Generating Discussion: Gay Circuits of Tourism

Jasbir Puar’s article “Circuits of Queer Mobility Tourism, Travel, and Globalization” began the huge task of theorizing queer tourism in an increasingly globalized post-colonial world. The article began with a story about a 1998 gay cruise that attempted to land in the Cayman Islands and was denied. The denial of the gay cruise ship-docking lead to condemnation of the Cayman government by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the United States’ President. For Puar, such an incident opened up many questions around queer tourism. In her article Puar discusses how at the time of publication not much was written about gay tourism. The few articles written were mainly from the British academy, and they all focused on a European gay subject. In order to counteract what’s been written already Puar mapped the current gay tourism industry mainly by looking at industry statistics of gay and lesbian couples and their income, and also by doing field research at two gay travel conventions held in San Francisco and New York City.

Within the article the consumption patterns of queers from the West are examined, specifically the various types of queer consumption that happens during these cruises. For instance within her article she talks about how there are different types of tourists from sex tourists who are looking to hook-up with natives to the activist tourists who want to meet local queer communities. In particular she discusses how there are three shifts happening with the queer tourist industry. The first is that gays and lesbians are no longer having to market themselves to travel agencies because through market research companies are starting to believe that gays and lesbians are profitable to market to. The second point is that vying for gays to visit places is happening less and less by the travel industry and more by nation states and providences. Lastly gays are starting to demand tourist locations outside of the West.

Puar also critiques the statistics that marketing companies come up with because of data gathering means which come in the form of surveys given to gay magazine readers. For her decentering the affluent gay magazine readers and their wants in traveling are also important. Puar raises the important question of what other types of queer tourists are there, for example what about people who use tourism to get access to affordable sex reassignment surgery, cross-dressing holidays, and women’s music festivals? Puar then goes on to also challenge the viewing of space as predominantly heterosexual and to challenge the idea that gay tourism allows the upsetting of heterosexual space. For her she sees such an argument as lacking the disruptions of gender, race, and class that gay tourism might also face.

Questions about who gets affected by gay tourism is also looked at in the article when Puar discusses how many times queers of colors aren’t included in gay travel literature, but rather are portrayed as the natives. In what Puar quotes as an example of imperial nostalgia she talks about the binary that Western queer tourists buy into that includes the queer modern and primitive native. The pull to attract Western gay tourists has also led to the reimaging of various nations’ history to include queerness to some degree. Such tourism can also be seen in tours marketed to queers of color who can go and tour the “motherland” from where they originated and learn about their native cultures.

For Puar all of these consumptive practices of queers from the West need to be evaluated by understanding who is doing the serving in these economies of tourism. What are the conditions like not just for the gay consumer, but also the service workers who experience exploitation at the hands of such tourist ventures? While posing more questions than answers this piece seems to serve as an article that attempts to tantalize its readers about the under theorized nature of queer tourism in the hopes of enticing more people to research and theorize about it.

For me this article relates directly to my research project in the class that looks at an LGBT travelogue project that followed a lesbian couple around the “developing world” to discover the leaders of a global gay rights movement. From reading the blogs and watching footage of the couple’s travelogue I’ve come to realize the complexities that queer tourism has especially when the couple that embarked to make the travelogue are bi-racial and both raised in San Francisco. The trailer attached below has themes that hark back to Puar’s idea of a cosmopolitan gay elite who can travel across borders easier than queers who are attempting to do so for work.

The questions I want to raise around the article are as follow:

— Do you think queer tourism, especially to countries whose major income is tied to their tourism industry, will create an imperialistic relation between the mainly Western tourists who are desiring to go to non-European tourist locations and the countries they visit?

— Jasbir Puar argues in her article that the myth of the wealthy gay and lesbian cosmopolitan citizen is what drew these tourist companies to originally attempt to tap into the “gay” market, but as Puar stated many times lesbians make less than their heterosexual and gay counterpart couples because of sexism in the workforce. How does this along with the existence of non-wealthy queers complicate ideas of queer folks being a golden “recession-proof” population to market to?

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One thought on “Generating Discussion: Gay Circuits of Tourism

  1. I think countries/nation-states do form imperialistic relationships with the US. For example, the sex tourism industry in Mexico and the way it is catered to U.S. tourists, we can see a power imbalance between the two countries. Recently, I have seen more highway billboard ads promoting tourism to Mexico. Mexico’s dependency on tourism industry is signaled through this increase in advertisement visibility. The fact that a Western gay identity is being adopted in Mexico maybe due to the increased U.S. gay travelers , as well as to the increase in U.S. mainstream culture influence. This increase in The GATT & NAFTA opened up Mexico to the exploits of US Corporations, which meant more interdependence. If we look at the development of Mexico’s metropolitan areas, you will see Walmart, TacoBell, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, and other US franchises. As this is connected to your final project as well, I think it reflects the idea that because of US cultural and economic global influence, there is a sense of preference for US identity. But U.S. identity is not just one singular identity, race and social class are important factors in identity adoption. For example, some people might adopt the clothing style promoted by Abercrombie and Fitch, while others adopt hip hop clothing style. Nevertheless, it is clear that US mainstream culture is becoming pervasive as economic interdependence is strengthened through global trade.

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