21 september 2018

Amsterdam and LGBTQ+: Progressive or Pragmatic?

I have spent my first month in Amsterdam immersed in the proverbial “honeymoon” phase that accompanies moving to a foreign city for a finite amount of time. Because I only have three months to explore the city to the fullest extent possible, I’ve elected to join some 90+ American students in an American-funded program (i.e. IES Abroad) that aims to exclusively show naive students the highlights of Amsterdam’s liberal haven.

Amsterdam is an expertly marketed city to young Americans In return, we students rarely have the time or the means to experience what lays behind the veil of social tolerance and progressive moral grounding. In this way, Amsterdam is an expertly marketed city to young Americans — seemingly designed by the gods of egalitarianism and touted as the mecca of social liberalism and tolerance. A carefully cultivated product, Amsterdam is celebrated for its propensity to legalize behaviors that are typically viewed as “controversial” in the eyes of an American student. Prostitution is legalized (even sensationalized in the eyes of ogling tourists) in the infamous Red Light District. Same sex marriage has been legalized since April 2001 (the first European city to do so), and the sale and use of ‘soft drugs’ is ‘tolerated’ in the city’s so-called coffeeshops. Yet, when it comes to actually tackling social issues beyond the mainstream topics lumped together under the careful diction of Dutch ‘tolerance’, is Amsterdam actually progressive or just pragmatic?

Too many times have I caught myself correcting older Dutch menFor issues most prevalent in our rapidly evolving global society, such as the rise of LGBTQ+ awareness, visibility, and subsequent protection of basic intrinsic rights; Amsterdam does well in projecting a leftist citywide mindset. In fact, LGBTQ+ resources are easily accessed on the Iamsterdam website, with hyperlinks to bars, cafes, and clubs, LGBTQ+ organizations, and lists of LGBTQ+ alcoves within the city.

However, I have discovered that the conversation surrounding LGBTQ+ identity amongst the inhabitants of Amsterdam is kept fairly localized to homosexuality and the aforementioned legalization of same sex marriage.  Even as a cisgender, heterosexual, white female, the context of my American upbringing and identity has led me to feel more like a spokesperson for the experience of an LGBTQ+ person than an ally whilst in Amsterdam. Too many times have I caught myself correcting older Dutch men on dated assumptions of gendered stereotypes; lamenting that no, alcohol is not a gendered product and any person that chooses to buy wine or beer should not be forced to subscribe to a particular identity.

My opinions are ultimately invalid in the face of American social liberalism at homeI have explained to countless young Dutch men and women my own perspective of the transgender experience, something that I would never have the grounds to do in my homeschool environment. Despite the apparent naiveté of the few Amsterdammers I have encountered, many of the people I spoke with have been exceptionally open to creating a dialogue about what it means to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

About me

I am studying Psychology, Neuroscience, and English at the University of Puget Sound near Seattle, Washington. I'm from the liberal, ‘hipster capital’ of the pacific northwest (AKA Portland, Oregon), and am currently loving the seemingly cultural similarities between the Portland hipster and the typical Amsterdammer! I love drinking the finest of cheap European wines, pretending stroopwafels are vegan, and taking long walks on the canals.

In turn, I feel great cognitive dissonance in the notion that my opinions are ultimately invalid in the face of American social liberalism at home. After all, because I’m not an LGBTQ+ identifying individual, in the US it is usually frowned upon for someone to explain the experiences of another identity if they themselves don’t identify with it. Therefore, I would be speaking out of turn if I were to do so at home.

So, given the well marketed resources for LGBTQ+ in Amsterdam, is the city really progressive or is this openness simply a pragmatic approach to a greater, global social liberalism? Thus far, I think that Amsterdam is erring on the side of pragmatism, choosing to align with the more liberal views and movements occurring in America based on practical rather than theoretical considerations. Nonetheless, Amsterdammers are well on their way to converting this pragmatism into true progressive ideology as they continue to fuel open minded conversations and listen to the experiences of true LGBTQ+ individuals (and not just haughty, liberal Americans like myself!).


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