Metro Weekly

Will O’Bryan: Cut a Pink Path

Our columnist says that everyone deserves to get up and go.

Rainbow Luggage
Photo: Dreamstime

According to the marketing, “America’s favorite travel show is back!” Specifically, it’s the Travel & Adventure Show at D.C.’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center, which took place last weekend, Feb. 4 to 5. While I’m not here to report on the event, I am here to promote travel generally.

In a nutshell — or, rather, in a literary/cinematic quote — the sleeper must awaken. While I read Frank Herbert’s Dune way back in the 1990s, I first saw David Lynch’s 1984 film interpretation of the novel in a Port Richey, Fla., movie theater in high school. My pal and I walked out at some point.

Should’ve read the book first. But we did stay long enough to hear the line, “A person needs new experiences. They jar something deep inside, allowing him to grow. Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”

Despite having walked out on my first date with Dune, today I find Lynch’s movie a masterpiece. And it’s that particular quote that’s stuck with me. Perhaps I have had experiences that have allowed me to grow? I have. We all should.

It wasn’t so long after walking out of the sticky-floored Embassy Plaza Cinema 6 theater that I was buying a flight to Indianapolis to visit a high school pen friend. I met Linda in the back of a teen magazine’s classified section. We had no internet, so that was as good a way to meet as any.

The summer between junior and senior years, I flew to a city I’d never seen, Indianapolis, to visit a girl I’d never met in person. During those few days in August, she introduced me to Jim to do something else I’d never done: make out with a boy. My wanderlust was well rewarded. My sleeper woke, as it were.

I may be more open to exploration than I would otherwise be thanks in part to my upbringing as an Army kid. Due to Dad’s job, I was born in Paris. I lived for a few months in Tunisia. I spent the summer of my 16th birthday in Belgium. Those experiences were clear privilege I did not earn. Purely circumstantial.

But as Janet Mock taught me, everyone has privilege. Own it and do what you can with it. In my case, I implore you to travel. Auntie Mame offered a lesson nearly as valuable as Mock’s. “Live! Live! Live! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving!”

Granted, Auntie Mame is a fictional character, and travel takes time and money. Still, even a spontaneous road trip will give that sleeper a nudge.

During college in Richmond, Va., another friend was getting friendly with a guy in a band, His Name Is Alive. She suggested she, my roommate, and I pile into her car for a quick drive to Atlanta to see the band at The Masquerade. Kind of reluctantly, we agreed.

What a trip! It was certainly a surprise to see a high school friend from Florida, Tony, working as the club DJ. Then there was the cute Tampa couple who had crashed on my Richmond floor on their way to the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation.

Seems those boys were also big fans of the band, enough so to drive up from Florida for the show. Again, minus the internet tech of knowing who is where and when, it was a mind-blowing experience. All it cost was a little gas money, 48 hours, a super-cheap motel room in Atlanta, and show tickets. Not too steep for an experience I’ll never forget (dementia aside).

The rewards of travel haven’t slowed as I’ve aged. An example is the best sex I’ve ever had. While my husband and I have gotten down plenty, marriages are often served by “waking the sleeper.” After celebrating a friend’s milestone birthday on a safari he’d arranged, after about 10 days in tents with moderate privacy, my husband and I had a final night at the Holiday Inn Johannesburg – Rosebank before heading home. You could say we flipped for each other! Repeatedly. Thank you again, wanderlust.

My impulsion also comes with a warning. When you get up and go, you don’t want to awaken your sleeper in arguably hostile territory. For the LGBTQ traveler, spots like Russia and Iran have obvious red flags. Dubai, on the other hand, looks like the glittering jewel of the United Arab Emirates, a tourist paradise of luxury and hospitality.

If, however, you were the gay Canadian couple Rocky Sharma and Stephen Macleod, passing through in 2009, according to Xtra and several other outlets, you would’ve been detained for 28 days due to the prescription Celebrex — a controlled substance in the UAE — in your luggage, and possibly for good ol’ bigotry.

“We’ll never go back to that country,” Sharma told Xtra. “What people need to know is that we were stopped because they thought we were gay guys. They thought we might be carrying party drugs.”

All that glitters is not gay-friendly. Of course, depending on the locale, such a warning easily applies to our own United States. I would not invite the adventurous trans traveler to book a trip to Amarillo, for example. Might not be a bad idea, but wouldn’t be my first choice.

But there’s so very much Earth from which to choose. Be a traveler. Be a tourist. I don’t find it makes much difference. Simply, rattle the bars of your cage and discover how flimsy they actually are. The sleeper doesn’t have to awaken, but it’s glorious when it does.

Will O’Bryan is a former Metro Weekly managing editor, living in D.C. with his husband. He is online at

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