How Living in Europe for Six Months Helped Me Grow My Queer Identity
Farrah Cukor is a guest blogger for Pride Month. This is her submission!
Being a junior in college, as many people do, I decided to embark on a journey studying abroad in the Netherlands for the past six months. In that time, I went to 15 countries; seeing sites such as the Eiffel Tower, the Big Ben, the Colosseum, the Swiss Alps, and many more. But my trip had an major difference that many of my other friend’s abroad experiences did not have. I am queer. My sexuality is something that is always on my mind. I came out when I was 12 years old, have been involved in numerous groups and organizations for LGBTQ rights, and have spent much of my life trying to figure out just what is my place in the world in regards to my identity.
Before leaving for my trip, I wondered what LGBTQ culture in Europe was going to be like. I was worried about having a negative experience. I was worried about homophobic situations. I was worried that it would be difficult to find a queer community. I was worried that I would lose my sense of self.
But I tried not to stress about it too much, wanting to assume it wouldn’t be so different from the States.
Being queer in America feels like an entire lifestyle whereas being queer in Europe feels as if it blends more in the background. So often, it feels that in order to be in the LGBTQ community in the states, you has to really be involved in the community. Whether it’s wearing rainbow apparel, joining a GSA, or just having a group of friends go out to a gay bar, it can feel like a “job” to be able to fit in. In Europe, being queer is something that is not automatically the main focus of someone's identity. For example, there isn’t always a push to go to a gay bar (a safe space needed in America to avoid harassment for being LGBTQ), because many of the regular bars feel like safe spaces.
The second point of interest is the way gender/sexual expression is looked at. When describing myself, I don’t identify as “butch” (a masculine lesbian) even though in the United States, that’s a label that is frequently thrust upon me because of my haircut and the clothing I wear. It doesn’t fit me because it just doesn’t feel like who I am. But in Europe, it is easily written off as just “a girl with short hair."
Fashion conventions were constantly being broken around me, and no one was questioning anyone’s sexuality because of it. Anyone and everyone could be found wearing makeup, dresses, ties, you name it. It gives everyone a lot of freedom to just be themselves, and not feel put in a box in relation to sexuality.
Going to certain countries and being in certain environments, I found myself worrying about homophobic judgment, when that situation never arose. The way you express yourself is never a direct correlation to your sexuality, and Europe is the perfect example in following that mindset.
In Europe, being queer is more of a nonchalant attitude that is just an additional adjective to each’s character. Of course, this differs from cities to villages, country to country.
Overall, there is just not as much emphasis put on finding other queers in the community, and standing out as a whole. But the truth is, the European way doesn’t feel like the right way. I’ve spent the past few months feeling lost. I’ve missed having a community. I’ve missed drag queen brunches. And I’ve missed having a consistent group of people around that I know will continue to fight for my rights to exist and live in an equal world.
With discrimination against LGBTQ people still at large (such as the Colorado Baker case), it is so important to fight back and not just live in the shadows. And with Pride month upon us, it is so important to speak up and work on changing the inequities in life, not just blend into to society, as is the European way.
Being abroad has tremendously helped me grow into my queer identity. It is made me more proud. It has made me realize that there can reach a point in which gender discussion doesn’t have to be the focus of one’s personality, but it also can be. With Europe leading as an example, there can reach a time in which one does not have to prove their queerness. And there will always be people and places to support you in whatever way you choose to live your best queer life. There’s no “one way” that’s right, but there’s options, a thing that shouldn’t be taken for granted.