I was never in a frat. I was never on a sports team. I was a Cub Scout, but at the final ceremony I opted not to join the other boys in becoming Boy Scouts. I had friends, but they were always a good mixture of girls and straight, nerdy boys. I've never truly been a part of an all-male club or experience. I have never felt that true brotherhood feeling I've read about and seen in the movies. I chalked this up to my midwest upbringing and the fact that I hid my sexuality until I turned 20. I never felt comfortable as a young kid in the company of all boys. I knew I was different somehow and deep down I was afraid of exposing just how different.
I bring this all up in the context of my recent vacation. On Sunday I returned from my second Atlantis Cruise. To give you some background, Atlantis is a gay travel company that rents out some of the best ships in the world and creates an all gay cruise experience. Atlantis caters to gay men (there were only 31 women on board for our most recent one). The company completely takes over the ship. They provide tons of gay specific entertainment (drag queens, comedians, cabaret singers) and change many of the rules on the ship (like eating times and how late bars and pools are open). Basically, we do can do what we like when we like. Every night is an amazing themed party (Lost Island, 90s Divas, 80s, White Party, etc.) and many days include themed T-Dances (Dog Tag, Disco, Beach). It is completely and totally gay. Dustin and I went on our first Atlantis trip in March of 2008 and absolutely loved it. Last week's trip was no different.
When I returned home from my first gay cruise in 2008 I fell into a depression. I cried on the way home and really felt horrible for weeks. I was blown away by my response to the trip and really tried to figure out what I was feeling. At the time I was in my last semester of my MFA at Florida State University. Dustin and I had been living in Tallahassee, FL for nearly three years and were both ready to move. We didn't have many friends and we felt very disconnected from the odd gay community in Tallahassee (it's small, slightly conservative, and religious). I thought, at the time, most of my feelings from the gay cruise were related to me wanting to move to a more gay friendly area. I channeled my energy into moving out of Tallahassee and in May 0f 2008 we moved to Orlando, a much more gay friendly city. As you know, from my various other posts, I've found a gay community here in Orlando that I enjoy and feel a part of for the very first time, which is why I was surprised to discover the same horrible depressed feeling come over me as I returned from my latest gay cruise on Sunday.
I've been fighting off tears for nearly three days now and trying to put into words everything I'm feeling. This is what brings me back to brotherhood. The experience on a gay cruise is so different from anything else out there. For seven days I was almost entirely surrounded by gay men. Believe it or not, there's a fantastic range of men on these cruises. You have the beautiful, perfect bodied gays, which I just stared at in awe. You have the queeny guys (which are sometimes quite muscled themselves). You have younger guys, middle aged guys, and older guys. You have guys that look like some midwest dad in his polo shirt and plaid shorts. You have couples (open and not). You have average, everyday guys. You have bears. You have leather daddies. You have sex-crazed twinks. You truly have it all. And for one week we are all together and we all get along.
I know many people say negative things about how petty or shallow the gay male community can be and there is the stereotype of us having a lot of attitude (thank you, mass media), but on these ships everyone drops the attitude and comes together in a way I've never seen before. People are friendly and open. They are so excited to be there and to have this experience that nothing else matters.
When you are on one of these ships you feel a part of something. You feel proud and happy to be a gay man. You see all this variety, creativity, and sexiness before you that you can't help but love every second of it.
As a gay person, you go through life fighting. Fighting yourself. Fighting your family. Fighting your friends. Your country. Your lawmakers. Just by being you, you are a target. We hear hateful things on the TV or radio or internet everyday about how wrong we are to want equal rights or how perverted we are. But on that ship, nothing matters but the moment. We are there. We are dancing. We are drinking. We are eating. We are laughing. We are having sex. It is the most freeing experience I've had. The thing is, it all happens so fast and you get so caught up in it that when it's suddenly over it's like you've been slapped in the face.
Since Dustin and I live in Orlando and we docked in Miami, we drove to the cruise. On Sunday we had to drive home. We got part way and stopped at one of the service stations on the Florida Turnpike and went in to get coffee and something to eat and there it was: the real world. Next to us was an older straight couple (clearly tourists) and inside there were young, bitter people working at the cash register. No one was happy. No was one gay. No was shirtless and dancing. I'm sure somewhere in that same rest stop there was a newspaper announcing all the hateful things some politician said about gay people in the last week. This is when the depression set in and it lingers in the air as I write this.
A trip like this isn't just a vacation, it is a glimpse into a gay utopia. It is a place that I feel connected to other men (no, not just sexually, though sex is involved). On that ship I was truly isolated from all the negativity. All I could see were gay men and for that one week those men were wonderful, friendly, and my brothers and even with this depression I wouldn't trade the experience for the world.
-Stephen (Gay Brother)