Vacation Baggage

Commentary: Stonewall Baby

Dateline: ms Eurodam, at sea, Feb. 22.

Don’t ask me what the ”ms” stands for, or why it’s not capitalized. Were I at work, I’d need to figure that out. But I didn’t bring my Associated Press Style Book. More importantly, I’m on vacation. It’s my first gay cruise.

So that my vacation dollar goes just as far as it can, I hope you’re freezing as you read this. I, on the other hand, am being gently rocked as I sit in the ”Explorations Café,” looking out over the Caribbean as we ply toward Turks and Caicos. I think we’re traveling at 20 knots. I don’t know what that means, either, but it works for me.

It was less than 24 hours ago that we boarded this big boat, but that’s plenty of time for a gay-cruise novice to load up on observations. First, I want to commend the Holland America Line for their cleanliness. Consider that aboard this very same ship, just last November, the very conservative National Review played host to a post-election Caribbean cruise. Yet there’s nary a whiff of resentment nor bitterness lingering in the air.

Instead, all I smell are rainbows and lavender wafting from the aromatic steam room of the Greenhouse Spa & Salon. This is the gayest thing I’ve ever done – aside from the sodomy, of course. It’s like being a contestant on Survivor: Homo Island. And it’s fantastic!

The other contestants come from all over the place, with D.C. being amply represented. As we pulled away from Fort Lauderdale yesterday, many of us whooped it up on deck sporting T-shirts or other costuming announcing our hometowns. Plenty of Washington to go around. Two fellas in traditional folk dress had me confused, though. Sort of velveteen short-pants with leggings, waistcoats and hats, all in black with red and green trim. I guessed Hungarian, but learned they were Swiss. Swiss?? That’s nearly half my DNA! I had to take a photo for Mom, from whom those Alpine genes flow. It’s the least I could do, as this is the first cruise my partner and I have taken that didn’t include her. Sorry, Mom, but even I need some boundaries. I vow you will never see me wearing a harness or making small-talk at an underwear party. Those are psychological scars we can both do without.

Those aren’t the only gay touches, though. The three-story theater will be the site of the live broadcast of the Academy Awards tonight. Two thousand gay folks in one spot and Milk up for Best Picture? I’m expecting high drama on the high seas. But there are so many other diversions to take the edge off. How about some line-dancing lessons? The ”church bingo” with Sister Helen Holy is highly recommended. There is no end of hour-filling frivolity.

But even in this artificial world, reality still has an ugly way of crashing through. A big, heaping portion was served up last night as we savored seafood and steaks in the Rembrandt Dining Room.

My partner and I were seated at a table with three other couples. The two guys at the far end of the table were unmistakably familiar. ”Do you live in D.C?” They did. Within blocks of us, actually. No doubt our carts have crossed at the P Street Whole Foods before. That reminder of our land lives was not, however, the sour reminder of our real world. That came from the Canadians.

Aside from the Washingtonians, our remaining tablemates were maple-leaf Marys. One couple hails from suburban Toronto, the other spends half the year in Vancouver, the other half in Palm Springs. The insult they brought to the table was certainly not intentional. All four were exceedingly charming. I do love that accent. What was disturbing was their marital status. They were allowed one.

Here we sat, more than 20 years’ worth of relationships between the two American couples at the table, but somehow not afforded the same rights as these other two couples, both married. On this Dutch-flagged ships, those marriages would also be recognized. We four Americans, however, in this context, were the embodiment of discrimination in action. It was embarrassing. It was as if we deserved pity from these fellow travelers who live as first-class citizens in their country. We had plenty in common, but our stigma set us apart.

By the end of dinner, my coconut panacotta was less sweet. Somewhere in the back of my mind, there were whispering thoughts asking what we’d done wrong. American GLBT activists are incredibly accomplished, talented, sophisticated, intelligent people. So why aren’t we leading in this arena? Is it that our opposition is more powerful than the homophobes in Canada or in that growing handful of other countries where gay people are not denied marriage equality?

Even our new president, of whom the Canadians spoke highly, can’t come out in favor of marriage equality, whether that’s simply politics or his actual disposition on the matter. But until we have that equality, along with the simple right to fight for our country without playing along with some insane sort of Yentl-esque fraud so as not to upset the collective applecart of those for whom gay soldiers, sailors, Marines and others have fought and died, we are not full citizens.

Heading full steam away from America, up to my eyeballs in gayness, there is still no escaping that reality. Until we get our full equality as citizens, there is no ignoring our stain, no matter where we go.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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