Trying on Sandals | Outtraveler

Trying on Sandals

They make you fill out a customs form when you land in the Bahamas. Under "Purpose of Visit" the following choices are listed in this specific order: Honeymoon. Wedding. Renewal of Vows. Business. Pleasure. Evidently none of the first three is considered business or pleasure, although the island nation earns the bulk of its income from turning pleasure into business. There's also a category called Other, in which I tried to write "Money Laundering," but there just wasn't enough room. So I settled for Honeymoon and waited for the Tyra Banks impersonator posing as a customs officer to notice that there were two men standing before her, casually holding hands. But it must have been late in her shift, because she cast barely an eye over the form as she computer-scanned our passports and said to a spot on the wall behind us, "You fellows here on vacation? Enjoy yourselves." She hadn't given us any time to answer, so we just nodded and began singing "Follow the yellow brick road" as we skipped away. Honestly, we couldn't be gayer.

I was looking around for the church group that I assume has been on duty since the Rosie cruise docked in Nassau, but the only people I saw were smiling Bahamians representing various resorts ready to scoop tourists up into the bosom of their subtropical embrace. We found our representative in a second, standing under an imitation beach hut with the word SANDALS scrawled in that lazy font you've seen so often on TV. Yes, that Sandals. The one that promotes itself as a couples resort, the one whose commercials show extremely fit married people lavishly rediscovering each other on beaches devoid of children, toys, pets, or other couples. The one that, until recently, made a point of telling same-sex couples they'd be better off rediscovering themselves somewhere else.

But time prances on. Even the hoariest old beach bum has got to change his sandals, and so did the resort. Same-sex couples are now welcome [as of a 2004 company policy change], although it's doubtful Sandals will be buying up much of Logo's advertising day. Given the choice, most gay couples would install themselves in one of the rainbow resorts that have popped up all over. Only the most radical would want to spend their vacation planting a flag on straight-couples turf. But it's nice to know we now have the choice.

And for any radical readers out there who might be mulling a symbolic seven days in the enemy camp, you might be interested to know that you won't be spending your week engaged in revolutionary activities. The straight couples we tried very hard to outrage just weren't having it. Maybe it's a decade of Will & Grace or maybe it's just that once they hit the islands they suspend all judgment until going through customs on their return, but nobody straight seemed to mind that we were carrying on in their midst. They were too busy carrying on themselves. Of course, one or two of the Bahamians did betray a flicker of…not discomfort, just surprise. It's all a bit new for them. The bellman who greeted us in the faux-colonial porte cochere did the slightest double take when he realized all of our luggage was going to the same room. ("Same room. Are you sure?") But he recovered fast.

We had expected a lot worse, especially when the reservation vouchers arrived addressed to Mr. Bruce Vilanch and Ms. Seth Anderson. With a name like Jamie or, yes, Pat, I could understand. But Seth? I imagined the reservationist's dilemma. "Seth? Maybe that's a Pakistani name. Maybe the wife is from Bengal. Or maybe it's a family name. What the hell." But the first shot had definitely been fired. As it turns out, it was pretty much the last shot. Either the Southern Baptists were all on some other island or nobody much cares. So really, it's all about how secure you are with being a gay couple in a straight environment.

And the environment is pretty straight…although also pretty drunk. Sandals is an all-inclusive resort. You get everything -- room, board, booze (wine in bottles will cost you). And they don't stint. There's a constantly restocked minibar in your room with maxi-hooch. Tall bottles of vodka, bourbon, scotch, gin, and rye sit on top of the bar, and you are invited to pour at will. Sandals claims to have invented the swim-up bar, which is an outpost of liquor in the middle of the pool, staffed by a waterlogged bartender who spends all day sticking parasols into frothy concoctions. You can spend hours swimming under the influence. People stagger around a great deal at Sandals. The sun and the booze work fast, and everyone is pretty basted by lunchtime. There is an imitation English pub that stays open all night, and couples are routinely rousted out at dawn and steered toward the breakfast buffet, where a kindly old retainer sticks a bloody mary into their hands for sustenance.

Not everybody drinks, of course. But it helps. Because everybody is there with one somebody else, and sometimes the rediscovery doesn't go as well as hoped. You can see the frosty ones sitting silently across from each other at the many deuces in the many restaurants and bars. They were the ones who jumped eagerly into any conversation we started. Almost all of them had children they'd left at home, but nobody, not one, offered to show us pictures. Maybe they thought we weren't interested, or would be too interested, or maybe they just weren't interested -- after all, they'd come here to get away from them, hadn't they?

After the first night of breaking the ice between several couples, we decided we should start charging for our counseling services, but in the spirit of the all-inclusive resort, we dropped that plan. There was too much else to do. Kayaking, snorkeling, tennis, fishing, water sports (not those). On night number 2 we visited the Japanese restaurant, one of eight different places to eat, each with different dress codes. It turned out to be a teppanyaki kind of place where a dozen strangers gather around a three-sided open stove while a mammoth chef grills portions of chicken, beef, and shrimp and flings them into the mouths of drunken guests pretending to be Flipper.

We looked around the table. Boy-girl, boy-girl, boy-girl, girl-girl, boy-girl -- wait a minute. Two girls.

Oh, my God, a lesbian couple. Sure enough. One kinda butch, one kinda femme. Not stereotypical, but identifiable enough. Especially in this crowd. After dinner, we weaved our way outside and sat with them. We discussed everything. The gorgeous rooms, the whole movie-set look of the place, the organized activities (one of them had won the poolside trivia competition; she knew what M*A*S*H stood for). They felt totally at ease, they said. In fact, it was the only place they'd ever gone where nobody had hit on them, perhaps because everyone is coupled up and where do you go with a stranger?

But we all agreed that we really hadn't put the place to the Big Test. So we waited an hour or two and, suitably lubricated, joined some other couples in the pool. The pools are vast and open all night. There are no children, so lifeguards are not a factor. Although the swim-up bars eventually shutter, the drinking goes on unabated, and in the still of the night, there were several dozen couples lazily paddling about in each other's arms. It looked like one of the later scenes from Titanic, except no one was crying for help.

We staked out different corners of the lagoon and did like the other couples were doing. No cops came by, no klieg lights went on, no sirens blared -- things that happen every night in Provincetown, by the way. Nobody screamed insults or cackled -- which is not unknown on any street in West Hollywood at that hour. The earth moved, but the world did not stop turning. If you catch my drift. I suppose we were pioneers, but nobody at Sandals is going to name anything after us. Well, maybe something fruity with a parasol in it.

Tags: Features
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