Guest Blog: Taylan Stulting from The Trans Traveller
I love solo travel, and 80% of the time I’d pick that over group travel. However, there are certain tour companies, like Young Pioneer Tours, and certain advantages to group travel that make it more than worth it on occasion. But like all aspects of traveling while transgender, there are unique challenges to consider to ensure my safety whilst traveling with a group of strangers for a few days or a few weeks.
At the same time, group travel has the benefit of also being a place where allies can crop up. This makes the whole travel experience smoother, safer, and more enjoyable. And that all starts with what a travel company does to work with and support transgender travelers. And all that starts with what a travel company does to work with and support transgender travelers.
“It all starts with what a travel company does to work with and support transgender travelers.”
After returning from a three week trip on the Trans-Siberian/Mongolian, ending with a YPT trip in Tibet, I wrote a blog post about my experience of traveling through three countries where being LGBTQ is stigmatized and often criminalized. Shortly afterward, I began booking a few more trips with YPT. In response to the blog post, one of the first emails I received from YPT was them asking how they could make the process more trans-friendly. At the end of the day that’s the most important thing any individual or travel company can do: ask the individual. I cannot speak for every transgender person as we all have our own needs and preferences. That said, my experience has given me some insight into the general do’s and don’ts for travel companies working with transgender clients.
Here are the do’s and don’ts, from initial booking to time on tours:
Don’t only ask for legal name and gender marker. Obviously, this information is necessary for things like flights, hotels, and visas. But since many transgender people, myself included, have not changed our legal names or gender markers, only being asked our legal name can be invalidating and limiting. So…
Do give an additional option for a chosen name and one’s pronouns. This can set the stage for a welcoming and inclusive environment by communicating that our names and pronouns are going to be used and respected. Regardless of what our passports might say. You also may not know someone is transgender so standardizing these options is necessary and gives trans people agency in deciding whether or not to come out.
Don’t share our legal names and gender markers with people who don’t need them for bookings, visas, or other legal purposes. For instance, my fellow travelers have no need to know my legal name, and unnecessarily using it invalidates my identity and reinforces systematic transphobia.
Do ask about rooming preferences and give the option for single rooms, particularly if you default to gender for assigning roommates. As a non-binary person, gender segregation can be uncomfortable and even dangerous at times. The simple step of asking what I prefer can go a long way.
Beginning of Trips
Do ensure trip leaders set an example for using people’s correct pronouns. I know people are going to mess up sometimes, but trans people can generally tell when you’re trying and when you’re not because we deal with it on a daily basis. So at least make the effort! If I can’t trust that the group leader is going to try, then I’m probably not going to want to come back.
Don’t out transgender people to others in the group without their permission. In general, I personally prefer when people I know inform others of my pronouns because at this point I’m sick and tired of coming out all the time. But not everyone has that same preference, and everyone deserves the right to come out (or not) on their own terms.
Do ask transgender people early on if and how they want support in addressing instances of misgendering or transphobia that may arise. Personally, I always privately address things because I don’t like to make a scene. Other people prefer to address them when they happen regardless of who is around because they don’t want it to linger. Others may not want to address it at all. And these preferences may change for some people whilst traveling in a foreign country. Understanding these personal preferences can help you be a better ally not only when traveling but in everyday life.
Don’t force transgender people to enter strictly gendered spaces. A good example of this is mosques. Though I don’t identify as a woman, some people assume I am one and therefore expect me to wear a headscarf when I enter a mosque. As a result, a simple cultural experience that, for many countries, is a common part of travel, becomes an internal battle and a question of balancing my own safety with the respect of another culture. I have to pick between having part of my identity temporarily erased by wearing a headscarf, possibly disrespecting another culture by not wearing a headscarf, or missing out on a particular experience by not going in at all. It’s not an easy decision and the last thing I want is to have someone tell me I “need” to go.
Do offer to go with trans people into such spaces if they don’t feel comfortable going alone. With group travel, you’re typically together anyway, but the intentional offer of sticking by their side could mean a lot and make the experience much safer and more comfortable.
Don’t out to trans people to locals (including hostel/hotel staff, local guides, etc.) without permission. While this goes along with the previous point of not outing to other members of the group, it’s particularly important in countries where being LGBTQ is heavily stigmatized and criminalized. Here it becomes a matter of physical safety. For instance, in countries where being LGBTQ is punishable by the death penalty, I would rather be misgendered and repress my identity temporarily than give any indication that I’m queer and trans. That’s by no means to say people from these places are inherently prejudiced, but simply that when I’m in these countries, I want to get to know individuals before I decide whether or not to come out to them.
Do avoid hostels and other lodgings with gendered bathrooms. Regardless of whether I’m at home or traveling, I avoid gendered bathrooms at all costs because they have been sites of verbal abuse in the past, and physical abuse for many other trans people. While traveling, this often means that I’m only using the bathrooms at my lodging. If this one safe-haven is taken away, then I’m spending more time worrying about how I’m going to go to the bathroom safely than enjoying the experience.
Don’t treat us differently than you would anyone else. We deserve the same respect and kindness as everyone else, and though we made have some unique needs whilst traveling, that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve the opportunity to experience the trip to the fullest.
Head over to The Trans Traveller page for more!