Embracing My Queer Identity While Traveling the World
The world is wide—but when you’ve spent most of your life stuck in a closet, it can be scary to throw open the doors and be your authentic self abroad. And trust me, you’re not alone. Let me share how I learned to let my true colors shine as I traveled through Budapest, Vienna, and Prague.
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I’m Mike, and I’m gay as hell. Like...really gay. Heel-stomping, Charli-XCX-listening, glitter-donning gay. Standing 6’9” in drag, I feel powerful and unafraid. It’s taken a lot of work to feel this comfortable in my skin here in the U.S., which is why it’s all the more jarring to be confronted with that worried feeling of fitting in when I travel.
Sometimes it can feel like I have to choose between travel and being my authentic self, making travel feel like a step back into the closet. This is a natural protective measure, but it still feels gross. Yet, on my recent Budapest, Vienna & Prague trip with Ultimate Break, I discovered that group travel is actually the perfect way to travel while queer. Hear me out—I didn’t think that group travel would allow me to be the queerest I could be at first, either. I had flashbacks of going to college freshman orientation, closeted and afraid. I worried I would have to tone myself down and dull my rainbow to not draw too much attention to myself. But what I discovered was just the opposite.
The beginning sets the tone
At our orientation briefing, my Tour Director stood in front of 42 bleary-eyed travelers and went over expectations for the 10 days ahead. At the end of his spiel of what the schedule would look like, he took a moment to iterate that Ultimate Break is for everyone, no matter their background. He told us he was gay, and that he has always felt welcomed by his tour participants and colleagues. I felt a sigh of relief amongst a few of my fellow travelers, as if we thought “phew, I’m not alone.” By setting the tone, my Tour Director led by example and set a standard of inclusion for the rest of the tour.
We’re all the new kid
So often, we LGBTQ people occupy the fringes, and remarkably, we’ve made this space flourish. But around large groups of people that aren’t part of our community, we tend to retreat to the edges, nervous to bring our full selves into a different-colored circle. But wanna know a secret? On a group tour, everyone is on the outside, creating a larger, more colorful circle. Someone signing up for a group tour agrees to be open and step outside of their comfort zone.
On my tour, about 60% were first-time EF travelers—they were all jumping into the water for the first time, too. Trying something new takes vulnerability, and with that vulnerability comes an acceptance of others that can sometimes be difficult to practice in your “normal” life. If you’re worried about letting your true colors shine, just know that everyone else is in the same boat.
End your identity statements with a period, not an ellipses
While the last point is a fact, it can still be hard to get out of the mentality of shying away from our identities when we’re not around a lot of other Queer people. It’s easy to let your queerness fade to the background. Being a drag queen is a big part of my identity, but I rarely lead with it because it feels so different than what other people’s idea of “normal” is. It takes concentrated effort to declare your identity and not apologize for it.
Go ahead and talk about your partner if you want, ask if anyone’s heard the latest Kim Petras song, share what awesome Pride parade you went to last year. Whatever is important to you, declare it as a statement. When our tone is apologetic for being who we are, we invite others to think there’s something to be ashamed of. Chances are, you’re not going to be the only queer person on tour—maybe your confidence will give someone else the confidence to share their story, too.
It’s not about the bar, it’s about the people
In the States, you couldn’t pay me to spend a night at a straight club. The music all sounds the same. The drinks are weak. And where tf is all the glitter?? I anticipated that when I went out with other tour members, thinking I’d spend the evening standing still and fist pumping, praying for one single Lady Gaga song. But when we went out in Prague, I found myself dancing as freely as I would have in a gay club in the States. The reason (which certainly wasn’t the music—Pitbull who?) was the people.
After spending a week exploring and getting to know my group, dancing like no one is watching felt like second nature. Once I allowed myself to let go of the fear that others were looking at me because I was gay and realize they were looking at me because of my sickening dance moves, a huge weight was lifted. I also realized that the center of the straight/gay Venn diagram is definitely ABBA. Everyone’s a little bit gay when Dancing Queen comes on.
Safety in numbers
While queer visibility in the world has come a long way, there are still places where being openly LGBTQ isn’t met with open arms. But that shouldn’t mean that we’re not allowed to visit these destinations. Being in a group is the best way to experience the places that we might feel uncomfortable traveling to on our own. If you still feel the need to dampen your pride to be safe on the street, you at least have a group of young, open-minded world travelers to fall back on and be your authentic self with back at your hotel. You also have a built-in ally in your Tour Director—if you ever feel uncomfortable, they are there to listen and make sure you feel cared for.
Now I recognize that while I was traveling as my gay ole’ self, I wasn’t stomping through the streets of Budapest in my Pleasers and pads. I carry an immense amount of cis privilege that allows me to walk through the world in a way that my trans and non-binary siblings might not. This post comes with the biggest caveat that LGBTQ people know all too well—your personal safety comes above all else. There are plenty of resources out there to help you make a judgement call on whether you’d feel comfortable visiting a destination.
I hope you feel empowered to step outside of your comfort zone and try a group trip, but make sure you have access to your support system back home, and that you save the emergency line of whoever you travel with. Remember though that we Queer people exist everywhere, and we are only going to make the world more colorful by living our lives to the gayest.
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