Navigating Van Life as a Queer Couple

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Who We Are

We’re Gene (they/them) and Shay (she/her) and we have been living and travelling full-time in our 1984 Dodge Van with our two cats for a little under a year.. As a queer couple on the road, things are a little different for us. From figuring out places to go that we feel safe, finding other LGBTQIA+ community on the road, navigating the lack of gender-neutral shower and bathroom options, to many more, we share our day-to-day experiences through our social media platforms for others to use as a resource for themselves.

How We Got Started in Van Life

After living and meeting in Philadelphia, the pandemic shut down our city and made us reconsider the lifestyle we had previously gotten so comfortable with. After years of 9-5 jobs and fast-paced city lives, we traded in our apartment for a set of keys and spent six months building out our now-home over a cold Pennsylvania winter. During our build, we spent a lot of time online trying to prepare ourselves for life on the road full-time. Although we had seen the #VanLife movement online for a few years, we did notice that we didn’t see too many accounts that represented the queer community. We started our account after our first week on the road as a way to open up the narrative and show others in the community that they had a space in this lifestyle too.

 Through sharing the ups-and-downs of life on the road as a queer couple, we’ve cultivated an online community for a variety of people with all different kinds of lifestyles and backgrounds. There’s been something so indescribable about being in a new place every week, but still feeling like we have this small family right behind our screens.

Finding Safe Places and Knowing Where Not to Go

Something we talk and are asked about a lot is how we figure out which areas are LGBTQIA+ friendly and what places to avoid. The concept of “hitting the open road” and discovering small towns throughout the country on the ever-talked about American Road Trip is something that pulls a lot of people into this lifestyle. The freedom of the unknown can seem alluring to most, us included, but determining if the areas we travel through are safe is something we have to consider on a daily basis. 

We use websites such as GayCities, where you can type in a location and a thorough guide is at your fingertips in seconds. It shows us important things such as news articles from that area involving the queer community, gender neutral bathroom facilities, and bars/restaurants in the area that list LGBTQIA+ friendly on their doors. In big cities we’ve traveled through, such as Seattle and San Francisco, it usually goes without saying that people will tend to be like-minded, but when we pull into a small town in the middle of the country, we like to do our research before-hand.

Something we get a lot of is people being shocked that we do this much planning before heading somewhere new, but we are constantly reminded that not many years ago it would have been illegal for us to walk down some city streets holding hands. We feel so lucky to be able to travel the country together today, but we are always reminded of those who came before us through sideways glances and disapproving scowls. The positive side of our home being a vehicle with four wheels is that if we feel any sense of discomfort, we simply pack up our house and move it somewhere else. Not everyone has that luxury.  

Finding Gender-Neutral Options on the Road

As we brought up earlier, Gene identifies as trans non-binary, with the pronouns of they/them. As a gender non-conforming person in the world, let alone living in a van, navigating public bathrooms and showers is a constant struggle. Many times the only options we have when we are out of the van are very obviously labeled Male or Female. When you are forced to choose one, neither being the gender you identify with, the glances of others in those facilities can be extremely triggering, and something we try to avoid as much as possible. Too often we hear about cases of microaggressions and hate crimes occurring in these sorts of public facilities, which is why it was a must-have to incorporate our own toilet and shower in our van build. While adding these accommodations in a 50 square foot van was both tricky and costly, it saves Gene from relying on places where they don’t feel that same safety of home. 

A lot of nomads we have met on the road, us included initially, love using places such as Planet Fitness to get in their showers while living nomadically. This is a popular resource due to their locations around the country, and the cheap ticket cost of getting unlimited access to all of them. On that same note, in all 50 states in the country, not a single one has a gender-neutral locker room option. On almost every visit we have made to this franchise, we are often greeted at the door where Gene is guided to the men’s locker room, and Shay is pointed towards the womens. As country-wide gyms continue to grow as great resources for nomads to get a cheap shower anywhere, articles of transgender hate have also spread across the internet.

A few years ago a transgender woman was at the crossfires of those aggressions, when another woman using the facilities who was angered and filed a lawsuit against PF for allowing its members to use whichever lockerroom that they identified with. Hearing cases such as this has made us re-evaluate using these resources, and we have decided to purchase a solar shower that we can easily use outside of our van. That doesn’t come without its own set of hardships though, as it can’t be used when we are in busy cities or towns, or when there is inclement weather. We are still looking for better resources for queer people to find showers on the road, and would love to hear from any of you on some ideas!

Finding a Queer Community on the Road

When you live a nomadic lifestyle, one of the things you give up is the comfort of the family and friends you have when you live a more stagnant lifestyle. While many people aim to find a community within the van life space, it was super important for us to find other members of the queer community that were living a similar way as us. Many times chosen families are relied on heavily for people within the LGBTQIA+ umbrella that may not be able to rely on their biological family for the safety and support they need. When we left our small circles in Philadelphia, we often questioned if we would find others on the road that gave us that same comfort as the chosen family we had back home. 

The comfort of knowing you can relate to someone on so many levels is one of the reasons why queer spaces were invented in the first place. With the country barely opening back up, and our pace moving too fast to rely on LGBTQIA+ bars and restaurants, we tried to find similar spaces online. We were so happy to find Instagram accounts like @vanlifepride and @diversifyvanlife, which are great resources for connecting with other queer travelers, as they frequently highlight different accounts and offer vanlife meet ups or support groups.

One of the main reasons we started our page was to do something similar. We wanted to be another safe place for people to follow along with us, be connected with other queer nomads, or even just watch how we navigate through this lifestyle. Through our page we have met a handful of friends that have immediately become like family to us, and nothing feels better than pulling into an off-grid campsite and knowing we are around people who we can relate to and feel a different sense of safety with. 

And on that note,

With over 7 months on the road in our back pocket, we have seen some of the most beautiful places this country has to offer, all while being side-by-side. Through all of our sharing, we have always believed that our larger purpose is not to only inspire ourselves through our travels, but to show that anyone can be a part of this space. The outdoors and the media used to portray it can often be saturated by the same types of communities, and we want to always show that the LGBTQIA+ community has a space in them too. We want to inspire you to get outside or take that leap of faith, but to also consider the obstacles that you may face on or off the road so you are the most prepared at all times. If anyone is reading this and is either dreaming of van life or is on the road themselves, our DMs and emails are always open, and we hope you know you have a community here with us. 

The post Navigating Van Life as a Queer Couple appeared first on Divine On The Road.