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Finding the Gay Ghetto: The Art of Travelling as a Fag Hag

March 31, 2011 by admin


This may be my last blog for a fortnight, as I’m currently on a 9-hour bus ride up to Glasgow to hike the West Highland Way on my own. (Yes, 9 hours, but the bus ride cost only £ 9, and I couldn’t resist). For those of you who don’t know, the West Highland Way is a 95-mile trail starting from outside Glasgow, and finishing in Fort William. On the way, it passes through some of the best scenery Scotland has to offer — you know, the kind of landscapes you see on shortbread tins and jigsaw puzzles.

As a child living in suburban New Jersey, I was seduced by said shortbread tins and jigsaw puzzles and developed an unhealthy obsession with Scottish landscapes. Needless to say, the West Highland Way is something I’ve been wanting to do for years! I’m starting tomorrow from Milngavie and should finish in Fort William next Thursday night. I will probably have many blisters and calluses when I’m done.

Some of you may also be thinking cynically: “Ha ha. Good luck being a fag hag for the next week!”  True. It’s one thing to surround yourself with gay men while in Vauxhall, London. It’s quite another to locate a single homosexual in the wilds of the Scottish Highlands. (I know, there’s this thing called Grindr, but I’m not on it — I don‘t think they have a special membership category for fag hags.)

But here you may be surprised. As a travel addict, I’ve managed to find gay men in the most unlikely of places. And by that, I don’t mean an out-of-the-way clump of bushes on Hampstead Heath.

Take for example, that time in the Summer of 2003 when I hiked another British long- distance trail on my own, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. One day, after trekking along the stunning Welsh coastline in the August heat, I decided impulsively to hitchhike back to the town where I was staying. I stuck out my thumb — and who should pick me up but a friendly, chatty 50-something gay man who owned an art gallery in Fishguard. We had a lovely conversation, and I have to admit, I felt much more at ease as a female hitchhiker, having been picked up by a gay man.

Then there was that time in Java, when I had to wake up at 2 am to watch the sunrise above Gunung Bromo, a semi-active volcano in the Tengger Massif. Half-asleep, I stumbled into a rusty, stripped-down 4×4 which was being driven at breakneck speed over a bumpy vertiginous road in the dark. (I noticed there was no ignition to the vehicle, and our Javanese driver had to start it each time by hotwiring.) The other people in the vehicle were a handful of backpacking Swedes, a couple of backpacking Irish, one Javanese medical student, and lo, and behold — a 60-year-old gay man from London! Of course, the gay man and I hit it off immediately. Later on, he and I decided to climb around the top of Bromo. So there I was at 5am, scrambling around the edge of an smoking volcano, sulfur clouds blowing into my face, and I’m asking this gay man: “So, what’s your favorite club in Vauxhall?” (It was the RVT, not Hoist.)

Lesson being: homosexuals aren’t just in the beating, throbbing heart of metropolises like London, New York, and San Francisco. THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!!! As a responsible fag hag, you shouldn’t just hang out with that particular type of young urban gay male whom you find so stereotyped in the media. Gay men come in all shapes and sizes and ages, just like heterosexuals. (Though they often wear tighter shirts.) And as a traveling fag hag, you learn to find and befriend gay men from other cultures and places and age ranges. After all, isn’t that why we travel in the first place- to try to understand humanity in all its breadth?

Now, the curse of being a travel addict is that you never have enough time to see all the places you’d like to visit. Or to explore all the gay communities you’d like to understand. Trekking through the hills of central Myanmar (Brutal Asian Dictatorship Also Known as Burma), our Sikh guide described a grand house we passed as being owned by “a man who wasn’t really a man.” “Ah, you mean a homosexual!” I exclaimed, though I would hardly describe any of my gay friends as “not really men.” I then asked if there was a lively gay community in Myanmar, and if so, where they tended to hang out. Our guide replied: “In hair salons.” (I guess some tendencies span many cultures.)

I was fascinated, and if I’d had time, part of me would have loved to spend a day or two in Yangon, hunting down a local hair salon and interacting with the local gay men. I had so many questions. What was it like to be a homosexual man in Myanmar? Was there a particular party line from the ruling junta? Was the local culture particularly accepting of homosexuality?

Alas, my last day in Yangon was spent convulsing from food poisoning, so my curiosity about Burmese homosexuality remained unsated. But that’s the thing about traveling around a lot – even when in a rush, you notice that out of the corner of your eye, there are active, lively gay communities all around the world.

Last fall, I spent a few months in Qatar (one of the very few stable Arab nations at the moment). I went there thinking I might have to give up my fag hag lifestyle in the Arab world. But within five days of landing in Doha, I was invited to a party — and of course, the party was teeming with gay men, some Arab, some ex-pat, all very friendly.

For a fag hag, it was like coming home. And that’s the thing about gay culture — there’s a certain inclusiveness about it which a straight person can be envious of. You can show up in many cities in the world, and after enough detective work, find the gay district. Personally, I don’t know if I would be accepted with open arms as a fag hag, but a gay man traveling from afar could wander into a gay bar in a foreign city and feel at home. And chances are, he would have a much easier time befriending a random stranger than any straight man wandering alone into any straight bar.  (Unless this straight man happened to look like George Clooney.)

Perhaps these days, gay culture has much more sense of an inclusive community than in the heterosexual mainstream. We live in a day and age when our society by nature is itinerant, non-committal — people are always traveling, always on the go, changing jobs, breaking up, divorcing. When traditional community groups — family, church, even long-time places of work — are crumbling, maybe it’s the gays who have figured out how to offer a welcoming safe haven, like the roadside inns in days of yore. And for a traveler like me, that’s very appealing.

So I’ll keep my eyes peeled for rainbow flags along the West Highland Way, in and among the breathtaking mountains and lochs. Many people have asked if I have some kind of internal fag hag magnet, like a built-in compass that points to “gay.” And if I do, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Let’s put it to the test in the Scottish Highlands


1 Comment »

  1. Laura says:

    OMG, I laughed out loud! This was so great. Best part….the shortbread tins – hands down.

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