I'd only ever done gay cruising before. No, not that kind of cruising--I mean the floating around on a big ship kind. My in-laws recently took my spouse, our son, and me, plus my spouse's two siblings and their spouses and children, on a cruise to Mexico as a way of getting the family together. I wasn't new to cruises, having done two with my spouse via Olivia, the venerable lesbian travel company, and one with R Family Vacations, which caters to LGBT families and allies.
But it struck me that being on a boat of predominantly non-LGBT people would be a significantly different experience than being on one with several thousand queer folk. It's not as if I live my life in isolation from non-LGBT families, but the thought of being one of the few queer people crammed on a boat with them for a week made me understand how anthropologist Jane Goodall must have felt before going to live among the chimps.
I feared the worst when during our first-day safety drill, the safety officer announced there wasâ€•even in this day and ageâ€•a "women and children first" policy for the lifeboats. I'd never heard that aboard any of our previous cruises, where the very suggestion might have gotten the officer thrown overboard by a bunch of burly lesbians.
It turned out, however, that other parts of our recent cruise were very gay indeed.
The wallpaper lining the corridors to the staterooms had images evocative of the early 20th centuryâ€•the golden age of steamship travelâ€•several of which showed two women or two men gazing at each other in a way that, while not explicitly gay, was certainly open to happy interpretation. In the hallway outside our door, two swimsuit-clad women cast glances at each other over martinis. A decorative tile in our cabin bathroom showed a young man in a dapper suit smiling at a similarly attired gentleman. Even if they were only discussing the cut of their jackets, there was something rather gay about it all.
And when I went to an onboard exercise class, hoping to burn off some of the endless buffet, the first song the instructor played was a dance mix of Melissa Etheridge's "I'm the Only One."
More explicit was the nightly LGBT gathering advertised in the schedule of cruise events that the crew slipped under the door of each cabin every day. Yes, even on a non-LGBT-specific cruise, there were still enough of us to throw a party. The party was titled "Friends of Dorothy: GLBT," referring to an old term indicating gay men, not really the LGBT world at largeâ€•but it was a start.
Then came showtime one evening, when the ship's resident troupe of singers and dancers performed a "Fiesta Latina." It was more Vegas than Latin American, but still a decent musical spectacle. When the female dancers appeared for the finale holding large feather fans in rainbow colors, and the men appeared in sequined, midriff-baring tops, I realized I hadn't seen anything that gay since the San Francisco Pride Parade (except that then, the feather-carrying performers were drag queens, and arguably better looking).
Two nights later, however, the performanceâ€•a revue of 20th-century rock 'n roll-was even more full of queerness. There were Elton John, Boy George, and Joan Jett coversâ€•but the song that garnered the most audience participation was "YMCA," performed by four of the dancers in full Village People garb. The show then closed with two covers of Queen and their bisexual (or gay, depending on who you ask) lead singer Freddy Mercury: "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions."
Which begs the questionâ€•with this much queer on a mainstream cruise, is there still a need for LGBT-focused cruises? Or have we reached a post-queer era where such separation is no longer necessary?
I think that as long as there are queer people, there will be a need for queer gatheringsâ€•not to ghettoize us, but to celebrate our shared heritage. Sometimes these gatherings will subdivide even further into the different components of L, G, B, and T, and that is fine as well. It doesn't mean we can't also participate more openly in mainstream culture, nor that mainstream culture can't celebrate LGBT contributions to it.
And the more we raise awareness of those contributions, and the more musicians and other celebrities come out as LGBT, the better we will all beâ€•as evidenced by another incident during the cruise.
One night at dinner, our waiter, who hailed from the Philippinesâ€•a largely Catholic country and not the most LGBT-friendly of nationsâ€•was trying to figure out the relationships among our large group of relatives. When he got to my spouse and me, we explained that we were, well, spouses.
"Oh," he said. "Just like Ellen Degeneres." With a smile, he then seated us and our son for supper, adding, "As long as you are happy, that's the most important thing."
I won't give up my gay cruising, but the mainstream ones, I think, are sailing into favorable winds as well.