Marley Conte at Icons of Inclusion at The Dorchester, London

Icons of Inclusion series:
Marley Conte


 


At our first-ever Icons of Inclusion event held in March this year, Marley Conte shared their experience of what travelling can be like as a trans/non-binary person. We sit down with the writer to revisit their thoughts – and ask what future changes they’d like to see in the luxury hospitality sector.

Those of us who have travelled with a child know that family travel can bring along its very own set of challenges and obstacles. Now imagine that on top of everything else to keep in mind, you’d also feel anxious about something as seemingly straightforward as going through airport security, or clearing immigration. That’s the reality of countless trans and non-binary people whose official documents might not (yet) be in line with how they identify. Something as simple as being misgendered can not only upset travellers beyond binary gender roles, but also ‘chip away at their identity’, as Marley Conte puts it.

A parent of one, they know exactly what it feels like, and how having your child travel with you – and witness the needs of their parent not being met with sensitivity and understanding – can further complicate the situation. At OutThere’s recent Icons of Inclusion event at London’s The Dorchester, Marley opened the eyes of many a luxury travel industry professional… so with Pride Month in full swing, we thought what better time to sit down with the writer and parent, to recap some of their thoughts on the event?

Marley, you were a keynote speaker at our Icons of Inclusion event earlier this year. What was your experience of sharing your story as a non-binary person and traveller in front of a room full of luxury travel professionals like?

It’s always a little daunting to share our personal experiences with a new audience. Not only are we giving parts of ourselves away to complete strangers, we also always have that little fear, in the depth of our stomach, that someone is not going to be kind or understanding. Icons of Inclusion was extremely positive, not just because the selection of speakers and topics discussed were among the most diverse I’ve seen, but also because you could feel that there was a real desire to learn and do better in the room. I treasure the experience as one of my most favourite speaking engagements.

That’s fantastic to hear. What are some of the points you made, which you’d hope for the industry to take on?

Inclusivity is key, as I spoke about how trans+ people not only often don’t feel safe when travelling, but how we are also constantly having to either hide our identities or correct people. Finding inclusive experiences that cater to diverse travellers makes all the difference. Something as little as inclusive booking systems and DE&I (diversity, equity and inclusion) training for staff can go a long way to turn a nice holiday into an incredibly special one.

You opened up about the stress and anxiety you can feel as a non-binary person when travelling – especially when your child is travelling with you, and you might be put in uncomfortable situations, questioned, or similar. For those who didn’t attend on the day, can you sum up again what travelling can feel like for someone in your shoes?

Travelling as a trans or non-binary person can be a wonderful experience, but unfortunately, more often than not, it’s marked by an underlining of fear and anxiety. As I mentioned in my speech, for most queer people, we find that the worries of travelling manifest mostly once you reach your destination: thinking about things like local laws, customs, etc. But what a lot of people don’t realise is that for trans+ people, this anxiety starts at home, from the moment we decide to go on travels. It includes everything from packing to booking hotels and airport procedures. There’s a lot we need to navigate to feel safe and even more to actually enjoy the experience.

Every time we take a trip, not only do we need to do the usual due diligence to see if the destination is safe for us to visit, but we also have to go through a series of checklists before we even get there: think airport scanners and security, documents that might not match our gender or chosen name, booking systems that might not be as inclusive as they think, packing clothes that can keep us safe in our chosen holiday destination, etc. The constant fear of being outed, misgendered or ‘deadnamed’ (called by our birth name, as opposed to our chosen name) makes the experience exhausting. I’m even more careful when travelling as a family. My kid is only 8 and as any parent, my first priority is my child’s safety. As a trans/non-binary parent, I’m even more aware that just being who I am could have implications for her travel experience and safety, as well as for my own. It adds another level to anxiety.

What can cis-gendered people do to be allies to trans-gendered and non-binary people?

I always say that you don’t need to understand me to respect me. Using the right pronouns and names can be life-saving. As I mentioned in my speech: ‘The constant misgendering and deadnaming is actually a form of micro-aggression that chips away at our identity and reminds us that for other people, our identity is not valid and it is not worthy of respect. The toll that something so seemingly little can have on our mental health is big. As per the latest surveys from The Trevor Project and other charities, something as simple as using the right pronoun can halve the chances of someone attempting suicide. Just think about that for a moment. Using one small little word can actually save lives’.

It’s also important to challenge homophobic and transphobic behaviour and language. This is not a fight we can win on our own; we need allies to correct other people when the wrong things are said. Do not pass it off as a joke or something of no importance. There is always someone listening who would think ‘oh well, no one said anything, so they might be right’. Educate yourself. You cannot help us if you don’t know who we are. Write to governments to demand change and stand with us when we protest. Donate to LGBTQ+ charities and organisations. Respect our identity, privacy and confidentiality.

Would you say the hospitality sector has a particular responsibility to cater to guests and travellers from diverse backgrounds?

One of my favourite quotes from my speech was: ‘You’re all here because you believe in travel; you believe in the joy and freedom that come with it, and you believe that everyone should experience that. As leaders of this industry, it is your job to promote change and inclusivity at all levels’.

One of the biggest joys of travelling is experiencing new places and cultures and breaking barriers, bringing people together through food, community, culture, etc. Yet travel remains a privilege for the few, often at the expense of the most marginalised groups. So, yes, I believe that the hospitality sector has a particular responsibility not only to cater to guests and travellers from diverse backgrounds but to also help make changes to keep us safe when we travel.

Aside from your own talk, what other talks and panel discussions at Icons of Inclusion did you feel inspired by?

I truly enjoyed all of the talks and panels but if I had to pick a few favourites, they would be Aisha Shaibu-Lenoir’s speech on the power of an inclusive, intercultural workplace, the discussion between Vincent Jones and Uwern Jong about race in the luxury travel industry, and the panel discussion on what’s next for LGBTQ+ travel, with Lexie Shaibu-Lenoir, LoAnn Halden and Uwern Jong.

Last but not least, what other perspectives and lived experiences would you like to learn more about at our next Icons of Inclusion event?

I’d love to hear more indigenous voices and learn about how to turn tourism into an asset for local communities instead of ticking boxes. I also think we need to be very aware of how overtourism can become detrimental for some locations, and I’d love to hear how to travel consciously.

For more on OutThere’s Icons of Inclusion event, read our recap of the day here.

www.mconte.co.uk | www.iconsofinclusion.com

Photography by Sarah Lucy Brown




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