EEEKKK! Announcing #MyGayPride European Tour

I’m super pumped to announce that I’ve teamed up with gay travel bloggers Two Bad Tourists and 16 other bloggers for the #MyGayPride European Tour.
The campaign – the brainchild of David Brown and Auston Matta – will see a team of 17 LGBTQ and straight-allied writers and bloggers, plus 100 ambassadors, attend gay pride events around the world and share their stories via social media.
Our media sponsor Gay Star Travel will be joining us at eight European prides – Riga, Barcelona, Berlin, Cologne, Ibiza, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Benidorm – with a further 50 prides in 20 countries attended by #MyGayPride ambassadors.
We’re kicking off the campaign officially at Europride on June 15th in Riga, the capital of Latvia.
I’d love to have you guys along for the ride with me. I want to see your pride parties and photos across the interwebs. I want to know what pride means to you. Share your messages of love, community and support using #MyGayPride. Help us start a community across social media.
I’ll be hitting up Kiev, London, Riga, Berlin, Barcelona, Paris, Cologne, Hamburg and Amsterdam. I want to meet you guys. Let me know where you’re located in the comments below & lets plan to grab a drink in your city.
#MyGayPride European Tour Announcement
You can join me by following my adventures with #MyGayPride by using the official hashtag, and following the campaign on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. You can also sign up to become an ambassador at your local pride by clicking here.
ALSO: a great big giant thank you shout out to all of the #MyGayPride media partners Gay Star Travel, EurailKLMairBaltic, and ManAboutWorld.
 

Queer Woman Seeks Paid Sex in Amsterdam

Note: This post originally appeared on She’s Wanderful.

I’ve spent most of my summer on tour with Gay Star News for the #MyGayPride campaign. Pride is one part celebration and one-part community gathering, with a dash of protest. Despite what the media tells straight people, its focus is not all leathermen, hooking up, and finding the best sex toys and lube. Although, that is part of it.

I came away from a month of back-to-back Pride celebrations eager to find unique travel content for my audience. There are only so many ways you can cover pride festivals around the world. I was inspired to find fresh angles that celebrated our pride, didn’t trivialize our sexuality, and showcased resources for queers interested in the less well-known aspects of European cities.

All of these feelings were coming to a head at the same time that U.S. media was wild with headlines about sex. Hackers stole data from 33 million users on infidelity dating site Ashley Madison. Federal authorities raided the Manhattan offices of Rentboy.com after two decades of online operation. Amnesty International came under fire from white feminists and pearl-clutchers alike because of their decision to back the decriminalization of sex work.

While these headlines are different, they have a similar vein. They illustrate the tendency of Western culture to both vilify and be endlessly fascinated by any kind of sexual deviance.

One of the byproducts of the cultural obsession with sex is sex tourism.

Sex tourism is when people engage in the sex industry while traveling. It isn’t a simple issue. I was rife with thoughts and feelings about the attack on sexuality while I was processing my time exploring the queer sex scene in Amsterdam.

On the positive side, visiting an area where sex work is legal offers an outlet for people looking to engage in no-strings-attached sex in a setting that protects both the sex worker and the client. The media paints people who buy sex as men devoid of connection, but based on the testimonies of numerous sex workers, most clients are average people looking to buy sex for a variety of reasons. Sex tourism is a booming business. An average week at the Bunny Ranch in Las Vegas brings in $6,000 for an employee. In developing countries the exact numbers vary widely, but there is still a great economic impact when the money is spent by the sex worker. The money is used when they consume goods, which in turn generates economic stimulus in the local economy and creates jobs for locals.

On the negative side, there is always the concern of human trafficking and forcing people into sex work who do not want to be involved in the trade. There are issues of racial fetishization and classist dynamics amongst white tourists visiting developing countries. Socio-economics play a huge role. Some feminists would argue that any kind of sexual tourism in developing countries with a stratified economic power distribution is immoral.

Knowing this background information, I was curious about the options for female and transgender clients. Online research turned up very few resources for women exploring sex tourism and even fewer for queer women.

I decided to set out on the streets of Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District to find places to recommend to the largely queer readers of my blog. Filled with hopeful naivete, I decided to chat with locals working in the sex industry to find leads for my article.

The Red Light District

I was jittery as I walked beside the canals of the Amsterdam Red Light District. As a card-carrying, sex-positive, intersectional feminist, I’m ashamed to say that I was nervous as I explored the neighborhood.

I wasn’t nervous because I was uncomfortable with the idea of sex work or felt unsafe but because I was there as a journalist, and I know that journalists are not always respectful of sex workers or the industry in general. I wanted to come off as socially conscious and make sure that I wasn’t offending the people I met, while still getting solid content for my readers.

Sex workers are often exploited in the media. It’s not difficult to understand why someone working in the industry would hesitate to speak with journalists when the media paints the image that women are to be consumed, and men are a product of boys-will-be-boys culture. The narrative of the dumb and shallow woman looking for a man to rescue her from the horrors of giving daily blow jobs is tired and old. Many people in the sex industry are painted with a single brush, using highly overused tropes and stereotypes.

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Sex shop window in Amsterdam. Image by Meg Cale

It was 2 PM on a Monday afternoon, and already it was difficult not to notice the women in the glowing red windows. Most were sitting by themselves, looking a bit bored as they studied their phones, filed their nails, or chatted with the women beside them. Most were in their early 20s and dressed in lucite heels and lingerie. All of them were slim and dolled up in hair, makeup, and body glitter.

NOTE: Female sex workers are often painted as sluts first and foremost. I mention the details of their outfits not as a way to slut shame, but to show their outward gender expression.

As a queer woman primarily attracted to people masculine of center, if I had been there as a client (and not a journalist), I would be most interested in hiring a woman or trans person who was physically appealing to me. I can’t speak to how the workers in the Red Light District see themselves underneath the hair and makeup, but as a potential client, I couldn’t find someone who appeared to be on the masculine end of the spectrum.

I spoke with nine people working in the sex industry for a total of about six hours, so this is not the most comprehensive analysis of sex tourism for women and queers. That said, I did find it interesting how the narrative changed when I introduced myself as a journalist versus as a potential client.

The first person I talked to was a shopkeeper at a sex toy boutique down the block from my hostel. I explained to her that I was looking for resources for women interested in sex tourism. She pointed me in the direction of the “window girls” but warned me that most of the lesbian services were marketed towards straight men and couples. She suggested that I attend one of the live lesbian sex shows in the area. I asked her if she thought they’d be safe for a queer, solo, female traveler, and she said, “You might be the only single woman in the crowd, but you should be fine.”

I had a hard time trusting this advice because of my previous experiences being hypersexualized in strip and BDSM clubs when I went on my own. As a solo woman in a sexualized environment, I’ve found myself eroticized in an unpleasant and objectifying way. Despite my hesitation, I followed the shopkeeper’s recommendations and found myself in conversation with several more sex workers.

The first woman I approached was a tall, slender blonde in a window outside of a theater advertising “Live Lesbo Sex.” I told her I was a journalist and explained that I was looking for services for women; queer women in particular. She told me that she didn’t know of any services for lesbians, but there were male sex workers who would be strolling the area later in the day. After a few more questions, she explained that she would take couples as clients, but not women on their own. When I pressed for more information, a client approached, and she diverted her attention to him. I walked away confused and curious.

Later in the afternoon I was approached by two men strolling through the area looking for clients. They were both tall, handsome, and clad in leather jackets. I had a joking exchange with them and asked where I could find sex workers for lesbians. Their response was that lesbians don’t need to pay for it. When I challenged them by asking if all their clients “need” to pay for it, they became visibly uncomfortable, and I backed down. They did tell me that there are sex workers available for women in Amsterdam, but they’re harder to come by. Back in the 1990s there were male sex workers for women introduced in the Red Light District, but they didn’t pick up in popularity in the same way that female sex workers did. Most of the male sex workers marketing themselves towards female customers can be found online through digital escort services.

The sex tourism experience is very different for gay men than it is for other people under the queer umbrella. It is fairly socially accepted within the gay male community but not widely publicized. Despite the recent outrage from gay men over the Rentboy.com raid, sex workers — especially women of color, and even more so trans women of color — have been unfairly targeted for centuries. It’s wonderful that mainstream gay media is beginning to notice their own privilege now, but it’s worth recognizing why it’s taken so long for them to align themselves with the more marginalized parts of the queer community.

In Amsterdam there are dozens of resources for gay men looking for sex workers. Blue lights outside of venues in Amsterdam indicate the presence of transgender sex workers and gay-male-oriented brothels and shows.

As I approached person after person during my time there, I got the same shoulder-shrug reaction from all of them. It seemed to indicate that women aren’t interested in sex unless it’s for the benefit of a man, which I know first-hand is not true.

Women’s sexuality remains largely invisible and even more underground when it’s queer, deviates from the norm, or is in any way radical. When it is visible, it’s almost exclusively for older, white, privileged women. Sex that is not cisgender and heterosexual for female and transgender clients is virtually non-existent unless, of course, it is centered around the desires of men. Examples of this might be a straight couple looking for a threesome with a woman, or a queer man and his transgender partner also looking for a third.

Coming Home

When I left Amsterdam, I dug deep into my journalistic research mode.

I polled the Internet, asking solo female traveler groups for their stories of sex tourism. I received dozens of stories in my inbox of women buying men food, clothing, and experiences in exchange for sex, but not a single woman identified her transaction as being under the umbrella of sex work. And, alas, I received not a single story of queer women or trans people engaging in sex tourism as clients.

Later I learned that comprehensive data on sex work is hard to come by because of the stigma associated with engaging in sex for compensation. In countries where sex work is legal, government agencies have estimates for sex work based on data collected from brothels, but not all sex workers use brothels as a means of employment. In countries where sex work is illegal, accurate figures are even harder to come by because of the additional legal consequences of being identified as a sex worker.

As I read study after study, I began to see a pattern. Many of the studies listed police records as a citation for the estimated number of sex workers in a given area. The police records are biased at best because they are either taken from arrest records or causal estimates based on police interactions with sex workers involved in the criminal justice system. Like many interactions with the police, the accounts are skewed and over-represent street sex workers who are people of color from developing nations, transgender, and of lower social economic means. They are also by no means comprehensive.

Needless to say, I was and still am skeptical of sources that include percentages and total figures because quantifying the numbers of sex workers in countries where it is stigmatized is not possible. Because we don’t have access to exact figures, we can’t draw accurate percentages.

We can, however, listen to the voices of sex workers in the media working to improve employment conditions and reduce stigma.

In the end, I never answered the question I set out to answer.

I left Amsterdam more confused than I had been when I got there. Amsterdam is a lovely destination for queer people looking to engage in traditional tourist activities, and I really wanted to love it as a sex-positive, affirming destination for queer people looking to experience the city’s well-established and well-marketed sex tourism industry. Are queer women ignored in this industry?

Have you had an experience in sex work or looking for paid sex as a queer person? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

For more information on sex work:

Global Network of Sex Work Projects

Sex work research: methodological and ethical challenges

Tits and Sass (a blog by and about sex workers)

ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)

Kitty Stryker

2015 Year in Review

2015 has been one hell of a year. For me, it was mixed with some pretty extreme highs and lows. I’ve spent the last year relocating pretty much constantly while building my blog, scraping by financially and maintaining my long-term relationship. I can’t lie, it’s been one of the toughest I can remember. Building a business while constantly on the go is no small feat. While I’ve struggled in my personal life, this year has been one of the best for me professionally. My blog finally started to make some money. By June I had already hit some of my major goals for the year and had to spend some time reevaluating what I wanted to come of DotR. I’ve been invited to speak at a few different conferences and have started to make a name for myself in the world of blogging. With this year in review I give you some of the highlights, thanks for being along for the ride.
 
[Tweet ““You can only know where you’re going if you know where you’ve been.” – James Burke”]

  • I kicked off 2015 in Siem Reap, Cambodia where I visited the ancient Angkor Temples with my good friend Julia.

A photo posted by Meg Ten Eyck (@dopesontheroad) on

       

  • I published my first of several articles for The Matador Network.

  • Dopes on the Road won best LGBT Blog from the Korea Observer.

  • In February, I wrapped up my final month teaching in Seoul, South Korea.

    A photo posted by Meg Ten Eyck (@dopesontheroad) on

    • I was invited to join the Wanderful Blogging Cohort.

    • In March, I moved back to the US and spent some much-needed quality time with my girlfriend.

    • I attended the Women in Travel Summit in Boston, Mass.

    • l was on the media team at the world famous Dinah Shore.

     

          • I was also invited to speak on the new media panel at the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association Conference

          • I went home to NYC to visit some of my besties… oh and pose for a bunch of street art pictures.

          • I spent the summer chasing pride with #MyGayPride sponsored by Eurail, KLM and Gay Star News.

            • Once I got back to the US I hit 10,000 followers on Instagram & realized that my self-worth had become tied to likes on the internet. Don’t worry,  I snapped out of that shit and reframed my priorities.

            • This summer Lindsay and I also celebrated two years together.

            • I interviewed androgynous model, Laura Cramer.

            • I graduated to the big kids blogging table with 32 brand partnerships, some of my favorites have been with Mandalay Bay, Go Magazine, HER/LA, Generator Hostels and Soffe Athletics.

            • Oh that’s RIGHT! Ford gave me a new electric car to blog about.

            • Dopes on the Road hit 30,000 followers.

            • I hosted my first trip giveaway with my Lap of Luxury Las Vegas Vacation (PSSTT You can still enter to win!)

             
             

            How was your 2015? Best year EVER…? Or can’t wait for it to be ooovvverrrr? Let me know in the comments below!

  • REVIEW: LGBT Friendly Generator Hostel

    Europe is one of the most popular destinations for students studying abroad, folks doing their gap year and young travelers on a budget. Despite its popularity, Europe can be a wildly expensive destination for budget travelers. Staying in youth hostels is a great option for young people looking to meet other travelers and keep to a budget. While I was in Europe this summer on the #MyGayPride tour with Gay Star News and my favorite gay boy bloggers I was sponsored by Generator Hostels for the Barcelona and Paris leg of my adventures.
    To be honest, I’m not the budget traveler type. Unfortunately, my ego thinks I’m Beyonce and my wallet thinks I’m an impoverished blogger. I’ll leave you to decide which one of these is more accurate. I’ve stayed in some really sketchy places to afford to travel, but it’s definitely not my preference. I’m rational enough to know that I can’t blow my budget on expensive accommodations when I have a lot of things to do and see on the road.
    When my friend Adam suggested I work with Generator I was a little bit hesitant. When I arrived at Generator Barcelona, my expectations were blown out of the water. It was more of a boutique hotel than a hostel.
    The vibe is somewhere between a trendy hipster bar and a Tumblr page come to life. They definitely have the millennial aesthetic down pat, without making me feel like I was the old lady hanging out at a frat party. Both Generator Paris and Generator Barcelona have a super relaxed vibe with tons of other 20 and 30 somethings.
    That’s probably why they’re the fastest growing hostel brand in Europe. They know their audience. Young-ish travelers with high taste and low budgets. Folks who aren’t afraid of a good time, but don’t necessarily want to end up sleeping in a nightclub. Generator’s brand is youth friendly affordable luxury in a socially active setting.

    Atmosphere:

    The social experience at Generator is the winning feature. I’ve stayed in hostels all over the world and I’ve yet to experience the balance of work and play that Generator offers. It was active enough to feel social and grab festive drinks with strangers while being calm enough to get work done in the lounge each morning.
    For someone who works while traveling, I have to have a solid WiFi connection and a place to get work done. The lounge in both hostels offered the perfect balance for me. I especially loved the second-floor lounge in the Paris Generator. I worked on content for the blog while I did my laundry one morning and enjoyed a cup of coffee. Paris also had a gorgeous rooftop terrace for enjoying drinks while watching the sunsets. What more could a blogger need?
    Each day all of the Generator Hostels host a full program of events. It’s a wide range of activities; live music, bar hopping, cultural and sporting events. The programming is great for solo travelers or small groups looking to connect with other people and make international friendships. I met a woman from Taiwan while I was in Paris and ending up exploring Pigalle with her. Our night ended at the Crazy Horse Cabaret with a full bottle of champagne and some of the most polished burlesque I’ve ever seen.
    Generator Barcelona’s restaurant and bar area is stunningly beautiful with hanging lanterns and intricately detailed tile floors. There is so much detail in the design that I spent a few hours nursing some cava and studying the ambiance. I had dinner in the restaurant one night and really enjoyed the variety of Tapas they have available.

    LGBT Friendly Generator hostel Barcelona

    This is the restaurant in Generator Barcelona. Photo Credit: Meg Ten Eyck

    Accommodations & Location:

    In both cities, I slept in co-ed dorms. They had en-suite bathrooms with private room showers. Each bunk has a private locker underneath the bed for storing packs and personal items. I loved that my bunk had an outlet built into it so I could charge my phone while I laid in bed. They also have low-cost private rooms and small capacity dorms and female only dorms available. It’s the little touches that set Generator apart from other hostels.
    Both Generator Paris and Generator Barcelona are in excellent locations close to public transportation and city highlights. Generator Paris is literally across the street from a train stop. Generator Barcelona is within walking distance to Sagrada Famillia. They’re a bit far from the airports but located in areas with tons of restaurants, activities, and transportation.

    Price:

    Prices vary by season and type of accommodation. In the height of summer, rooms are more expensive than in the off season. Similarly, a private room will be more expensive than a bunk. Prices for a bunk in a 12-bed dorm run between $25-$50 depending on the season. During the off season, private rooms are available for as low as $50. While Generator’s prices are slightly more expensive than other hostels in the area, the ambiance, services and social activities are unparalleled by  other hostels.

    LGBT Friendly Generator hostel Paris

    The lounge upstairs at Generator Paris. Photo Credit: Meg Ten Eyck

    LGBT Friendly?

    I was traveling as a solo white femme queer woman. I didn’t experience any negative interactions at all while I was at Generator. Everyone was very gracious and friendly towards me. Keep in mind that the experiences of people with other identities may be different than my personal experience. Generator has gone out of their way to be accommodating to me while hosting my stay. They’ve also posted several guides for LGBT travelers including this Guide to Pride Across Europe. Use your judgment. If you are gender nonconforming, traveling as a couple or afraid for any reason you may want to consider booking a private room. You have a lot more control over your interactions with people when you aren’t staying in a dorm room. That being said, both of my experiences at Generator were well beyond my expectations.
     
    This post was made possible by sponsored stays at Generator Barcelona and Generator Paris. As always, all opinions are my own.
     

    Obsessed: Berlin Street Art

    Berlin is the queer capital of Europe. It reminds me a bit of Brooklyn. I even tweeted that NYC had some competition when I was in Berlin.
    Lesbian Guide to Berlin
    There isn’t one “Gayborhood” because queer culture has spread throughout the city. I was in town during my #MyGayPride tour and got to explore the Lesbish-Schwules StraBenfest (lesbigay street festival) with 350,000 of my closest friends. It was an outdoor street fair with tons of food, bars and vendors. It’s the street fair that leads up to Berlin’s Christopher Street Day. CSD is the German name for Pride which is one part celebration and one part demonstration because Germany still does not recognize some LGBT human rights
    While I was in town I had the opportunity to work with Visit Berlin where they hooked me up with a massive amount of information about what to do and see while I was in town. They also have a brand new hotel collaboration that I think is pretty cool. It’s called the Pink Pillow Collection. It’s a group of LGBT-friendly and affirming hotels that advertise together. Hotels participating have to sign a document that states they will treat all guests and employees with respect, dignity, and courtesy. Sounds pretty basic right? They go further, all participating hotels must participate in social projects, provide LGBT affirming information and participate in Visit Berlin’s LGBT information days.
    Obviously, this isn’t hard and fast proof that every individual working in one of these hotels is LGBT-affirming and supportive. However, it’s a great place to start. It’s much better than some hotel search sites that give hotels the option to click a box that says LGBT affirming without any evidence to support their claims. Unfortunately, LGBT travelers are big business and some places will try to capitalize on the pink dollar without supporting the community.

    These are the front doors of the Weinmeister hotel in Berlin.

    These are the front doors of the Weinmeister hotel in Berlin.


    While I was in Berlin I stayed at a Pink Pillow Hotel called The Weinmeister in the hip streets of Mitte. Both the hotel and the neighborhood were polished, trendy and super queer friendly.
    The Weinmeister is like Instagram had a baby with an upscale boutique hotel. The door and staircase are covered with beautiful murals from local artists like Jana Hammermann. The art inside the Weinmeister was created by The Paint Club, a collective of Berlin-based international artists.
    the-weinmeister bathtub
    My room was incredible. It was complete with a king sized bed and a full-size bathtub. The room was decorated with several nods to the German band, Hurts and complete with tasteful memorabilia.
    bed
     
    The hotel itself has a wide range of luxury amenities that you can read about on their website. Everything from spa services to bar packages. The one amenity that really can’t be missed is the rooftop terrace. They have gorgeous views of the Berlin skyline, a hot tub, and a bar. I mean, they had me at vodka.
    Rooftop Hot Tub
    Speaking of which, I really enjoyed the lobby bar too.  Schwarz-Bar is the center of the lobby. They have giant high backed armchairs set up around tables with a full-service bar and a self-service bar. I thought the self-service bar was interesting because it was based on honesty. A novel concept that I wish more business would support. I found the German idea of rules to be rather interesting. In numerous situations, I found that German people held steadfast to rules for any given public engagement. The sign says pay for the beer, okay great. I’ll put my money right here. In America, everyone and their mother would be thinking about ways to game the system to their benefit. Not in Berlin, people punch their metro cards, pay their fares and walk on the correct side of the train platform. In my very limited experience, it seemed like Berlin is a city of rule followers. Which is a complete change of pace from my experience in NYC where “Do Not Cross” signs are seen as option and rules are generally seen as guidelines.
    Visit Berlin also hooked me up with a Berlin WelcomeCard so that I’d have free use of public transportation and discounted or free admission to a ton of tourist attractions. I used it to visit the Schwules Museum. It’s an LGBT history museum. They are currently displaying “Homosexuality_ies” an extremely in-depth look at the history, politics and culture of homosexuality in the western world. I learned about the origins of Schoneberg aka Berlin’s “Rainbow Village” and how it was home to Christopher Isherwood. His novel became the framework for the musical Cabaret. I also learned about the neighborhood of Kreuzberg and how it came to be known as young, queer, and focused on counter culture. My inner history nerd slash fangirl was freaking out. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I really enjoyed my afternoon wandering around.
    The most touristy thing I did while I was in Berlin was visiting the East Side Gallery. The gallery is the world’s largest open-air art gallery and also the largest remaining chunk of the Berlin Wall. I thought it was important to get a look at the art that freezes history in its tracks. As I spent the day pondering the historical side of Berlin in the misty rain, I wandered the the remains of the wall eager to bring their messages back to you guys.
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    well there’s a happy face…

    Where is the best street art in the world? Let me know in the comments below!