Why are there no gay backpackers?
There are plenty of articles around on whether you should be out while travelling but they’re almost all about whether certain destinations are safe for LGBT people.
For me there is a broader question as even in positively gay friendly destinations LGBT backpackers are often noticeable by their absence.
However, I should dismiss this perennial travel myth right at the start once and for all. Of course there are gay backpackers, I should know, I’m one of them.
Yet the fact that I’ve been asked this question on multiple occasions by both gay and straight travellers says something about the alienation and discomfort LGBT people can experience on the road. The question is not why are there no gay backpackers, it is why are there no gay backpackers who are willing to be out on the road?
Just like being gay, the experience of travelling is unique to every single person so I can’t claim to provide any kind of wide ranging answer, just what I have observed from my own personal experiences.
I first came out to a friend when I was 15 and most of my family by the time I was 18. After years of hiding my sexuality at school I was determined to be out and open when I went to university. I am out at work and to every single person who is important to me. Simply put, I’m proud and happy to be gay and wouldn’t change it for a second.
That being said I’ve never really fitted the stereotype. The vast majority of my friends are straight and I would find it strange to choose who you hang out with just because they’re into the same type of guys.
All of this works well living in London with a stable group of friends who you’ve known for years. Yes, at one point you have to do the slightly awkward moment when someone you’ve known for a little while asks what you’re doing this weekend and you tell them you’re going to Heaven but it beats saying “Hi, I’m Tom. I’m gay.”
However, following the travel pattern of most backpackers and changing location every couple of days, I hardly ever reach the point where I know someone well enough that I’m willing to have that awkward moment. When you’re likely to never see them again it hardly seems worth the effort.
Repeat this again and again and you can discover, as I did after 3 months in South East Asia that you’re effectively back in the closet.
This had two real impacts on my time travelling:
One, it made one of the best things about travelling impossible, the chance to be completely free of any of the expectations you have to live up in real life. Back home what you do and where you come from matter, when you travel the only thing that counts is whether you’re friendly and open to new experiences. But how can you do that when you are now tacitly pretending to be straight?
Secondly, it makes meeting other gay travellers much harder. I’d be lying if I wasn’t slightly jealous of the ease with which straight friends fell into relationships while on the road around. Also, unless you are travelling with a LGBT friend, even if you’re in a gay friendly destination, your chance of escaping the awful nightclub that all the backpackers seem to be funneled into and where you will be forced to endure multiple songs by Flo Rider is almost zero.
It’s not normally that I’m worried that other backpackers would react badly or that somehow I’d be putting myself in danger (though from time to time it has seemed sensible on that front too) it’s just that fellow travellers automatically assume you are straight and there never seems to be a right moment to correct them.
The overall effect is despite my love of discovering new cultures, getting off the beaten track and meeting other travellers, I find myself wanting to book holidays with gay friends to mainstream LGBT destinations and wondering why there are no gay backpackers?
I guess I only have myself to blame.