A gay pilot reflects on what travel means for queer people

A gay pilot reflects on what travel means for queer people

Next came the trip I took to Montreal with my first boyfriend. Three decades later, I remember that one summer morning long ago, we drove north from Pittsfield in his Volkswagen, crossed the Canadian border, and drove into town. We climbed Mount Royal for a glimpse of the metropolis of the same name and wandered the campus of McGill University. After we checked into a hotel and sat down in a restaurant without anyone giving us a second look, I wondered if I had been too pessimistic about the world and the future of a gay kid in it. On the drive home we heard the Pet Shop Boys. I loved their London-centric songs, even if I couldn’t appreciate the urban geography – the West End, King’s Cross – they celebrated. Nor could I have imagined that one day I would move to London, fly planes out of town, or have a first date with my future husband there (a spring walk through a leafy park).

Finally, in college, my fascination with Japan led me to study its language and spend a summer working in Tokyo. My college teacher put me in touch with a former student, Drew Tagliabue, who lived there with his partner. When I met her for dumplings one night, I marveled at the diminutive proportions of one of her favorite restaurants in the greatest city that ever existed, and at a life freer than I thought possible. That summer, Drew — who later became executive director of PFLAG NYC — gave me New York’s “Partnership of Parents, Allies, and LGBTQ+ People Working for a Brighter Future for LGBTQ+ Youth” — a collection by EM Forster, in which I found the words that I still remember today as a traveler: “only connect …”

Of course, armchair LGBTQ travelers can set out with the many writers whose words and worldviews have been shaped by travel. Think of James Baldwin in Paris, Christopher Isherwood in Berlin, and Elizabeth Bishop, who broke the heart of a Pittsfield boy and later went to live with an architect named Lota near Rio de Janeiro. Some of the most beautiful stories I know – about how travel can lead to self-discovery and new forms of community – take place in San Francisco (“nobody’s out here”) from Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City novels.

Like many people from Pittsfield, I am inspired by the wandering spirit of Herman Melville, who wrote “Moby-Dick” in my hometown. Whatever the truth about Melville’s sexuality, as Andrew Delbanco notes in “Melville: His World and Work,” it’s not easy to separate the tantalizing cues from the reactions of “gay readers who are attracted to him” — something drove him to set out for the open ocean and the wonders of distant cities. Born in New York, he wrote effortlessly of Liverpool, Rome and London, and of the spiers of Jerusalem, the domes and mists of Constantinople, and “the Parthenon, looming on its rock, first challenging the view on approaching Athens”.

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