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Summer 2007 | Around-the-world cruise: A journey in three parts

Summer 2007 | Around-the-world cruise: A journey in three parts

On January 22, 2007, novelist Eduardo Santiago embarked on a three-month, around-the-world voyage aboard the luxurious and legendary Queen Elizabeth 2. This voyage of adventure and self-discovery will be documented exclusively for The Out Traveler. Part one of three

Ah, the swinging '60s, what a sparkling time for England! London, in spite of its musty monarchy, was the cool place to be for the New Generation. And the QE2, which launched September 20, 1967, was the coolest place of all.

Of course, British hipsters who were 30 in 1967 are 70 today. Like the QE2, those aging hipsters have been modernized -- pacemakers, new hips and new knees are everywhere -- speeding motorized wheelchairs down tilting decks, strolling the red-carpeted hallways with aluminum walkers, storming the dance floors on jewel-encrusted canes.

Imagine the film Cocoon but directed by Federico Fellini.

But ah the crew. Young, hot, eager . . . there's 950 of them at our beck and call and according to the ship's gaydar . . . about 60 percent gay.

So, what's a forty-something writer from L.A doing in a place like this? I was seduced by an article in the Los Angeles Times:

"America's richest vacationers are willing to pay $60,000 to $100,000 for the best suites and the largest cabins, but the small inside cabins often go unsold and are heavily discounted."

I had just published my first novel, Tomorrow They Will Kiss, and for the first time in my life I had the means and the time, though neither was limitless, to live a lifelong dream: sailing around the world in style and splendor. I was making final revisions on my next book -- and the idea that I could do so while traveling around the world on the QE2 was irresistible. Every few days I would wake up in . . . Mumbai, Hong Kong, Sydney, Tokyo! (Hopefully not in that order or something has gone horribly, horribly wrong, but you get the idea.)

Even here, fellow passengers regularly ask why I'm not on a different sort of cruise with people my own age or younger or on ships with wall-to-wall gay men.

Because I've done all that. Because I'm a hopeless romantic?

As the debate over same-sex marriage gathers steam -- and we continue to fight for our rights -- how far have we truly come?

This voyage around the world and life on a ship full of straight, older and (some say) very conservative vacationers may offer us a glimpse.

Welcome to the microcosm.

Something did go horribly, horribly wrong. Fortunately, it happened before I boarded. The number of passengers felled by Noravirus has not been released, but there were enough of them spewing from both ends to qualify for a serious emergency.

All passengers were disembarked in Los Angeles and no one was allowed back on board until the ship was cleared by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Los Angeles public health officials. She was tested again in San Francisco and passed with flying colors.

But I got sick anyway.

Somewhere between San Francisco and the Hawaiian islands I started to feel a little clammy.

By 2200 hours (yes, I'm all nautical now) the carpet seemed too bright (it is) and everyone I had previously found so charming was annoying.

Why won't this 80-year-old hag move a little faster, dammit?

I finally crawled to the infirmary. While I was waiting one of the nurses kept making loud phone calls in an irritating Emma Thompson accent. Presumably to patients.

Any more diarrhea, Mrs. Pahhhkah? (That's Parker to you and me.)

"Emma" gave me a shot and told me I must eat something. I returned to my room, turned off the phone and slept for 14 hours. Woke up feeling much better, but I'm weary.

It could happen again.

Every night all passengers receive the Daily Programme, a newsletter that advertises the activities for the following day and their locations. The activities vary from day to day, but the ones at 5:30 p.m. are always the same:

Catholic Holy Mass with Fr. Forristal . . . Main Theatre.

Friends of Dorothy Meet (unhosted) . . . Yacht Club (behind the bar).

So, it's 2007 and we're still unhosted (which means the ship allows but does not condone), still behind the bar and still competing with the Catholics (who neither allow nor condone).

Dorothy's friends are 17 gay men from different parts of this great big world, and mostly coupled. And so far only two lesbians: Judith and Helen, from Newcastle; although together for 25 years, they're newly married (in a civil union). This is their honeymoon.

Less than 20 LGBTs out of 1,500 passengers. We seek each other out and greet one another with unmitigated affection.

Our meetings are fun, easy, relaxed-but-lively. Most are seasoned travelers; many have been on the QE2 before. Some have sailed around the world before. There is no classism, ageism or looksism among us. The heavy ones have been overweight forever and unapologetically eat and drink to their hearts' content. The more attractive (well-preserved) ones are openly admired and celebrated. The swells from the upper decks invite us lowly plebes up to their fancy dining rooms -- and are perfectly happy to join us down at ours. The humor is silly, cocktail-sophomoric and all Dorothy. Often, it's about the ship.

"What this Queen needs is the Bitch's Touch," says Bob from New Jersey. This means a gay decorator. Who knew?

"She wants a few chandeliers," adds Aussie Charles, "or, at least, very large earrings."

Serious topics crop up as well. Henri, who lives in Italy, is vociferously opposed to gay marriage -- he just can't understand why it's important, why so many of us would want it. Until The Widow Bob recounts what happened after his lover of 51 years died.

There's gossip, but it's good-natured, mostly about the sexual activity in the sauna. There's none, but if any one of us is ever absent, that's where we're assumed to be, sweating it out with a cabin steward.

There's also the mysterious gay couple. They do not attend Dorothy's gathering. They eat alone. And they hide behind very expensive sunglasses. In short, they look like a Ralph Lauren ad, the only thing missing is the basket of snow-white puppies -- which I'm convinced they left at home with a uniformed nanny. They are utterly unapproachable. I track them like Harriet the Spy. Who are these snobs? Worry not, we will find out. I have my FOD'S (Friends of Dorothys) on the case.

Everything on this ship is ultra-formal. There is serious protocol for everything. But on the day we cross the day we cross the equator for the first time (we will cross it again twice more), formality and protocol are tossed overboard and everyone on the ship goes mad!

The crossing ritual, a form of high-seas hazing, dates back to the 14th century. From the Daily Programme:

"These humiliating initiations took on various forms, some of which were highly dangerous. Subjects would be coated with various nasty liquids found in the bilge of the ship and then suspended by the ankles and plunged into the sea."

On the QE2, it's a wild poolside party where I and about a hundred others are forced to kiss a big, dead fish on the lips (to honor Neptune).

As soon as I've kissed the rapidly decomposing fish (it's a hot day), my face is rubbed with slimy pasta, raw eggs are broken over my head, sausages are draped around my neck, more disgusting stuff is smeared on my back and chest, and I'm ceremoniously tossed into the pool while hundreds of bloodthirsty passengers crammed onto the decks cheer, jeer and snap photographs.

But this hilarious humiliation, which begins at high noon, is nothing compared to what happens next.
I'm scheduled to do a signing of my novel at 2:30 p.m. I rush to my cabin, shower off the slime, jump into a nice suit, don a new tie, grab my book.

I'm worried because Sally Jones, a fabulous singer/actress whom I like very much, is scheduled to do a singing symposium on the life and music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Sally will be in the 600-seat Grand Salon.

I'm relegated to the more intimate (ship spin for "tiny, no windows") Chart Room.

My concerns are confirmed: At 2:35 p.m. it's just the bookstore clerk, a stack of my books, and me. I sneak over to the Grand Salon; it's packed with Phantom-loving fans. Even the mysterious gay couple is there!

"No one," Sally muses wistfully, "least of all Sir Webber, anticipated the astonishing success of Jesus Christ Superstar."

As she breaks into "I Don't Know How To Love Him," I crawl back to the Chart Room to dismiss the bookstore clerk.

And there they are, each and every one of Dorothy's friends, fashionably late, dressed to impress and eager to get started. .

Next month: Tahiti, Tonga, Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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