She’s awesome, she’s quirky and she knows what it’s like for LGBTQ+ travelers.
We’ve featured Melissa of Lez Backpack before in “9 Most Inspirational Women Travel Bloggers to Follow” and we’re delighted to feature her again as part of our LGBTQ+ Traveler Experiences series as part of LGBT month.
Lez Backpack is an awesome and quirky travel blog dedicated to providing information and community to queer women travelers. Melissa has written articles about traveling with her partner through Asia as well as essential packing lists for butch lesbians.
Here Melissa was kind enough to respond to some of our questions about traveling as an LGBTQ+ traveler.
What is it like traveling as a LGBTQ+ person?
I lived in South Korea as an ESL teacher for 3 years. Homosexuality isn’t illegal in Korea, but it isn’t discussed and is generally looked down upon. There are also no laws protecting the rights of a homosexual person in the workplace, and for this reason, I never came out to my teaching colleagues. It did make it difficult to get close to my coworkers. They often asked about my personal life but I always played it off as if I were single, despite being in a committed relationship. Korea did, however, have an active gay and lesbian scene, which I took part in. I had the chance to meet quite a few gay Koreans and expats who truly enriched my experience in the country. After my teaching contracts were finished, I was able to return to the United States. I can’t help but feel for the homosexuals living in Korea who have to remain silent about their sexuality in fear of discrimination.
If you have been to countries where homosexuality is punishable by law, how is traveling in countries where homosexuality is a crime?
While not illegal in Korea, being out as a gay person in the country could border a fine line of criminality. In some vocations, being outed as gay could cost you your job, especially for me since I was an ESL teacher working with children. My partner, who is masculine presenting, was harassed so frequently in women’s restrooms that she stopped using them in public. On one occasion, she was even followed through the streets by a group of young adults who laughed and pointed at her while they wondered aloud if she were a boy or a girl. To get away from them, she had to quickly slip into an ally way. Though Korea doesn’t criminalize homosexuality, it definitely does not guarantee protection.
What are the biggest challenges traveling as a LGBTQ+ person?
As a gender conforming person, traveling alone as a lesbian woman doesn’t really cause issues for me. But I often feel like I can’t connect with other travelers the way a straight person could. Sometimes I’m scared to tell a group of people that I’m a lesbian. I don’t know how they’ll feel about me, and I’d rather err on the side of security than find out later someone doesn’t approve of my sexuality.
When I’m traveling as a couple, I’m thankful to say I haven’t encountered any violence or serious discrimination. However, there’s something intangible that happens that I find really unfortunate. Because my partner and I don’t come out as a couple to everyone we meet, sometimes we can internalize that silence to reflect on the relationship. I wonder, do we really love each other if we’re not brave enough to come out? These is completely unwarranted but it can weigh heavily on our hearts if we think about it too much. It’s a form of protection, but we’re hurt no matter what. I wonder if other homosexual couples feel this way.
How are LGBTQIA+ cultures and communities different in various countries?
Mainstream society’s view of homosexuality directly influences the gay community’s visibility. In my experience, there is always a thriving gay community in large cities – despite legality. Of course, when a country views homosexuality as subversive, that mindset plays out in the self-perception of the condemned group. I would say that depression and shame are higher in queer individuals in countries that do not accept homosexuality.
What is the best way to find LGBTQIA+ communities abroad?
Thankfully, finding a gay community or hot spot is not difficult with the internet. But because communities may be secret, doing a Google search may not always be the best way to find them. I suggest getting on dating apps. I know this may seem a bit daunting but don’t worry! Approach the conversation as strictly platonic. Reach out to expats in the area and ask them where to go. You might find yourself a new travel buddy and gain a great experience in the meantime.
Photos: Lez Backpack