Exploring and Expressing Sexuality While Away
Studying at UC Santa Cruz and living in California, it is common to see people openly exploring and expressing their sexualities. Our campus is very fortunate to be one with a legacy of acceptance and promotion of equal rights and respect for folks of diverse sexualities. However, other places around the country or the world might not be so. Before we dive into the topic of exploring and expressing sexuality while away or abroad, it’s important to first distinguish gender identity and gender expression from sexual orientation.
Gender identity is a person’s sense of being masculine, feminine, in-between, androgynous, non-binary, or another sense of self. This sense of gender identity is independent of biological sex and usually manifests itself by the age of three or four.
Gender expression is the way you communicate your gender to others. This is while sexual orientation refers to a person’s emotional, physical, and/or sexual attraction and the expression of that attraction—which does not manifest itself until much later in life, usually after puberty and often not until adulthood. This sexual orientation, or sexuality, and what that might mean when studying away or abroad, is what we will be discussing here.
Understanding how the expression of your gender and sexuality might impact your experience away or abroad is an important part of the preparation and pre-departure process. Cultures around the world and in the country can vary greatly in their perspectives, social expectations, and opinions relating to the complex concepts of gender and sexual identities. When you venture out in the world, you carry your identity with you even if it is not readily apparent to those around you. Going away or abroad can represent an ongoing series of “coming outs”, and you will need to make decisions about how and when to express your Queer identity. It is important to think about what kind of support may be available to you in your new environment, especially since contact with your current community of supportive friends and/or family may be limited.
UCSC Global Learning aspires to support the study abroad goals of all UCSC students and, to accomplish this, works directly with the Cantú Queer Center at UC Santa Cruz to provide advising tailored to the needs of individual students.
A Word About Location
Being away from UC Santa Cruz will present opportunities to think about identity in a whole new cultural context, which can be a rewarding learning experience that challenges your preconceived notions of what it means to be Queer. Concepts of identity and the way Queer individuals are perceived vary from location to location, even between regions within the same country. US students away or abroad may find themselves visiting places that are more affirming of Queer identity than where they’re from in the United States, and this difference may be reflected in laws that extend equal access and protection. Other places might have laws that criminalize homosexuality and an accompanying social hostility toward any public expression of Queer identity.
Equaldex has an interactive map showing Queer specific information for countries around the world. It highlights some stark truths, such as the countries that still have discriminatory policies towards homosexuals, but it also shows vividly the positive progress being made across the planet to ensure that Queer people everywhere are treated with respect and appreciated for the contribution that they make to the world.
However, national laws and public opinion do not always tell the full story of what a Queer student can expect. Just as there are Californians who strongly oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage, there are individuals who support the Queer communities from countries that demonstrate legal intolerance. It can be helpful to consult with several different sources when gathering information in order to assess the relative standing of Queer individuals in any place you plan to visit.
Just as the level of support from the local community may vary, some programs may be better equipped to address the needs of Queer students than others. Any study away or abroad program available to UCSC students is a possibility. The key is to identify your expectations and clarify what kind of support the programs you consider are able to offer. Careful program selection and solid pre-departure planning will help you identify opportunities that will allow your Queer identity to be an asset, not a barrier, to your cross-cultural learning.
How ready is your program provider to offer support or address needs related to your Queer identity, like arranging a queer-friendly host family? How able will in-country staff be to help answer questions about local attitudes and concepts of Queer identity?
Global Learning Advising and Queer Identity
Your UCSC Global Learning Advisor will be able to offer insight or recommend resources to learn more about the attitudes toward Queer individuals in your potential location. Concerns about your sexual orientation or gender identity should not be a barrier to participating in global learning.
You will be encouraged to consider all program options, and to address any concerns related to identity with the staff of potential programs. Note that some programs may offer coursework addressing Queer issues, while others may specifically offer Queer friendly housing options or other student services support. Your Global Learning Advisor can help you decide how best to address the issue with program staff if you are in need of advice or assistance.
Programs Addressing Queer Issues
Here are a few examples of specialized programs that address gender and sexuality issues in the academic curriculum. This is not a definitive list, so your program search should not be limited to the following. We welcome further submissions for posting.
Tips for UCEAP: You can use the UCEAP course catalog to search for classes that focus on gender and sexuality (try searching UC Subject: Women and Gender Studies or Keyword: sex/sexuality).
Some countries with a high number of courses that other UC students have taken include Australia, Barbados, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Mexico, Netherlands, Singapore, South Africa, and the UK (England or Scotland). Please be aware that even though a program in a certain country offers classes focusing on Queer or LGBTQ studies, it does not mean it always reflects the attitude of the local community. Make sure to thoroughly research your program before making a choice.
Here are some other Independent Programs you can also consider:
- SIT Netherlands: International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender
- Michigan State University: Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity & Sexual Politics in Amsterdam
- Danish Institute for Study Abroad: Gender Studies
- 12 LGBTQIA+ Friendly Study Abroad Destinations (written by a former UCSC alumni, Elisabet Raquel Garcia!)
- Transatlantic Marriage – From Indy to Dublin – a woman prepares to be away from her wife for a semester
- Intimacy, Gender, and Public Space – a queer woman shares her experiences with understanding gender and same-sex dynamics in Morroco
- Thoughts on Tokyo Pride – a queer woman critically reflects on her experience at Tokyo Pride
- Being a Minority Abroad: IES Abroad EU Edition – an interview with a couple of students about their experience being minorities due to their ethnic backgrounds and/ or sexualities
- Trans Ireland: an Interview – an interview by a trans woman studying abroad with a local trans woman in Ireland, discussing the experiences of trans people, gender queer, and non-binary people on the country.
- Out and About: A Gay Day in the U.K. – a lesbian woman recounts her amazing day shared with her gay male counterpart as they explored all the queer landmarks in London
- (Mis)adventures of a Queer Black Girl – a Black woman discusses what it’s like traveling the world with her wife who is also a Black woman
- Traveling While Asain, Queer, and Tattooed: WHICH IS WORSE? – an Asian woman discusses what it’s like traveling the world being a queer older woman with tattoos
- Finding an LGBTQ+ Community Abroad: Alum of the Month Neal McKinney – a study abroad alum reflects on his experience being a gay Black man studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain
- Gaining Independence Abroad: Alum of the Month Max Freeman – a study abroad alum reflects on his experience being a queer man studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain
- Coming Out While Studying Abroad: Alum of the Month Steve Streich – a study abroad alum reflects on his experience coming out as a gay man while studying abroad in Vienna in the 1970s!
- Student Voices – Examining Identity Within the Study Abroad Experience – a multi-cultural Asian woman who is demiromantic and pansexual shares her experiences studying abroad in Japan and in Ireland
- Student Voices – A Queer Student’s Perspective in Morocco – a queer Asian man shares his experience studying abroad and dating locals in Morocco, where being queer can be punishable by law.
- World of Difference Alumni Profile – Samekh Reed – a Black bisexual woman shares her experience studying abroad in Japan
- Marching to the Beat of Social Justice: Thoughts on Global Citizenship from John Luke Hawkins – a gay man shares his experience with finding the opportunity to explore his sexuality for the first time ever, and getting involved with social justice while studying abroad in South Africa
- A Rainbow Welcome: Seeing Queerness in My First Few Days in Greece
- Out and About: The Different Experiences of LGBT+ Abroad
- Pride in Seoul
- A Roadmap For The Queer Study Abroad Experience
- A Study Abroad Guide for LGBTQIA Students & Allies
- 10 Tips for Finding LGBTQIA+ Friendly Study Abroad Housing
- 7 Tips for Picking the Best LGBTQIA+ Friendly Study Abroad Program
- For information about sexuality abroad please see this LGBTQIA+ Identity video produced by UC Davis.
Additional Web Resources
The internal links below are relevant resources for Queer students on the UCSC campus. The external links include organizations, articles, success stories, and tips for Queer students preparing to go abroad.
- Equaldex– an interactive map that explores the progress of LGBTQ+ rights by country
- International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association ILGA: Information on gay rights around the world
- The Guardian Interactive World Map: Map of LGBT rights around the world.
- Department of State LGBT Travel Information
- Amnesty International LGBT Rights
- NAFSA Rainbow Special Interest Group: Includes general information about study abroad, country and region-specific links, articles, study abroad programs, and scholarship opportunities.
- Utopia Asia: Travel information, news, links to resources and organizations, and legislation for various countries in Asia.
- Global Gayz: Gay-owned travel and culture website focused on les-bi-gay-trans life in countries around the world.
- The Global Gay Guide Network: A worldwide directory of sites of interest, accommodations, events, and news articles.
- Name and gender changes on California and federal documents
- Gender Neutral Bathrooms via GPS
- Human Rights Watch Country Profiles: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity