Our gay friend Shintaro from Tokyo tells us what Japanese gay life is like from his perspective in this fascinating interview. We love Japan. We’ve been fortunate to visit several times. Each time we leave, we say sayonara with a strong thirst to return for more!
As a gay couple traveling in Japan, we’ve always felt extremely welcome, everywhere, never receiving any judgment or raised eyebrows. To our foreign eyes, Japan feels like you’ve taken a time machine into the future. Everything is so much more advanced here, so clean, so impeccable, where trains arrive/leave on time, correct to the second!
And the Japanese themselves? Well, they’re just the icing on top – you couldn’t ask for a more welcoming and respectful nation. Everything is well received with a sweet, warm smile and a humble bow.
All About Japanese Gay Life
As we said, that’s through our superficial perspective as queer travelers visiting. What’s the reality like for the Japanese LGBTQ community? We often hear that whilst the Japanese are very welcoming to gay foreigners, on a local level, the country is very conservative when it comes to LGBTQ rights.
“OMG you two: careful you don’t get caned for being gay!”
A rather extreme reaction by some of our friends when we told them we’re going to Indonesia, but one we understand.
On the one hand, when it comes to LGBTQ rights in Indonesia, there are none. The government heavily panders to religious extremists and in the ultra-conservative province of Aceh, homosexuality is punishable with up to 100 public lashes with a rattan cane, which also applies to foreigners!
Yet, on the other hand, this is (officially!) a secular country with no anti-gay laws in place (outside of places like Aceh), it has the right to change legal gender (with judicial approval) and don’t forget, this is the home to one of the LGBTQ hotspots in Asia: Bali!
That’s right, this small island in Southeast Indonesia is not only a pink haven in this very conservative country but also a popular gay holiday destination in Asia. When we visited Bali, we met local boy Joko who now lives and works in Bali. Originally from Java Island, Joko moved to Bali for a better life. In this interview about gay life in Indonesia, he tells us more about what it was like for him growing up and the gay scene of Bali. However, Joko has requested that he is kept anonymous for security, much like our article with Kaluu about gay Sri Lanka.
“How dare you promote travel to countries where being gay is illegal Nomadic Boys, you should be ASHAMED!”
…is the typical comment we receive on social media each time one of our posts about gay Dubai, gay Abu Dhabi or gay Iran gets shared. But before you judge, remember that whilst a country has anti-gay laws, that same country still has an LGBTQ community who you risk turning your back on, right when they need you the most.
We have always been adamant that just because a country has spurious LGBTQ laws, this should not prevent us from visiting. We instead believe that it is far more productive to get out there and be a visible and positive representation of our community to show to that society that we are not some freak perversion that needs to be persecuted. Doing this is going to do so much more for the local LGBTQ community’s struggle for visibility against an oppressive government, than boycotting them is going to achieve.
Dubai Gay Life
But look, we get it! We also used to feel this way. After all, the United Arab Emirates is no different than its Middle Eastern neighbours when it comes to LGBTQ rights. In short, there are none. Being gay here is a crime, full stop! Officially it’s punishable by imprisonment, deportation, a fine, and worse, death. Whether or not these are strictly enforced, the very existence of these laws is so insulting that it simply serves to conjure up natural feelings of intense hatred within us – “how can such a government be so loathsome of us that it wants to eradicate and kill us? How dare they?!”
Yet we disagree that boycotting them is the solution. That is what these oppressive governments want us to do: ignore and turn our backs on them so they can continue crushing any LGBTQ visibility and pretend we don’t exist! Instead, from our travels in countries with anti-gay laws, we’ve learnt that the more productive way forward is to get out there and support gay friendly businesses in that country as much as we can and use our platform to give a voice to the local LGBTQ community.
Therefore, for this article, we are super proud that our buddy, Zayed, was happy for us to interview him about what gay life is like in Dubai and what it’s like growing up gay in the UAE. Zayed has however asked that he is anonymous in this interview using ‘Zayed’ as his alias.
“Georgian dance is based on masculinity. There is no room for weakness in Georgian dance!”
So begins the captivating 2019 gay movie “And Then We Danced”, based on the love affair between Merab and Irakli – dancers training at the National Georgian Ensemble in Tbilisi. Whilst the movie is about the challenges of dealing with homosexuality in a conservative society, at its premiere in downtown Tbilisi in November 2019, violent protests were taking place outside by far-right and religious groups. Thankfully the police kept the peace. But what a huge step forward for an ex-Soviet country, where not too long ago, being gay got you thrown into prison!
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1991, Georgia has pushed ahead with progressive laws as it has tried to ally itself more and more with the EU. This has included laws to protect its LGBTQ community, like legalising homosexuality in 2000, and an array of anti-discrimination laws from 2006 onwards. Yet, society remains very conservative. So much so that in 2018, the government passed a constitutional ban on gay marriages.
To put things into perspective, in a survey carried out by the Pew Research Centre in 2015/2016 about the acceptance of homosexuality in East Europe, Georgia ranked as one of the least tolerant, with a whopping 93% of the people polled saying homosexuality should not be accepted by society.
About Georgia Gay Life
We absolutely loved Georgia. It’s a stunning country with mountains, beaches, delicious foods, wines and a rich cultural heritage to discover. We were excited to experience all of this and we were not disappointed.
We were also fully aware of the country’s “struggle” (to put it mildly!) with LGBTQ rights before going. We knew we had to be cautious about PDAs. But we never had problems finding gay friendly hotels and even discovered lots of gay hangouts, including the famous Bassiani. The people we met were only ever super sweet and welcoming, and we loved them! But this is from our perspective as a gay couple travelling in Georgia. We wanted to get an idea of what things are really like from a local, so we got our friend Giorgi from Tbilisi to tell us more in this interview about Georgia gay life.
After a decade of backflipping in and out the closet with its anti-gay laws (the Delhi High Court repealed them in 2009 but in 2013 the Supreme Court reintroduced them), in September 2018, the Supreme Court finally repealed them once and for all in a landmark decision.
This was huge! Remember, this is a country with a population of almost 1.5 billion people. That’s a vast proportion of the world’s LGBTQ population – and these guys are super active!
Day by day the Indian LGBTQ population is growing more and more confident. All the main Indian cities have a gay scene, particularly in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, which have their own gay pride parades, weekly gay parties and even LGBTQ film festivals. It’s for this reason we rate India as one of the most gay friendly countries in Asia.
However, Indian society remains very conservative. Indian men are expected to marry a woman and have lots of children to please their family so as to avoid being ostracised by their local community. Because of this, we found that a large part of India gay life is still underground. We suggest using gay dating apps like Grindr to tap into the local LGBTQ community, as we found out in our gay night out in Delhi. This is where we met up with our buddy Raj from Delhi to find out more about what it’s like growing up gay in India
Raj requested his identity be kept anonymous, so we have used the name “Raj” as his alias. Raj also has a lifestyle blog about his relationship with his boyfriend and their life in Delhi, which we recommend checking out.
Hi Raj, where are you from and what do you do?
Namaste Nomadic Boys – welcome to India and to Delhi! I am Raj, a 28 years old trainee doctor, born and raised in Delhi. I live in Delhi with my boyfriend, Rhys (also an alias name), who I met at university. We’ve been together for over a decade.
When it comes to LGBTQ rights, Lebanon is a bit of a blur. On the one hand, it’s renowned for being one of the most gay friendly Arab countries, but on the other, life is still a challenge for the local LGBTQ community.
Lebanon has a fantastic gay scene (by Arab country standards!), it has the largest gay club of the Arab world (called POSH), it’s the only Arab country that has a Pride event, and has a growing number of politicians that publicly campaign for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
But, this is still a place where conservative homophobic religious voices retain a strong influence in politics as can be seen by the way they try to repress Beirut Pride each year.
We were fortunate to meet the founder of Beirut Pride, Hadi Damien. In 2018, Hadi was arrested and only released on condition that he cancels the remainder of that year’s Beirut Pride. A year later, the 2019 Beirut Pride formally went ahead, but the organisers were, again, forced to cancel the opening event due to the same religious pressure. In this interview, Hadi tells us more about his experience as an LGBTIQ+ activist in Lebanon, his experience being arrested, and what life is like for the local LGBTIQ+ community.
Lebanon Gay Life
I grew up in a family that was not obsessed with gender roles and stereotypes. There were, admittedly, the occasional “you’re a boy, don’t act like a girl” comments which destabilised me and contributed to my self-consciousness. I monitored my gestures, my tone of voice, and later on my glances.
Gay or not, I’d probably have gone to the same school, but my experience with homophobia would have been different.
t’s no secret that gay life in Romania is quite a challenge! Whether it’s one of online polls showing how much Romanian society opposes homosexuality or that hideous referendum in 2018 to ban gay unions(which for the record, failed!), it sure ain’t easy.
We even got a flavour of Romanian homophobia as gay travellers: when approaching a bunch of hotels in Bucharest and Brașov asking whether they’re ok to host a gay couple and allow us to share a double bed, the response we got from quite a lot of them (like the Rembrandt Hotel in Bucharest and the Aro Palace Hotel in Brașov ) was along the lines of:
“We welcome you but on condition you understand we have children in the hotel so all inappropriate behaviour should be avoided in public areas”
…of course…’cause that’s all Seb and I apparently are seen to do as a gay couple…frolic around naked everywhere, shagging everything in sight, children included….ffs!!
Yet despite the homophobic atmosphere prevalent across Romanian society, the country’s LGBTQ community has made great strides towards equality. For example, Romania has full anti-discrimination laws in place (which include hate speech), and every day, more and more politicians are coming out in favour of legalising civil unions. Oh and that awful referendum to ban civil unions in 2018? It simply failed due to lack of voter turnout (30% needed, they only got 20.4%).
Vietnam is one of our favourite places we visited as a gay couple travelling in Asia. From delicious foods to fantastic sites like Ha Long Bay, you’re spoilt rotten in terms of a destination rich with culture. Vietnam also has a more liberal attitude towards homosexuality, with large thriving LGBTQ communities in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and the capital in Saigon.
We found Vietnam to be one of the most gay friendly countries in Asia. Locals were extremely friendly and welcoming to us, and getting a double bed was never an issue for us anywhere. However, Vietnam still has quite a way to go with regards to its LGBTQ laws, lacking any for anti-discrimination or for recognising same-sex couples. We met up with our buddy Quan in Saigon who gave us his perspective of what gay life in Vietnam is really like for LGBTQ locals in this interview.
Hello Quan, where are you from and what do you do?
Hi Stef and Seby.
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My name is Quan Nguyen and I am 34 years old. I am a web designer living and working in Saigon.
Originally, I am from “Can Tho” in the Mekong Delta, but in my teenage years, my family moved to Saigon.
I come from a Catholic family, which surprises most people because everyone assumes all Vietnamese are Buddhist. Catholicism is one of the many influences in Vietnam from the French.
There was a time when the number 41 was considered very bad luck in Mexico. The Army used to leave the number 41 out of battalions, and in hospital/hotel rooms, Room #41 would just be skipped out entirely. It was so bad that some people would even skip out their 41st birthday completely!
This innocuous number became synonymous with Mexican queer culture in the early 1900s following a raid on a private party by police on 17th November 1901. At this party, there were 41 men: 22 dressed as men, 19 as women. There was, in fact, a 42nd person in attendance: Ignacio de la Torre, who was President Porfirio Díaz’s son-in-law. Whilst the police allowed Ignacio to escape, they arrested the remaining 41, beat them, jailed them, convicted them, then later conscripted them into the army as punishment. This became a massive scandal in Mexican society and became known as “The Dance of the 41” (“Baile de los 41”).
Whilst homosexuality was legalised in Mexico as far back as 1871, society remained so hostile to homosexuality that this scandal led to the vilification of the number 41. Calling someone 41 was akin to saying they were queer.
South Africa is one of the most incredible places we have ever visited. We are always looking to travel to gay friendly destinations that offer both luxury and adventure and South Africa ticks all these boxes.
Some of you reading may find it surprising that South Africa is considered to be a gay friendly destination. Speaking from our own experience, we had no idea until we travelled here back in 2015. The same view seems to be true for many of you that have taken part in polls we have run on social media.
Whilst our experience here as tourists has been great, we know that this is not always the case for the local LGBT community. And so during our three months in South Africa, we made it our mission to find out what South Africa Gay Life is really like as a local LGBT person.
And who better to speak to than Mr Gay South Africa 2019 himself, Chris Emmanuel! We were lucky enough to meet with Chris during our stay in Knysna. Here is what he has to say about gay South Africa:
Hi Chris! Please introduce yourself to our readers, and of course tell us all about the Mr Gay World Competition, how you came to be Mr Gay South Africa, and what you hope to achieve for the country.
Hi everyone! I’m Chris Emmanuel, the recently crowned Mr Gay South Africa 2019.
I’m a ripe 42 years old and it was with total surprise that I won by public participation voting and became the new Mr Gay South Africa. Following being crowned Mr Gay South Africa, I am setting a goal of raising over R1 million ($70,000) for issues and charities.
Here in South Africa, we are very lucky to have an incredible constitution that strongly protects gay rights and marriage.