The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Queering the Backpackers Trail

It’s the first full week of June and back home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, Pride Week is in full swing. Perhaps it’s because of this, or because of a couple recent posts by fellow queer backpackers Jaime and Dani & Jessica of GlobetrotterGirls, that I’m feeling like I need to do a post outside the norm of what I’ve been doing.

For the most part, this blog has not been a normal “travel blog” full of tips and amazing articles of great insight. No. This blog is more of my journal of what I’ve done each day of this massive trip. Gay issues have certainly come up as this is just part of who I am and I don’t feel like I should completely censure myself. If I go to a gay bar, I’m going to write about it.

Both Jaime and Dani & Jessica have written amazing posts on their perspectives of being gay while traveling. They’re insights are amazing and are given with such honesty. I highly suggest you check them both out. Now it’s my turn.

A Little Background

I grew up on a farm just outside the small, prairie town of Martensville, Saskatchewan. Population at that time was around 3000 or so. Even now, it’s only a small city of 6000 people. Everyone knows you. Everyone knows your business. I knew something was different about me around grade 2. It wasn’t until grade 7 or 8 that I even heard of the term gay or what it meant. But then I knew that that was what I was.

And I never wanted to tell anyone.

Eventually though I needed to. It was killing me inside keeping something like this secret. I first told a friend of mine whom I thought would be understanding as she had a gay uncle. In hindsight, probably not the best idea. She kinda peer pressured me into telling someone else in my core group of friends because “She couldn’t handle it on her own.” Eventually, my whole core group of friends knew. And I made them promise not to tell anyone in my high school. I was terrified.

Skip forward to university when I signed up to be a volunteer at the student run University of Saskatchewan LGBTA Centre. Suddenly this small town boy had a group of friends who were just like him. I became a mini-activist, speaking in classrooms to Nursing and Med students, to classes of psychology students, all about my experiences in high school. I was even at the press conference on November 5, 2004 when same-sex marriage was officially declared legal by the courts and province of Saskatchewan.

I’m a quiet activist though, preferring to do things a bit more behind closed doors and personal than out on the streets with a megaphone. At least, at the moment.

Where Cultural Relativism Rears its Ugly Head

When you’re backpacking around the world, it’s inevitable that you will go to a country that is not particularly friendly to LGBTQ* people. That friendliness factor is deceiving, especially coming from Canada where there are plenty of laws on the table that protect and give equal rights to LGBTQ* people. Bolivia, for example, has recently decriminalized homosexuality. It’s still kind of under the table because of the machismo culture that is so pervasive there. There are gay bars, but they’re relatively small and out of the way.

Then we have Morocco and Egypt, two countries where homosexuality and homosexual acts are illegal and can land you with a hefty fine or jail time if caught(though the latter is less used now).

However, I urge extreme caution here. It’s very easy to turn our Western based attitudes towards all these countries and say “Shame on you.” Why not? I mean, we’ve got lots of equal rights where we are from. These countries are backwards for not doing the same.

While I do not condone how LGBTQ* people are treated in many of these countries, we must understand that the religions and the societal and political cultures are different from our own. That’s right. I’m urging the use of Cultural Relativism. The same tactics that allowed for Equal Rights in Canada will not work in Morocco, or even the United States for that matter. Not only are our justice and political systems different, but different societal and religious pressures are exerted on the people. If we try to impose Western based ideologies and beliefs onto some of these countries and cultures, you’ll get nothing but pushback and may even make matters worse.  If we truly want to help the local communities, donating to local charities and groups is the best way to go about it. Who better to navigate the tricky waters of a local culture than locals themselves?

The Pink Backpack

When I left on this trip, I never gave much thought as to how being a gay man would alter my perceptions or how I would react in different situations. I’ve always lived with the idea of not really coming out outright. I much prefer it coming out naturally. Conversely, I never assume anyone else’s sexuality either. In my head, I decided to travel as though I was back in Martensville. Test the waters a bit, gauge perceptions, then maybe reveal the giant rainbow in me.

Hostels are more often than not filled with younger people. On the whole, younger people tend to be a bit more open to the diversity of sexuality. And yet, that still doesn’t make me fully comfortable coming out right away, or sometimes at all. I’ve sadly caught myself joining in with a group of guys and saying if a woman on TV is hot(though, I’m usually telling the truth. I’m gay, but I can still tell when a woman is attractive). It’s sad as I’m sometimes painting myself into a corner and makes me feel like I’ve thrown myself into the closet for no other reason than to “fit in.”

When I have come out to those I’ve become friends with, it’s no big deal. It’s not even a big “coming out” spectacle(unlike when I told my dad in the middle of an argument, and right before my uncles farm burnt to the ground. And no, I didn’t start it to cause a distraction). And really, most backpackers I’ve come across already have gay friends back home. I have yet to meet one that I’ve been their “first.” And neither have I had a negative reaction.

What I haven’t come across though, except that one hostel in Rio de Janeiro, is another gay traveler. Sure, I’ve met many gay guys in the clubs and in the apartment in Iquique, Chile, but never in the hostels. What is it about backpacking that is so, dare I say it, heteronormative? Surely the stereotypes cannot be true that gay guys and gals only travel in large, fancy resorts.

No, there’s got to be more of us out there. I think it’s most probable that they are doing exactly what I’m doing: keeping quiet and not making a big deal of it. And while I think it’s liberating to see it becoming just something that comes out naturally, it is frustrating too because. . . well . . . it would be nice to at least do one stereotypical backpacker thing in the hostel dorm. At least once. Or, at the very least, have someone that would go to a gay bar with me.

So, while I may not be wearing a rainbow flag beside my Canadian flag on my backpack, I’m still representing. I’m representing Canada, I’m representing gay men. But most imporantly, I’m representing myself. Someone who just happens to be a gay Canadian.

And a backpacker.


  1. Cameron Goodfellow6/09/2011 03:28:00 AM

    really good post. A thought for you, perhaps it is the locales that you are currently in? If for example you were to travel to more gay friendly locations (Amsterdam, Germany, Canada, etc.) would you find more gay backpackers. It's a pretty brave thing to do travelling in a country where your actions could wind you up in jail, or worse. Just a thought.

    Oh and an amazing post.

  2. Corey, we've only met a few "out" long-term travelers, and all were 30+, which is older than the avg backpacker. I like your points about cultural relativism, which I identify most with in regard to basic women's rights. Yes, it is wrong that they don't have access to birth control and education, but the solution is not necessarily best resolved by Western solutions (the same solutions that still don't give me equal rights in the US and barely let me have control of my own body).

    The best way for us to make an impact is just like you said, through local charitable giving and volunteering. As the people in Cairo showed, they can best bring about change themselves and only need us as supporting players.

    Nice to see the activist side of you.

  3. Corinne and David Carnegie6/11/2011 09:14:00 PM

    Corey - yippey, I am delighted at your post! Well done you!
    It takes guts to be who you are when you are not mainstream!

    David said he is going to come out soon too - he's a lesbian!
    We love you Corey! xxxxx

  4. Thanks for the comments guys!

    @Cameron - It's an interesting theory, but I haven't met any gay backpackers in really gay friendly areas either though(Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Toronto). So who knows. Maybe I'm just not having luck.

    @Betsy - I absolutely love your insight in this and that idea that we in the Western World should be nothing more than supporting players. Change only happens when the people really want it, not when it's forced on them. Egypt is definitely a great example of that. PS. I'm a hard core feminist myself. And that's interesting that you have met a few "out" backpackers, and even more interesting that they were 30+. It'd be interesting to study the reasonings behind that statistic.

    @Corinne and David - I love you guys too!!! xxxxxx. Miss you all terribly. Enjoy North America. Take a ton of photos. Should be a great year for weather. Canada is supposed to be slightly warmer than average this year. :) Just cross your fingers for no freak snowstorms.