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What happens when gay men are suddenly in the majority?
How many gay men have had the experience of being in an environment that consists only of other gay men? My hunch is that very few gay men have experienced this. For many who have, the experience was probably abbreviated and punctuated by instances of being reminded of one’s status as being part of a minority group.
By definition, minority groups are denied the opportunity to experience what it is like to be in the majority because their collective identity precludes such an experience. This is reality for gay men right now, unfortunately.
Recently, I had the opportunity to take a vacation from reality -- a "heteronormative" reality -- wherein I worry about the potential for hate crimes in the middle of gay ghettos, whether my rights are equal to my heterosexual neighbors, or simply whether the guy I am attracted to shares my sexual orientation.
My vacation from this harsh reality put me at the center of a fantastic floating country filled with approximately 2,200 gay men and was an experience like no other.
The Atlantis Mexican Riviera Cruise is basically a cruise ship filled almost exclusively by gay men. It leaves from Southern California and travels to various ports in Mexico. I mention "almost exclusively," because many of the cruise ship staff, while extremely friendly and accommodating, are likely heterosexual.
Of course, there are a number of things that may immediately pop into mind when I begin to describe a cruise ship filled almost exclusively with gay men and it is too easy to discount the whole experience because of those assumptions. Surely, a cruise ship filled with 2,200 gay men can mean nothing but sex, drugs and alcohol 24/7 … right?
The truth is, many of these assumptions are not entirely true. From shirtless circuit boys with near-perfect bodies, to older married couples who were celebrating their anniversaries in one of the gayest ways possible, almost every walk of life in the gay male community was represented on this cruise.
Simply put, the experience is what you make of it. It can be a sightseeing experience, a relaxing getaway, a glitter-filled circuit party, or – yes – even a floating bathhouse. But the take-home experience for me went far beyond this surface-level description.
Being in the majority, even for just a week, was a liberating experience that words cannot possibly do justice. From the first few hours, a sense of comfort and openness immediately started to permeate the ship. Petty things like personal insecurities and differences suddenly didn’t matter.
We were a floating country where homonormativity ruled. Everyone talked with each other, people were willing to dance in nothing but their underwear, and there was a magical sense of childlike giddiness and freedom that surprisingly was not drug or alcohol-induced (at least, not right away). Since it was so difficult to not interact with other people, I was convinced that anyone who managed to isolate himself was working pretty hard at doing so.
If this sounds unbelievable and too fantastic, don’t take my word for it. Ask anyone who has been on an all-gay vacation.
It was hard to believe that the experience was only temporary. As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. After seven days, I was unwillingly dumped back into reality. Suddenly, it was no longer acceptable to flirt with the hot guy working at the restaurant I was eating at, nor was it acceptable to join an interesting conversation at a neighboring table. Even saying hello to random people on the street was met with a dirty look, as if I had just violated their mother's grave. Adjusting back to San Diego was extremely unsettling and difficult, to say the least.
Perhaps this adjustment is applicable only to San Diego, where the norm for expressing one’s social nature or sexuality seems so repressed that it would make Pat Robertson piss his panties with joy.
My frustration with the restriction on my newfound social and sexual confidence was so potent that I seriously expressed on more than one occasion to friends that Atlantis Events should provide a transition support group on the last day of the cruise for people who need to return to cultures where there is open hostility toward gay men.
Rich Campbell, the founder of Atlantis Events, did his best to provide some support at the end of the cruise by encouraging everyone to do their best to recreate in their hometowns the sense of comfort and community that developed on the cruise.
Still, coming back to San Diego, I find myself wishing to experience being in the majority on the floating country again.
Even in Hillcrest, where homonormativity supposedly rules in our gay-dominated ghetto, I wonder what is missing, since so many of us do not feel liberated and comfortable here. One of the common general descriptions of Hillcrest and even Southern California that I hear is "standoffish."
What is stopping us from changing this?
As we enter the holiday season, I want to challenge all the gay men who read this: Try to see if you can let your guard down at the various gay-friendly parties and gatherings that you will be invited to in the next few weeks. Try setting a goal, like talking with at least three people whom you have never talked with before, and do your best to put all your prejudgments aside.
Embrace the potential for homonormativity. The people you meet may surprise you. What’s the worst that could happen?
Just something to think about …
Stephen Brewer, M.A. is a registered psychological assistant (PSB33858) in Scripps Ranch and is supervised by Angela Spenser, PhD (PSY15450). He runs a LGBT and kink-friendly practice, specializing in addictions, trauma, HIV/AIDS, and men’s issues. He can be reached at (619) 377–3120 or you can visit his Therapy Brew website.