Before we landed in Krakow, my boyfriend and I agreed that we weren’t boyfriends anymore. We weren’t breaking up. Instead, we were freezing our relationship for the weekend, even though we’d be around each other exclusively for the next seventy-two hours. We would pick up where we left off as soon as our Ryanair flight grounded at Edinburgh Airport three days later, on Sunday night. Flights to Krakow were £45, and we had a free weekend. In other words, it was too good an offer to pass up. But beginning in 2020, many Polish municipalities have adopted “Strefy wolne od ideologii LGBT” (LGBT-free zones) where gay “ideology” is unwelcome. We didn’t want to waste a visit, but we also decided that Poland was not the place to share ourselves.
This agreement was our first but not our last. We instilled temporary breakup rules for many trips as we travelled to countries across Europe. On a road trip beginning in Germany, we broke up in Hungary but reconciled in Italy. When we travelled to Lithuania for my first research conference, we sidled into acquaintanceship for the week.
Most holiday break-ups were easy. In some places, there are no problems: the club, a gay bar, the train home from Glasgow at 1 am. Other occasions call for more restraint: family functions, black tie events, and anytime elderly relatives are present. This sense is especially acute in gay couples. We are experts at reading rooms and political temp checks. My boyfriend and I could slide into friendship in Poland as easily as if we’d stumbled into Sunday mass.
Some “break-ups” felt more real than others. On our much-anticipated trip to the pyramids, we excitedly exchanged our Scottish pounds for Egyptian pounds at the airport. A few hours later, we used the colourful bills to purchase separate rooms at our hotel. We were advised by friends to spare no precautions. Currently, gay people in Egypt are arbitrarily arrested, detained, and tortured. Our masquerade suddenly felt real. As I was laying in my single bed, I felt as if I’d flown to Cairo alone and friendless.
When we travelled to Dheli, my boyfriend was nervous about travelling to his family’s home country as a partnered gay guy. I was warned that we would already attract attention since I was white. We didn’t want to be picked out as Westerners on top of being gay. Gay rights are a mixed bag in India, with an increasingly tolerant urban population but deep-running historical hostility. Upon arrival, we prepared for a week to feign indifference. By the end of our ten days there, I shouted at my boyfriend in the Dheli airport. I didn’t even wait till we arrived home; my façade sloughed off by the planes that would deliver us home. I shouted because his performance had been so good. We’d spent the trip as if he were my brother: in overly casual, sometimes mundane acquaintanceship. Maybe it was the stress of the heat or bugs or crowds, but even after we’d returned to our hotel room, I thought I could detect a lingering disdain. The performance became indelible. That’s the danger of pretending. Eventually, lines blur.
Upon arrival in Edinburgh, we agreed not to travel for a while. I was tired of living out of my backpack on the weekends and crowdsourcing safety tips from European friends. I also wanted to hold hands with my boyfriend. There’s nothing that special about holding hands; I just wanted the option to do it. The following weekend, we broke our rule and travelled again. This time, we boarded a bus to Edinburgh’s New Town. I was introduced to Nando’s, and I treated my British partner to the finest American cuisine: Taco Bell. We held hands and ate veggie Crunchwrap Supremes. More than ever, we felt like world travellers.
Image “Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme” by JIP is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.