Just How "Out" Should Gay Travelers Be?
A reader asks us to settle a dispute between him and his partner.
We recently received what we both thought was a pretty interesting question from a reader (which we’ve edited slightly):
Please offer some advice. We’re a traditionally masculine gay couple in their mid-60's — older than you two gents — and we want to follow in your travel footsteps. Let’s say we’re traveling in a predominantly Muslim region in Eastern Europe, or maybe in the Middle East. We’re friendly, polite and respectful travelers, and we strike up a conversation with men in a mosque or some other obvious environment that frowns upon or prohibits homosexuality. A local asks if we’re related. Should we pretend to be brothers or cousins, so as not to offend anyone or endanger ourselves? Or do we proclaim we’re married to one another and turn this simple, harmless inquiry about our relationship into a potentially explosive situation but also maybe a “teachable moment”? One of us wants to fib and keep things simple, light and safe. The other feels very strongly he must speak his truth when asked. And that's when the fireworks between us begin. One of us will surely want to bulldoze his way through the encounter, and the other believes we will be confronted with being taken into custody and imprisoned — and not in a gay sex fantasy way. As the internet seems to have very few normal, grounded gay couples such as yourselves, please take a moment and share how you would handle this situation.
First, thanks for the interesting question! The two of us have had similar conflicts before — in fact, we wrote about one such conflict here.
We’ve also thought a lot about the whole issue of “coming out” while traveling, because it obviously comes up time and again.
Before we get to our answer, we were both curious which of the two people in this relationship is you. We have absolutely no idea from the way you’re framing the issue.
Yeah, we’re being sarcastic.
Truthfully, we both mostly agree with you — the more reticent guy. Then again, you are the faithful subscriber.
But when all is said and done, maybe we come in somewhere between you and your partner — but still closer to you, natch.
First, let us put your mind at ease: even in homophobic countries, we think you’re very unlikely to ever be arrested simply for being gay — or even for announcing you’re gay.
We’ve never heard of Westerners being arrested for any of that, and even Googling it, we couldn’t find any examples — though, of course, there was that gay couple in Thailand who was arrested for mooning their camera in various temples.
Honestly? We think those guys probably deserved to be arrested. What a stupid, disrespectful thing to do.
There’s also this story of a Western man who was arrested for dating a local man in Morocco.
But this brings up a key point. There are certainly plenty of countries doing tragic and outrageous things to LGBTQ people, but they’re usually mostly doing them to their own citizens, not tourists. That story made headlines because it involved a Westerner. And the fact that it made headlines means it’s pretty rare.
Most countries on Planet Earth court wealthy tourists, which, relatively speaking, almost all Westerners are. So they — we — usually get very special treatment.
Even when Westerners, say, dress in a way locals might find inappropriate, which, frankly, many tourists do.
This isn’t as bad as dropping trou in a temple, but we think this can be pretty arrogant and presumptuous too. As travelers, we’ve always considered ourselves guests in the countries we visit. And being a good guest means, at the very minimum, respecting the host.
Read the damn room, people.
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But that’s not what you’re talking about in your question. You’re talking about whether or not LGBTQ people should stay closeted in countries with regressive attitudes about gay people.
And we think that’s a bit complicated.
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