- Introduction: An Open-Ended Journey To Oman
- Review: Iberia Business Class Airbus A330 (MIA-MAD)
- Our COVID-19 Testing Mess At Madrid Airport
- Review: Four Seasons Hotel Madrid
- Review: Iberia Lounge Madrid Airport (MAD)
- Review: Iberia Business Class A320neo (MAD-MXP)
- Review: Sala Montale Lounge Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP)
- Review: Qatar Airways Business Class Boeing 787-9 (MXP-DOH)
- Review: Qatar Airways A320 Business Class (DOH-SLL)
- Oman Entry Requirements: My Experience
- Traveling As A Gay, Married Couple: My Philosophy
- Review: Alila Hinu Bay, Oman
- Review: Oman Air Lounge Salalah Airport
- Review: Oman Air A330 Business Class (SLL-MCT)
- Review: W Hotel Muscat, Oman
- Review: Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman
- Review: The Chedi Muscat, Oman
- Review: Primeclass Lounge Muscat Airport (MCT)
- Review: Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class (MCT-IST)
- Review: Turkish Airlines 737 MAX Business Class (IST-CPH)
- Review: AC Hotel By Marriott Copenhagen Bella Sky
- Copenhagen Airport’s Awesome COVID-19 Testing Center
- Review: SAS Lounge Copenhagen Airport (CPH)
- Review: Eventyr Lounge Copenhagen Airport (CPH)
- Review: SAS Business Class Airbus A350-900 (CPH-MIA)
I’ve been in the process of publishing a trip report about our trip to Oman. In the introduction post, some readers asked me about my comfort level with traveling to some places as a gay couple.
Now that we’re at the point in the trip report where we’re visiting a Middle Eastern country, I wanted to address that topic more broadly. How do I approach deciding where to travel, how do I change my behavior when traveling based on the destination, etc.? I’m also curious to hear how others approach this.
Let me say this upfront — we don’t travel places as a couple where we feel like we constantly have to hide who we are.
In this post:
A few disclaimers to start
Before I get too deep into sharing my approach when it comes to traveling and being gay, let me acknowledge a few things:
- I recognize I’m incredibly fortunate to live in a country where I can (for the most part) live my life freely, and I’m also blessed to have a supportive family, and to be financially independent; even in the United States, plenty of people don’t have accepting families, and might not be able to support themselves financially, leading to some bad situations
- There’s a big difference between being a visitor somewhere and trying to live one’s life somewhere, so I’m not suggesting “well I didn’t have any problems in X country, and therefore no one will”
- I’m just sharing my experiences and beliefs, which I’ve come to after endless travel over the years; of course others may have different experiences, and I’m not saying these opinions will apply everywhere in the world
- In the comments section I’d love to hear how others approach these complex issues, though I ask everyone be respectful; we can all share our beliefs without putting other people down
With that out of the way, let me share my general philosophy.
It’s important to be out and unapologetic
Any gay person knows that coming out can be complicated — that starts with coming out to yourself and accepting who you are. The older I’ve gotten, the less sheepish and unapologetic I’ve become about being gay. What people think about me being gay isn’t something I’m going to lose any sleep over — that’s their problem, not mine. That includes when traveling to countries that might on the surface be less accepting of gay travelers.
I’ll take it a step further in saying that I think it’s my duty to come out whenever I can. The goal isn’t to make people uncomfortable or shame them into acceptance, but rather to build a bridge, and normalize people of different backgrounds as much as possible. We all have preconceived notions about certain groups of people, and the way to get over those is to show people that our similarities outnumber our differences.
Coming out is a never-ending, complicated process
When you travel as a gay couple in many parts of the world, it’s normal for people to just assume that you’re friends, brothers, colleagues, etc. I get it, that doesn’t bother me, and I’m not offended. I’m never going to be upset at anyone for making that assumption, because, well, I’d spend a lot of time being upset, and that doesn’t benefit anyone.
That being said, when I feel it’s safe and helpful to do so, I try to subtly avoid that and correct misconceptions. Let me give some examples:
- If I’m in contact with a hotel in advance, I’ll make it clear that I’m traveling with my husband, so that they’re clear on what the relationship is, and that booking a room with one bed isn’t a mistake; whether or not they process that correctly is a different story
- If I’m in a setting where it’s safe to do so (in my travels that’s a vast majority of places), and I’m referring to Ford in any context, I refer to him as what he is, which is my husband
- If someone refers to him as my friend, I’m typically not going to correct them right away, because I don’t think it helps to make anyone feel like they offended me (and I’m not offended, for that matter); that being said, if I interact with the same person multiple times, I might say “oh I’m just waiting on my husband, he should be here shortly,” or something, so that hopefully they get the hint
It’s also important to acknowledge that context matters:
- If I’m in a taxi in Moscow at 10PM and the driver is trying to get us to go to a strip club, we’re not going to correct him and tell him we’re gay (note: I’m not going to Moscow now, but this did happen when we visited several years back)
- Generally speaking I feel much more comfortable being openly gay when staying at a major international chain hotel, because they have global standards around acceptance and inclusivity; if I were (theoretically) at a small guest house in Saudi Arabia it would of course be a totally different story
- Sometimes I’m just not in the mood to come out (because it’s exhausting), or the setting isn’t right; in 2018 I wrote about my experience getting a massage in Singapore, and the lady asked if I have kids, and when I said I didn’t she asked “why not?” and said that after the massage I’ll “be nice and relaxed and can make babies soon,” and I don’t really feel like that’s the time to come out
There’s value in interactions at all levels
Even at a chain hotel, I think there’s potentially huge value in the individual interactions you can have with people. Perceptions don’t change overnight, but rather it’s a slow process. For example, take Dubai, which has workers from all over the globe.
The workers you interact with may be from countries that aren’t accepting of gays. But if you can be yourself around them, and they realize you’re not that different than others, I think there’s value in that, and that over time will lead to a shift in mindsets.
Peoples’ perceptions don’t shift because they take a one hour training course about inclusivity when they started their job. They shift through firsthand experiences.
Similarly, I’ve had people in countries that aren’t particularly accepting come out to me, and say how they could never come out to their family, etc. But it’s nice to be able to hear them out and be supportive.
Laws in the Middle East are complex for everyone
People often say “I’ll never travel to [insert Middle Eastern country] because of the laws they have against gays.” That’s totally fair, and I get it. You’re not wrong, and in many cases the laws are very problematic. Look, I probably wouldn’t travel to Saudi Arabia with Ford and book a hotel room with one bed (this is a moot point, because Ford has no interest in traveling there).
But for countries like Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, the UAE, etc., I have absolutely no qualms being myself. If someone wants to generally boycott these countries because of the laws, I respect that. But I also think there’s some nuance to understand:
- Admittedly a lot of these countries have a lot of laws that aren’t actually enforced, and this goes way beyond being gay; this includes laws around public displays of affection, laws around unmarried people staying in the rooms, laws around sex, etc.
- For example, until 2020 it was technically illegal for unmarried people to share a hotel room in the UAE; yet how many tens of millions of unmarried couples visited the UAE over time, shared a hotel room, and had no issues?
- Essentially many Middle Eastern countries operate on a system of unenforced laws, which is a problem, but that also goes way beyond laws involving same sex relationships
- My philosophy is that if you’re respectful to locals, including following local customs, then they’ll be respectful back to you
I also think it’s important to recognize when countries are making progress, even if they’re not as far along as other countries, or as far along as many of us would like them to be. I think we often forget that many countries in the Middle East have official religions, and are only a few decades old.
Yes, it’s the year 2022 for all of us, but there’s a difference between a country that has been around for hundreds of years and claims to not be guided by a particular religion, and a country that has been around for a few decades and is based on religious law.
I often get questions about my approach to traveling to countries that (on the surface) aren’t particularly accepting of gay travelers. Hopefully the above is a useful rundown of the approach that I take. I’m not claiming to be right, but rather I’m just sharing my take.
Personally I think it’s important to try to be “out” whenever you safely can, and for that matter I just don’t have interest in traveling to destinations where I have to hide who I am. There’s admittedly a balance here, since local customs have to be respected as well. But those aren’t always as black and white as people might assume.
I’m curious how OMAAT readers approach this issue?