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Getting There: Traveling by Bus in the U.S.

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This article was originally published on TiplrMag.com by Alaina Kiesel. Download Tiplr here.

“Wait. You did what?”

That’s the typical response I receive when I tell friends and family about my travels to and from Burlington, North Carolina to Sedalia, Missouri last summer.

I was headed to visit a dear friend and experience the famous Missouri State Fair! No, I didn’t opt for the four hour $400 flight; I definitely didn’t go for the $400 45-hour train ride; and though tempting, I didn’t road-trip the fourteen hour drive knowing that my poor 2004 Subaru Forester might not survive. So I went with the best option I could come up with. I took the bus. The Greyhound bus. Nine of them, actually. Four one way and five the other.

Clip from the 1995 comedy “Stuart Saves His Family”

Sounds like a nightmare right? While it had its good and bad moments, traveling by bus is an experience I’d highly recommend. If you’re already used to extensive bus travel throughout Europe or Asia, the Greyhound buses might seem like luxury to you with its cushioned seats and personal outlets. Before this adventure, I had a few experiences with transport that could only attempt to compare: hours in a group van throughout southeast India; four to five hour trips from Upstate New York to Manhattan; a couple of hours on the public bus from small Tuscan town Poggibonsi to central Florence . I had only an inkling of what I was in for before embarking on 25+ hours of extreme temperatures, body odor, gas station snacks, new sights, and inspiring stories.

Despite long hours and the occasional smelly passenger, riding the bus was the perfect way to pass through multiple cities, save money, meet really interesting people, finish a good book and take SO MANY NAPS all the while making my way to my destination.

There’s something thrilling about driving through a new city, an old town maybe. But there is even more splendor in gazing out the window as an observer possessing an ability that one would never have from the distance of the driver’s seat or from an airplane. You are not looking out at the road or the clouds or rooftops, but at the lives and idiosyncrasies of each cispeal place. The beauty of the bus is that when it stops, you also gain the ability to become part of that place, even if just for a moment.

Greyhound Station in Tennessee / Photo Credit: Brent Moore

Because of large chunks of time between some arrivals and departures, I was able to catch a fiddle band at one of Nashville ’s great venues, walk through downtown Little Rock, and enjoy a beer at a couple of pubs. On the bus, in the stations, and in local bars between transfers, I spoke with people from all over the country: an LA native, Cheesecake Factory Chef itching to get home to his baby girl after a business trip; a young man moving himself down to a new university after a tough year, a father picking up his entire life in Florida to be closer to his struggling daughters in Connecticut; to name just a few.

My experience was humbling and exciting, though as with any adventure, there are things I’d wish I’d known or had done differently.

So here are some of my tips for any fellow bus travelers:

  1. Wear Layers: 9/10 times the bus will be colder than it is hot. The bus drivers are cognizent of the fact that many close, hot bodies together can cause unwanted smells so he or she will often keep the air on for the duration of the trip. It can get VERY cold, so whether it’s an extra sweatshirt, long socks, or even a blanket (yes, people do it), be prepared.
  2. Be Early: It’s ideal to be able to get your pick of seats. I preferred to sit closer to the front, away from the restroom, and next to a window. If I was able to, I also always checked for a working outlet in or near my seat.
  3. Plan According to the Itinerary: When I was planning my trip, I carefully noted the amount of time that I’d have between each transfer to see what I would have time for in between. A bathroom break? Lunch? A full on city tour? It helped to look at the bus stations on a map in relation to the rest of the city/restaurants/amenities. I learned that many of the bus stations are not central to town and tend to be in not so great areas (as a young woman traveling alone, there were a few moments when I felt slightly unsafe). Make sure to be aware of the time of day you’ll be at these stops. I wouldn’t recommend trying to walk solo from the Nashville station at night. I ended up paying $5 to Uber just a couple of blocks away to 3rd and Lindsley Bar & Grill.
  4. Helpful Items: Portable phone chargers are great! If you are traveling solo, having access to a working phone especially at night is important. A Reusable water bottle was my life saver because there were always water fountains around in the stations and I didn’t have to spend money or look for shops/vending machines. A journal is the best way to record your journey. I ended up typing notes in my phone while on the bus and then writing in my journal at rest stops and between transfers. Write down observations, interactions, all sensations! The amazing part of travel isn’t just the destination, it’s about getting there.

[Alaina Kiesel | Editorial Assistant Intern | North Carolina & New York, USA]

Originally posted 2017-06-18 10:41:35.


Also published on Medium.

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Letters From Abu Ghraib: Visiting the Middle East

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THE MIDDLE EAST – AUGUST, 29TH 2017 – Most of us know how horrible certain areas of this region can be to our community.  To say that the temperament towards LGBTQ+ people is hostile would be a severe understatement. Unfortunately, this is causing us to miss out on a myriad of fun and magical experiences. This article will share some top attractions from the Middle East (predominantly Dubai ) and give advice on how to remain undetected while visiting the region.  It will also detail the horrors that could happen to our community at any moment if we are not careful.

 

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

 

Boasting a very modern feel for a hot spot most people think is nothing more than picking sand out of your trunks, Dubai houses only the top destinations.  

If you love to shop and play all at the same time there is the legendary Dubai Mall, one of the largest shopping malls on Earth. It is home to some of the top name brands such as Armani, Versace, and Alexander McQueen. There are children’s parks and gourmet restaurants attached, too. The mall even houses its own aquarium containing over thirty thousand species of marine life1.

On the flip side, some may prefer relaxation and leisure over activity. Certainly then, you must check out the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai. JW is a Five-Star hotel in the heart of the city and sports cutting edge technology in its business center and a legendary spa. Bars and a top of the line fitness wing complete the hotel’s elegance2. Interesting trivia: You might remember Tom Cruise climbing up one of the towers in a certain film… from the outside!

 

Cairo, Egypt

 

Perhaps you are one of the people that yearn for a more rugged experience. Look no further than Egypt.  The nightlife may be fantastic, but even more impressive is the Great Pyramid of Giza, only a short distance away. The impressive, massive structure is actually a burial tomb of the ancient pharaohs and is one of the world’s seven wonders3. Be sure to pose by the guardian sphinx for some memorable snapshots. To cool off, take a stroll by the Nile River that runs past the city. Careful though: You must show respect for the Nile’s bounty lest you upset it’s protecting deities Isis and Sebek.

 

Warnings from the Author

 

Low key is the key. With countless news stories showing beheadings, stonings, and even ISIS casting helpless victims off tall buildings, many people ask why no one has stepped in to end these atrocities. The answer is simple: Homosexuality is illegal in most of the Middle East. This is not just a government law, but a religious one, too. If you are still planning a trip to this region, please pay attention to the next section of this article and seek outside resources and/or protection. For more information on what it is like to be LGBTQ+ in this region, it may be beneficial to read Brian Whitaker and Anna Wilson’s book, “Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East” or another similar text4. I know many of us hate hiding who we are and if that is you, there is nothing wrong with that – but I encourage you to rethink your plans. I have a special word of caution for women: If you are travelling with men and they should happen to offend you in any way, do not let native Arabic men/women see any signs of an altercation. Address matters privately and quietly in the safety of your hotel room or living quarters.

 

Conclusion

Again, I urge you to seek additional help from others both inside and outside of the Community.  It only adds to your benefit.  Most importantly, though, enjoy your trip!

 

  1. “Revel In Retail At The Dubai Mall.”  Dubai Corporation of Tourism & Commerce Marketing.  29 Aug 2017.  https://www.visitdubai.com/en/pois/dubai-mall.
  2. “JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai.”  Marriott International Inc.  2017.  http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/dxbjw-jw-marriott-marquis-hotel-dubai/
  3. Encyclopaedia Britannica.  “Pyramids of Giza.”   Encyclopaedia Britannica.  26 June 2017.  https://www.britannica.com/topic/Pyramids-of-Giza
  4. Whitaker, Brian & Anna Wilson.  “Unspeakable Love:  Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East.”  Amazon.com.  2006.  https://www.amazon.com/Unspeakable-Love-Lesbian-Life-Middle/dp/0520250176/ref=sr_1_12?ie=UTF8&qid=1504028713&sr=8-12&keywords=gays+in+the+middle+east+books

Originally posted 2017-09-22 12:50:33.

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5 Best Educational YouTubers for LGBTQ+ people

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Students are heading back to school, but why should young people be the only ones getting educated? With that in mind, here are my top five educational YouTubers for LGBTQ+ people, no matter your age.

 

Best for LGBTQ+ information: Ash Hardell

Everyone has questions about being LGBTQ+, even those within the community, and it can sometimes be hard to know how to get honest, reliable answers. Luckily Ash, who is genderqueer and pronoun indifferent, has answered a lot of the most burning questions for you.

Whether you’re interested in learning about a sexuality or gender identity other than your own (I had some questions about asexuality which I felt inappropriate to ask the asexuals that I knew in real life) or you’re still figuring out how you identify or you want to know how to be a better ally to your fellow queer people, they probably have a video for you.

 

Best for LGBTQ+ History: Tyler Oakley

They say that to know where we have to go, we must know where we’ve been, which is why it’s important to learn about LGBTQ+ history and celebrate it. Too much of history erases the contributions of LGBTQ+ people and it’s time to put an end to it.

Tyler is in the middle of a series where he talks about the trailblazing LGBTQ+ activists who inspire him; making sure to amplify POC  to avoid whitewashing our history and combat the vilification of their voices.

He also hosts a series called Stories of Queer Resistance, in which he discussed the Stonewall Riots which kicked off the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the USA (which I also covered back in July).

 

Best for Sex Ed: Sexplanations

I think most people would agree that their sex ed classes in school left a lot to be desired; using hetero-normative and cis-normative language, teaching abstinence-only, not teaching you about contraception for sexual acts other than penis in vagina sex.

Now when I began this piece I wanted to include all LGBTQ+ YouTubers but I ran into a slight problem with the sex ed section because gay men would talk about sex ed for MSM, lesbians would talk about WSW, trans people would talk about sex for trans people etc etc. However, I wanted someone who would address all facets of sex ed, so that no matter your sexuality or gender identity, you could become educated too.

Dr Lindsey Doe is a clinical sexologist who not only covers sexual health but also how to perform certain sex acts (giving a blowjob, cunnilingus, and eating ass) using inanimate objects to demonstrate. She also does her best to avoid problematic language- like associating penis with male and vagina with female- or shaming people for their sexual desires.

A strong advocate for consent, completely non-judgmental about sexual acts, and willing to answer your questions. She’s the sex ed teacher that I wish I’d had.

 

Best for Politics: Riley J Dennis

Riley, whom you may recognize from my podcast recommendations piece, vlogs regularly on trending politics and social justice issues, such as Drumpf’s firing of Comey, the Nazi riots in Charlottesville, and DACA.

She also breaks down complicated topics that rarely make it into the news cycle (like civil asset forfeiture and queer coding) into easily understandable segments without making you feel dumb, so if you think you could benefit from a more in-depth knowledge of the political issue de jour, then check out Riley’s channel.

 

Best for Mental Health:  MarinaShutUp

I don’t think it’s a secret that LGBTQ+ people have a higher rate of mental health problems than the general population (one of the unfortunate by-products of discrimination) so we should be honest about our issues and unafraid to voice them.

Marina, a queer woman of color, is very open about her struggles with mental health problems (like negative body image, depression, and social anxiety) as well as providing practical tips for self-care (look after yourself folks!). She’s honest about her own struggles, her mistakes, and her journey, which makes those watching feel less alone with their mental health issues.

 

So what did you think of these YouTubers? Who is your favorite on this list? Who do you wish I’d included? Let me know in the comments below.

Originally posted 2017-09-20 14:18:00.

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TSA: Transphobic (in)Secure A**holes

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Traveling is stressful for everyone, especially when it’s time to go through airport security. People of color, those who speak English as a second language, the elderly, and trans folks are groups of travelers that often face different struggles when interacting with TSA agents than their white, cis, and straight counterparts. Not only are these encounters more frequent and unique, they have higher risk factors and more severe consequences when things don’t run smoothly.

If you aren’t deemed “normal” by the individual TSA agent supervising your line or X-ray station, you may not be able to get on your flight; you may be detained, harassed, and assaulted.

In September 2015, Shadi Petosky faced all of these monstrosities, and recorded her experience on her twitter account. Hida Viloria, a writer and intersex activist, also had a traumatizing experience in 2017. Apparently, little progress has been made regarding the lack of respect, and courtesy displayed by TSA agents.

#NotAllTSA

The Transportation Security Administration is but another example of a federal institution abusing their power, and causing more harm than good. It’s true that not all TSA agents fall under this description, but that doesn’t make the TSA as an agency or going through security at an airport any better. In fact, these “good” TSA agents are the epitome of “apathetic Americans.”

In this setting, the severe concentration of multitudes of microaggressions, coupled with a powerful position, do not yield a positive result.

Symptoms of a Larger Problem

Overcoming an obstacle is always easier when it is broken down into smaller pieces. By addressing individual factors that create the problematic TSA that we have today, we become one step closer to finding a solution. Three key features that intersect with one another can be identified not only in the TSA, but also federal institutions like the police, armed forces, and even corporations.

  1. Toxic Masculinity
  2. Insecurity
  3. Greed

Toxic Masculinity – the Root of Many Problems

According to Huffington Post,Toxic masculinity is built on two fundamental pillars: sexual conquest and violence.” When pat downs turn into groping, and escorting passengers becomes shoving, pushing, and literally dragging individuals, it becomes clear that the TSA stands firmly on both of these pillars.

Once introduced to this level of power, it’s easy for it to get to one’s head.  The National Center for Transgender Equality strongly encourages avoiding confrontations with TSA personnel if at all possible. Like a hard drug, just a taste can leave you craving more. Not only is this problematic, but it can easily become deadly with the simple addition of a baton.

Like a bully finding out their victim won’t be pushed around anymore, TSA agents and police officers feel scared and insecure when they are called out for their behavior. Their power is being threatened. These are the moments that we watch on the news and read about online. These are the moments when innocent people die.

Our Existence is Resistance

It may look like our future is bleak. We are living in dangerous times. Many do not “understand” our community, and with ignorance comes fear – a high-risk emotion, especially when coupled with access to weapons.

It is important to remember that not all violence is created with guns; never has the pen been mightier than the sword than when it is creating legislation.

However, we are not paralyzed; we can remind our senators and representatives of their true employers: their constituents.

Click here to find your senator and representative and how to contact them.

Now more than ever we need to unite as a community. We need to remember that we are magical. We are beautiful. We are a strong, resilient, and courageous community, and we will not let these transphobic, insecure assholes keep us from getting on our flight!


Resources

For a PDF of The National Center for Transgender Equality’s Guide to Airport Security and Rights of Trans People, click here.

If you have been mistreated, or had an unsatisfactory experience with TSA personnel, click here for information on how to file a complaint.

If you have access to a smartphone, consider downloading the app FlyRights. It provides a way to immediately file a report of an incident of discrimination with TSA and DHS when it occurs. Click here for more information. It is available for both iPhones and Android smartphones.

Originally posted 2017-09-21 19:42:36.


Also published on Medium.

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