“Travel isn’t just a window to the world, it’s the school of society.”
Adam Wilder is a gay model slash geneticist with whom I have the privilege of being good friends with. We lived in a queer student cooperative together during college. Adam is nothing short of superhuman: physically flawless, extremely intelligent and profoundly introspective. He’s a beauty with some serious brains.
Adam has traveled and moved quite often in his life for both leisure and academia, from California to Australia to Canada, where he’s currently getting his Masters in Botany. He was kind enough to write for us a very profound thoughtful piece in which he reflects upon how our privileges affect our travel experiences.
My name is Adam Wilder and I’m writing to you currently from Vancouver, with the entirety of the United States in between me and my home town of Ramona, San Diego. You tell someone that, especially up here and the first thing you see is exasperation. Almost condemnation.
‘WHY would you ever leave California?’
As if the entirety of the state was a homogenized pool of the gay agenda. Little is it seen that I’ve been constantly escaping oppressive forces of both the conservative and liberal plot my whole life, even in California. As a cis, gay white male, my story is hardly new. It’s hardly controversial. Something I’ve had to come to deal with when I experience something that feels personally devastating but is relatively inconsequential.
Most LGBTQIA+ identifying folk are looking for safe spaces. In Berkeley’s Oscar Wilde House, a queer dorm-like establishment for students where I lived during my undergraduate curriculum, this is exactly what we aimed to achieve. But out in the real world if you’re trying to buy a plane ticket, or visit a rarely seen friend, these spaces don’t always exist.
Currently I’m pursuing my Masters of Botany from the University of British Columbia and am seriously contemplating planting some roots into this rainy wonderland. Before deciding to commit to this adult thing, I roamed from the mainland temples of Greece, to the Great Ocean Road of Australia, to the cafes of Amsterdam. And now, I sit in the Canadian version of Starbucks to whine. To complain about the world and how it eats with its eyes.
But I’m not whining for me. I’ve traveled. I’ve experienced. I’m privileged.
When someone tells me they haven’t traveled, or they couldn’t see themselves living anywhere else, it shocks me. I consider my experiences as a cultural necessity these days. Constantly I’m referring friends, family, and especially those who need a breath of empathy and reality to venture into the world and reap its offerings. Oftentimes, this is the small-town kid, either fearfully or proudly dismissive of the world’s diversity—deeply ingrained in localized culture and knowledge. Someone I once was. Coming from a queer family on the poorer end of the spectrum, I don’t often acknowledge the caveats. What I’ve realized is that this isn’t perceived as an available truth for everyone. And trying to encourage travel and self-exploration by that means is not a route that every train thinks they can manage. Especially when you’re the queer caboose of heteronormative jokes and standards.
Without the gift of global gab, I’ve been mostly constrained in my travels to English speaking countries or those where I’ve had friends. A majority of which come from Europe. As a result, my truth may not extend everywhere but the truth of observation and learning is something we all can do anywhere. I’ve been lucky to travel somewhat seamlessly and to witness and learn about the social intricacies of fitting in. While I try not to make an example of the presentation of my sexuality often, as the qualities are much too often discussed by gay men, I‘m able appearance wise and socially to “pass.” In fact, the other half of my double life is in modeling and being an entertainer. I’m willfully accepted as an imitator of heterosexual ideals and imagery.
When I was mugged in Australia, it wasn’t for being gay. When my QPOC friend drunkenly abandoned me in London at the bus station at 3AM, guess who it was that woke up in the police station. When I offered my choice for President in 2008 to a Greek barista upon her questioning, it wasn’t because I was gay that she couldn’t fathom why not Hillary.
What’s become clear to me is that traveling suffers the same affliction as humans. It is dependent on our senses and privilege is a dominantly acting force because of that. Further, there are so many forms of privilege that nuance the more aptly visible ones. Surely, members of minorities and visible presentations of gender and sexuality are most at risk. While overtly outward racism and bigotry haven’t extended their reach into most of my travels, I do see the effects of my privilege.
A little joke around Vancouver is that it’s a bit socially hard to break in. Maybe it’s the “Netflix and Chill” weather most of the year, or maybe it’s an affliction of West Coast ideals with Canadian culture. Regardless, I didn’t experience it. In fact, even when I’m a bad friend, stuck for a month or two under a procrastinated workload, the reality is, friendships welcome me back.
I could attribute this to genuine friendship and authentically being good people, but it’s much easier to notice the reality that this doesn’t extend to everyone and that friends are dropped for much less, much more quickly. And acquaintances even more so. Within weeks of moving downtown in Vancouver, I had an apt friend circle, was getting into clubs for free, had no rules of dress apply to me, and if ever desired, could locate a sexual partner within moments of turning on my phone. That sounds like what most would consider successful qualities of travel and social integration.
The truth is, for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, this quick adoption is rarely a reality. Social opportunities and currency are much harder to come by. Even if present only for a week, I have access to a sizeable portion of the community and experiences in most places. Is it because I can pass as straight? Maybe. Is it because I’m white? Maybe. Is it because I’m attractive? I’ll let you decide.
And that’s just within the gay community. Expand that to other cultures and opportunities and the accessibility narrows for those who don’t fulfill the social aesthetic. Travel, like everything else, continues to be like a giant game of Dodgeball. Someone has to be picked last, and still, to this day, that’s true for almost every country I’ve visited. But what I’ve learned from playing Dodgeball is that even all those times of being picked last were worth it. You learn who the bullies are. You learn the rules of social inadequacy. You learn the game.
And travel is just that. It’s a game. Humans are predictable creatures. We gather at proverbial water holes, we congregate to worship false idols, and we bask in the glory of natural wonders. Sure, these days we want to do it in a way that garners the most likes on a photo or provides the most expansive story, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an experience worth having. And it doesn’t impact the game. It actually makes it easier to win. But what exactly makes an experience worth having? Is it just about winning? What value do we assign and how do we attribute to it a positive travel experience?
That is determined totally by you. While what you are able to experience and who you are able to experience it with is still partially and frustratingly dictated by the privileged, how you view it and what you take from it is entirely your decision and unique to you. As someone whose privileges have evolved over time, I’ve seen what is in my control and what isn’t. The only way to beat the game is to play the game. Even if you don’t obtain your desired set of experience, you’re still on the path to leveling up.
So, if you find as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community that you’re struggling to convince yourself that travel is for you, challenge yourself. Safely. Learn the game. Maybe it won’t be about clubbing at the hottest night club, or attending a massive sporting event. But travel is more than that. It isn’t just a window to the world, it’s the school of society.
Witness the commonalities of bigotry across the world, experience the modes of access and how to garner support, and build your networks of truth from Vancouver to Sri Lanka. If, as a community, we seek out safe spaces and safe means of travel… then we leave the rest of the world to the bullies and isolate our experiences into a narrower margin of truth. We abandon our right to explore the world even though it is the most autonomous entity we interact with. It isn’t owned. It isn’t bought. Humans have just told you this for your whole life.
But you’re autonomous too. I’m picky when I eat, I don’t believe in religion, and I’m currently single. Instead, I tried my hand at an experiment. If I get to the truth, no matter what the experience is I can’t fault its purpose. Accessibility is a major problem for minorities across the board, but it shouldn’t stop us. Whether I am first in line at the club or last, I can only learn where everyone stands by standing in it.
Don’t disregard safety. Don’t ignore the law. But there are loopholes while traveling. There are compromises. And you can find them.
Photos: Adam Wilder