For our latest issue, Megan Wallace investigated whether destination resorts can provide a holiday from homophobia. Illustration by Maria Stoian.
Unlike many of my peers, for whom the excursion was something of a rite of passage, I have never been to Magaluf.
It really has never appealed. You might agree: you can lie on the beach in a bikini just about anywhere next to the sea, so you might be wondering what it is about the island resort that attracts young tourists in droves, year after year.
Simply put, the answer is sex — and that’s exactly what’s putting me off. Personally, I enjoy the going-out ritual of dancing in a darkened room just as much as the next person. But dancing with Mr Tall Dark and Handsome is not exactly on my agenda, unless he has an attractive female friend in tow. As far as I can see, there’s really nothing wrong with having a bit of hedonistic fun in the sun. The problem that I, and so many others in the LGBTQ+ community face, is that holiday destinations like Magaluf, Xanthi, and Kavos foster an exclusively heterosexual hook-up culture that excludes us.
Perhaps as a response to this, recent years have seen the rise of holiday packages aimed specifically at the gay community. To some of you this might seem odd — you might wonder why you wouldn’t just go on a normal holiday. However, what can be seen as a ‘normal’ holiday experience varies from person to person. In order to investigate this issue further, I reached out via social media to ten LGBTQ+ individuals aged between 20 and 25 in order to ask them about their experience of homophobia abroad and whether they would ever consider going on a holiday specifically marketed as ‘gay’. The overall impression I gained was that, to a lot of gay people, these package holidays don’t really seem so strange.
“The casual homophobia that you’re accustomed to shrugging off cuts deeper when you’re on holiday.”
In order to explain it all a bit better, let’s put all this in terms of choosing where to go on a night-out.
If a boy comes up to me in your average club, there is literally no chance he is going home with me - just as if a girl tries to talk to one of my gay male friends, she’s not going to get anywhere fast. This is why gay bars are something of a safe haven to us and why we choose to frequent them: we don’t have to have uncomfortable conversations about our sexuality and we can find people who we are actually attracted to.
But what do these holiday packages actually entail? On the one hand, you get things like cruises and tours aimed specifically at single, gay men and on the other, you get niche travel websites which list only the hotels and destinations which are explicitly gay-friendly. Essentially, what this means is that you can spend your holiday free from the fear of having homophobic slurs uttered at you for acting ‘too gay’ and that you get a specifically LGBTQ+ perspective of what it’s like to be in a holiday destination. For two of my interviewees, a young same-sex female couple, this would certainly appeal. Having gone on a city-break to Amsterdam they found the information provided in guidebooks insufficient to alert them as to where to find the city’s notorious gay-nightlife hubs and, when they resorted to asking locals, their questions were not taken seriously.
However, is this really the solution? It might be better to fully enjoy the freedom afforded by the growing acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals, rather than restrict ourselves to explicitly gay-friendly zones. It’s true that if you stick to popular tourist destinations, particularly in Europe, you shouldn’t encounter much open homophobia.
However, outside of the safe confines of your home country, you might also be feeling a bit more vulnerable and open to attack. The casual homophobia that you’re accustomed to shrugging off cuts somewhat deeper when you’re on holiday. When at home, you know that you can’t hold your girlfriend or boyfriend’s hand when you walk down the street or — God forbid— kiss them in public, without eliciting dirty looks from those who ‘aren’t homophobic’ but ‘don’t want that in my face’. But, when you’re on holiday you don’t want to have to hide who you really are.
While this is all well and good for lesbians and gay men, the situation is not so clear-cut for those who identify as queer or bisexual. While the smiling families seen in Thomsons Holidays ads and the glossy heterosexual couples in a Sandals brochure suggest that by booking through them you become straight by default, going on a gay holiday explicitly labels you as gay.
Queer and bisexual individuals can often feel caught between the two cultures and the either/or situation which the two types of holiday present is emblematic of this identity crisis. Rather than finding fault with the gay-holiday or with the average holiday, it should be acknowledged that the problem lies not here but with society more broadly. The polarisation of sexuality into gay and heterosexual leaves these individuals feeling overlooked, leading them to suppress parts of their sexual identity in order to pass as one or the other and define themselves by social labels which are overly-restrictive.
While the situation for queer and bisexual individuals is far from ideal, the problems do not stop here. In terms of the experience of trans, intersex and non-binary individuals, it is undeniable that discrimination is rife and that society viciously perpetuates gender stereotypes. While gay-friendly environments offer a much more tolerant atmosphere, issues of gender and sexuality are not necessarily interlinked and the trans, intersex and non-binary individuals I talked to expressed a desire to find more of a community, not just when on holiday but in their lives more generally.
The long and the short of it is that you can’t escape all of your problems with a couple of cocktails and a bit of sunshine, especially if these problems are related to the stigma that identifying as a member of the LGBTQ+ community attracts. Even with the phenomenon of gay-holiday gaining ground, the situation is not going to resolve itself.