Traveling always comes with its own set of challenges — from last minute flight delays to missing luggage. However, traveling while gender queer produces a new set of challenges that are rarely listed in the F.A.Q.
When I set on a long-term travel journey, I discovered that traveling, as a gender queer person was going to be much different than my previous excursions.
Everything from local laws and customs to personal comfort can affect how to dress when I traveled. Many of my friends asked me what I planned on wearing while abroad, always reminding me to “be careful” or to “stay safe.” The words always hung heavy for me, living at the intersection of fatness, Blackness, and queerness.
Packing while Genderqueer
I had grown comfortable dressing however I wanted in DC. Happily blending a beard with lipstick or just wearing a nice dress out with my friends. But as I stood in front of an empty suitcase and a pile of cute clothes, the question struck me “would my feeling of comfort travel with me?” Dressing the way I feel most comfortable in my body places me in conflict with the norms of the cultures I move through. Something as simple as a skirt can lead to harassment or even violence. While I had gotten used to navigating that maze in the United States, I would have to learn all new codes while traveling. I always check up on the countries I’m going to travel to and investigate how they fare with gay rights and trans issues. So far I’ve only been to countries that are pretty liberal like Japan, Korea, and now the U.K. So I haven’t had to alter my fashion in any way. But for some of the more conservative countries I plan on going to, I’ll have to dress for survival.
My typical airport outfit is a comfy pair of jeans, a cute printed shirt, and a shoe that comes off easily. I’ve found international flights are chilly and they don’t always provide you a blanket, so being warm is a must. Like many trans and gender queer people, I always find going through security a hassle. Despite traveling in cis drag, I get gendered female all the time and as a plus size person my body always registers anomalies on the scanner. It’s a rare occasion that I don’t have to be patted down around my chest and thighs. Or get asked if I want a female person to pat me down, which is fine but it’s odd that even when I try and pass, my body still sets off alarms.
If I can’t stay with a friend or through a couch surfing arrangement, I like to stay in hostels. I always make sure to stay in a place that has mixed gender dorms. Even though they end up being male dominated, I don’t worry about being kicked out of them — if I leave wearing a skirt or if I don’t pass as a woman. I generally find that travelers tend to be open-minded people. At the last hostel where I stayed in Korea, multiple people asked me what my pronouns were and the staff was really cool. I was never made to feel anything other than accepted while I was traveling by myself there.
On days when I felt the least safe in DC, I would take uber pools. However, while living in Tokyo the cabs were so expensive that my only options were to walk or take public transport. I’ve been stared at my whole life for being fat and never performing gender correctly, so I’m used to my body causing a scene. Tokyo was a very safe city so I had no issues. However, do be prepared for stares if you are in smaller cities. When I was in South Korea I got off the bus at a rest stop in a rural setting and I definitely stood out. Everyone was looking at me; people tried to touch my hair without permission.
Using the Bathroom
I normally use the bathroom I feel most comfortable in based on my appearance. So if I’m wearing a skirt/ dress I use the women’s room and if I’m wearing pants I use the men’s. One great thing about Japan is that they always have family restrooms that are usually one space; these are great because it’s one person at a time and I don’t have to worry. But again it is always important in each country to look up if there are any laws protecting trans people using the bathrooms of the gender they align with.
The minutia of travel develops so much more complexity when you have to navigate gender norms as well as foreign languages and visas. So many moments in time that are simple for most people are sites of violence for me. I have to wonder and question whether the countries I travel will respect all of me, or whether I must go back into a closet for safety. By traveling the world, I hope to normalize the sight of the gender rebels and make the world safer for all of us.
By Guest Writer Ceraun the Divanun
Read more about Ceraun's adventures at Archives of a DivaNun!