A survey finding that Chicago is the top holiday destination for closeted gay men reveals some really saddening facts, says Rob Buchanan.
Recent data tabulating how the Pink Dollar was spent on international travel has thrown up some interesting statistics. I was intrigued and slightly saddened to see the large figures included for gay men who are not yet out. Chicago ranks second only to Narnia as a holiday destination for closeted queers who want a bit of ‘how’s your father’. The poll was conducted by MissTravel.com and the total sample size was 5,000 men who were “seeking male travel companions”. The anonymous poll asked if their status as out or closeted. 41 per cent, a surprisingly high number, identified themselves as closeted. This sub-group was analysed and it was determined that the Windy City was the closet capital for tourists.
I experienced closeted holidays in my teens. I’d make excuses to mates as to why I wasn’t going to ride your one that was hanging out of me and slip off in to the night. I would have done my bit of research first, was there some dingy sanctuary of queerness in the heart of the buzzing strip or perhaps nestled somewhere further out from the package holiday town, a taxi drive away. Sometimes I was looking for a quick, drunken bit of action. But mostly I wanted the company of men who understood me and to feel like I could let my hair down (figuratively speaking). It’s likely many of the men polled on MissTravel.com were equally looking for a platonic experience on their trips, but let’s be realistic here.
As beautiful a city as Chicago undoubtedly is, the Midwest is neither a cultural hub nor the budgie smuggler destination most gay men would flock to. However, as the press release for the survey said, it is “a plausible destination for prudent travel”. That’s one of the aspects of the survey that saddened me, that even while travelling to explore a neglected but vital part of their identities, these men are still under the cloak of self-denial. To make it clear I am referring to gay and bisexual men whose wives are not aware of their true sexual orientations or infidelities.
I have deep sympathy for gay men trapped in heterosexual marriages they do not want. I got a taxi home from Dublin city centre a few months ago and the driver, on hearing me talking about marriage equality when the song ‘Same Love’ by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis came on the radio, disclosed to me that he was in fact gay and living a lie with a female fiancée. I got the feeling he was getting something off his chest that was very raw, to the extent that I gave him the number for Gay Switchboard. I’m not ashamed to say when I got in to my gaff that night I had a little cry for the poor guy. He seemed so utterly torn and hopeless.
I personally find infidelity heartbreaking, which is why I’m a long-term singleton. I’m not ready to settle down and so would not betray the trust of a partner. Yet this anonymous poll reminds us what we all already know: There is a huge invisible covert wing of the LGBT family living cloak and dagger lives, satisfying their very human needs abroad and then coming home to the Mrs. Our compassion has to have limits; these men are not only hurting themselves, they are also hurting their oblivious wives and children.
Maybe those of us lucky to be out and not living in fear should be doing more to create safe spaces for closeted LGBT people and ‘aftercare’ for the straight families who might be left behind?
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