of a hostel versus a hotel. Abraham Hostels are, by far, the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in and everyone seems to have a good time and enjoy themselves. One night, I was sitting in the common lounge area working and was a little bored so I opened up Grindr to see who was around me. I often use Grindr to meet people when I travel and a guy started chatting me up. Usually guys on there get straight to the point but this guy really just wanted to hang out and be friends …and he was staying at the hostel too. So he came down to the common area and we chatted for a while. He wanted to know what life is like in the US so our conversation focused mostly on that but he told me he was a student at a University in the area and that he was originally from Nazareth. Then we both went to our separate rooms to go to sleep.
The next day, I met him at the Church of the Holy Selpuchre early in the morning before too many tourists showed up and we sat on the steps in front of the church talking. He said he studied tourism and told me all about his research. I was curious to understand what it was like being gay in Nazareth and he told me that, even though it is not illegal to be gay in Israel, in Nazareth there are no gay people. He didn’t literally mean there are no gay people but instead implied that as far as the locals are concerned, gay people just don’t exist in their town. In other words, he is very much in the closet when he is back home. In fact, he told me he wouldn’t dream of coming out the closet to anyone in Nazareth and he closely guards his secret.
Ahmed lives in constant fear of being found out. I asked him what would happen if someone back home found out he is gay and he said he isn’t sure but he knows people have lost their lives because of it in the past. Israel, of course, does not penalize or punish people for their sexual orientation or gender identity. In fact, Israel is one of the most progressive countries when it comes to LGBT rights in the Middle East and is home to one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, Tel Aviv. He explained to me, the laws of Israel don’t criminalize homosexuality but within communities it can be much different. In other words, there is a difference between the law and how local communities handle it.
Ultimately, he told me he hopes to move out of Israel and to another country when he finishes his studies. He wants to be able to live an open life and feel free to be his genuine self. As a gay, Muslim man of Arabic descent, it isn’t quite as simple for him as it is for others in his country. I can’t say that I blame for wanting to leave and make a better life.
Gay Travel Stories: Why They Matter
In this case, I met someone who definitely feels disempowered in his situation and faces a reality that many of us can’t begin to fathom. It is important that his story, however brief, be known. While travel is often focused on the fun aspects, it can also serve as an excellent opportunity to learn about and understand the lives of others. I always say when we visit a place, we are visiting someone’s home. There are real people living in our vacation destinations and they face real issues, both good and bad. If you really want to get to know a place then you need to meet some of its people.
When it comes to gay travel, I believe these stories are absolutely vital in both increasing LGBT representation and contributing to a more open and accepting society. There are people out there who don’t feel they have a voice. I intend to give them a voice in my own small way. Travel is about expanding horizons and there’s no better way to do this than to understand other people’s stories as we travel around the world.
Want to learn more about Jerusalem’s only gay bar? Check it out here!
Click here to read about 5 things I learned in Jerusalem.
And learn to make a humus with this recipe!
Will you try to chat with the locals more when you travel?
Why or why not in the comments below!
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