“Von’s decision to travel is unbelievably brave, if not daunting.”
Von is a personal friend of mine who I met when we were both teaching English in Spain. He is a transgender man from the U.S. who moved abroad for the first time and has been traveling ever since. Von is super sweet, handsome as fuck and is always open to sharing his experiences as a transgender man and educating anybody who wants to learn more about being transgender. I admire him so much because even though he passes as a cis-gendered man, there’s still so much violence against transgender people around the world and making the decision to travel to foreign countries is unbelievably brave, if not daunting.
He was kind enough to be a part of our LGBTQ+ Travelers series and talk about his experiences and challenges of traveling and living abroad as a transgender person.
My name is Von Scully, and I’m a transgender man (born female and transitioned to male), and I have been living in Andalucía, Spain for the past eight months. As I was preparing to leave my home country of the United States of America, my biggest fear concerning my upcoming adventure was my safety as a transgender person. My language skills in any other tongue except English were minimal at best, and although I pass for a cisgender man completely, I did not know what difficulties I might encounter in countries with unknown cultures and languages. Will I be able to access my hormones? What if I have a medical emergency and I’m in a country with complete hatred for people like me? What if?
Of course, before I continue, I must express a few disclaimers. First, I do indeed completely pass as a cis-gendered man, so my experiences directly connected to being transgender are few and far between. Second, I am writing this after actually living in one particular country for a long period of time, so the amount of experience I have regarding each country is greatly skewed.
Thankfully, my apprehensions have been basically moot points. Spain, my home away from home, may be a traditionally intensive Catholic country, but the people here have a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to LGBTQ+ topics. I live in a rather small city (the citizens actually call it a town), but even here I have met with nothing but genuine support and love from the Spanish people that I have disclosed my identity to. It has been my personal and professional choice to conceal my gender identity, because I work as a teacher, but after living a completely out-of-the-closet life in the USA, it has been emotionally taxing at times to keep my identity under wraps. That being said, I do believe that a transgender person living or traveling here in Spain, generally speaking, should not worry about their safety while in this country. I have chosen to be more open about my sexuality, and that experience has also been positive. My ex-boyfriend and I openly held hands and acted just like any other couple in the streets of Granada, Huelva, Seville, etc., and we only ever experienced one moment of hate: an old man yelled some rather profane things at us in Spanish, but nothing more. Gay marriage has been legal and unattested in Spain for more than a decade, so most Spaniards cannot understand why the USA is so tied up in knots about the issue.
My only true problem has been my healthcare – transgender-specific healthcare here in Spain is rather hard to find. Unless you live in a really big or foreign-populated city (i.e. Madrid or Barcelona) you will most likely not find any clinics specifically for your care. I have had to get my testosterone shipped to me from the USA because they do not produce the correct dosage solution anywhere in this country. If you are traveling here for a short time, it is most likely not a concern for you, but if you choose to spend a long time like me, you need to make arrangements before you come here. I had an agreement with my clinic to have my medication given to a family member and then shipped.
As for my experiences traveling as a tourist in other countries, I also have good news all around. I have been on countless airplanes and trains while navigating Europe, and I have never had a single problem with TSA agents or security regarding the “female” designation on my passport and identity cards (I guess they just don’t care that a “woman” has a full beard!). A word of advice, however: ALWAYS have a letter explaining your situation in the language of the country you are visiting. NEVER leave your security up to chance.
My first European vacation was to Portugal, Spain’s closest neighbor. It is exactly the same in its level of LGBTQ+ acceptance as Spain and I had zero negative experiences. It was the same when I traveled in Paris, and then again when I made my way from the South to the North of Italy. All of these countries have religious backgrounds and cultures, but none of the ancient attitude. If anything, they will judge you more for your flip-flops than what’s written on your ID. I did visit Morocco, in which homosexuality and “cross-dressing” is illegal with a sentence of 6 months to 3 years and a fine. This male-and Islam-dominated culture has zero tolerance and everyone who wishes to travel there should take many precautions. If you cannot pass for cisgender, do not go – that is MY PERSONAL advice. I am completely sure that there are many professional tour companies that would provide a totally safe and enjoyable visit as an LGBTQ+ tourist, but if you wish to travel there alone, please be careful. I did not experience anything at all because I had no outward signs of difference.
Though I have only had the opportunity to visit a few countries during my first year living in Europe, I do plan to make some new memories in the months to come. I feel very comfortable here as a transgender and queer person, and I do encourage everyone and anyone to at least visit this beautiful continent. If you want to find a specific community within Europe, the internet is a wonderful invention, full of possibilities! Just practice your language skills first!
Photos: Von Scully
Do you know any travelers with a similar story? Let us know in the comments.