Being gay in the Netherlands vs the US

This is a topic that’s very personal to me. As those of you who’ve read my blog before already know, I’m gay. I mention it like literally in each post so it’s not a secret, even though I wish I could have this post be some kind of grand coming out to the internet.

But if you didn’t already know, likely because it’s your first time here (hi, if it is!), I’m gay. Gaaaayyy. Suuuper gay. Oh, this would probably be the ideal time for me to say that I’m more accurately a “lesbian”. I prefer the term gay. It’s less girly. And I moved to the Netherlands because I met the most wonderful Dutch woman back in the US. We now live in Utrecht together.

I’m just going to say this in the beginning so there are no surprises. Being gay in the Netherlands is waaaayyyy easier. Yes, and that’s even when I compare big city to big city, liberal city to liberal city.

But before I go into my personal experiences, I think it’s important to say a few things about the “kind of gay” I am. I know that sounds really strange, but I’ll make it clear in a minute. I’m the kind of gay that passes for straight. I look so straight it’s frustrating. I’ve walked around with a Tegan and Sara T-shirt and a beanie on my head before and people still didn’t get the hint. Maybe it’s my long hair, or the fact that I wear dresses sometimes. I don’t know.

There’s another way to say that I “pass for straight,” which is that I look “feminine”. I’m not a huge fan of the term, but it’ll give you an idea for how I experience the world. When I was single, I’d tell people I was gay and they wouldn’t believe me. Maybe if I had short hair, I’d get more of a “yeah, no shit” response. It’s all really messed up. When I say girlfriend, people also think I’m talking about a “girl” who’s a “friend”. I mean, but who even says “girlfriend” like that anymore?

Let’s start with New York City, where I grew up. Have I always felt comfortable holding a girl’s hand in New York? Abso-fucking-lutely NOT. To some of you, this may come as a surprise. But let me tell you, for some reason, there are always some men who think you’re putting on a show for their benefit.

If you’re in a heterosexual relationship, try and imagine what it feels like if you were to walk down the street with your partner, and someone decides to yell “I want in on that” at you. When all you’re doing is having a nice stroll outside, you know, in the pre-coronavirus times when that was possible.

I’ve been catcalled in literally every city I’ve been in when I’m with another woman. At some point, you’d think I’d have gotten used to it, but this is not something that ever stops feeling gross. It’s like someone found a way to peep into your home even when you have the curtains drawn.

THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN IN THE NETHERLANDS. To me at least. I’m sure it does happen, but it happens so infrequently that I haven’t experienced it yet. That is unimaginable in the US. I know that my experiences have primarily been in two liberal cities in the Netherlands, Amsterdam and Utrecht, but still. I’ve also only lived in liberal cities in the US too, like New York and Philadelphia.

When Sara and I first started dating, four years ago, I visited Amsterdam (and the Netherlands) for the first time. It was great, and being very much newly in love, we obviously held hands EVERYWHERE. We also walked everywhere because I found that to be oh-so-romantic, while of course, Sara wanted to bike everywhere with me hanging on to dear life at the back (I honestly thought I was going to die). One time, we were walking through De Pijp, and were stopped at a busy intersection near the Heineken Brewery. And this due on the other side of the road was staring us down. Both Sara and I were really weirded out by this, as he continued to stare at us as we walked towards him. But then we saw, as the crowd of people cleared out, that he was holding hands with another dude! So then of course we just laughed about it all the way to Coffee and Coconuts (or wherever the hell we were going to that day).

I’m not trying to say that I’ve always been 100% okay with holding Sara’s hand when we walk on the streets in the Netherlands either. But that’s almost a safety issue. Amsterdam is the global gay hub (#yaygay), but at the same time, people are people. It may be less socially unacceptable to be yelling gross things at two women here, but that doesn’t mean it always feels SAFE. Sara and I have an unspoken rule here, if there are too many stares, we try and not make it worse by holding hands.

We really do love to hold hands, though.

I think the reason why it is easier to be gay in the Netherlands right now is because the Dutch have been okay with gay for decades now. Whereas gay marriage was only legalized less than five years ago in the US. Compare that to the Netherlands where same sex marriage was legalized in 2001, almost 20 years ago! In fact, they were the first country in the world to do it! There’s your fun fact for the day.

What that means is that people have had longer to get used to different kinds of people, in this case, queer ones. But things do happen here. I occasionally here about violence against queer people in the Netherlands too. Much less frequently than I hear about it in the US, but it does happen.

The one thing I find awkward in the US, but I don’t here—and this is a big one—is being out at work. In the US, I find it uncomfortable to talk about my “gay things” at work, sometimes I almost get the vibe that it can be unprofessional. A very strong case of this is when the topic of having kids comes up in conversation.

I do want kids, but I do not want to be pregnant (can you blame me????). I’ve always been excited by the idea of adopting kids, but in my relationship, Sara wants to have that experience of being pregnant. Which is fantastic! I’m looking forward to it. But I want to be able to support her through that experience.

In the US, I cannot even mention wanting to take time off as the non-birth mom to be with my partner and kid without getting confused looks. “You want… paternity leave?” These are friends of mine who’ve been a little bit confused about the situation. Part of this is that paternity leave isn’t often an option for dads even, let alone a lesbian like me who very much is NOT a dude.

This is super easy in the Netherlands. There are many terms for this, but there is even a specific one for taking time off for when your partner has had a kid. It’s called “partnerverlof” (partner leave). As Rachel from Friends would say, “isn’t that just kick-you-in-the-crotch, spit-on-your-neck fantastic?”

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