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“Gayting” in London

Time August 28th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Coming from a small Midwestern town, my dating opportunities have been limited ever since I came out freshman year of college. So, it should come as no surprise that I was eager to test the waters of the gay dating scene in London. At home, there aren’t many people “out” around my age, and therefore, meeting someone in a more traditional way, such as through a mutual friend or school, is very unlikely. Before arriving in London I had hoped to rely less on my Tinder account and more on traditional means of meeting potential suitors, such as face to face verbal communication…seems strange, I know. As it turns out, meeting people through friends or school and expressing a romantic interest in them isn’t all that easy, even in a city that is so culturally diverse (aka full of gays, haha).

 

While in London, I had a good number of first dates. Most of these dates were with guys I met on Tinder or other dating apps. Thankfully, I am still alive to write about these dates! None of them led to me being kidnapped, murdered, date-raped, or sold into slavery, so overall, I will mark them up as good experiences. For the most part, these dates were very comparable to an average first date in the U.S. We would meet at a given location, grab a bite to eat, grab a drink at a pub, and then maybe hit the clubs.

 

Where I did see more of a contrast from my dating experiences in the U.S. was in communicating with them via Tinder, text, or other apps. I noticed a few subtle differences in the way Londoners text. For example, in the U.S. after an initial “Hey”, one might ask “How’s it going?” or “What’s up?”. In London, I constantly had guys ask “You ok?”. At first, I wondered if I looked sad or upset in my profile picture, since asking someone if he is “ok” in the U.S. usually has a more serious connotation. I also noticed that most Brits do not use “hey”, or at least not as often as Americans. Brits are much more likely to start with “Hello” or “Hi” in both written and verbal communication. Thankfully, these differences were insignificant enough, that they didn’t ruin any potential connections.

 

I certainly found it easier to meet guys and find dates through social media in London, than in Indiana. However, I was disappointed to find it just as challenging to meet good guys in a more traditional way in London as it is in the U.S. I suppose it doesn’t matter if there are a heavier concentration of openly gay men in a certain area…it’s still hard to express a romantic interest in someone in person, whether it’s the guy across the bar or a new acquaintance with whom you have a mutual friend.

Additionally, meeting potential suitors in a more relaxed and tradition way takes PATIENCE!

 

Although I rely on them constantly, I have never imagined myself meeting my husband on a dating app. It could happen, but so far it seems unlikely. I have always imagined I would meet him more by happenstance, such meeting him through mutual friends, work, or some sort of social club. I enjoyed almost every date on went on this semester. I was able to see new places around the city, get a little dating experience under my belt, and most importantly I met some cool British guys from whom I learned a lot of current British culture. Unfortunately most of them did not lead to second or third dates. I wonder if this is due to a disconnect that happens when two people meet online. In my experience, going on a Tinder date feels somewhat rushed. Expectations are set that you will have romantic feelings for each other by the end of the night, and often that is just not the case. However, going on a first date with that cute guy you met in class and have already had multiple conversations with, can be much more relaxed. Those romantic feelings have had time to develop more gradually, and you are more comfortable with each other by the time that first “real” date rolls around.

 

In closing, my advice to those hoping to go on a few dates while in London, is to go for it! I don’t regret any of my dates this semester and not once did I feel that I was in danger. All of my dates this semester were good experiences, from dancing to my favorite song with a cute guy to making a good friend with whom I have stayed in touch for months. Feel free to use dating apps to meet guys. It is certainly a lot easier than just walking up to someone in a bar. Just be realistic about the outcome…it most likely won’t be the start of a life-long relationship.

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The London Stage

Time July 1st, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

While in London, I have had the opportunity to deepen my appreciation of musical theatre. Although I have loved musicals since I played Prince Harry in my high school’s production of Once Upon a Mattress (a musical comedy based on the fairytale, The Princess and the Pea), my repertoire has always been rather limited.   Thankfully, London changed that. In the West End, I had the pleasure of seeing Mamma Mia, Wicked, Les Misérables, and the plays My Night with Reg and The 39 Steps. Of those, Les Mis was by far my favorite. The dramatic and complex story of redemption and the struggle between authority and compassion is told in way that leaves a lasting impression. Away from the West End, but just as entertaining, I saw UCL’s production of Spring Awakening, a concert version of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying at the Royal Festival Hall of the Southbank Centre, and Peddling at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston. I must confess…although I truly enjoyed How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, I honestly only went to see it because the male lead was played by my hopefully future husband, Jonathan Groff haha!!!

I have come to realize that what draws me to the theatre is the emotion it induces. I’m nearly addicted to the passionate feelings that a good musical or play evokes. Whether it’s the excitement and joy of Elphaba’s first visit to the Emerald City in Wicked or the pride and anticipation that builds as the cast of the Les Mis sings “One Day More,” live theatre allows a patron to feel something that cannot be communicated on screen or paper. Personally, I find music quite powerful in the feelings it evokes. It’s nearly impossible for me to listen to a song and not experience a change in my emotions, whether negative or positive. Musicals take the functional properties of spoken language and combine it with the romantic qualities of music to communicate a message, which is more evocative than a written or spoken message. As the live music combines with the linguistic and physical expressions of the characters moving across the stage, the musical’s message penetrates the audience.

Because of that special ability to invoke emotion, the theatre can convey a message that may otherwise go unheard.   While some shows like Mamma Mia seem to be written more purely for entertainment, other shows in London have been written with a clear a message for the audience. For instance, Peddling is a play about a homeless young man who works a thankless and low paying job selling household items door to door. The play passionately conveys a message about the homeless young adults on London’s streets today. My Night with Reg tells the story of three good friends who lost a mutual friend to the AIDS virus. The play first opened in 1994 in London after the 1980’s AIDS crisis. The play helped, and still helps, the general public understand what it’s like to be gay and affected by AIDS during a time when homosexuality was much less mainstream. It puts relatable and personal characters in front of a straight audience who might have previously viewed the AIDs crisis as a distance and compartmentalized issue.

Many musicals follow a similar form to convey a message. A play or musical introduces a character to the audience who is likeable and relatable. When the audience is comfortable with a character, the play places the character in some unthinkable situation, such Moritz Stiefel’s suicide or Wendla Bergmann’s abortion in Spring Awakening. The hope is that the audience will leave with a better and more compassionate understanding of these unthinkable and tragic situations that have so often ostracized people.

Whether the musical is written to convey a message or purely for entertainment, I cannot resist the opportunity to be whisked away into a new and unknown world by a fascinating blend of music, dance, and plot!

 

 

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A Lump in My Throat

Time May 19th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Last week I attended an IFSA gathering at Pembridge Gardens. The executives from the head office in Indianapolis, as well as staff from Egypt and Israel, were in London for a visit. The London staff wanted some of the students to come and mingle. I had such a lovely time! I got to meet people from all over the world who have had unique cultural experiences which they are now using to guide us as we become world travelers. The food was delicious as always and the weather was perfect for a gathering in the garden…

 

…However, as I prepared to head home, it felt quite bittersweet. I realized that I might not get to see these people again for a while…if ever. I won’t get to have deep discussions about cultural issues with Anna, get a warm and welcoming hug from Lynne, or laugh at Andrew’s witty sense of humor. More so, I realized that this was the first of many goodbyes. With just a couple weeks left in London, I will soon have to say goodbye to new friends and new, yet familiar places. On the Tube, I had a bit of a lump in my throat as I thought about everything I will miss about London, the Tube itself for instance. The crowds of people all scurrying to get somewhere, anywhere, or nowhere fast. The rush of wind as it approaches the platform…the recording saying, “please mind the gap” or “the next station is Piccadilly Circus” in an idealized British accent. I’ll miss the ability to have a novel experience just minutes from my dorm…going to yet another free museum, checking out a new area such as the hipster scene in Dalston, or walking the winding streets of Covent Garden. I’ll miss walking along the Thames, staring up at Big Ben at night as it glows a regal gold and green. I’ll miss dancing at Heaven until it’s 2am, my legs burn, and I am drenched in sweat. I’ll miss trying new and strange foods with my friends at little unsuspecting restaurants. I’ll miss the opportunity, the wonder, and the excitement here in the greatest city on Earth.

 

I stayed out quite late on Saturday (don’t tell my mom). As I was walking home over Blackfriars Bridge, I watched the sunrise over St. Paul’s. I walked along the Victoria Embankment, crossing over from the City of London to the City of Westminster, and passed the famous Somerset House, where I was briefly part of a walk to raise money for breast cancer research…too bad I wasn’t wearing pink. When I got to the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Bridge, I walked to the center and stood for a while, admiring Big Ben and the surrounding buildings as the rising sun shone from behind me. I had never seen the Palace of Westminster quite like that, it was light out but the clock face was still illuminated as the sun was just then rising. It gave me a moment that I needed…a special moment with the city so that I could say “I’ll see you soon”. A few weeks ago, that would have been “goodbye”, but as I near the end of my trip, something tells me that it’s only a temporary farewell.

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We Should Get Married!!!

Time May 19th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

More than once this semester I have been out and met a Brit around my age, who after hearing that I am single and considering moving to London permanently, jokingly suggests that we should get married in order to obtain permanent residences in each other’s home countries. This would be great, but I have always dreamed of a more romantic proposal, so I think I’ll keep looking! However, this did prompt some questions about gay marriage in the U.K., visas, and immigration, so I did a little research and thought I would share my findings.

 

According to The Independent, the Civil Partnership Act of 2004 gave same-sex couples in the United Kingdom the ability to have the same rights as married heterosexual couples, including insurance and tax exemptions, social security benefits, ability to share custody of a child, and more. In March of 2014, same-sex marriage became legal in England and Wales (BBC). Scotland followed suit in December of that year (BBC). Northern Ireland has not yet legalized gay marriage.

 

In comparison, thirty-seven states in the U.S. currently allow gay marriage or civil partnerships, either by laws passed through the state legislatures or by judicial decision (NCSL). In 2004, Massachusetts was the only state where gay marriage was legal (CNN). Clearly, the U.K. was ahead of the game with same-sex marriage.

 

My new friends will be sad to know that, although I am allowed to marry a Brit while here on a student visa, this does not give us permanent residences in each other’s countries. Stonewall provides a good overview of information on British laws governing the immigration status of overseas spouses. If my British husband and I were married in the U.S., our marriage would be recognized in the U.K. as well. If my husband were a “settled” U.K. resident, I would have to apply for a U.K. family visa. (I assume that “settled” means that the spouse has consistently lived in the U.K., and is not a U.K. citizen that was living outside of the U.K. immediately prior to the wedding.) The first visa would last 30 months, and then I would have to apply for a five-year visa. Finally after the five-year visa, I could apply for permanent residence, known as “Indefinite Leave to Remain.” If we wanted to get married in the U.K., I could apply for a Fiancé Visa, which would allow me to stay here for six months, during which we would have to get married. After the ceremony, I would have to apply for a U.K. family visa in the manner I described above.

 

If we were to get married in the U.K. and then move to the U.S., I would have to file a Petition for Alien Resident and an Application to Register Permanent Resident or Adjust Status. My husband would have conditional resident status for two years, after which I would have to file a petition for his permanent resident status.

 

In conclusion, when I do find the right guy, if he happens to be British, it wouldn’t be difficult for me to establish permanent residence here or for my husband to establish permanent residence in the U.S. As for this scheme suggested by my London acquaintances, I think I will pass and keep my integrity!

 

Feel free to check out the links below for more information on gay marriage in the U.K. and U.S., as well as info on spousal visas.

 

 

Sources:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26793127

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/a-brief-history-of-equal-marriage-8153118.html

http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/28/us/same-sex-marriage-fast-facts/

http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/same-sex-marriage-laws.aspx

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-30486804

http://www.ukpermits.com/visa-types/family

http://www.uscis.gov/family/family-us-citizens/spouse/bringing-spouses-live-united-states-permanent-residents

 

*Photos courtesy of Talking People’s Memo, ABC Australia, National Conference of State Legislatures, and Pinterest

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Schöneberg, the Gay Mecca

Time May 7th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

After traipsing around Europe during the month of April, I’m back at UCL and desperately trying to study for my upcoming final exams. I was fortunate enough to see Rome, Florence, Paris, Prague, and Berlin over Easter recess. Berlin was by far the “gayest” experience I had during my travels, haha! Often said to be the gay capital of Western Europe, Berlin has a lot to offer to gay visitors and locals. Concentrated in the neighborhood of Schöneberg, the gay scene in Berlin is filled with bars, clubs, shops, and hotels that exclusively appeal to gay customers. There is enough variety to cater to those in search of something rather mainstream or those who want something more risqué!

Since I am young, single, and have no idea when I might return to Berlin, I figured I needed to make the most of my time in this gay mecca and booked myself a bed in a gay youth hostel in the heart of Schöneberg. Of course I had my doubts, but mostly I was excited for the experience.

When I arrived, I unpacked and then joined a few of the other guests in the common room. They seemed to be friendly with each other, but ultimately it was up to me to introduce myself and break into the conversation. After some brief introductions, I left to explore the city for a bit. At this point, I wasn’t expecting too much from the hostel experience. The accommodations were mediocre and the other guests, although cordial, didn’t seem eager to make friends. However, when I returned, quite a few more guys had arrived at the hostel. We quickly exchanged names, hometowns, and reasons for traveling. To my comfort, most everyone else was there alone and not with a group of friends. I feared that if most guests were visiting in groups, it would be difficult to break into their cliques and get to know them, but in a group of single travelers it was much easier to make friends.

Later that night, we had a few drinks and sat around the hostel getting to know each other. It was truly an experience I have never had before…a group of more than a dozen guys from all over the world just hanging out…and oh yeah, we were all gay! I had no qualms about discussing dating, celebrity crushes, future plans, or anything else that I would normally shy away from in a group of new acquaintances, in fear that it might reveal my unwelcomed sexual orientation. We then headed out to explore the gay clubs of Berlin. On my way to Berlin I assumed I would be exploring the nightlife by myself, but it was ten times more fun to be explore with a group of new friends.

From growing up in a small town and then attending a small college in a similar town, I never had a group of exclusively or mostly gay friends. In high school I totally concealed my sexuality, but even now in college where I am out, something, probably fear of rejection, holds me back from totally expressing my sexual orientation. In the states, I would likely be cautious to say something in a mixed (gay and straight) group of friends such as, “by the way, I have a date with this guy on Saturday” or “don’t you think Jonathan Groff is so cute?!” In his book Covering, Kenji Yoshino, would describe this phenomenon as “passing”, where an out gay person has to choose to come out again in each and every new situation. Even though many people know I am gay, because I mentioned it in the past or they heard from someone else, I still have to choose in every interaction or conversation whether to discuss topics that further reveal my sexuality or shy away from them.

In Berlin with this group of my newly acquainted peers I felt totally free to discuss things that would convey I am gay, because it had already been done for me. I was staying at a gay hostel, so everyone there knew I was gay, and I knew they were gay. I didn’t have to worry about that awkward moment of revealing my sexuality. With this stress lifted, I was confident and free to enjoy the conversation. Furthermore, it was invigorating to be able to casually discuss feelings and experiences that pertain to my sexual orientation with other gays and feel heard and understood.

I certainly didn’t make any new best friends on my trip to Berlin. I may never see any of those guys again. But they made my trip to Berlin enjoyable, invigorating, and unforgettable. More so, they played a part in providing a new and freeing experience to me as a gay man.

…Also, I found this adorable book in a gay bookstore called Daddy, Papa, and Me by Leslea Newman. It’s a children’s book, not that different than the ones four-year-olds around the world are read before bed, except that it conveys a family with two gay dads! I can’t wait to read this to my future four-year-old before bedtime.

 

Check out my pics to see the sites of Berlin. Big thanks to Fat Tire Bike Tours for showing me around the city!

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Reading Week Part 2: Paris

Time March 4th, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, England, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

In the previous post I stated that that I traveled to Amsterdam and Paris over reading week, and then shared my experience in Amsterdam. Here is a little about my time in Paris…
On Wednesday evening I said goodbye to my friends and departed for Paris. I was honestly quite excited by the idea of taking on a major city of a foreign tongue all by myself. Thankfully, the staff at my hotel was quite friendly and fluent in English. Not everyone spoke English, but thankfully I did not run into any major issues due to lack of verbal communication. Paris was very rainy and very cold, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying the fine museums and beautiful architecture of Paris. I began my adventure with a short cruise down the Seine. The river is lined with beautiful limestone buildings, very typical of French architecture.

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Reading Week Part 1: Amsterdam

Time March 2nd, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, England, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

Last week UCL had reading week, which is a week classes don’t meet in order for students to catch up on course work and reading. However, most affiliate students take this time to travel, so of course I followed suit! For the first part of the week I went to Amsterdam with a few other American students. From there I went on to Paris by myself for the remainder of the week.

 

Amsterdam was beautiful! Although it is a major city, the city center feels small and friendly, compared to the busy and industrial feeling of London. The colorful Dutch architecture and quiet shimmering canals give the city a welcoming and laid-back feel. Also, I was blessed with sunny skies and mild temperatures, which makes any trip more enjoyable! I stayed in a hostel, and being the only male in the group, I was in a room with a few guys my age who were visiting from France. I have stayed in a hostel before, and I have always been excited by the opportunity to be pushed out of my comfort zone and meet new people from around the world.

 

During the day we explored the fine art exhibits at the Van Gogh Museum and The Rijks Museum. A boat tour through the city’s canals provided us with picturesque scenery and a history of the city. At night we explored the more present-day culture of the city when we visited coffee shops and the Red Light District. Although nothing was purchased, just watching “shoppers” peruse the windows of the various brothels was certainly an experience worth having! I found it quite ironic that the RLD centered around one of the city’s largest and most historic churches. I also found it notable that there were no male prostitutes standing in the shop windows. I thought this was quite strange, because the city did not seem at all oppressive to gay culture, as there were a number of gay bars and shops around the RLD. Overall, I was struck by how open the city was to unorthodox displays of sexuality.

 

I will talk about my experience in Paris in my next blogpost!

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Is everyone here gay???

Time February 4th, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, England, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

…Of course not, but to me, most of the men here in London look gay. Now I realize that one’s sexual orientation cannot be determined at first glance or when passing them on the street, but most young guys here are very fashionable and thin. Growing up in the cornfields of the Midwest, I’ve subconsciously fallen under the misconception that good style, tight fitting clothes, and a slim build usually means a guy is gay. However, in London almost all young guys sport skinny jeans and a great hairstyle. It makes it much less obvious who is gay and who is straight.

So far, my instinct has been correct in that London seems to be more open and accepting to gays. However, it has been hard for me to break my old habit of trying to act straight. I definitely noticed this earlier this month when I was spending most of my time with other American students during IFSA orientation. For so many years, I was trying to suppress my sexuality or living under the assumption that I’ll be more accepted or liked if I hide my sexuality. It’s almost like it’s a weakness I am trying to protect. I am comfortable with being gay, and I am sure London is a safe place to be gay, but in moments of tension or stress, such as being in a foreign place and meeting new people, I tend to subconsciously subvert to my old closeted self. In time I am sure this pattern of will wear off, and I will be more forward about my sexuality.

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London – Probably a little different from Indiana

Time January 6th, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, England, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

Hi, I’m Tyler and I will be one of IFSA’s LGBTQ correspondents during the spring semester of 2015 while I am studying at University College London. I depart for London this evening, and I am extremely excited to be living and studying in London this semester! My only anxieties involve getting settled in and registered for classes.

Although I have experienced Europe during a previous three week trip to Ireland, this will be my first time in England. I am a junior at Wabash College, a small liberal arts college in Indiana. Having grown up and attended college in small Midwestern towns, London will be quite a culture shock. However, I am fairly certain it will be a positive shock, as I have always longed to live in a large city.

With London being so metropolitan and culturally diverse, I fully expect it to be a place where I can fully and comfortably express, explore, and further understand my sexual orientation. Although I do not feel oppressed in my sexuality at Wabash, I hope to find London to be a freeing and exciting place to be gay!

It’s hard to believe that I will be in London, my home for the next five months, in just twelve hours. I simply can’t wait to be immersed in British culture and experience the diversity, history, and energy of London!

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