Going Abroad Nerves
by Alyssa Sileo
I am going to Barcelona to spend a month studying the language and culture. As a Spanish minor in college and a person who wants to be bilingual, this is going to be a wonderful and enriching experience. But just as how I feel whenever I enter any new place or experience for a prolonged period of time, I start to have worries about what it’s going to be like as a queer woman.
Will my living space be affirming? Is the culture generally progressive and are the citizens cognizant of how to be good allies? Are there queer spaces for all ages? These are some questions I ask myself as I think about pursuing this experience and as I plan my arrival. I know some of these questions can be answered by Google, but some that I will just know more about once I get to the Catalonia region.
There are certain privileges I possess that mean I will not be subject to certain kinds of discrimination. First off, I’m cis, which means I won’t be targeted by a transphobic person. I’m also a femme person, which means I’m straight-passing. The only things I could really do to signal my queerness are walk with a partner in public or wear a rainbow shirt (or just shout very loudly, “Soy una lesbiana”). I’m also lucky enough to be out to some of my classmates, which means I don’t have to hide much of anything in conversation.
This sense of worrying is something queer and trans people have to worry about for as outings as simple as going to the grocery store or as complex as moving to a new home in a new town. Unfortunately, the threat of discrimination (or even worse, violence or a hate crime) heightens when a person is a member of multiple marginalized communities. I had to ask myself similar questions when I was picking a college and my living situation there, since that was a big move from my affirming and safe home to a place I have never spent more than a day in. Even though I felt secure about my college choice, I always have fear about that one person who ends up being pretty queerphobic, or that people’s solidarity that they expressed on their Instagram page or Facebook message isn’t as genuine as it first seemed. And even though I get the general impression that where I’ll be in Spain is pretty queer-affirming — seeing as it’s a modern city, and even though there is Catholic influence I understand it is decently liberal — I have similar reservations about off-occurrences and moments that may be unsafe. More than once I’ve been under the impression I was among allies and then I overheard a certain comment or sentiment that allowed me to see the truth. It’s discouraging and sometimes fear-inducing.
Times like these make me wish our communities did not have to worry about just living our lives. When I possess these fears, as mild as they truly are in comparison to those of fellow community members, we can know for a fact equality has not become the law of our society yet.
For fellow queer and trans students pursuing similar educational experiences abroad, here are a couple things I encourage for you to do and that I want you to know. I urge you to do an adequate amount of research about the environment of this location before you decide to go. You should never have to change yourself for anyone, but if you are getting signals that this region would not be affirming of your identity, I just want you to be aware of that. Then, what you decide to do about this experience from this is up to you, and you have me, your queer college mama by your side!
Something else you can do is ask for what you need from advisors and professors when you are given the opportunities to do so. I marked down in my housing application from my college’s office for Global Education that it would be important for my personal safety that those in my house were LGBTQ+ affirming. Truthfully, I’m unsure what was done with this information, if anything. I believe I would be within my rights to have a follow up with it. However, what I personally did was leave it be and rest easy knowing my program roommate, a couple classmates, and my professor know my identity and would be able to help me out if I ran into an issue. This is where my privileges comes in, being cis and femme, and with that, the diminishing likelihood that I would be targeted. Again, so many people don’t have these privileges.
Fellow students I also want you to know something that I sometimes forget but always makes me feel better when I am reminded of it. There are, for certain, queer and trans people within the spaces you’re going too. They may not be out, to the world or to themselves, but they are certainly there, it’s according to science. You are not alone where you will go, which I know does not make things seem less scary immediately, but is something that can ground you. If you’re a person that can sense energies and can find comfort from them, just know that there are queer and trans individuals with their beautiful energies all around you on those busy streets or quiet corners!
Something I’ve found on Google really excites me is that Barcelona Pride will be occurring while I’m there. I definitely am going to do my best to make it to as many festivities as I can, since at this time I intend to do some research on how Spain commemorates this important month for our communities.
Allies, as Pride month arrives, I ask you to commit to the fight of making all spaces queer- and trans-affirming. Ensure your language is gender inclusive, check that your fellows in your living spaces will stand in solidarity as well. Make sure to validate the experiences of the marginalized in a way that works to reduce the violence.
As they say in Barcelona, yo espero que mi viaje sea la caña. (I hope that my trip “is the cane” which means “is awesome.) I bet spending Pride Month in a new city will be something I never forget.
About the Author:
Alyssa Sileo’s Thespian identity comes first and foremost in anything she carries out. As a member of the Drew University Class of 2022, she studies theatre arts, women’s and gender studies, and Spanish. She’s a proud NJ Thespian Alumni and member of their state chapter board. She is the leader of the international performances network The Laramie Project Project, which unites worldwide productions and readings of the acclaimed Tectonic Theater Project play and encourages community-based LGBTQ+ advocacy. Alyssa is humbled to serve as the 2017 Spirit of Matthew Award winner and as a Youth Ambassador for Matthew Shepard Foundation. She believes there is an advocacy platform tucked into every piece of the theatre catalogue and intends to write outreach into the canon.