Christine and I met in London late 2018 and that’s where we spent the majority of our time together before embarking on this trip around Asia. Fortunately for us, and many other LGBTQ+ people out there, London is a very accepting and open place where queer people feel relatively safe to be who they are. Sadly, not every place welcomes queer people with open arms. That means we’ve had to learn to adapt to local cultures and change our behaviour in order to be more respectful and fit in (or not stand out too much) in certain places. I have compiled a list of questions you guys had about traveling in Asia as a lesbian couple and I’m about to answer all of them now!
Where did you feel like you could be yourself the most?
From the 7 countries we visited, Thailand stands out to me as the most queer-friendly. It was the country in which we saw the most openly queer people and therefore we felt like we didn’t have to hide our relationship as much. Of course exactly how open we were depended on where in the country we were: for example in Bangkok and Hua Hin we would walk on the streets, holding hands, fingers interlaced and all that jazz, however, in the small village in Bang Yai district where we spent a couple of weeks we were a lot more reserved around the locals. We also felt quite comfortable in Vietnam, especially Cát Bà Island and Hanoi.
Were you out in public?
As I mentioned above, in certain places we didn’t try hard to hide our relationship, but that’s not to say we walked the streets waving rainbow flags or making out. We were conscious of being in more conservative places and tried to be as respectful of the locals and their culture as possible. And of course, we were mindful of our immediate surroundings, i.e. are we walking down a dark street in the middle of the night, or are we in the city center in broad daylight? That also played a big role in how open we were.
What were people’s reactions when they found out? Did you have to deal with discrimination?
We would only tell people we’re in a relationship if they outright asked us or if we felt like they would be accepting. We were fortunate to meet many LGBT allies in most of the countries we visited and so we didn’t have to deal with any discrimination or hate. There was one case in India where I noticed someone’s behaviour towards us change after they found my instagram and found out about us. They weren’t rude or disrespectful but there was definitely a slight attitude shift, it almost felt like they were now a little uncomfortable around us. However, for the most part we’ve only had positive experiences and made great friends who have been incredibly accepting and supportive.
How queer-friendly is Asia really?
Despite the illegality (illeGAYlity?) in many countries, it’s actually not uncommon to find gay bars and and underground clubs dotted all over Asia. We went to a drag show in Cambodia, (almost) went to a gay club in Malaysia, frequented an LGBT-friendly cafe and even had a cute couples photoshoot in Vietnam and hung out with some cool ass lesbians in India who told us about the LGBT-friendly venues in Delhi. Mumbai even had a pride parade a few weeks ago! However, we also learned some sad facts. Queer establishments in Malaysia often get raided by police and customers get arrested, people in most of the countries we visited face a lot of social prejudice and even risk being physically hurt if they choose to be out in public, families go as far as disowning their relatives for coming out as gay… And yes, these things can happen anywhere in the world but they’re a lot more common in that part of the globe. So to answer the question of how queer-friendly we found Asia – more than expected! But it was still disheartening to hear of the issues queer people there struggle with.
Our 6 months in Asia were a wonderful, eye-opening and educational experience and a lot more comfortable in terms of our sexuality than we expected. I encourage everyone who wants to travel to that part of the world but is worried about discrimination to give Asia a chance–but do be mindful of your surroundings, the local culture and other things I touched on above.
Have you traveled anywhere in Asia as an openly queer person? What was your experience? I’d love to know more about other people’s experiences, so do let me know down in the comments!