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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21st Century LGBT Travelogues

Travelogues have been around for a while. During colonial times many travelogues were used to create a mythos about exploring and uncovering new knowledge and terrains. Ann McClintock discusses this in the excerpt we read by her in class. In these alleged post-colonial times travelogues of various kinds are still being circulated. For instance the popular novel and movie “Eat, Pray, and Love” was a modern rendition of a travelogue in which the white protagonist of the novel traveled to foreign countries to learn more about herself. While the novel “Eat, Pray, and Love” did not deal with sexuality as a center focus of the protagonist’s travels there are many travelogues that do. One in particular grabbed my attention when trying to figure out what I wanted to do my research on. Its entitled “Out and Around: A Not So Straight Journey” and follows the traveling of a San Francisco based lesbian couple who embarked on a journey across the “developing world” to find “supergays”. For them “supergays” are people in developing countries that are leading the struggle for LGBT rights. Their travelogue consists of a blog, YouTube channel, and now with funding from a Kickstarter campaign their experiences and footage from their travels are going to be turned into a documentary.

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LGBT Tourism and Nation Branding

 

LGBT tourism has become a niche market in the travel industry. The routes affluent LGBT people from the United States and Western Europe travel set up transnational circuits around the world. As different countries vie for the revenues that come from tourism they turn to nation branding as a way to entice more people to visit their country. Nation branding is done differently by different nations, and for my project I am interested in how different nations brand themselves differently proffering up everything from “untouched” nature to the aesthetics of people as reasons for travelers to visit their country. For certain countries tourism and nation branding allows them to cover up human rights abuses while others depend on expanding tourist markets to continue economic growth in a neo-colonial global economy. My project hopes to examine how nation branding and LGBT tourism from the West create transnational circuits of power that hide histories of colonization, apartheid, and imperialism, while also furthering neo-imperialistic and neo-colonialist agendas. This issue will benefit from a transnational feminist analysis because of the various social locations that people who are involved with the issue have, and the issue’s expansive global reach that transcends the boundaries of nation-states. 

Article #1: The Power of Gay Travel

This article discusses the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (ILGTA) and their recently opened non-profit the IGLTA Foundation. The ILGTA is one of the biggest networks for gay travel across the globe and connects tourists with different gay-friendly travel associations. The article was published by Out Magazine, which is one of the biggest LGBT magazines that is still in publication. A reading of the article describes how the IGLTA Foundation seeks to connect gay tourism to local communities to benefit both the traveler and the “LGBT” community where the traveler is traveling. An example they gave was how the Vietnamese government is considering passing gay marriage, and how they hope to have LGBT travelers from outside of Vietnam aid the legalization of gay marriage in Vietnam. 

Article #2: Rio de Janeiro aims to become world capital of gay tourism

This article, although published in 2011, gives a glimpse at how a specific city started the process of branding itself as gay friendly in order to attract tourists. The article was published by the United Kingdom newspaper The Guardian, which is considered by many to be a progressive news source. An interesting point this article brings up is how previous uprisings in Brazil, specifically in the 1960’s, are being used along with their advancement for gay rights to posit Rio de Janeiro as a socially progressive gay tourist hotspot.

Article #3: Tel Aviv: The New Gay Travel Hotspot

This article discusses how Tel Aviv, one of Israel’s biggest cities, is becoming a gay tourist attraction through local politicians’ efforts to brand the city as progressive and gay friendly. The Daily Beast, another U.S. news source, published this article. Two important points that were brought up by this article was the use of attractive men to market Tel Aviv. For instance Israel Rodrigue, the owner of Israel’s biggest travel agency, was quoted in the article as saying, “Israeli men are our biggest natural resource when it comes to gay tourism. We have a nice mixture of all different ethnicities, which makes for a good-looking combo.” From his statement you can see how Israeli men of multiple ethnicities are being put forth as a material erotic commodity for Tel Aviv and the gay travel industry. The second point I found interesting from this article was the push by the mayor of Tel Aviv to brand the city as a gay tourist spot and not Israel as a whole due to the connotations travelers had between Israel and war. 

Article (kind of) #4: Out and Around Documentary Kickstarter Campaign and the accompanying blog Out and Around

These links link to the blog Out and Around which follows a San-Francisco based lesbian couple as they travel the “developing world,” on the continents of Asia, Africa, and South America to find “the people who are leading the movement for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality”. While Lisa and Jenni fulfilled their promise to “live a life of adventure” by visiting these various places and blogging about it they also started a Kickstarter campaign raising money to make a documentary about their experiences. The trailer for the documentary starts with a quote by Hillary Clinton claiming that “Being gay is not a Western invention,” and both the blog and trailer are filled with glimpses of how people from the West view the two/thirds world, especially when it comes to “LGBT Rights”. By looking at how a lesbian couple perceives these cities as they travel gives a good idea about who marketing companies are looking at when attempting to brand certain tourist destinations as gay friendly. Their blog and documentary trailer is a testament to the power well-funded Western LGBT Movements have to create world views not only for Western LGBT people, but also the abilities of those world views to spread. 

 

Potential Research Questions: 

1. How is the neo-colonial global economy strengthened by various ex-colonial nation-states’ reliance on Western tourism to continue economic growth?  

2. How is nation branding done differently in different countries, and how do those countries rely on transnational circuit of LGBT travelers to continue economic growth? 

3. Do transnational circuits of affluent LGBT travelers create a hegemonic LGBT identity and politic through the appeals from different nation-states to entice those travelers by using pro-LGBT nation branding tactics?