*I’ve written this post in honor of Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day.
I’m often asked when my love of travel started. For some, it’s their first trip, a time they tried a new exotic food, heard another language or went overseas for the first time. I didn’t experience a distinct moment when I realized I was destined to be a world traveler, but rather my motivation to travel sprung from a desperate need to flee my home town of Boise, Idaho where my gay family wasn’t accepted.
I was only 12 years old when my dad came out to our family. He held a high position in public office and had to be re-elected every few years. As a result, he wasn’t able to be out and proud; instead we hid our family from the public eye. Mom often said that when my dad came out to us, we were the ones that stepped into the closet.
Shortly after my parents’ divorce, I made the mistake of trusting the wrong childhood friend with our family secret. She came to school the next day and told me she couldn’t be my friend anymore. While I’m forever grateful she and her family didn’t out my dad, I spent the following six years lying about my family and being terrified my dad would lose his job if people knew about his sexuality.
After years of hiding, I wanted to be somewhere, anywhere other than my home state of Idaho. So even though my high school counselor advised against it, I only applied to colleges on the East Coast. Fortunately, my parents were supportive of my decision. I was accepted into a few of the colleges I applied to and after visiting campuses to narrow my choices, I settled on one in New York. Since my older sister had chosen to stay in state after high school, my choice was a major adjustment for the whole family.
It was an interesting time to move to New York; it had been less than a year since 9/11. While there was still some fear of future terrorist attacks, overall I found the city was much more inviting than what I was accustomed to. I still experienced some culture shock as New Yorkers can be their own breed: loud, opinionated and walking like they’re always on a mission. It was polar opposite of the slower, calmer and quieter Northwestern lifestyle I’d grown up with. And yet it only took a few months to acclimate myself and find myself in love with this new city.
At school, I studied Spanish and Cultural Anthropology. Raised in a family that was so little understood by society, I felt a need to learn more about others. Growing up with adversity and constantly being told my family was wrong or that I was somehow damaged as a result of my family, made me question when people said the same thing about others, whether it was regarding race, religion, gender, or relationship orientation.
Living in New York helped open my eyes to the world for the first time. Every day I heard different languages and met people from other countries. Moving to New York after having a sheltered childhood made me realize how little I truly knew and understood about the world and different cultures. That seemingly small distance of travel across the country inspired me to then go across the world.
When I finished college I was hungry to see and learn more. I backpacked solo through Europe, visiting 13 countries, mostly in Western Europe, but going as far east as Hungary. I then moved to Spain for a teaching position through the Language and Culture Assistant Program. I later joined the Peace Corps and moved to Madagascar for another teaching position. Throughout all my travels, I wasn’t really aware of how much my perception of different countries was influenced by my family dynamic. It was an emotional roller coaster. I struggled with being honest with friends in some countries, but lying to others depending on the cultural norms and taboos of that specific country. To this day, my Malagasy friends don’t know that I have gay dads; they still think Jerry, my dad’s husband, is my uncle.
It really wasn’t until a year ago that I truly realized my family experiences affected how I see the world when I travel. Last summer I signed up for an online travel writing class because I knew I wanted to start a travel blog. Through the course, I started thinking about my travels and how they shaped my life. I discovered that coming from a gay family affected how I experienced the acceptance of places like the HomoMonument in Amsterdam and the exclusion of the gay victims in the Memorial at Dachau.
After nine years of avoiding my home town, I found myself back in Boise, Idaho. I’d been evacuated from Madagascar due to a political coup less than a year into my Peace Corps service. I wanted to continue my volunteer work, so I joined AmeriCorps and moved to Los Angeles. While I didn’t enjoy the L.A. traffic, I did love the sunny weather and found through starting an adult ESL (English as a Second Language) Program that teaching was my calling. Unfortunately, after a couple successful years, the economic downturn caught up with the non-profit at which I worked and our program was cut.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I had a found career that I truly loved and yet, economically, it was a horrible time to find work in that field. I wanted to go back to school and get my Master’s, but I couldn’t financially justify spending $45,000 for a degree that I may never be able to use. After three years of volunteering, broke and utterly defeated with the choices in front of me, I decided I needed to take some time to figure out my life. As L.A. was too expensive, I decided I wanted to be close to family while I figured out my next steps, which prompted my return to Idaho.
Surprisingly, since my return, I’ve found the state has changed. Yes, we still have a ridiculous governor who wants to fight marriage equality and transgender rights. Yes, we have been unsuccessful in our campaign to Add the Words ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ to the existing Idaho Human Rights Act (IHRA) for ten years now. But overall, many people have changed. They’re more accepting than they once were; my coworkers even rallied to cover my shift with little notice when my dads were going to rush to get married the first day it was legal in our state. Most importantly, I find I no longer have to shield myself in most situations.
Boise is still a little too small for my wandering soul and I have no idea how long I’ll stay here. But I can say that for right now, I’m enjoying it. After years of a love-hate relationship with my state, I’m starting to really fall in love with it again. I’m traveling more in the Pacific Northwest and taking regular small weekend trips to explore and discover new places. And I take comfort in knowing that while I once ran from this place, for now, it’s home.
Click here for the master list of posts for Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day.