In two weeks I’m setting off in my next travel adventure: a Latin American escapade with no return ticket. And as I hurry about trying to get all the necessary equipment and packing and unpacking and repacking to make a whole life fit into a 50-liter backpack, I realize I’m carrying an extra weight of worry about ‘the trans stuff’. Crossing borders, staying in hostels, or sharing bathroom with strangers might seem like insurmountable difficulties for the transgender traveler. However, they often feel far scarier when we imagine them than what they actually are. So, as a kind of exorcism, here are my top five fears as a FtM voyager. Apart from spiders, which would definitely crawl to the first positions and cover them in cobweb to make them creepy and cozy, but are not really trans-related.
When choosing my future whereabouts, there are many aspects to consider: landscape, weather, cost of living, and proximity to nature, recreational activities and so on. But their importance pales when I boil things down to the essential question: Are LGBT* people safe there? There are 82 countries where homosexuality and cross-dressing (I bet they don’t even have a word for trans* in most) are punishable by law. Sometimes by stoning. Or death. And although I won’t be heading for Africa or the Middle East in the foreseeable future, some areas in South and Central America are quite spicy. Brazil, an unavoidable part of my bucket list, has the highest rate of transgender murders in the whole wide world by far. Almost half of the crimes against trans people in the last 8 years occurred there. Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico also boast three digit figures and extreme brutality cases. So what do I do when I find such stark numbers? I breathe in and repeat like a mantra that we are never in control, and that things happen when they have to, however hippie it might sound. I remember the violence in my own country and understand I’m never completely safe, but not necessarily always threatened. I do my research. I try to stay with locals I can trust or in situations where I can have the minimum privacy I need, and sometimes I don’t. I go stealth if I need to. I sleep with my binder on and a foreseeable backache in hostels. I come out only if I feel safe or if I am in a Queer environment. I hope for the best and usually encounter it.
I’ll put it bluntly. I’m pre op, and sharing rooms with strangers is not my favorite thing in the world. Even with no strangers, I don’t feel comfortable being seen without my binder. And sleeping with it on can be downright torture. But my budget and heart love the hostel culture. And my first volunteer job in this trip will be in an LGBT friendly hostel in Bariloche, in the Argentinian Patagonia. After several backaches on my trip to Europe, I asked the only local manufacturer of binders for the FtM community in Argentina, the very talented Mor Asir Navon, for a different model more suitable for such situations. He developed one with an easy zipper that allows me to sleep unbound yet zip it up in seconds if need be. I have also found hostels with curtains on the bed that can be closed for an illusion of privacy. Sometimes that’s enough. Alternatively, I look for volunteer exchanges offering single accommodation or camp.
Borders and airport control
I always worry about airports. I love flying. I really enjoy the thrill, tainted by shreds of panic, of soaring over the clouds. But airport control and border crossing have always given me the creeps. Needlessly so far, I have to admit. Being an Argentinian citizen favored by the Gender Identity Law, my ID and passport match my gender presentation and I have never traveled to airports that require AIT scanning. So far, my looks and documents have rendered me anonymous enough to have never been singled out or delayed. But it is stressful, every time.
The way I travel, I get in contact with many new people; whether it is in hostels, work exchanges, Couch surfing or just walking around. Even being an introvert, I love this aspect of my journeys. Getting to know the locals and their way of life, or other travelers with their stories, is one of the most enriching experiences I can think of. The connection sometimes happens so fast, so unexpectedly, that you find yourself sharing your innermost feelings and beliefs over a pint of beer to an assorted bunch from random nationalities. Dealing with coming out in those scenarios can be a bit confusing for me. I sway between the idea that it is good for them to know me as a person, with no biases related to me being something they sometimes didn’t even know existed (which is dangerously close to the fear of not being safe or being somehow rejected if they find out I’m trans), and the desire to tell my truth to the whole world because I feel it helps build visibility. Stealth but safe? Out and proud? I guess those are questions I will have to keep facing as I go.
Toilets and bathrooms
My number one dread is shared bathrooms. Every time I book a hostel room I barely refrain from asking to be sent detailed pictures of the bathing facilities and their (lack of) privacy arrangements. Sometimes I have regretted not doing so. Hostel showers range from state-of-the-art immaculate clean showers with a lock and room to keep your clothes and stuff dry to narrow rows of tiny compartments, with either boiling or freezing water, crudely separated by plastic curtains. But I have always managed. Sometimes I take a very early or late shower, so that no one is around. Sometimes I carry a plastic bag to keep my binder and clothes dry and change in and out of my clothes inside the cubicle. I have yet to figure out something for outdoor showers, as I’d love to see Costa Rica and other tropical places. But I’m more of a cold weather lover, so it is easier to deal.
There will always be fears, I guess. Setting off from your comfort zone to the world is always challenging, more so for people in the trans community. But when you do, you find the opposite side of fear. Wonder. Bravery. Magic. Call it as you may, it’s definitely worth it.