Pride Month 2024: The Chosen Family Of The Queer And How They Travel

The travel experiences of individuals from the LGBTQ community are imbued with a rich array of colours, whether they embark on adventures with their chosen family or their beloved partners
The Chosen Family Of The Queer And How They Travel
The Chosen Family Of The Queer And How They Travel

Like vacations, families are never alike. In 2021, when journalists Asher and Lyric Fergusson concluded their independent research that ranked the most and least homophobic countries of the 150 they studied, they found India in the 82nd spot and Nigeria in the 1st. This middle-of-the-pack position reflects the nation’s own journey of acceptance, where many outdated laws have been challenged and revisited. Robindro Saikhom, the founder of Serene Journeys, an LGBTQ travel company curating luxurious bespoke experiences, says that, of late, the travel industry has begun to embrace this diversity.

"With the decriminalisation of section 377, things are changing. Hotels are becoming more welcoming of the LGBTQ community and are trying to sensitise their staff," said Saikhom. "Earlier, when we used to travel, we did get stared at and were asked intrusive questions, but we’ve always been upfront about who we are and what we are, even while booking hotel rooms. That was how we started our company so people can travel smoothly without being judged." At Serene Journeys, Saikhom and his partner in life and business, Mark, have guided many LGBTQ families, couples, and individuals on their travels across India and South East Asia.

Travel for the couple is as much about being together as it is about discovering themselves. "We love travelling together, but we also love travelling alone. It is also a good way to give each other space." Having travelled far and wide, Saikhom continues to be smitten by India. "When you travel to different places across the country, you realise that India is accepting and tolerating. I have never really had any untoward experience travelling across India. Everyone has been on my side."

A Trip With The Daughters

The sense of freedom queer folks feel with their chosen family echoes in their travel experiences. It’s never just a getaway from the routine of daily life. It’s an escape from the anxieties of traversing through the uneven terrains of societal acceptance. "You learn and hear so much about the different places where you want to go, but then there are so few where you feel accepted," said Rudrani Chhetri, a transgender rights activist and model. For queer folks, acceptance is another addition to the long list of things to consider on vacation, like dates, a destination, pit-stops, and bookings. "Before I decide on a destination, I need to understand if people from my community and my ‘daughters’ would be safe and accepted," said Chhetri. In the trans community, traditional or natal family units barely find a mention in their personal stories.

The chosen family, predominantly matriarchal, is what matters. Chhetri tells me about her own. "In the context of the transgender community, the idea of the family is different from a conventional one. Usually, we do not stay with our biological family but with our chosen family. A system exists where a senior, especially a trans woman, adopts a transgender person (mostly trans women regarded as daughters). And within this family unit, we have our celebrations, vacations, and other important life events. My family consists of my ‘guru’ and my daughters." Chhetri finds it challenging to plan a vacation with her chosen family, but a hastily planned trip to Mount Abu stands out in her memory. "A few years ago, we thought of travelling somewhere. Haridwar was the first choice because it’s convenient, and we’d been there before, but we wanted to try out a new place. So, we booked our tickets and travelled to Abu together by train."

It was a memorable experience not only because it had been a while since they all travelled as a family but because her experience in Rajasthan’s only hill station was without stress and incident. "I usually feel uneasy about going to a new place. But here, everybody was very friendly, and the people were nice. We shopped a lot and went boating and trekking," said Chhetri. The trip to Mount Abu was also their way to refill a void. "We rarely get invited to family celebrations or vacations with our biological parents and relatives this was one of those few vacations where I spent time with my matriarchal family."

Honeymoon In Turkey

In July 2022, when Cheitan Sharma and Abhishek Ray posted photos from their wedding celebrations on Instagram, netizens couldn’t help but gush. A scroll through their profile tells you a lot about them, especially their love for travel. The dreamy pictures from their Turkish honeymoon are a testament. "Initially, we were planning a trip across Europe, but it didn’t work out for many reasons. After that, it was a choice between Cambodia, Vietnam, and Turkey," admitted Ray. The trip was planned so that both of them got to experience things they love. For Ray, it meant food, and for Sharma, everything else because he’s a vegetarian. "Turkey stood out to us because it had so many diverse experiences from historical sites and cities with happening nightlife to mountains.

Abhishek and Cheitan in Turkey
Abhishek and Cheitan in TurkeyPhoto Credit Cheitan Sharma

They also have amazing food, (Cheitan may beg to differ)," said Ray. "We started at Antalya, followed by Kusadasi, Pamukkale, Cappadocia, and Istanbul. We didn’t want to waste time at the airport, so we thought we’d travel to all these places by road," said Cheitan. Even though Turkey is an Islamic country and is largely governed by traditional moral values, homosexuality has been legal since 1923. However, legalisation does not come without its loopholes. The criminal code has been subjected to vague interpretations to call out offences against public morality. Despite the complexity, Sharma and Ray were lucky to collect many heartwarming instances. "Many travellers from India recognised us.

A lot of them were also senior citizens who were visiting Turkey. They were very interested in our story and asked questions about how we met and our marriage. A lady even spoke to us about her friend’s daughter, who came out as lesbian, and how, after looking at our wedding pictures, conversations around the topic became easier," said Sharma.

The Two Families Come Together

Family vacations for Trupti, a psychologist who identifies as lesbian, and her partner, Rupa, are rambunctious affairs. It’s a big group, where Trupti’s natal family and her partner Rupa’s chosen family, including her ex-partner and other dependents, come together over a shared love of food and road trips. Every year, during Onam and Christmas, their family plans a journey, a no-hassle, simple vacation where all that matters is being together. "Our Christmas road trip of 2020 was most memorable. My side of the family loves drives, picnics, and the outdoors, while Rupa’s side is into food all of that came together on this trip." Trupti lights up as she speaks about a family vacation to her mother’s home, about 200 km from Mumbai. "We drove from Mumbai and stayed in an amazing Airbnb that my brother and mother had booked.

Trupti and Rupa's family picnic
Trupti and Rupa's family picnic Rupa

They had also planned elaborate menus, and there was a lot of food. We played word games and dumb charades some days, we drove to nearby picnic spots, where we carried wine and food. One day, Rupa made mulled wine because it was Christmas. It was the first time we were on an outstation holiday." For Trupti and Rupa, these vacations where the two families, chosen and natal, come together, symbolise the understanding of values. "We come together because the person we are with is important, and the persons they are with are important.

But unlike other families, which are natal, we don’t have memories of growing up together. This trip was our attempt to create some precious remembrances," said Trupti. After that vacation in 2020, Trupti and Rupa’s families have had many more such trips however, because of their unusual dynamic, they are often met with curious stares. "People cannot tell how we may be related to each other. When we travel with Rupa’s chosen family, people wonder who is related to whom. It’s odd for them, but not for us."

Related Stories

No stories found.
Outlook Traveller