What was is it like to travel as an out and proud queer rainbow family? – More challenging than I thought for reasons I didn’t think of in advance.

When my kids were 2&4 years old my wife and I decided to take them on long term travels. We lived and travelled in different parts of the world for two years – mainly accross South East Asia, USA, Europe and Costa Rica.

There is so much to say about our travels. In short, long term travelling with kids is awesome. It brought us all closer together, we recharged, were creative and absolutely loved it. What I would like to share with you today is the specific situation of travelling as a rainbow family.

When choosing, which countries we would travel to, our basic premise was that Homosexually was not criminalized. For those of you who don’t know there are currently over 70 countries that have laws which criminalise same-sex relationships, including 45 in which sexual relationships between women are outlawed. There are eight countries in which homosexuality can result in a death penalty, and dozens more in which homosexual acts can result in a prison sentence (for more info check out: http://ilga.org/maps-sexual-orientation-laws).

We started our travels in Thailand. Our friend told us about a place they stayed at with their little one, and we just took that as our starting point. So a lot of what I write below relates to our first three months in different places in Thailand, and unfolds from there.
We did stay in Malaysia for 2 weeks, where male same-sex relationships can be punished with imprisonment. And then we spent 6 weeks on Bali in Indonesia.

Physical Affection

We aim to raise our kids to be proud of who they are and who we are as a rainbowfamily. I pretty much vowed to myself that I would never hide my identity or ask my kids to not talk openly to others about having two moms. So while I might have made up stories about my identity or my relationship with my girlfriend in past travels, that was not an option for me traveling as a family.

“Thai culture is relatively tolerant of both male and female homosexuality. However, public displays of affection – whether heterosexual or homosexual – are frowned upon.” (Lonely Planet, https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thailand/gay-and-lesbian-travellers. Nov. 2017)

I won’t ask my kids not to call us Mama & Mommy, yet of course what I can do is not kiss my wife or hold her hand in public.
While that seems easy enough at first, it had a subtle and detrimental effect in the long run for us as a couple and for our identities.

Joanna and I both like physical affection. A simple move of gently touching the others shoulder or hand, while passing by to pick up a toy for the kid is a great way to stay connected. On our travels we became aware of any kind of physical touch and we avoided it. Sitting closely together on the beach, leaning my head on her in the bus, I am talking about these innocent movements, that may not be an issue at all if we were traveling by ourselves perceived as two friends, yet we became strongly aware of as lesbian moms.

While the quote above clearly states “public displays of affection – whether heterosexual or homosexual – are frowned upon.”  we quickly became aware that the heterosexual parents we met along the way had a way easier time navigating this. They managed to still be affectionate with each other, while being respectful to the culture.

As travellers we like being outside most of the day, and given that we are parents and had our kids around us 27/4 there weren’t a lot of moments to catch up physical contact even in the privacy of a home.

The lack of physical affection subtly created a tension between us as a couple, as an involuntary reverse effect. It is like my body picked up on the clue – there is less physical affection – and decided there must obviously be tension between us. So this tension became present, even though our brains knew that the lack of physical affection was due to the circumstances and not due to a real disconnection between us.

It took a while for us to understand how strongly avoiding public display of affection was affecting us and to actively start connecting again as a couple.

Identity

I have been a “professional lesbian” for almost a decade and when people ask me where I work and I answer “at the Lesbian Counselling Center Berlin”, I take the role of an educator. I am always up for a conversation, pointing out people’s assumptions, telling them about my anti-discrimination work, and about the diversity of Queer communities. I also don’t shy away from confrontation, and when people say or do mean things, I tend to call them out on it.

As a family we are also out and proud. Joanna and I both believe in visibility. There is a reason we put pictures of us and our kids on social media. Having visible role models is so important and we are happy to do our part. We are honored and touched knowing that we have inspired and encouraged others with our visibility and openness.
On the one hand travelling gave us an opportunity to share more about our life as a rainbow family on social media. On the other hand, locally we were keeping things toned down and modest, avoiding any confrontations. As I said we never answer untruthfully, when asked about our family, but I won’t actively go up to the hotel staff and introduce Joanna as my wife and highlight that these are our joint kids.
Joanna and I are rebels at heart. We like to provoke, in beautiful ways. Yet we didn’t feel comfortable doing so, while travelling in Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia.

This sailing boat is a wonderful depiction of us travelling as a rainbow family. In a way we are always in movement, always visible and colorful – yet not complete. Just as there are colors of the rainbow that are only on tiny display, such as the little flag in purple, we felt we had to hold something back. There were parts of our identity missing.
As we had given up our home in Berlin, we literally searched for home in every place we went to. And while we found so much beauty and awesomeness, key elements of our individual identities did not fit in and we were lacking community.

Community

“Do you really think it is safe to travel as lesbians, with kids?”

– “No. Yet, I know how to live with fear without being in fear, so I will do it anyways. ”

I don’t want to sound too sarcastic or generalize everybody’s experience, but honestly, if you are out as a queer person in this world, there is no such thing as believing in safety. Sure there are places that are safer than others and we obviously take the precautions that seem appropriate, yet I know that wherever I go there may be people, who disapprove of who I am, and who might act violently towards me, including in Berlin, where we lived before travelling.

While our moms and some friends might have been worried for us as we were travelling outside of Western Europe or the USA,  we didn’t have a single dangerous encounter based on being a rainbow family. Yet, we we were deeply affected by the violence that was going on in communities close to our heart.
Twelve days after we started our travels there was a massacre in the LGBT* Nightclub PULSE in Orlando, USA. 49 Gays, Lesbians, and Trans* of Color were killed, 53 insured. I used to live in Florida and still have family there. On social media we felt the deep impact, shock and grief this had throughout the various queer communities, that we are connected to in the United States of America and Europe. Joanna and I were both in grief, and it was difficult to be there for each other while having the kids around. A massive killing of queer people is not something we discuss in front of them. We felt that we were away from our friends and family and had no one to share discussions and grief with.

The numerous killings of African Americans by police in USA, Trans* murders in Istanbul, terror attacks in France and Germany, the rise of right wing parties in Europe and the lead-up to Trump’s election – there was certainly a lot going on in the summer of 2016. Joanna and I had only each other to process our emotions and the impressions we got online. Now if you remember my previous email about not relying solely on each other for emotional support, this is where travelling by ourselves became tricky and where we really missed our friends and a visible queer community around us.

While we were in Bali we were first able to process these thoughts and feelings, that were caused by traveling without our community and without being able to fully express ourselves as a rainbow family. In Bali we were visited by a dear friend of ours, who embodies family and brought a piece of queer community back into our life. Bali, particularly Seminyak is also fairly open towards LGBT* Communities. And we felt more comfortable bringing physical affection back into the public. Instinctively we found a hotel close to the beach, that is apparently known to be LGBT* friendly.

It was there that we decided change our travel plans and go to the USA. We knew we wanted to visit my brother and his family at some point and we longed to be close to family. We wanted to be in a country again that actually had LGBT* rights, rather that just the lack of criminalization – where we could be more confident again about being ourselves. In a flash I will say, two weeks after arriving in the US, Trump got elected as president. While we had dreams of traveling cross country in a mobile home, we did not want to stay in the US long term under these circumstances and eventually returned to Europe.

 

*This text is part of an email series reflecting on my 10 years of relationship with Joanna and being a relationship coach and counsellor for women and trans* people.
It was also printed in German in the publication: “Wir haben was zu sagen. Geschichten von LGBTIQ Migrant_innen aus dem postsowjetischen Raum” 2018.

Want to know this all continued?
In celebration of the ten year anniversary of my relationship with Joanna, I created an e-mail series about the awesomeness and challenges of relationships. So if you ever wondered how a queer relationship coach rocks her own relationship, this is for you.

I will give you insights into everything relationship from my life with Joanna, and from my roughly ten years of experience as a coach and counselor on relationship issues. Whether you are getting over a break-up, are madly in love, or happily single, this is an email series I am sure you will highly enjoy.

Sign up below,  if you want to find out how Joanna and I grow together, what makes us fight, if we are exclusive, how we stay a couple while raising two kids and how we ended up travelling the world.

As a bonus you will recieve simple excersises and tools that will take you to the next level – living relationships that are awesome

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Joy Zalzala-Soyka – I am a Law of Attraction coach and a multicultural, lesbian mom. I work across Europe and North America, offering you personal sessions over the phone, and books & articles here on www.evolve.how.

Get in touch with me today and let me know what’s on your mind.

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