Home LifestyleFashion & Style A gay pilot reflects on what it means to travel for queer people

A gay pilot reflects on what it means to travel for queer people

by YAR

Then came the trip I took with my first boyfriend to Montreal. Three decades later, I remember driving north from Pittsfield in his Volkswagen on that summer morning long ago, crossing the Canadian line and into town. We climb Mount Royal to see the homonymous metropolis and stroll through the campus of McGill University. After checking into a hotel and sitting in a restaurant with no one giving us a second glance, I wondered if I had been too pessimistic about the world and a gay boy’s future in it. On the way home we listen to 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 be able to move to London, fly on planes from the city, or have a first date there (a spring stroll through a leafy park) with my husband-to-be.

Finally, in college, my fascination with Japan led me to study its language and, one summer, to work in Tokyo. My college professor put me in touch with a former student, Drew Tagliabue, who lived there with his partner. When I met them one night for dumplings, I marveled at the diminutive dimensions of one of their favorite restaurants in the greatest city that ever lived, and at life lived more freely than I had ever imagined possible. That summer, Drew, who later became the executive director of PFLAG NYC, New York’s “association of LGBTQ+ parents, allies, and people working to create a better future for LGBTQ+ youth,” gave me a collection of EM Forster , in which I found the words that remain with me today as a traveler: “just connect…”

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

Like many people in Pittsfield, I am inspired by the traveling spirit of Herman Melville, who wrote “Moby-Dick” in my hometown. Whatever the truth about Melville’s sexuality, as Andrew Delbanco points out in “Melville: His World and Work,” it’s not easy to separate tantalizing clues from the response of “gay readers who are attracted to him,” something prompted to embark on the open sea and the wonders of distant cities. Born in New York, he wrote with ease about Liverpool, Rome, and London, and about the towers of Jerusalem, the mists that obscured the dome of Constantinople, and “the Parthenon raised on its rock first defying sight on the approach to Athens.”

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