When traveling, the topic of being “out of the closet” comes into play again and again with each new country we visit. Regardless of where homosexuality lies on a country’s legal scale, we often find this doesn’t give an indication of how locals will react. So, we simply have to trust our gut when choosing to come out or not.
Referring to each other as “my wife” has become automatic for us, requiring no thought beforehand – the essence of being “out”. But when traveling, we constantly have to remind ourselves where we are and to choose our words carefully. After all, in some places in the world, using the wrong word could mean a lot worse than just getting a funny look.
We always try to be out wherever and whenever possible. Failing to do so not only hides us, but it can also lead to a whole slew of other unwelcome questions like “Why don’t you have a husband?” or “Why isn’t your husband traveling with you?” Although we find some places, like in Toronto or Berlin, extremely easy to be out, we quickly retreated to the closet in the riskier locale of the United Arab Emirates, where we became “traveling companions”. Sometimes it is vital to just straight up lie (pun intended).
We’ll begin our global “closet check” in Utah, USA, with the most hurtful of remarks. While standing up for same-sex marriage, Ligeia explained “you can’t help who you fall in love with.” This was met with equating the love we share with the love a person feels for her/his dog. Knowing that her conversational adversary was carrying a concealed weapon at the time, Ligeia didn’t pursue this topic any further. She unfortunately left Utah having seen the ugly side of what is an otherwise gorgeous state.
In China, it felt like a “don’t ask, don’t tell” sort of situation for us. After having so many Chinese students with English name in her classes, Ligeia wanted to return the favor when going to China so she asked a woman at a hostel in Xining to recommend a name for her. The woman suggested the name “LaLa” and told us that this was a famous TV star. What she left out, however, and what we only discovered a couple weeks later in Yangshuo, is that the name “LaLa” also means “lesbian”. Guess she knew all along after all. 🙂
One of the funniest coming out situations we’ve had occurred in the small touristy town of Pamukkale in Turkey. A friendly security guard with very limited English approached Ligeia with pictures on his phone of his wife and twin daughters. After being so open about his family, he now expected the same of Ligeia: “Why you no husband? Why you travel with woman?” Ligeia, simplifying her English as only an ESL teacher knows how, coincided a pained look with “Men are difficult.” Then, relaxing and smoothing her facial muscles, “Women are easy.” The security guard chuckled and diagnosed Ligeia’s condition as having a “man allergy”, which works perfectly for us!
During our stay in Hopkins, Belize, Mindy went out to get food one evening and started up a conversation with one of the locals. He questioned her as to where in Belize she had already visited and how long her trip was scheduled to be. Perhaps it was due to the relaxed atmosphere, sitting there at tables on the beach waiting for the take-away meal, but without thinking about her words, Mindy responded to all his questions with “we” as the subject. The inquisition continued with “Who is the ‘we’ you keep referring to?” to which Mindy made the decision to come out: “My wife and I.” The man’s gaze quickly focused on Mindy’s chest, confirmed the presence of female breasts, and with the most confused look on his face, ended the conversation with one final question: “You are a man?” Mindy simply answered with a sigh, and the food arrived from the kitchen.
Our in-and-out closet adventure continued in the ancient Mayan metropolis of Tikal in Guatemala. A Guatemalan man struck up a conversation with Mindy, while sitting on the ruins of Templo IV, four steep steps above Ligeia. The small talk covered names and countries of origin, whether we had visited Tikal before, and then he pointed to a woman and two small children and explained they were his wife and children. Although it seemed perfectly natural to reciprocate the wife-pointing, something held Mindy back. She regrets that decision to this day, as his next question moved to the realm of uncomfortable flirting: “Tell me, Mindy, why are all the women from Canada so beautiful?” Again, Mindy could have smoothly come out of the closet with an answer of “Tell me about it! I feel the same way.” Instead, Ligeia captured a photo to document Mindy’s answer in her overwhelmingly confused state: “What?”
On that same trip to Guatemala, we found ourselves in a rare disagreement of whether to come out or not. In a remote cloud forest village in the mountains above San Lucas, we stayed with a Mayan family, where no one spoke English and only one person of the family spoke Spanish. With our limited Spanish abilities, we at first misunderstood their question of whether we had husbands, and Ligeia quickly answered “Yes.” Their follow-up question of why they weren’t traveling with us alerted us to our error – esposo vs. esposa. In our undecipherable English, we were able to discuss whether or not to come out. Although Ligeia brought up some great arguments in favor of coming out, such as learning how their culture views homosexuality and that being so isolated, we might be the only lesbians they’ve ever met, Mindy was extremely hesitant and her worries of getting disgusted looks, being thrown out of their house, or simply being uncomfortable for the next two days, caused us both to hide the truth. We blamed our delay in answering with the Spanish phrase we overused those two days: “No se.” We learned a couple things from this experience:
- Not coming out robs both us and the people we meet of a great opportunity to grow as human beings.
- If one of us is not ready to come out, we as a couple stay silent, as nothing is worse than being pushed out of the closet instead of walking out on your own.
Currently, we live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where we are out and for the most part it’s not awkward. However, Mindy is often called a boy and she’s referred to as “he”. Our favorite case of this occurs each and every time she visits the Immigration Office, when she’s called over the loudspeaker: “Mr. Mindy from Canada.” In addition, several colleagues, despite the fact they know us well, still have trouble even saying the word “wife”. They say instead, “How is your…um…friend?” or there is a long pause as they struggle to whisper “wife” or wait for us to fill in the word for them.
Without a doubt, the easiest place to be a lesbian is in Skala Eressos on the Greek island of…you guessed it: Lesbos! We knew we had reached the Lesbian Mecca when checking in at a guesthouse for availability, the owner said, “I’m sorry. All we have available is one room with two beds. But…” We held our breaths with hesitation as this is usually an awkward moment when checking into any hotel. She continues, “…but don’t worry, I can put the beds together for you.” The world-sized smiles on our faces reflected the absolute joy in being in the presence of acceptance. We had finally found a place for “us”, where we didn’t have to explain a damn thing! 🙂