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Gender Identities Abroad

Introduction

When considering various programs, do some research into where you go because aspects of the environment could affect how you express your gender identity.  Different countries have different laws, policies, and cultural attitudes toward diverse gender identities and the degree to which it’s visible at first glance varies.  There are some cultures where the full gender spectrum is accepted more than it is in the US, but there are also countries that still criminalize non-cisgender expression, or deem it culturally taboo. Learn the laws and social norms of your host country regarding these issues.  Local laws and practices differ greatly and the reality is that how you express your gender could pose both safety and legal concerns while abroad.

Questions to Consider

As you begin looking into opportunities abroad, it is critical that you consider the following questions: 

  • Are there any laws restricting gender expression? What are the laws regarding identity and travel documentation?
  • Is gender identity, particularly genderqueer or non-cisgender identities, openly discussed or more taboo?
  • How open am I now about my gender identity? How open am I willing to be when I am abroad?
  • If needed, am I willing to suppress my identity in order to abide by the cultural customs and local attitudes in the host country?
  • Do I only want to go somewhere that is very tolerant and affirming of my identity? Am I open to going to a country that may discriminate against non-cisgender or genderqueer individuals?
  • Does the country or host institution I’m interested in have resources surrounding gender identity expression?
  • Are there resources available for people of alternative gender identities in my host country and institution?
  • If I need access to medication, supplies, or medical services, will I have access in my host country? Will I need documentation to travel with medication (i.e. hormones)?

Conclusion

Cultures vary in terms of how gender identities are defined and understood. Many cultures have different systems of norms and beliefs based on gender, but there is no universal standard to a masculine or feminine role across all cultures.  You will find that attitudes and tolerance vary from country to country, and possibly even within each country, as they do here in the U.S.  Some countries are more welcoming and legally protective than the U.S., while others are less accepting and more restrictive.  Being knowledgeable about the degree to which non-cisgender expression is permitted – legally and socially – in the area where you will be studying will allow you to have a rewarding international experience.