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Sunday 12 April 2015

Two Dorothies all at sea: Part Six

Posted in: NZ Writing
By Steve Attwood - 5th December 2011

The final of an occasional series detailing the experiences of a “straight” cruise by couple of gay Kiwi boys aboard the Radiance of the Seas cruise liner as it circumnavigates Australia, Indonesia and New Zealand – 15 October to 15 November 2011.

"Who was that lumberjack? - a unique welcome to Port Chalmers, Dunedin"
Part six: Invisible gays, financial considerations and back to reality.

Well, it’s all over. November 15 saw us sail into a gorgeous Wellington morning.

We were visited on board by a pair of equally gorgeous customs and biosecurity guys

just what is it about men in uniforms? Grrrrrr!

who rifled through our smalls to assure themselves we were carrying nothing more sinister than a memory card full of photos and our legal allocation of duty free booze, and released to go ashore.

A day following to unpack and settle back to accommodation that doesn’t rock us gently to sleep and it was back to work on the 17th and straight into a manager’s strategic planning meeting where I was expected to give deep political insight and well considered risk management advice - oh the reality!

I’ve had a bit of feedback from He Who Must Be Obeyed

not my husband, the editor of this website

who suggested a few topics to wind this all up such as: Was it all Worth it? Would we do it again? Would we do a gay cruise next time? And why the hell haven’t I mentioned the other gays who must have been on board?

Well . . .

The invisible gays phenomenon

"Cruising, here's to it!"

We made a conscious decision to go on a “straight” cruise rather than the all-gay cruises that feature in queer media advertising.


Firstly, and most practically, there wasn’t an all-gay cruise that went where we wanted, when we wanted, and for as long as we wanted.

That said, even if there was a queer cruise that met our criteria we probably would not have chosen it over a “straight” cruise anyway. Our lives are not centred on, or arranged around, our sexuality. Being gay does not occupy our every thought or waking moment. I don’t eat, or go to work, watch TV or go to a movie, or have lunch with friends, or photograph birds, or drive, (etc) in a gay way.

Some might dispute the latter!

Most of the time the lives we live are neither gay nor not-gay, they’re just how people, of all sorts, live. So we felt no compulsion, nor even desire, to go on a holiday that was entirely focused on our sexuality, not even one as fanciful – and as potentially intimate – as a cruise.

Indeed, having been on all-gay camping - pun intended - holidays in the past, one of the things we did not want was the overt sexual agenda that, by default, permeates such occasions.

Sounds old and tired, I know, but really, sex isn’t everything – though I’m sure some of my friends reading this have just fainted in shock that these words have passed my lips (so to speak!)

Don’t get me wrong, we love being gay, are proud of who we are, and certainly don’t hide it.

The unkind would suggest that, in the case of my flamboyant and extroverted self, even attempting to pass as straight would be like a Catholic bishop in full regalia thinking he could slip unnoticed into a popular brothel.

Our life is balanced. We have gay and straight family and friends, we go to gay and straight venues, we have interests that are wholly focused on our sexuality, but many more that are not. We wanted our holiday to reflect that balance.

Oh, and the little devil in me was secretly enjoying the prospect of observing, even provoking, the social interaction of two Dorothies all at sea with such a captive audience!

Which brings me to the invisible gays.

I have already waxed lyrical about how cruising gives you a great number of opportunities for wonderfully interesting conversations with strangers.

Sadly, in spite of there clearly being other gay couples on board, none of these conversations made friends out of gay strangers!

There was one American chappy in his late eighties with a toy boy in tow; if toy boy is the right word for a man in his early fifties. One assumes that at one stage in the past the age gap would have seemed much more significant. I spotted him watching my man and me and could see his brain leaping to the correct conclusions, so I raised an eyebrow and tilted a martini glass in his direction.

Later he sidled up to me at the bar and struck up a cheerful conversation so loaded with NAMBLA code words that I almost gagged on my Singapore sling! His comments on the delightful pre-pubescent look of so many of the smaller Asian crew, and his fantasizing about how little and non hairy their penises might be, were offensive. I resented the fact that he assumed that just because I was gay that I would be OK with that as an opening conversational gambit! I abandoned my drink, and the conversation, none too politely!

I had a much more positive conversation with a lesbian when we happened to be in the pool, alone, for an early morning swim before most of the boat was even awake. But she, too, was in an intergenerational relationship and, alas, her older partner was “very socially connected” and thus “very closeted” and “she’d be very upset if she saw me talking to you”. By which I took it that I was way too obvious for anyone to be seen talking to because of the risk of guilt by association! I never spoke to her again, though she did risk a passing smile and a nod of the head.

There were three other gay male couples who, with the benefit of community insight and gaydar, were easy to spot. But the slightest attempt at social engagement was met with a turned back, a pretence of not noticing and, from one much younger couple, a very definite shaking of the head – a negative rebuke I was unsure was due to their internalised homophobia, or the more usual “don’t hang with old guys” reaction one experiences so often in gay bars.

And that was it! Apart from one cheerful and very good looking Kiwi chap in his thirties who was holidaying on his own. He claimed to be straight but said he liked gay company because we were more fun to be with. The cynic in me - or was that wishful thinking - said “yeah right!”

On matters financial

"Almost home - the Radiance of the Seas in Akaroa Harbour"

So, was it fun, would we do it again and was it value for money?

Yes, yes and YES!

We made some permanent and very real friends.

We, I am pleased to say, advanced the cause of gay acceptance and equality with several of my on-board conversations ending with a compliment and a statement along the lines of – “you’ve challenged my prejudices toward/assumptions about, gay people”.

We saw some wonderful places, learned a whole lot more about our world, and experienced a level of service and luxury that exceeded one’s “lotto winner” fantasies.

And the cost? About the same per day as staying in one of the better rooms in one of Auckland’s top-end hotels. But with far better service than I have ever experienced in New Zealand, and far more luxurious surroundings. And, unlike a hotel, our meals, entertainment, travel, etc. were included – plus we woke up somewhere different every day! Sure we paid for our own booze – but you’d do that at a hotel in New Zealand anyway and the ship’s booze was MUCH cheaper!

We also paid for our shore excursions and there were times when I found out it would have been much cheaper to book direct with the tour, or arrange our own, than via the cruise company. But there was the convenience of the one-stop shop and the assurance that anything booked through the cruise company would meet the ship’s departure timetables, because a floating city of some 3000 souls does not wait for tardy gay boys caught up in a shopping moment!

Next time – and there will be a next time – we will be a bit more adventurous about sorting our own on-shore activities.

And we might take some gay mates with us. At least they won’t be too scared to be seen in our company . . . I hope!

"ships that pass - a final cruise sunset"

Note: The author’s views are based on his own genuine experience. He booked and paid for his cruise privately. He has received no incentive or gratuities, financial or otherwise, from the cruise company or any travel or tourism agencies.)

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Steve Attwood - 5th December 2011