Monday, October 08, 2007

Cruising Towards Equality








By Steve Charing

After many years of discussion, my partner Bob and I finally took our first cruise. We decided at this point that we would eschew the gay cruises and go on a short non-gay one. This way we could determine whether or not cruising is for us.

We asked one of OUTloud’s loyal advertisers, Cruise Planners (see related article), to plan our cruise and book us, which they did efficiently and expertly. The outstanding cruise by Royal Caribbean included Nassau and Coco Cay in the Bahamas as well as Key West, with the ship departing out of Miami. It occurred September 24-28—just long enough to get a fair assessment.

We weren’t sure how gays or lesbians would be received or even noticed by the other 2,400 passengers on board. All we wanted to do is relax and enjoy ourselves and put on the shelf, albeit temporarily, the major disappointment from the Maryland Court of Appeals decision on marriage equality. The last thing on our agenda, though, was to make a statement of any kind. At least that was the plan.

Although we believe we aren’t "obviously gay" to most people, let’s be honest: two middle-aged guys traveling on a cruise together are gay. There is no getting around that. Business partners don’t take cruises with one another without any spouses. The same for two male neighbors or work colleagues. Two or more women on a cruise, however, wouldn’t even merit an inquisitive glance. But a pair of guys though? Definitely.

Most had to at least suspect we were gay. That’s fine with us. There were passengers who hailed from 53 foreign countries and most of the U.S. As such, there is always the possibility that there would be frowning towards male couples since broad acceptance isn’t there just yet.

Although we were seen together virtually everywhere, and we had asked straight people to snap pictures of us with our camera, there was no noticeable negative reaction.

Fortunately for us, there was a group of about 60 gay men and lesbians (mostly men) on board as passengers. We surmised they were gay because as they boarded the first day, they all wore rainbow leis. How perceptive are we!

I approached one of them later on and asked if they were part of a particular group, and he told me that a gay bar in Naples, Florida arranged for these folks to go on the cruise. He concluded Bob and I were gay because two middle aged men on a cruise together….

At least there were people we could relate to on board, which eased any tension incurred by trying to mix with an overwhelming herd of heterosexual passengers. Aside from those 60 and ourselves, we identified a potential 4 additional couples on the ship (passengers), so let’s say there were 70 gays and lesbians out of the 2,400. That comes to about 3 percent of the passengers, a very tiny minority. The crew and entertainers—that’s another story!

So it seemed like things would be more fun than we had anticipated with the presence of gay brothers and sisters on board a straight cruise. There was definitely a comfort zone. But we didn’t expect what would happen later that first night as the ship set sail.

It was 70’s Disco Night in the Spectrum club on the eighth deck. After dinner and a few losing rounds in the casino, Bob and I wandered into the Spectrum mainly to hear the music among the couple of hundred passengers sitting on cushioned chairs around tables. One nostalgic disco hit after another was played by the DJ as the couples danced to the blinking lights and musical beats of the disco era.

Then it happened. Maybe I am na├»ve, but whoa! A pair of guys from the Naples contingent jumped onto the dance floor and started shakin’ their booty’s to KC and the Sunshine Band’s "Shake Your Booty." Then another gay couple joined them. And another. All of a sudden, a gay contingent was dancing among the straight couples.

It was so euphoric. Bob and I wasted no time in getting on the floor and dancing to the Bee Gees’ "Stayin Alive" and several other classics that followed. Did the straight couples abandon the floor and the room in horror? Did they mock us gays while we danced together? Did we hear groans or catcalls from the spectators? No!

This courageous demonstration of pride by the gay couples and nonchalance on the part of straight crowd was a most welcome surprise. We never would have anticipated it.

The next night, prior to a superb performance by recording artist Lenny Welch in the ship’s main theater, a young gay couple who was not part of the Naples group, danced to a waltz amidst heterosexual couples’ on the floor and those watching from their seats. At the conclusion of the song, they embraced and kissed.

This is huge. The ship contained people from all over the country and the world with many I suspect of being conservative or even religious. But the benign reaction to all this same-sex dancing was incredible, chilling even. I could not imagine that this would have occurred twenty years ago.

Maybe this happens on all cruises. Maybe it was just this one. Who knows? But it’s not a stretch to think that this acceptance—both national and international—will ultimately lead to equality, that we are indeed like everybody else. Perhaps cruises will lead the way.

****
Booking the Cruise


An OUTloud advertiser, Cruise Planners, identified, planned and booked the cruise referred to in my column. They were patient beyond belief and answered a plethora of questions, which is common among first-time cruisers.

Paula Belletiere and her son, Paul, operate a Cruise Planners franchise from Glen Burnie. They did a magnificent job of providing information, working within the customers’ budget, booking a great cruise at discount rates and handling related travel arrangements.

I truly recommend this company and will undoubtedly call on them for future cruises. They seem particularly adept at working with first-time cruisers. Currently, the Belletiere’s are in the midst of getting a group together for an Alaska cruise in July, which we are considering.

Cruise Planners benefits from their national network and coordinates with all the major cruise lines. They also book gay cruises. For more information, you can call either Paula or Paul Belletiere at 410-761-3554 or toll-free at 866-801-6829. Their e-mail address is pbelletiere@cruiseplanners.com. Also, check out their website . –SC

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