A Travel Lesson Learned

This final post wraps up my South America/Antarctica travelogue. The topic? I want to share this photo with the world … or at least, the world of friends who visit my blog.

I also want to share something we learned on the trip.

I think it’s a good reminder of how times have changed.

You know it as well as I do. But I like collecting anecdotal evidence that proves the point. There’s a good bit of that evidence in my memoir, THE WAY FROM ME TO US, which after several delays is scheduled now for release the first week of June. Fingers crossed!

Here’s another piece of evidence: So long, ‘Friends of Dorothy.’

When Ted and I took our first cruises back in the 1990s, our ships’ daily schedules usually included an event called “Friends of Bill W.” If you are familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous, you know that Bill W. was one of its founders, and “Friends of Bill W.” is code for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

On those cruises, there was usually another event listed: “Friends of Dorothy.” This was also a coded message. It signaled a gathering of gay and lesbian travelers on board.

I’ve always taken it as a reference to the Wizard of Oz and fans of that gay icon Judy Garland, but a little research this week turned up another theory: The phrase might refer to the writer Dorothy Parker, whose famous social circle with its epicenter through the 1920s at the Algonquin Hotel included some gay men.

Whatever … fast forward to 2023. The Friends of Dorothy events were conspicuously absent from our ship’s daily schedule when we sailed down the coast of South America to Antarctica this past January.

The calendar for Day One at sea said simply ‘LGBTQ+ Welcome Party.

To my mind, it’s a small change that mirrors a gigantic shift in social attitudes toward LGBTQ+ people. This was the Infinity, a Celebrity cruise line ship with 2,000 passengers. A mostly straight crowd, I would say, although gay couples were clearly visible … as well as a group of some 80 “bears.”

That’s another code word in the LGBTQ+ world. Bears are stocky, hirsute guys who take a sort of rebellious pride in their anti-fashion look, often sporting a beard, an untucked, well-worn T-shirt and jeans … anything with that blue-collar look.

Or, as one study puts it in a National Institutes of Health article: “The Bear community … rejects the normative idealized male beauty revered by mainstream gay men.” Alrighty, then!

Still, in their own way, the bears were beautiful. They were well accepted on board and got along fine with everyone. I think many passengers weren’t even aware of them, but Ted and I … and the gay buddies we befriended on the ship … spotted them the very first day.

My point is that, on this popular, mainstream cruise line, we LGBTQ+ passengers didn’t have to be anonymous anymore.

Our Celebrity cruise ship in Ushuaia harbor at Argentina’s southern tip.

Celebrity prides itself on being welcoming to LGBTQ+ travelers. The line hosts what it calls “the largest Pride party at sea” each June on every one of its ships. But our fellow travelers said they’d noticed similar abolition of the Friends of Dorothy phrase on other cruise lines, too.

That’s progress.

In fact, it was a straight couple who encouraged Ted and me to get on the dance floor that evening on our Celebrity ship.

I resisted at first. (We’re children of the 1950s, remember.) But dancing together just seemed right, and eventually we did it.

And yes, the ship’s photographer was right there to take our picture along with all the other couples on the floor. At that particular moment, we were the only gay male couple dancing.

I’m so glad we did it. It felt good.

Still, we’re wise to be cautious.

Ted and I are planning a new trip in summer 2023 … this time to Amsterdam, Hamburg and Scandinavia. Our Hamburg guidebook cautions LGBTQ+ travelers that “public displays of affection may attract unwanted attention in some areas …”

So we know it’s prudent to “read the room” whenever we travel to a new place.

However, if the mood seems right, there’s a very good chance we might just take to the dance floor again.

Who knows where it might be next time?

P.S. In closing, a big thanks to all of you who read my South America/Antarctica travelogue on these pages and for the nice comments you sent my way. It’s gratifying to write, but especially gratifying to know friends appreciate your work. That means the world to me. As do each of you. Thank you. M.C.

9 thoughts on “A Travel Lesson Learned

  1. Mike, I enjoyed reading your latest blog and was pleased to learn of your discovery that the cruise lines are steadily maturing in their understanding, acceptance, and appreciation of human diversity.

    Martin Martin C. Lehfeldt Former President, Southeastern Council of Foundations Writer and speaker in the not-for-profit sector


  2. As always, Mike, I love reading pretty much anything you write! Have thoroughly enjoyed your travel experiences and look forward to your
    book release!


    1. A longer thank you, this morning, Kathy! I’ve been thinking about your great response to one excerpt of my book that I posted on Facebook some time ago. It was the story of the dinner party with the flaming cat. Your feedback really heartened me and helped me return enthusiastically to my desk the next day. So again, thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment. Mike


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