Being suuuper subtle about my gay-ness in Cuba

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

We’ve all heard the question about the tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it… The answer to that question? Philosophy is complicated! My queery is a little more straightforward: if a gay tree falls in the forest and no one’s around to hear it, is it still gay? Duh!

Similarly(ish?), when LGBTQ+ folks travel, who we are at our core doesn’t change. But unlike our heterosexual counterparts, we often have to make complicated decisions about how we’ll present on vacation. There are endless ways we can do this (though lots of folks have far less choice than others). Sometimes, you can tell we’re queer just by looking at us. Other times, it’s less obvious. We may opt not to show off that part of our identity in certain destinations or situations, in a sense packing it alongside our luggage.

How do I pack my queer identity when I travel? The first step is to unpack the question: what does it mean, and what are the options? So read on, and let me know: what’s your packing style?

Passport-Style: It’s Out There and You’re Going to Show It Off!

For many folks, choosing not to be visibly queer isn’t an option. For some of my trans and genderqueer/nonbinary friends, it can be downright scary to travel without knowing how they’ll be received in a new country. Other folks may simply choose to display their queerness, with no desire to be any less visible. If you’ve chosen a destination because it’s gay friendly, let your rainbow flag fly and embrace it!

If you carry your queerness like it’s your passport, research will be essential. What are the laws like for gay people in the place you’re going, and what are the consequences for breaking those laws? What is queer life like for local folks? If you’re going somewhere where there isn’t much protection for LGBTQ+ rights, or where it’s more culturally taboo, you might try searching for blogs written by queer folks who live there. You could also check out social groups on Facebook or to see if there’s a way to connect with locals, either to ask questions before going, or to meet up with on the road. Are there any gay bars or queer-owned spaces?

If it’s not safe for people who are visibly queer, consider an alternative destination. For example, my partner and I would love to visit Jamaica, but at this point, we don’t feel that we’d be able to relax and be ourselves, so we’ve chosen to visit other spots in the Caribbean. If you feel nervous but still have a compelling reason to visit the destination, a group trip may be a good option. In other words, flaunting your queer identity at the border isn’t always the safest way to pack (see Checked Luggage below).

FYI: this site created an LGBTQ+ Danger Index after in-depth research and data collection from various sources. Just keep in mind that even if a country rates low on this list, there may still be safe areas or safe ways for you to travel there.

Carry-On-Style: Close By, but You Can Stow It Away.

Disclaimer: I’m a cisgender lesbian who straddles the femme/tomboy-lite divide when it comes to my personal gender presentation, and I can easily “pass” as straight. (Whatever that means since what does straight look like? But you know what I mean. If I wasn’t holding hands with a woman or decked out in rainbow, people wouldn’t automatically assume that I was queer.) That’s one of many forms of privilege I travel with.

I’m the type of person who approaches new situations with a bit of trepidation, and the same goes for new destinations. I often stow away my queer identity when I first arrive. In Cuba, my partner and I avoided being overtly couple-y for part of our trip. We wouldn’t have been breaking any laws, but I’d read mixed reviews of how gay friendly it was (and we did get threesome propositions yelled at us in one town, once we decided to hold hands). When I lived in South Korea, coming out as gay was fairly culturally taboo, and being out at work was risky. I never came out to my Korean coworkers, but on weekends I went out dancing at a row of gay bars nicknamed Homo Hill: gay indentité stowed away, but within reach!

To me, “carry on” may just look more subtle. Holding hands when it feels safe but acting like buddies when it doesn’t, holding off on wearing your rainbow unicorn bodysuit until you hit the Pride parade/gay bar/vegan café, laughing off the “are you sisters?” questions (even though you’re seething on the inside) if you don’t feel secure coming out in a specific situation.

It can also be fun to wear a sneaky accessory that will make gaydars ping! A plaid anything, a “subtle” scissoring tee, some Anclote gear… us queers are very perceptive and somehow manage to connect wherever we are!

Checked Luggage-Style: Out of Sight (Hopefully Not Lost in Transit!)

If you have the privilege of it being an option, you may choose not to display your queerness for your entire trip. Maybe it’s unsafe, illegal, culturally iffy, or maybe you’re not out! That’s totally ok. You don’t need to be an ambassador of Queernadia everywhere you go; the most important thing is for you to feel safe and happy while travelling.

The advantage of this metaphor? You don’t have to decide ahead of time! No one’s going to pat you down because you decided to dress femme-ier than usual for the flight. Your plan to act like gal pals with your girlfriend while you assess how safe you feel won’t get weighed and sent off on a conveyor belt towards your final destination. You can plan ahead all you want, but ultimately your instincts and sense of safety – and fabulousness! – will be your guide. As you’ve probably figured out, these “packing styles” aren’t really distinct categories; there’s a lot of overlap. If you’re like me, you might do some combination of all three, maybe even within the same trip.

So… how do you pack your queer identity?